Amen

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Calling London-based devs, designers, devigners, wizards

Image: Dottie Mae/Some rights reserved

I’m lucky enough to know a handful of London-based developers and web designers, but nowhere near as many as I’d like to.

I’m hoping to be working on a number of media-ish projects over the next little while, in the squidgy bit in between editorial and technology. The more co-conspirators the merrier.

So, if you are a freelance developer (front or back end, HTML(5)/CSS, JS, PHP, Ruby, whatever really), iOS/Android developer, designer, UX expert, pinball wizard… please say hello.

How to survive the nibblers

Piranhas. Image: Chandra Marsono on Flickr/Some rights reserved

 

Brilliant blog by Stijn Debrouwere on “the mess the news industry is in.” The thrust? Journalism is being eaten away by a sea of nibbling sites and services. Read it. The “how to survive” bit is on the money, too:

• Amp up storytelling and personality, because those things are irreplaceable. This American Life, for instance, or The Awl.

• Acknowledge that you provide less value than you used to, downsize and capitalize on scale. What national newspapers are doing, albeit unwittingly.

• Join the revolution. Adrian Holovaty comes from journalism, but EveryBlock isn’t journalism.

• People read because they’re bored. Un-bore them, like Gawker does.

• Write to people’s passion, and they will gobble up just about anything. MacRumors and many other niche sites do this.

• Do stuff that does still matter. People are happy to support ProPublica and the Texas Tribune.

Hat tip to Jay Rosen for the link.

Internet, I love you but you’re bringing me down

I’ve got a piece in tomorrow’s G2 on what happened when I did everything the internet told me for a day. In writing it, I came across lots of interesting/troubling articles on how the web is, well, turning. Here’s a handful of snippets…

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“Left to their own devices, [the web’s] personalisation filters serve up a kind of invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar, and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.”

Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble, CNN

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“Our attention is well directed these days…  thanks to good algorithms and great curators… but it’s like a flashlight whipping around the room. Never resting, Never returning…we catch and release…”

Robin Sloan, Fish

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 “Everything that makes cyberflânerie possible — solitude and individuality, anonymity and opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking — is under assault by Facebook. And it’s not just any company: with 845 million active users worldwide, where it goes, arguably, so goes the Internet.”

Evegeny Morozov, The Death of the Cyberflâneur, NYT

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“Google has become so good at meeting our desires that we spend less time discovering new ones … you can always get what you want. But you may not get what you need.”

Ian Leslie, In Search of Serendipity, The Economist

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“As we start to understand how people actually use the Internet, the cyberutopian hopes of a borderless, postnational planet can look as naive as most past predictions that new technologies would transform societies… A central paradox of this connected age is that while it’s easier than ever to share information and perspectives from different parts of the world, we may be encountering a narrower picture of the world than we did in less connected days.”

Ethan Zuckerman, A Small World Afer All, Wilson Quarterly

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“The internet promises the idea of actualising ourselves in an essential way, but in fact we fall victim to a much cruder kind of sorting.”

Will Self, The Internet is a false friend

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“Unlike more Luddite critics, Lanier complains not that technology has taken over our lives but that it has not given us enough back in return. In place of a banquet, we’ve been given a vending machine.”

What Jason Lanier thinks of Technology, The New Yorker

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“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”

James Whittaker, Why I left Google, MSDN

——————–

#JustSayin.

*Benji retreats to shed in garden to draw lines between torn out newspaper articles.*

Into the unknown…looking for squidgy bits

After a very enjoyable period in-house at the Guardian, I’ve decided to re-enter the freelance realm.

I’ve loved the writing… and have been a very lucky boy. My meanderings took me to nudist protest beaches in Bulgaria, candlelit shanty towns in Uruguay, ancient workshops in Istanbul and lots of other places, via dozens of TwiTrips, when the public guided me in realtime around cities across Britain and beyond. It’s also been fascinating being inside the Guardian during one of the most eventful periods in its existence, through WikiLeaks, the phone-hacking scandal, and the admirable moves towards a ‘Digital First’ strategy.

