What’s in a name? #12

It seems Facebook are planning to take a leaf out of Google/Alphabet’s book, and separate out the thing it’s known best for from the insidious, multinational, overarching mega-conglomerate behind it.

Facebook is planning to rebrand the company with a new nameThe Verge
Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more.

New logo? Call itself ‘FCBK’? Bring back poking? How Facebook could rebrandThe Guardian
“Horizon” has been touted as Facebook’s new umbrella name, but in my estimation this is both too bland and too far removed from the company’s origins. Instead, let’s just ditch all the vowels and call it FCBK. Yes, it would be using the sort of textspeak that has been extinct for a decade and a half and, yes, at first glance it does look like there’s a new company called “Fuckbook”. But this is Facebook, remember. What were you expecting – competence?

The hidden microwork behind automation

Refugees help power machine learning advances at Microsoft, Facebook, and AmazonRest of World
A woman living in Kenya’s Dadaab, which is among the world’s largest refugee camps, wanders across the vast, dusty site to a central hut lined with computers. Like many others who have been brutally displaced and then warehoused at the margins of our global system, her days are spent toiling away for a new capitalist vanguard thousands of miles away in Silicon Valley. A day’s work might include labelling videos, transcribing audio, or showing algorithms how to identify various photos of cats.

Amid a drought of real employment, “clickwork” represents one of few formal options for Dadaab’s residents, though the work is volatile, arduous, and, when waged, paid by the piece. Cramped and airless workspaces, festooned with a jumble of cables and loose wires, are the antithesis to the near-celestial campuses where the new masters of the universe reside. […]

Microwork comes with no rights, security, or routine and pays a pittance — just enough to keep a person alive yet socially paralyzed. Stuck in camps, slums, or under colonial occupation, workers are compelled to work simply to subsist under conditions of bare life. This unequivocally racialized aspect to the programs follows the logic of the prison-industrial complex, whereby surplus — primarily black — populations [in the United States] are incarcerated and legally compelled as part of their sentence to labor for little to no payment. Similarly exploiting those confined to the economic shadows, microwork programs represent the creep of something like a refugee-industrial complex.

And it’s not just happening in Kenya.

Brazilian workers paid equivalent of 70 cents an hour to transcribe TikToksThe Intercept
For Felipe, the plan to make a little quick money became a hellish experience. With TikTok’s short-form video format, much of the audio that needed transcription was only a few seconds long. The payment, made in U.S. dollars, was supposed to be $14 for every hour of audio transcribed. Amassing the secondslong clips into an hour of transcribed audio took Felipe about 20 hours. That worked out to only about 70 cents per hour — or 3.85 Brazilian reals, about three-quarters of Brazil’s minimum wage.

The minimum wage, however, did not apply to the TikTok transcribers — like many other workers, the transcription job used the gig economy model, a favorite of tech firms. Gig economy workers are not protected by some labor laws; they are considered independent contractors rather than employees or even wage earners. In the case of the TikTok transcribers, who did not even have formal contracts, pay was based on how much transcribing they did rather than the hours they worked.

Keep it down, s’il vous plaît

After reading about how Venice is planning to use technology to control its tourists, here’s an article on Paris’s plans to tackle noise pollution.

Paris will try using sound sensors to fine vehicles causing noise pollutionQuartz
Similar technology has been used by police departments in US cities to determine the location of gunshots, but French cities have been pioneers in cracking down on noise as a traffic violation and public health hazard. Mayor Anne Hidalgo made reducing noise pollution part of her 2020 reelection campaign. Noise pollution is a top issue in France after air pollution. A study by Bruitparif found that in the greater Paris region, the health impacts of noise can cost a person an average 10 months of a healthy life, and July 2021 study estimated that the resulting social health costs from noise pollution—illness, hospitalization, lost years of work—could cost France €156 billion ($181 billion USD) per year.

I’m all for it.

NoiseWHO Europe
Excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.

Traffic noise alone is harmful to the health of almost every third person in the WHO European Region. One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health.

Another reason to go electric? Not necessarily.

A different kind of dark web

It’s a topic I’ve mentioned before, but here’s another round-up of the ways web design can be quite manipulative.

The rise of dark web design: how sites manipulate you into clickingThe Conversation
Dark design has proven to be an incredibly effective way of encouraging web users to part with their time, money and privacy. This in turn has established “dark patterns”, or sets of practices designers know they can use to manipulate web users. They’re difficult to spot, but they’re increasingly prevalent in the websites and apps we use every day, creating products that are manipulative by design, much like the persistent, ever-present pop-ups we’re forced to close when we visit a new website.

How dark patterns trick you onlineNerdwriter1: YouTube
Some of the responsibility’s on us, but some is on design too. And it’s not the fault of the designers; they’re just doing what they’re tasked to do, knowing full well that if they don’t, others will. As Brignull says, our best defence against the dark patterns is to be aware of them and shame the companies who utilise them.

For more info on the different types, here’s a direct, non-sneaky, no-nonsense link to Harry Brignull’s website.

The future’s so bright?

What could possibly go wrong?

Ray-Ban StoriesLuxottica
Facebook, Inc. and Ray-Ban releases the next generation of smart glasses, Ray-Ban Stories. The highly anticipated collaboration brings forward a new way to seamlessly capture, share and listen through your most authentic moments. […]

We’re introducing an entirely new way for people to stay connected to the world around them and truly be present in life’s most important moments, and to look good while doing it,” said Andrew Bosworth, Vice President, Facebook Reality Labs.

I wish Ray-Ban’s Stories smart glasses were made by anyone but FacebookYahoo Finance
Whether or not you’re willing to make that investment largely depends on how you feel about Facebook and what you are hoping to get out of a pair of “smart glasses.” At best, they feel like a better, more polished version of Snapchat’s Spectacles. It’s still a novelty, but with decent audio, smart glasses are starting to feel a lot more useful. At worst, the glasses are yet another reminder of Facebook’s dominance.

