Web

Internet issues.

 What Nuisance?

  1. Netflix considers an accidental click or a movie you ditched after 5 minutes to be perfectly valid sources for recommendations.
  2. The Netflix equivalent of bad one night stands you want to forget. You had fun watching Naked Zombie Apocalypse but you’d rather not base future suggestions on it.

Let’s fix this mess.

Log in to your Netflix account, I recommend doing this on your computer or results may vary. As soon as you are logged in, follow the link to “Your Account”. Once there, look near the bottom for “Viewing activity”.

Here is the history, take out anything you don’t want affecting future recommendations.

The bad news is that even with a clean and shiny viewing history Netflix has a bit of “WTF” built right into their algorithm…

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This post is about violent video games. Well, one violent video game in particular and why Moms need to stretch their imaginations a bit on the subject.

Like it or not there seems to be a difficulty/danger/fighting itch that (many to most ) guys need to scratch from time to time. Every man I know understands this and knows it comforts and strengthens boys. The mothers I know TO A PERSON, do not. They aren’t being mean, they just really don’t get it. Boys have a natural mission: To protect and defend, To hunt with the hunters, and to stand up to individuals who pose a threat.  Mothers who hate this model of masculinity aren’t wrong to want a better world than this for their children, but they should know that they are treating their boys they way we treat neutered pets. As if perfect safety were an option for them,  as if we get to choose whether they will ever face danger. We do not. Boys know at a DNA level that they may face danger and hostility and that they will face challenges where their response might determine the success or failure of the most important endeavors of their lives. Depriving a boy of the way he learns to feel strong is not kindness, it is closer to shame projected onto another person.

Play is how young mammals get strong in the ways they NEED to get strong. To deprive an animal of the play it needs to grow up is not showing concern for its well being. If anything it is like the mothers and fathers who punished children for touching themselves or being curious about sex. Was that a good approach? Did that make children grow up stronger and happier? This may not look like healthy play to you but what does the play of wolves, bears or tigers look like? It’s all about being ready, and feeling ready to deal with with what is coming for you. The odds are most men won’t feel ready anyway no matter they do, but taking away the developmental step of preparing for violence and conflict (in a peaceful healthy situation) is like outlawing fire drills because they bring up scary thoughts.
There is so much you need to actively do to help your son be a good man. Share your values deeply and articulately but don’t shut down the boy wisdom given to him by all his ancestors. Masculinity has to feel strong in order to feel safe and it needs to feel safe in order to be gentle…and that’s a tall order…it’s not easy to feel strong. If you come between him at that..what have you done?

 Why Team Fortress 2 is unusual and good 

My son is 14 and LOVES Team Fortress 2. I play it with him as often as I can.

 The multiplayer genre of guys running around a 3d map shooting each other is as common as dirt with loads of examples, Call of duty, Battlefield, Halo, and LOADS more. They tend to be extremely predictable.
Team Fortress 2 came out in 2007. Think about that for a minute. This is basically a TEN year old game and it has a thriving, (if whiny) community. This is unique in video gaming and the nearest thing to it in this context is probably Minecraft which went alpha in 2009 and grew by word of mouth from there.
The things that make TF2 so different from the other games are also very different from each other. 
1. High speed violent complicated story problem
There is a win or lose objective and winning requires bravery and luck but mostly strategy, practice, good choices, good timing and working with others. The strategy side of this is deep
and complex: Class plus loadout, plus team plus map. There are not very many maps and this is because each one is a chaotic chessboard a mile long and if you do not know the map you WILL lose.

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I get daily updates of people’s bad ideas about websites.

Here are simple answers to the fundamental questions and mistakes.

The Uncertainty of the Web: What your design looks like on your computer guarantees nothing. Your site has no REAL, TRUE appearance because it isn’t a hard copy. Your website only really exists when it is opened up by a browser on some device. Different browsers and different devices interpret the code differently and affect the appearance. If built well there won’t be many problems, but there is no way to know to a certainty that everything about your site will perform as expected. 

The site itself: You should know exactly what it is for. It’s a machine. What does it do, or make, or accomplish? Avoid mission creep. You should be able to describe its purpose in 3 short sentences. 