Over the last year or so, I’ve especially loved the chance to work in the squidgy bit in between editorial and technology –  experimenting with immersive video and Vimeo galleries in Tokyo, interactive city guides (which helped win Travel Website of the Year), zoomable panoramic images in the Lake District, and for one glorious afternoon, had thousands of readers playing Street Fighter II on the Guardian website (no link, don’t ask).

These editorial-developer collisions also inspired me to work on a few extra-curricular projects – Twitter mapping tool Kerouapp (as used by the Guardian here, here, and here) and news aggregator top5news (as written about here, here, here). It’s even made me want to learn a new language – I’m starting an intensive front end development course in a few weeks’ time.

I’ve become convinced that wonderful things happen when journalists and developers experiment and create things together, so that’s the direction I’m aiming in. Journalism’s current predicament – in a curious limbo between the old and the new – fascinates the crap out of me, and I want to make things in the middle of it.

If you do too, get in touch: benjilanyado[at]gmail.com

I’m also available for feature writing, consultancy, weddings and barmitzvas.

The web and the Minimum Viable Message

I started writing a post on how the web is the perfect delivery mechanism for a Minimum Viable Message – a highly-digestible, simple, powerful idea that invites you to ‘like’ it, or sign a petition, or re-tweet it. I was just getting into how troubling this is. I was going to muse on whether a million-strong Facebook group is more or less meaningful than a dozen activists who storm a building – an actual one, IRL.

There was probably going to be a bit about how terribly easy passive support is compared to active support, and how the internet, worryingly, is much more suited to the former than the latter.  I was going to wheel out the rise and fall of #StopKony2012 as an example of just how powerful – and fickle – an online movement can be, and how this was the perfect illustration of the web exponentially disseminating highly-polished polemic, steamrolling any nuances or critique that might have stood in its way, and then doing the whole thing again in reverse. Black, then white.

I was going to maybe conclude that the web is disappointingly bad at doing debate and discussion compared to real life, where the squidgy bits in between two sides of an argument can be fully aired and indulged, at the same time, on top of each other.

Then I got a bit tired and realised I should probably go to bed, and that this has probably been written hundreds of times before, and that Matt Andrews has more or less said all this recently. Read that.

Is txt spk gonna sneak into da papers?

Earlier today, a student I’ve taught on blogging workshops tweeted this:

I started writing a reply telling him that, in public, he should be spelling words correctly. His “durin” should be a “during“. Then I stopped, because I wasn’t sure I was right.

I’ve had frequent conversations with a multilingual colleague of mine about language, and how sacred it is. We live in a fussy newspaper world of word pedants: for most newsmongers, text speak is anathema, and correctness is king. But for my 12-year old nephew chatting to his mates on BBM, text speak is second nature. It’s his language.

It’s also a collision of numerous social changes. The world moves very quickly these days, so who wants 200 words when you can make do with 20, or 20 characters when you can have 3? We don’t write letters anymore, we send text messages, which often cost more the lengthier they are.  Inevitably, the message is adapting to the medium.

Add to this the changing vernacular of urban areas over the last twenty years, influenced by decades of immigration taking root, and with it, new slang and vocal timbres. Proper English doesn’t stand a chance.

And it shouldn’t. Things change. Look at this copy of the first newspaper ever published in America, in 1690.

It’s called “Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick“. Six words, of which three have since changed to do away with superfluous letters. The second paragraph includes “beholden” and “herunto”, antiques that would be laughed at if they appeared in a newspaper column today. Each “s” is an extravagant swoosh that arches above and below the letters around it. Beautiful, but dispensable.

And here’s a recent headline from The Sun.

Bruv. Enders. Yup, the headline writer was most likely trying to squeeze the copy into limited space. But I’m sure very few people flinched when they saw it, other than broadsheet sub-editors.  It’s a story that enthralled teenagers across the country, and I bet none of them flinched. If anything, it might have made the story more likely to come into their orbit than a finely-tuned, syntax-perfect alternative.

Languages changes, and always will.

But yes, Joe, for now, should be wary of skipping his “g”s. He’s an aspiring journalist who needs abide by the foibles of his prospective employers, however old-fashioned they might be. But I wonder if the same will apply when he’s the prospective employer?