Facebook announces launch of Ray-Ban Stories smart glassesThe Guardian
The company’s hardest sell might not be privacy, but the glasses themselves. Snapchat’s Spectacles are now in their third generation, with improvements each time, yet they’ve failed to catch the imagination of the target market. The company took a $40m write-down on the value of unsold inventory in 2017.

Facebook and Ray-Ban are rolling out smart glasses that actually look cool. Will anyone buy them?CNN
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was getting away with something while wearing Ray-Ban Stories in public. As far as I could tell, nobody noticed anything unusual about the glasses while chasing my kids around a busy playground, even when I was taking numerous short videos. (It was impossible for me to tell, but perhaps the bright sunlight made the glasses’ white LED less noticeable.) I walked into stores with them on, took pictures of myself in mirrors, and nobody even blinked. It would have been easy to use these glasses to invade other people’s privacy. Was this accidentally furtive photo- and video-taking turning me into a Facehole?

Facebook’s new camera glasses are dangerously easy to useWIRED
During a dinner with friends last weekend, Peter wore the Ray-Ban Stories the whole time—and it wasn’t until he pointed out the tiny sensors embedded at the temples that friends noticed. Once they did, though, Facebook’s biggest issue didn’t take long to surface: “So, you’ve been recording the whole time?” one friend asked, only half joking. Similarly, Lauren recorded (then deleted) a conversation with an editor while fumbling with the glasses. The editor never noticed.

Smart glasses made Google look dumb. Now Facebook is giving them a try.The New York Times
Many of these privacy concerns are beside the point for technologists who see wearables as inexorable for society. For Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, the ultimate goal is to eventually release a pair of smart glasses that fully augment reality, which puts a kind of virtual overlay onto the world in front of people.

That idea is yet another step on the road to the metaverse, Mr. Zuckerberg’s term for how parts of the virtual and actual world will eventually meld together and share different parts of each other.

Is it getting a little tiring, now, to keep responding to these type of stories with ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should’? I did, however, like the comment about determining someone’s age by their taking-a-photo gestures, at the end of this piece from the BBC’s Chris Fox.

Looking back at the cybercafés of the future

Everything innovative and cutting-edge is destined to become quaint and old-fashioned — from cassettes, DVDs and mobile phones, to laptops and the web itself, even. Looking back at the internet of the 90s, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary and necessary cybercafés once were.

Introducing the crazy new world of cybercafesCNET: YouTube
“What happens when plugged-in people congregate for a little indoor surfing? You get cybercafés. Desmond Crisis, the newest member of the CNET central team, takes us on a tour of these hi-tech hangouts.”

The hippest internet cafe of 1995Vox: YouTube
The cyber-struggle is real. Vox’s Phil Edwards spoke to one of the founders of @ Cafe, an internet cafe that launched just as the internet was coming into the public eye.

Cybercafés were the brainchild of Ivan Pope, as he’s keen to tell us, though Cyberia’s Eva Pascoe was perhaps more influential.

The first Internet cafe operates (for two days)History of Information
Commissioned to develop an Internet event for “Towards the Aesthetics of the Future,” an arts weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, Ivan Pope wrote a proposal outlining the concept of a café with Internet access from the tables. Pope’s Cybercafe, the first Internet cafe, operated only during the weekend event, March 12-13, 1994. Pope and internet artist Heath Bunting planned to open London’s first cybercafe later in 1994, but were preempted by Cyberia, an internet cafe founded in London in September 1994.

Cafe with a mission to explain: Cyberia offers chance to check your e-mail and network over coffee and croissantThe Independent
Welcome to Cyberia, Britain’s first cybercafe, where you can turn on, tune in and ‘surf’ the information superhighway. The cafe concept, devised to make a computer environment less formidable, has been borrowed from California where ‘surfing’ – or hopping between global databanks – is commonplace. Here in Whitfield Street, central London, over a cappuccino and an almond croissant, cognoscenti and novices alike can communicate with kindred spirits around the world. Even people with scant technical knowledge will be able to access international databanks and pick up ‘e-mail’.

All About Eva: Wired UK Issue 2.04 April 1996Yoz
Cyberia is a barely-decorated street-level space where 50-year-old gardening club members, 40-year-old advertising execs, 30-year-old nurses, 20-year-old hairdressers and still-living-with-their-mums teenagers sit shoulder to shoulder basking in the joys of the Internet. And that means it’s the cool hang-out for technologically-curious people in London.

They spread everywhere — from London to San Francisco, Paris, even Bolton.

Remembering the Horseshoe, quite possibly the nation’s first Internet cafeHoodline
Before the city’s coffee shops were filled with laptops, Internet cafes were among the few places to access the World Wide Web outside of the home. The Lower Haight once boasted one such spot: the Horseshoe Cafe at 566 Haight St. Said to be the first Internet cafe in the nation, the cafe opened in the 1990s, and endured until it caught fire and closed in 2005.

Cybercafes@ParisSecrets of Paris
My favorite was the High Tech Café up on top of the Galeries Lafayette next to Montparnasse. It has passed on to its next life as a restaurant, but just to give you an idea of how the French interpret an internet café: the computers were lined up on one side, with a dining room and bar on the other side, a big dancefloor in between with a disco ball. I could order food and drinks while sitting at the keyboard, and on Friday nights I could barely type out my e-mails because the karaoke was too loud.

8 of Edinburgh’s best-known internet cafes of the 2000sEdinburgh News
They were the petrol stations for drivers on the “information superhighway”, filling us up with all our World Wide Web needs in an age when fewer than a quarter of us had internet access at home. While they can still be found in the Capital, the early 2000s witnessed a surge in the number of internet cafes in the city with the number of people reliant on them at its peak. From Scotland’s first, Hanover Street’s Cyberia, to the gigantic Easy Everything on Rose Street, we take a look at 8 of Edinburgh’s most fondly-recalled cyber cafes.

Cyber cafe set to keep doors openWarrington Guardian
Youngsters in Winsford can continue to surf the net and develop their computer skills after the Cybercafe scheme proved to be a huge success. The cafe, at Willow Wood Community Centre, attracted 200 youngsters in its first week who were all keen to surf the internet, play computer games and even take part in a pool tournament. The scheme was originally set up to run for four weeks, but as it was such a hit, it will run for a further six.