Design:

  1. Design is based on serving the target audience. It comes from knowledge of who they are, and what they will find welcoming and reassuring in the appearance. It’s not about you and what you like. 
  2. Design isn’t just appearance, it is appearance and function. 
  3. There are not really a lot of different ways to lay out navigation. It’s going to be either vertical, left side, or horizontal, top. Why? Think of yourself at an unfamiliar ATM: Do you enjoy not knowing what to do next? 
  4. We shouldn’t make your website radical and totally different because it would most likely suck. 

Navigation: The simplest, clearest menu is best. Can things be coupled and condensed? Do it. Classic example: “Home” and “About Us” How are these different? And ask yourself, “Is the wording on my navigation crystal clear?” We tend to take familiar concepts for granted, so be careful not to baffle your customers. The best navigation is barely noticed because no pause is required to understand it. 

Search Engine Optimization: There are a LOT of ways to polish and improve this but as the site owner you have the most important role. Write well. The entire site should be as well organized as a research paper. Write succinctly and with intention behind each word. ALSO: Consider your target audience, what words and phrases do they type in search engines to find you? Be realistic about this and include them (gracefully) in your writing. 

Social Media: Again consider the target audience. Think strategically about this and include social media in the machine concept from the beginning of this article. You don’t need to be everywhere and irrelevant social media is a stupid waste of your time. What role do they play in the machine? Understand it, or don’t do it. Don’t over-commit to social media responsibilities, include your available time and energy in planning. The same goes very much for a Blog. If a blog is part of the machine, OK. But don’t add one because other people do. If you can’t keep it fresh and updated it will work against you. 

As far as building the site itself, which many people want to do themselves, you probably can’t. I’m not trying to be a downer. But it’s a skill set most people can’t add given the available time and energy. The exceptions are people who regularly achieve easy- breezy successes in complex computing situations. If you struggle with any basic computer issues, in my experience, you can’t do this. 

That’s it. Done. 

 

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The streaming music service Pandora is wonderful but there are a few simple ideas that can make it perform better.

First, get involved, respond with thumbs up or down on the winners and losers.

But wait! Before you click thumbs up on a song, remember Pandora doesn’t know what you like about that song. Don’t upvote because it gives you happy memories of an old friend, upvote if the general characteristics of that song (genre, melodic style, etc.) are the things you want to hear more of. If a station plays a song you sort of like but you don’t really want to upvote, just let it go by. If you don’t vote it down, it will stay in the list of “acceptable” songs.

When making a new station think the same way: Do you want all the sorts of songs that artist ever made as the station seed? Or is it one or two songs that you love? Be specific.

Unless you want an “Oldies” station, be careful about upvoting old songs, Pandora seems to have a weakness for drifting toward retro.

It can be effective to use several artists or songs for a station but don’t make it too diverse or it will lack a firm style. Instead of trying to make one very mixed station, try making a bunch of very tightly focused stations and then turning on shuffle. This can give you the best of both worlds: Different kinds of music in the mix but all of it focused tightly on what you really like!

 

 

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Think of it as three phases.

Planning / Organizing / Designing
Building/ Testing
Deploying / Maintaining
 

 Phase 1: Planning / Organizing / Designing 

 

A. Planning.

Every website is there to answer a need. Anyone who thinks they need a website should be able to say in not many words exactly why they need one. They should be able to list the things that the website is meant to accomplish for the business (or project, institution, or individual). The best websites are based on an absolutely clear understanding of the need. Therefore the planning period should be taken very seriously.
 

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YouTube is the most successful disaster on the WWW.

YouTube is the 24/7 Meth Santa of distraction and it’s so successful at its drunken confetti flinging approach to video sharing that a meaningful redesign, let alone a socially responsible reimagining, is a distant possibility on a galactic scale of distance.

It’s sort of ridiculous critiquing YouTube; it’s such an irreplaceable, giant hub of internet life that a shrug and “well, what can ya do?” might be a sensible place to leave this. But I’m not sensible and we all know an intervention is needed.