Cyber cafe is a winnerThe Bolton News
Two friends who run a Horwich Internet cafe believe they have logged on to a franchise winner. Directors Gary Marsden and Hassan Isaji spent several months planning the details before the December opening of Cyberjungle on the Middlebrook leisure development at Lostock. Customers can enjoy a cappuccino coffee while using one of the 16 available computer terminals to send e-mails or surf the worldwide web.

People loved them …

I landed on IRC in a hot summer night 1996Fred Thoughts
I landed on IRC in a hot summer night 1996. The Internet room at my local cybercafe was small and smelly. The air was full of a persistent mix of dust, sweat, coffee, cold cigarette and cheap washing powder. It was filled with 4 old PCs, recycled from the gaming room. Most of the day, it was empty but passed 7PM, it was constantly full of people. For 4.5 € an hour, the introvert I was started a wonderful social life. I was surfing the awakening World Wide Web and chat with people from the other side of the world, staying hours after the shop closed its curtains. Around 4 AM, the owner kicked us out, and I walked back home across the dormant city before another boring day, another night online.

… and they were keen to let you know what was going on.

Cyberia Edinburgh live webcam!Cybersurf
If you can see the inside of the café: those people sitting at the computers are our valued customers. They are mostly writing e-mails, word processing or perhaps chatting on IRC. If you would like to chat with any of them, I’m afraid there is currently no reliable way to reach them, aside from visiting every IRC channel and running a ‘finger’ on every single person! For lively chat on all things Scottish, try #scotland on your local server. If the channel doesn’t exist, start one up! Who knows, perhaps someone you can see will join it!

Cyberpub CAMS
Air Academy Spy Cam; Apple Live; Brew Cam, Sacramento; Café Boatquay; Cafe Brno, Repubblica Ceca Internet Bar; Cafe’ Action Cam, Switzerland…

Everyone wanted to get involved.

Tesco joins Internet café societyDesign Week
A Tesco spokesman confirms that “we are going to do it” though there are no definite plans about the number of outlets or where they will be. He believes the cafés will build on the success of the existing Tesco website, which was established in July 1998 and created by Designer City. “TescoNet is going very well, but there is still a large proportion of people who are curious about the Internet. They are put off by big computer brands and have a fear of the technology,” he explains.

Apple nearly got in on it, too.

Apple once considered building futuristic cybercafes instead of Apple StoresThe Next Web
Developed in collaboration with Mega Bytes, the Apple Cafe was imagined as an innovative internet cafe with a “high tech” interior design that reflected the forward-looking mindset the Big A aspired to stand for. Radically diverging from the facade of traditional retail stores, the modernist locale was slated to bring together food service, paraphernalia retail, user support and computer sales into one single common space.

Apple almost built a futuristic cybercafe in 1997 with computers at every tableMacRumors
Jobs was reportedly involved in the design process, choosing Christopher’s team because of their work creating unique retail spaces. Jobs wanted a way for Apple to connect to customers, which led to the idea of a cafe equipped with Apple products. A computer was at every table, where people could do things like order food, watch movies, surf the web, design web pages, and play video games.

That EasyJet guy had big plans …

U.K. gets largest cyber cafeCNN Money
Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder and chairman of U.K.-based no-frills carrier easyJet, opened the first in a chain of giant Internet cafes, called easyEverything Internet shops, opposite one of London’s largest railway stations. The huge 10,000 square foot store, opposite Victoria Station in central London, has 400 screens and will offer access to the Internet from prices as low as 1 pound ($1.60) per hour. The standard telephone costs alone for home users in the U.K. is around 1.05 pounds. London’s first Internet cafe, Cyberia, charges 3 pounds for a half hour session.

… which led to even bigger plans.

U.K. cyber cafe heads to New YorkCNN.com
EasyEverything founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou is planning to extend his chain of big orange cyber cafes to the Big Apple, a spokesman for the company said Monday. The easyEverything chain offers low-cost Internet access to travellers and others without their own computers through its five London cyber cafes, easily recognizable by their giant orange facades. Located in tourist areas such as Oxford Street and Victoria Station, the cafes have a total of 2,300 computer terminals. The company has recently added outlets in Rotterdam, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Barcelona.

Some had their doubts …

Internet cafe chain to try a Times Sq. connectionThe New York Times
Among the reasons EasyEvery thing, which is open 24 hours a day, may have succeeded in London are that most people here do not own personal computers and that the telephone rates for dial-up modem access to the Internet are significantly higher than in the United States. Because local telephone calls are billed by the minute here — not a flat rate like American telephone companies offer — Internet users must pay the telephone company and the access providers, like America Online, every time they log on.

”By itself, it is deadly dull for a U.S. audience,” said Bruce Kasrel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, which analyzes e-commerce. ”People already have Internet access at the office and at home.” He cited empty Internet access terminals at airports as an example of a similar scheme that had not worked.

… which turned out to be well-founded.

‘The world’s first,’ Café Cyberia in London, takes a bow : A decade of Internet cafésThe New York Times
But like many entrepreneurs from the early dot-com years, Pascoe left the business in 1998 and went on to other projects. The chain of Cyberia cafés were sold to South Korean investors about three years ago, who rebranded them under the name Be the Reds, or BTR — borrowing a cheer shouted by supporters of the South Korean soccer team. […]

Haji-Ioannou has said that he overinvested in the business, which turned into a big money-loser for his EasyGroup.

Stelios bails out EasyEverythingBBC News
The EasyEverything internet cafe chain has run out of money and is to get a £15m funding injection from its founder, budget airline entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou. But Mr Haji-Ioannou confirmed he is cutting the value of shares held by staff from one pound to one penny as part of the refinancing.

I have kidnapped your auntie: The Ballad of the Bad Café, and the end of the road for the internet café hoboBBC World Service
I have now completed a world journey of internet cafes. Scroll to the bottom of the blog and you’ll see I started all bright and bushy-tailed, finding stories of education, enterprise and cheer. There are huge advantages to the public nature of internet cafes. And – as I discovered in programme three – some disadvantages too. As I type this in my comfortable office, the only people who can “shoulder surf” or look over my shoulder at what I’m writing, are colleagues. For me, privacy is easy. On the other hand, Sam Roberts shoulder-surfed a man in Burkina Faso and saw he was threatening to kidnap someone’s auntie.

Cybercafés haven’t entirely gone away …

The weird, sketchy history of internet cafesGizmodo
The idea was eventually exported to New York’s Times Square in 2000, but by then, the idea of going someplace to simply get online was already getting outdated and quaint. The internet was something you could access from home; it was evolving. And internet cafes got a whole lot weirder. […]

Flannel-wearing 90s hipsters got Internet cafes off the ground, but internet pirates jonesing for free movies and music took the establishment to a whole new level. At the turn of the millennium—around the same time Napster became popular—sharing music online did, too. And people in pursuit of illicit MP3s started filling internet cafes again. […]

PC bangs [internet cafes built for just for gaming] are still in full force today, with over 22,000 reported in 2007. Patrons spend a buck an hour for the all-you-can-play, high-speed bandwidth, powerful hardware, and snacks for purchase. Gaming addiction is also a problem, with work and school falling by the wayside as gamers spend all their time and money at PC bangs. In 2011, Korea implemented a controversial curfew that mandated customers under 16 were not allowed in internet cafes from midnight to 6 a.m.

… but they are very different places now.

The Japanese workers who live in internet cafesVice
For 10 months, Fumiya, a 26-year-old Japanese security guard, has been living in a 24-hour internet cafe. In a tiny cubicle where he can barely stand, he sits hunched over a glowing screen, chain smoking and chugging soda between his work shifts. When he is able to sleep, he puts a blanket over his face to block out the fluorescent lights.

Japan’s disposable workers: Net cafe refugeesMediaStorm: Vimeo
Internet cafes have existed in Japan for well over a decade, but in the mid 2000’s, customers found a new use for these spaces: living quarters. As a result, cafes are now equipped with showers and laundry service, all reasonably priced for overnight users. “Internet cafe refugees,” as they are called by the media, are mostly temporary employees. Their salary is too low to rent their own apartments. The number of low-paid temp workers, with little benefits and no job security, has been steadily climbing. Today, more than one in three are temporary workers.

For HK$55 a night, Hong Kong’s ‘invisible homeless’ or working poor turn to cybercafes, amid unaffordable rents and with nowhere to goSouth China Morning Post
Air conditioning and desktops for internet are better options than squalid, bug-infested subdivided flats or 24-hour fast-food chains.

Life hasn’t returned to normal for China’s internet cafesSouth China Morning Post
Business are urged to reopen across the country as coronavirus infections drop, but gamers wonder when they can visit their favorite haunts again.

So yes, cybercafés are still around …

All about internet cafesLifewire
Do your research at home before traveling and bring along a list of well-rated cyber cafes. Travel guides often provide locations of internet cafes for travelers. Do a Google search for cyber cafes in the areas you plan to visit. A Google Maps search of your intended destination will pinpoint locations. Check in advance to find out if an internet cafe is still open. They often have unusual hours and close down with little or no notification.

… though they are now as far from their chic hi-tech bistro beginnings as it’s possible to be. Many of the existing ones, little more than just mobile phone shops, are all using the same Google template. Not all, though.

Internet Cafe Kentish Town
Internet Cafe Kentish Town. From 09.45 til 22.30. Printing and Photocopying. Hampstead. Highgate.

Global Gaming Arena
Founded in 1998, Netadventure Cybercafe and Global Gaming Arena was the UKs first dedicated on-line gaming centre. We concentrate on being a community for gamers to meet as well as to play.

Still, if you’re interested in setting one up, there are companies out there ready to offer all you need, from IT admin software to more bespoke website templates.

Internet Cafe softwareAntamedia
Antamedia Internet Cafe software controls, secures, and enhances the running of your Internet cafe, gaming center, eSports center, library, school or hotel public computers. The software restricts access to the system, desktop, drives, folders and programs based on your settings. It helps you control and bill your customers for the Internet browsing, playing games, using Office applications, even covering retail products.

Talnet Internet Cafe HTML5 website templateTemplate Monster
The Talnet internet cafe HTML5 website template provides a modern & bright design combined with a spacious layout. It is a perfect choice for any internet cafe or coworking space.

Or you could just run a simulation instead.

Internet Cafe SimulatorSteam
You must pay the rent of your apartment and shop. You must satisfy your customers. You should install more elegant and powerful gaming computers. You can also do illegal work if you want. But be careful, the price can be very heavy.

Internet Cafe Simulator 2Steam
You can attract more customers on rainy days. Increase the skills you want to develop from the tech tree. Will you become a business prodigy or a brawler skilled at protecting his cafe? You have to earn money to pay off your brother’s debt!

Internet Cafe Simulator (PC) reviewHardcore Gamers Unified
Internet Cafe Simulator puts you in charge of a brand-new internet café. As the new boss, every success and failure is in your hands. Purchase new computers and make sure they’re updated with the latest and greatest applications and games. Choose how much you want to charge customers so you can maximize profit by chasing them away, after all, you need to pay the rent at the end of every month!

I think I’ll continue trying to set up my cybercafé in Second Life. Pop in, if you’re passing. Free internet access!

The web’s not what it used to be

So says this article from The New York Times — way back in 2001.

Exploration of World Wide Web tilts from eclectic to mudaneThe New York Times
The new utilitarian view of the Web marks a disappointment for cultural critics who see the medium as fundamentally more democratic than traditional radio, television and newspapers, because the barriers to entry are so low. The Web was supposed to subvert corporate domination of culture by giving a global soapbox — or printing press or television station — to anyone with a computer and a modem. While plenty of people do publish their personal musings and pictures of their babies, new data shows that for many people, the Web has become an electronic routine.

It certainly looks different these days, as this tongue-in-cheek recreation shows.