This year I’d like:

  1. Fewer suggestions. I know you are infatuated with your supposed ability to detect my heart’s desire and serve it up to me, but you are not actually good at this. The fact is I really don’t WANT your suggestions. I want my subscriptions and whatever I feel like searching for and nothing from you unless I ask for it…This is part a.
  2. And this is part B. Your suggestions suck and may even pose a danger to society. This is because your system of competition between channels and your resultant ranking of those channels drives them to endlessly inflate drama and conflict. In ordinary video channels, this just results in lots of stupid talk, overstatement and ginned up make-believe conflict but with your political channels this is further dumbing down the national dialogue, widening our dangerous divide and making the search for accurate news at YouTube impossible as titles claim lurid or thrilling content and drama that doesn’t exist anywhere BUT the title. This is disinformation. You are driving a race to stupidity and you don’t suffer a single qualm.
  3. I want you to stop showing me right-wing political videos just because one time I watched a right-wing guy.
  4. Not surprisingly, I want at least the OPTION to change my homepage within youtube away from your recommendations and to my subscriptions, by default.
  5. A little x button (or thumbs down) on every recommendation that would let me exile it forever. I want to make some of those suggestions go away FOREVER. If I want them, I’ll go looking.
  6. A little check button (or thumbs up) on every recommendation that means “More like this please”. But I worry because you make bad guesses. You guess wrong a lot more often that you should. You’re like a crazy girlfriend generously giving me plaid shorts, black knee socks and 142 jars of green olives. Why just why?
  7. I’d like a “Please pretend I never watched this” button on every video I watch. YouTube, most of the time when I visit you I’m just indulging a vague curiosity in a Reddit link or letting a friend show me something funny they want me to see. I don’t WANT you to learn anything about me from it. YouTube, I really want you to stop interpreting each of these moments as equal to the things I search for on your site. I want to be able to communicate with you. I want to be able to say “Ignore this…this isn’t me.”
  8. And YouTube, someone has to tell you, uncomfortable as it is…your search algorithm…stinks. You need to clean it up. Honestly, everyone’s been talking about it for years and you’ve been in denial. YouTube, you give search results like someone hard of hearing answers questions.  When I type in “Yogscast xephos and honeydew the walls episode 12” I’m actually telling you quite a bit about what I’d like to see. You can use this information to return a list of things that could be …related to those words. For example, the list could only include those words or even just most of them. Are you with me? When my list of results come up and 75% of the entries don’t even have those words in them and the others will be every other episode of the series in random order scattered over 3 pages of search results with mine at the top of page 4… I feel…disappointed, YouTube. I feel like you aren’t listening or maybe that you are just sort of… well…stupid?

Well, thanks for listening…what’s that? What did you say? Gerbil eats first piece of broccoli? Drunk kid gets knocked out? Too fat to get out of bed?

*sigh*

 

 

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You may not know it by the name but it probably affects you multiple times each day. Filter bubbles are algorithms that track a visitors choices on a website and selectively feed them tailored options when they return. There are a thousand variations of this on the on the web. When you shop at Amazon and search for things it affects the results you’ll see john-jonik-drunken-man-standing-in-front-of-a-fun-house-mirror-and-sees-himself-if-h-cartoonnext time. Every time you watch a YouTube video a hodgepodge of results influenced by that viewing will appear as recommended videos. There are even “cookie relationships” between different websites where what you look at on one could influence what you see THE FIRST TIME you visit a different website.  Nobody sees the same Facebook, Reddit or YouTube. This is enough to give many people a creepy “shadowed” feeling while others may shrug and say it’s all anonymous really, so why get into a sweat? The websites would certainly claim that it was only about providing better service by fine tuning your experience to better fit your interests. Of course, better service is always really about better revenue. Plus who are they to say that my experience is better as opposed to overly managed? It probably comes down to two not very nice things:

1. Their anxious sense that they need to control the people visiting the site. I think it unnerves investors and managers to think that visitors are wandering chaotically around out of control, doing what they want in an unmoderated way. I think they feel (not think) that if they are NOT manipulating and attempting to force people through some sort of filters they’ve devised that they’d be failing to do their job.

2. A related issue but not EXACTLY the same: The sense that the product must be refined and distilled for extra strength and intensity so it becomes a more powerful experience. In effect, it’s like adding more sugar, salt and fat to fast food. Is it good for business? Yes. Is it good for the customer? Nope.