How I experience the web today

But there are still glimpses of the old web out there, if you know what URL to type — or mistype.

gail.com
Q: Why isn’t there any content here? Can’t you at least throw up a picture of your cat for the Internet to check out?
A: Sorry, I have a cat, but she’s pretty unexciting by Internet standards. As for why there is very little content here, we wanted to keep the server’s attack surface as small as possible to keep it safe.

Q: Interested in selling gail.com?
A: Sorry, no.

Q: How did you manage to get gail.com?
A: My husband registered it as a birthday gift back in 1996.

Q: How many times a day is this page visited?
A: In 2020 this page received a total of 5,950,012 hits, which is an average of 16,257 per day. Looking at just unique hits, we received a total of 1,295,284, for an average of 3,539 unique hits per day. Occasionally, we get Twitter-bombed and may get several tens of thousands of visitors a day. As an example, on July 21st 2020 we received 109,316 hits.

Q: Why is your website so popular? Are you one of those famous people that no one knows why they’re famous?
A: No, I’m not famous. It seems likely that most visitors simply mistype gmail.com and end up visiting gail.com by mistake.

For curiousity’s sake, I right-clicked to ‘view page source’ of this anachronistic little website and was rewarded with this little comment, hence the header image of this post.

Quirky, hand-written html is something I definitely miss from the old web.

The internet’s next leap forward?

Remember when virtual reality was supposed to be the next all-encompassing, technological paradigm? Or the Internet of Things? Well, hold on to your VR googles because the metaverse is coming! Mark says so.

Facebook wants us to live in the metaverseThe New Yorker
In a Facebook earnings call last week, Mark Zuckerberg outlined the future of his company. The vision he put forth wasn’t based on advertising, which provides the bulk of Facebook’s current profits, or on an increase in the over-all size of the social network, which already has nearly three billion monthly active users. Instead, Zuckerberg said that his goal is for Facebook to help build the “metaverse,” a Silicon Valley buzzword that has become an obsession for anyone trying to predict, and thus profit from, the next decade of technology.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to turn Facebook into a ‘metaverse company’ – what does that mean?The Conversation
In his quest to turn Facebook into a metaverse company, Zuckerberg is seeking to build a system where people move between virtual reality (VR), AR and even 2D devices, using realistic avatars of themselves where appropriate. Here they will work, socialise, share things and have other experiences, while still probably using the internet for some tasks such as searches which are similar to how we use it now. Owning not only the Facebook platform but also WhatsApp, Instagram and VR headset maker Oculus gives Zuckerberg a big head start in making this a reality.

Here’s how the man himself describes it, in an interview with The Verge.

Mark in the metaverse: Facebook’s CEO on why the social network is becoming ‘a metaverse company’The Verge
The metaverse is a vision that spans many companies — the whole industry. You can think about it as the successor to the mobile internet. And it’s certainly not something that any one company is going to build, but I think a big part of our next chapter is going to hopefully be contributing to building that, in partnership with a lot of other companies and creators and developers. But you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness.

For context, it would be helpful to read Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash or Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One from 2011, recently made into a movie of the same name. Exciting, dynamic sci-fi thrillers, but not futures that I’d like as my present.

The metaverse has always been a dystopian ideaVICE
If it is coming, and if it is a big deal, then surprisingly few have paused to carefully consider the actual source of the metaverse, an undertaking which seems like a good idea, especially because that source is a deeply dystopian novel about a collapsed America that is overrun by violence and poverty. The metaverse was born in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash, where it serves as entertainment and an economic underbelly to a poor, desperate nation that is literally governed by corporate franchises. […]

Both books’ metaverses get at a common truism: there is something inherently dystopian in a future where humans abandon the real world in favor of an escapist and consumerist-oriented fully immersive digital one. To want to spend any serious amount of time in a metaverse, it must be made more appealing than reality, a feat which can be accomplished in one of two ways—either the world outside is already shitty enough to drive you into a glitch-prone, murder-filled alternative, or the fantasy of becoming someone else is compelling enough to consume you totally.

Is this all hype at the moment? Is there any real substance to these aspirations?

But as usual with such amorphous concepts and platform aspirations, there’s very little there. None of these luminaries, from Zuck to Nadella to Boz, seem capable of painting a coherent vision for what their particular metaverse will look or feel like, beyond gesturing at “presence” and a collection of apps, keywords, and old science fiction tropes. It is an odd vision built from a compendium of juvenile fantasies, perceived market opportunities, and overt dystopias.

Well, the author of that article might think so, but that’s not a view shared by venture capitalist Matthew Ball. He first wrote about the beginnings of the metaverse in 2018 …

Fortnite is the future, but probably not for the reasons you thinkMatthewBall.vc
The impending possibility (and broader inevitability) of the Metaverse is separate from whether Epic can, should or will pursue it. But it’s clear that Sweeney wants to build an open Metaverse before someone else builds a closed one. Many are trying.

… updated that in January 2020 …

The Metaverse: What it is, where to find it, who will build it, and FortniteMatthewBall.vc
This is why considering Fortnite as video game or interactive experience is to think too small and too immediately. Fortnite began as a game, but it quickly evolved into a social square. Its players aren’t logging in to “play”, per se, but to be with their virtual and real-world friends. Teenagers in the 1970s to 2010s would come home and spend three hours talking on the phone. Now they talk to their friends on Fortnite, but not about Fortnite. Instead, they talk about school, movies, sports, news, boys, girls and more. After all, Fortnite doesn’t have a story or IP – the plot is what happens on it and who is there.

… and then again in June 2021, with this extensive, nine-part essay, ‘The Metaverse Primer’.

A framework for the metaverseMatthewBall.vc
Since [the 2020 update], a lot has happened. COVID-19 forced hundreds of millions into Zoomschool and remote work. Roblox became one of the most popular entertainment experiences in history. Google Trends’ index on the phrase “The Metaverse” set a new “100” in March 2021. Against this baseline, use of the term never exceeded seven from January 2005 through to December 2020. With that in mind, I thought it was time to do an update – one that reflects how my thinking has changed over the past 18 months and addresses the questions I’ve received during this time, such as “Is the Metaverse here?”, “When will it arrive?”, and “What does it need to grow?”.

In this collection of essays, he dives into eight core categories; hardware, networking, computing power, virtual platforms, standards, payments, content and services, and user behaviour.

Each of these buckets is critical to the development of the Metaverse. In many cases, we have a good sense of how each one needs to develop, or at least where there’s a critical threshold (say, VR resolution and frame rates, or network latency). But recent history warns us not to be dogmatic about any specific path to, or idealized vision of, a fully functioning Metaverse. The internet was once envisioned as the ‘Information Superhighway’ and ‘World Wide Web’. Neither of these descriptions were particularly helpful in planning for 2010 or 2020, least of all in understanding how the world and almost every industry would be transformed by the internet.

Very extensive, and I can’t say I follow even half of it, but it all sounds very exciting. It’s nice to see Second Life getting a mention as a “proto-metaverse”, but I wish it was more involved.

Second Life 2021 review, documentary from inside the social metaverse – YouTube
Second Life is an open world 3D social virtual world, the precursor of the virtual reality or VR platforms we see today. But is it really on its way out of the Metaverse game as some believe? Or does it hold the keys to realizing the Metaverse as it is envisioned by many futurists and sci-fi authors? This short film seeks to answer those questions.

Hopefully this next social internet will result in a more positive future than the one envisaged in Keiichi Matsuda’s video, Hyper-reality, that I shared some time back.

Anyway, to round all this off, here are a couple of links from Dezeen on what real estate in this new digital universe might look like.

Artist Krista Kim sells “first NFT digital house in the world” for over $500,000Dezeen
Kim designed the home in 2020 to be a space that embodied her philosophy of meditative design and worked with an architect to render the house using Unreal Engine, software that is commonly used to create video games. She describes the house, which overlooks a moody mountain range and features an open-plan design and floor to ceiling glass walls, as a “light sculpture”.

Andrés Reisinger sells collection of “impossible” virtual furniture for $450,000 at auctionDezeen
Each of the virtual items can be placed in any shared 3D virtual space or “metaverse”, including open worlds such as Decentraland and Somnium Space and Minecraft. Alternatively, the 3D models can be used in virtual- and augmented-reality applications as well as development platforms such as Unity and Unreal Engine to create games, animations and CGI movies.

Timescales, though. The web’s already 30 years old, how long do we have to wait for all this? And how will we stop it going sour again?

What’s on my mind? Cars and dogs

Tesla’s new ‘mind of car’ UI signals a future we’re not prepared forUX Collective
As far as we’re concerned, everything we need to know and understand about empathy extends only towards sentient life — from stepping inside the shoes of real people we look to understand their needs, goals, pain points and desires. However, that’s beginning to change. In the same way we’ve seen in the example above, we have to stomach the idea of extending that same patience, understanding and empathy towards an AI system. Does it sound crazy? A little bit, yes. But, like a child, a new AI system learns through trial and error in an effort to reach a mature understanding to discern what is right and wrong.

A dog’s inner life: what a robot pet taught me about consciousnessThe Guardian
I spent the afternoon reading the instruction booklet while Aibo wandered around the apartment, occasionally circling back and urging me to play. He came with a pink ball that he nosed around the living room, and when I threw it, he would run to retrieve it. Aibo had sensors all over his body, so he knew when he was being petted, plus cameras that helped him learn and navigate the layout of the apartment, and microphones that let him hear voice commands. This sensory input was then processed by facial recognition software and deep-learning algorithms that allowed the dog to interpret vocal commands, differentiate between members of the household, and adapt to the temperament of its owners. According to the product website, all of this meant that the dog had “real emotions and instinct” – a claim that was apparently too ontologically thorny to have flagged the censure of the Federal Trade Commission.

You don’t hate email

Another Monday, another full email inbox. For all our struggles with it, it’s a system we’ve had for decades and is still going strong, regardless of its critics.

Here’s Joanne McNeil’s positive (kind of?) take on it all. As she succinctly summarises in her recent newsletter, “you own your email/there’s no Zuckerberg of email/what you actually hate about email is work”.

In defence of email, the tech marvel we couldn’t do without: Joanne McNeilThe Guardian
Email – built collaboratively for the public – is just another casualty of work that demands 24-hour availability and cordial performance. It’s an example of how “things we used to keep for ourselves”, as Sarah Jaffe writes in her book Work Won’t Love You Back, “are suddenly in demand on the job, including our friendships, our feelings, and our love”. Those who were online in the 1990s and 2000s might remember when the messages in their inboxes were delightful, curious and thoughtful. The joys of email were easier to appreciate when users primarily communicated with friends and family through it.

Saying goodbye

Another article about grief and chatbots, and another one about the end of the web.

The Jessica Simulation: Love and loss in the age of A.I.San Francisco Chronicle
As Joshua continued to experiment, he realized there was no rule preventing him from simulating real people. What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to create a chatbot version of his dead fiancee? There was nothing strange, he thought, about wanting to reconnect with the dead: People do it all the time, in prayers and in dreams. In the last year and a half, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have died of COVID-19, often suddenly, without closure for their loved ones, leaving a raw landscape of grief. How many survivors would gladly experiment with a technology that lets them pretend, for a moment, that their dead loved one is alive again — and able to text?

The day the good internet diedThe Ringer
The internet lasts forever, the internet never forgets. And yet it is also a place in which I feel confronted with an almost unbearable volume of daily reminders of its decay: broken links, abandoned blogs, apps gone by, deleted tweets, too-cutesy 404 messages, vanished Vines, videos whose copyright holders have requested removal, lost material that the Wayback Machine never crawled, things I know I’ve read somewhere and want to quote in my work but just can’t seem to resurface the same way I used to be able to. Some of these losses are silly and tiny, but others over the years have felt more monumental and telling. And when Google Reader disappeared in 2013, it wasn’t just a tale of dwindling user numbers or of what one engineer later described as a rotted codebase. It was a sign of the crumbling of the very foundation upon which it had been built: the era of the Good Internet.

Version numbers and default fonts

Can’t really get excited about a new version of Windows, no matter how much the Google News algorithm thing wants to push it at me.