One important thing to know is that since Dec. 4, 2009, Google results have been personalized for everyone. Google itself has become the meta filter bubble by telling you more of what it has decided you want to know about and less of what it thinks you don’t want to know about. There is a conflict of interest here that isn’t attracting much notice. Google (motto: “don’t be evil”) has not been high profile about this dramatic change at all and if you want to get unfiltered results you have to do some tricky behind the scenes settings changes. Google clearly profits from the personalization of search results. Google’s advertising profits are enhanced by tailoring them more closely to the personal biases of users but its vaunted informational purity is downgraded. Google should provide a clear: Personal / Objective choice. And think of this, years from now where will your shaped results have drifted? Given enough personalization would a conspiracy theorist for example never encounter a competing version of reality?

What this whole process reminds me of (especially in this age extreme polarization) is the way people treat the boss, telling him only what he wants to hear and isolating him further and further within a mono-cultural inaccurate echo chamber. What could go wrong, eh? You can imagine all of us gradually glassing over with ever more satisfying drivel.

 

Eli Pariser is the one who coined the phrase “filter bubble” here he is describing his concerns.

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A professional social network sounds like a good business tool and a useful thing but the best-known entry in this market, LinkedIn, has a number of flawed and selfish premises that have led to it Winning, but not Succeeding. I mean that while they are clearly dominant, they are a failure as a social network.

1. LinkedIn-flation: Linked in tells you to be discriminating in adding people to your network because the resulting networks are supposed to be a tree of solid integrity and merit. At the same time, they are indiscriminate in throwing contacts at you, constantly encouraging you to expand your network. When a new person asks to join your network (typically with an invitation as impersonal as a bid in a game of  Bridge) it doesn’t let you contact the person before accepting them. You literally cannot even say “where do I know you from?” until you have said, “this person is in my network”. Either that or you have to reject them outright.  The upper limit of contacts you are allowed to have is 30,000.

2. Taste the Beige! There is no experiential reward for participating. Nobody enjoys being on LinkedIn. The payoff to Facebook is pleasurable or at least personal contact with others. The payoff of LinkedIn is that you are on LinkedIn. This is because LinkedIn is essentially fear based. You better be there if you don’t want to be overlooked when the big recruiter in the sky comes to check and see if you are a “self-starter with excellent organizational skills.” The value is purely in being findable in this database.

3. InHuman: Which leads us to the fact that everyone there is being flat and careful, creating an idealized portrait of themselves from a corporate point of view. This means that 70 percent of the content is pure methane in a cardboard cup. It is appropriate to the professional context yet dreary, flat and thin. It is the online equivalent of driving across Kansas.

4. Lousy Host: Because there is no joy or (experiential) profit in participating, and no sensible business model,  LinkedIn has to jealously withhold information and limit access to the people it has aggressively gathered together for the purpose of sharing information. It’s like a host who has invited as many people as possible to a party and then tries to limit the guests from talking to each other unless they pay for the drinks at this party and next month’s party too.

5. InVasive: Finally, LinkedIn is so aggressive about recruiting people for these non-festivities that it makes the NSA look like the ACLU. Honestly, people, even if you don’t use the invite contacts feature, LinkedIn requires you to sign in to your email and accept membership and when you do they come along with you, into your email every time you have LinkedIn cookies in your browser. Yes, they check your email along with you, noting every single one and comparing addresses to people in their database. So if you have LinkedIn you will get messages like “This guy you exchanged a single email with 7 years ago has joined LinkedIn. Accept him to your network?

6. It gets worse: Their new iPhone App actually channels ALL YOUR EMAILS COMING AND GOING, THROUGH THEIR SERVERS. This is appalling, This is insane! These are serious, even shocking violations of privacy! The implications for anyone in medical or legal fields should be a radioactive red flag! You could violate client privacy or HIPPA conditions without even knowing it. The import for anyone is deeply worrying.

But why? What could possibly justify these outrageous violations of trust? Why do they do things this way?

So that LinkedIn, the terrible party you are obligated to attend, can become more inevitable, a bigger ant pile, a greater Gasbag.


Update:

How to get the value, while fucking them over: I eventually rejoined but in a way that protected my privacy better. I created a new webmail address (yahoo, gmail, whatever) to use as my LinkedIn username. And I NEVER ever use it to communicate with anyone. Therefore even when they brazenly invade my email account there is nobody and nothing there for them gather up. I just reach out to the people I feel like reaching out to and keep a profile there for the odd case where it comes in handy.

 

 

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