Microsoft looks ready to launch Windows 11The Verge
It’s not long until we find out whether Microsoft is ready to dial the version number of Windows up to 11. The Windows elevent (as I’m now calling it) will start at 11AM ET on June 24th, and The Verge will be covering all the news live as it happens.

Windows 11 is already full of bugs, but you shouldn’t worry about itTechRadar
Microsoft has released an early version of Windows 11 for members of its Windows Insider Program, and users are already encountering issues and bugs with the new operating system. That’s kind of the point of course, as this developer build is being used as a kind of pre-release beta for the full version that’s expected to launch in “Holiday 2021”, and people who are using it are encouraged to spot and report any bugs and issues.

Why Windows 11 going with Amazon for its Android apps, and not Google, is a masterstrokeTechRadar
It’s an ingenious move when you think about it. It enables more apps on the new Microsoft Store with minimal effort from Microsoft, and helps it become a substantial rival to Apple’s Mac App Store, with iOS apps now available on M1 Macs.

Windows 11 looks a little different. Here’s what’s changingCNET
Windows 11 features a streamlined new design, with pastel-like colors and rounded corners, and overall a more Mac-like look. The Windows Start menu has moved from the bottom left of the screen to the middle, with app icons arranged in the center next to it.

For years, Apple sold itself as the anti-Microsoft. Now Windows 11 is the anti-AppleCNET
But the Microsoft of old didn’t entirely go away. Analysts believe Nadella’s broadsides against Apple during his Windows 11 launch speech weren’t just about knocking Microsoft’s biggest frenemy. His tone wasn’t jovial, nor was he dismissive like former CEO Steve Ballmer when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs first showed off the iPhone in 2007. Nadella was serious.

This caught my eye, however.

Beyond Calibri: Finding Microsoft’s next default fontMicrosoft Design
Default fonts are perhaps most notable in the absence of the impression they make. … Calibri has been the default font for all things Microsoft 365 since 2007, when it stepped in to replace Times New Roman across Microsoft Office. It has served us all well, but we believe it’s time to evolve. To help us set a new direction, we’ve commissioned five original, custom fonts to eventually replace Calibri as the default.

So, farewell then, Calibri and hello either Tenorite, Bierstadt, Skeena, Seaford or Grandview.

Who comes up with these names, I wonder.

Microsoft is rolling out a new default font to 1.2 billion Office users after 14 years — and the designer of the old one is surprisedCNBC
As de Groot put it in an email, “I had proposed Clas, a Scandinavian first name and associated with ‘class,’ but then the Greek advisor said it meant ‘to fart’ in Greek. Then I proposed Curva or Curvae, which I still like, but then the Cyrillic advisor said it meant ‘prostitute’ in Russian, it is indeed used as a very common curse word.”

I’m not sure how the title of that article squares with the title of this one.

Even the Calibri font’s creator is glad that Microsoft is moving onWIRED
It’s the end of an era, but Calibri’s designer, Lucas de Groot, has no qualms about letting his typeface rest for a bit. “It’s a relief,” he says. De Groot created Calibri in the early 2000s, as part of a collection of fonts for enhanced screen reading. “I designed it in quite a hurry,” he says. “I had some sketches already, so I adapted those and added these rounded corners to get some design feeling in it.”

Do you have a favourite?

Microsoft’s new default font options, ratedTechCrunch
Bierstadt is my pick and what I think Microsoft will pick. First because it has a differentiated lowercase l, which I think is important. Second, it doesn’t try anything cute with its terminals. The t ends without curling up, and there’s no distracting tail on the a, among other things — sadly the most common letter, lowercase e, is ugly, like a chipped theta. Someone fix it. It’s practical, clear and doesn’t give you a reason to pick a different font.

Regardless, there’s certainly a bewildering number of typefaces out there. Too many?

All you need is 5 fontsBetter Web Type
I came to the same conclusion as Massimo and many other designers—I don’t need a huge range of fonts of questionable quality to choose from, I only need a few high quality ones. So I created my own list of 5 fonts that I use most often.

But how about a little background on a very different Microsoft font.

The origin story of the Wingdings fontUX Collective
Wingdings was never intended to be typed. Contrary to what happens today, when we can just select one picture from many available online, and copy and paste it on a document; in the ’90s was not easy to find pictures that could be used in an uncomplicated way with the text. In addition, image files were too large for the simple HDs of computers at the time. Therefore, Wingdings offered an alternative for anyone who wanted to use icons in high resolution and that could be resized, but without taking up a lot of space on the machines.

This way, the font can be considered the offline predecessor of the emoji, an alphabet that is now an integral part of modern communication.

Why the Wingdings font existsVox
“We were influenced by images from similar historical and modern sources,” Bigelow says. The Lucida Icons spanned many eras. “Pointing fingers and hands go back to medieval manuscripts and, before that, to ancient Roman gestures; airplanes are 20th-century inventions; and keyboards, computers, computer mice, and printers, included in the Lucida Icons fonts, were part of office life in 1990 when we drew the images.”

Not selling the web, ok?

Tim’s in the news again, in another ridiculous NTF story.

Tim Berners-Lee’s NFT of world wide web source code sold for $5.4mThe Guardian
The NFT sold on Wednesday was created by the English scientist Berners-Lee in 2021 and represents ownership of various digital items from when he invented the world wide web in 1989. The sale effectively comprises a blockchain-based record of ownership of files containing the original source code for the world wide web. The final price was $5,434,500 and half of the bidders were new to Sotheby’s.

A tidy sum.

Tim Berners-Lee defends auction of NFT representing web’s source codeThe Guardian
“This is totally aligned with the values of the web,” Berners-Lee told the Guardian. “The questions I’ve got, they said: ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like the free and open web.’ Well, wait a minute, the web is just as free and just as open as it always was. The core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free, just as they always have been. I’m not selling the web – you won’t have to start paying money to follow links. “I’m not even selling the source code. I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.

That ‘not selling the source code’ doesn’t quite square with how this was being reported earlier, but whatever.

World Wide Web code that changed the world up for auction as NFTReuters
The original source code for the World Wide Web that was written by its inventor Tim Berners-Lee is up for sale at Sotheby’s as part of a non-fungible token, with bids starting at just $1,000. […] The digitally signed Ethereum blockchain non-fungible token (NFT), a one-of-a-kind digital asset which records ownership, includes the original source code, an animated visualization, a letter written by Berners-Lee and a digital poster of the full code from the original files.

Orbiting plywood?

We’re used to wooden acting in space, but what about some actual wood?

World’s first wooden satellite aims to prove plywood can survive spaceCNET
The WISA Woodsat is a 4-inch (10-centimeter) square satellite that’s scheduled for a fall launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket in New Zealand. Getting to orbit is only part of the adventure. Once it’s there, the team will monitor the little cube to see how its plywood build stands up to cold, heat, radiation and the vacuum of space.

Woodsat is the brainchild of Jari Makinen, co-founder of CubeSat replica kit company Arctic Astronautics. The European Space Agency, or ESA, is providing a suite of sensors to track the satellite’s performance and will also help with pre-flight testing.

I remember reading about something similar last year.

Japan developing wooden satellites to cut space junkBBC News
A Japanese company and Kyoto University have joined forces to develop what they hope will be the world’s first satellites made out of wood by 2023. … Space junk is becoming an increasing problem as more satellites are launched into the atmosphere. Wooden satellites would burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground when they plunge back to Earth.

Coverage of “wooden satellites” misses the pointArs Technica
Unfortunately, making satellite housings out of wood won’t help with this, for many, many reasons. To start with, a lot of the junk isn’t ex-satellites; it’s often the boosters and other hardware that got them to orbit in the first place. Housings are also only a fraction of the material in a satellite, leaving lots of additional junk untouched by the change, and any wood that’s robust enough to function as an effective satellite housing will be extremely dangerous if it impacts anything at orbital speeds.

Unlikely journeys

I think I’ve incorrectly conflated two separate topics when I think about cars of the future; electric cars and self-driving cars. The former doesn’t have to rely on the latter, right? Perhaps that’s just as well.

The costly pursuit of self-driving cars continues on. And on. And on.The New York Times
The wizards of Silicon Valley said people would be commuting to work in self-driving cars by now. Instead, there have been court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology that some researchers say is still years from becoming the industry’s next big thing.

Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the deepest-pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet; auto giants; and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.

But as we’ve seen before, electric cars come with their own unique challenges.

Electric cars can sound like anything. That’s a huge opportunity to craft the soundscape of the futureTime
Then there’s whatever BMW is doing with its i4 electric-sedan concept. At low speeds, the i4 sounds like an electrified orchestra warming up for a performance. But as it accelerates, the tone becomes deeper and lower. Then comes a high-pitched skittering effect, as if some kind of reality-bending reaction were taking place under the hood. “We conceived a sound to celebrate the car, intended as a highly complex performative art installation,” says BMW sound designer Renzo Vitale. Vitale, who worked alongside famed film-score composer Hans Zimmer on the i4, says it was his counterintuitive idea to make the noise deepen as the car gains speed. “It was a metaphoric way to say, ‘We are looking at the past,’” he says.

Perhaps, by the time all this is resolved, there’ll be less need for these crazy machines.

Commuting is psychological tortureWelcome to Hell World
I can’t even calculate the savings in gas, wear on my car, etc. But I can tell you that with nearly two hours back in each of my days, plus the extra 40 minutes or so of making myself presentable to be in close proximity to others, I have been able to reinvest that time in myself. I have been eating better, I have time for the gym, I have time to give my dogs the exercise they need. I know this year has been mentally taxing on so many, but I’ve found these changes work so much better for me.

Working – and living – within screens

Surely, once everything’s back to normal, we can stop bothering with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and so on. But, as the first of these two Guardian articles explain, there are plenty of other companies out there — Mozilla Hubs, Gather, Wonder for instance — who are hoping that, not only will we continue to meet online, but we’d do so even more deeply. Needless to say, not everyone agrees.

Can virtual meeting spaces save us all from Zoom fatigue?The Guardian
These platforms are meant to improve remote work, but is a virtual experience that fills the entire day better or worse than spending a couple of hours on video calls but being otherwise generally invisible? “Employers probably want to help people gel, but they risk trying to do too much,” says Dr Linda Kaye, who studies the psychology of gaming and online behaviour. “I’m not saying it’s not useful in a work context, but when you force it on people it becomes inauthentic.” Her research reflects the fact that valuable social connections can be forged online. But just because we can create virtual worlds to work in, should we? […]

Much depends on the type of workplace you’re in – its culture and the sector in which it operates. While Hubs, the platform used by the engineers at the University of Nottingham, could work brilliantly for design, technology or architectural businesses, I’m not sure I can see social workers holding a case conference in a virtual world. Would it feel appropriate for a legal firm dealing with serious crimes to hold their meetings as avatar versions of themselves on Gather? Similarly, it’s hard to imagine holding a disciplinary session as a cartoon version of yourself.

As much as I’m enjoying my weekly book club on Second Life, I’m not sure about swapping the office for it. But it’s not just at work where we feel like we live in a screen. As this fascinating study from UCL shows, thanks to our smartphones we’re living in screens all the time.

Smartphone is now ‘the place where we live’, anthropologists sayThe Guardian
A team of anthropologists from UCL spent more than a year documenting smartphone use in nine countries around the world, from Ireland to Cameroon, and found that far from being trivial toys, people felt the same way about their devices as they did about their homes.

“The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it’s become the place where we live,” said Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study. “The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone. … This behaviour, and the frustration, disappointment or even offence it can cause, is what we’re calling the ‘death of proximity’. We are learning to live with the jeopardy that even when we are physically together, we can be socially, emotionally or professionally alone.” […]

“The smartphone is perhaps the first object to challenge the house itself (and possibly also the workplace) in terms of the amount of time we dwell in it while awake,” they conclude, coining the term “transportal home” to describe the effect. “We are always ‘at home’ in our smartphone. We have become human snails carrying our home in our pockets.”