I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore

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I did not know what to type into the address bar of my browser. I stared at the cursor. Eventually, I typed “nytimes.com” and hit enter. Like a freaking dad. The entire world of the internet, one that used to boast so many ways to waste time, and here I was, reading the news. It was even worse than working.

This world — of blogs and forums and weird personal sites and early, college-era Facebook — was made for dicking around. After college, when I had a real job, with health insurance and a Keurig machine, I would read blogs, funny people talking about nothing in particular with no goal besides being entertaining for a three- to eight-minute block. These were evolutions of the Seanbaby type of writers. Their websites were comparatively elegant, set up for ease of reading. Gawker, Videogum, the Awl, the A.V. Club, Wonkette, various blogs even less commercial than those. There was one that just made fun of Saved by the Bell episodes. I never even watched Saved by the Bell, but I loved that one.

And then, one day, I think in 2013, Twitter and Facebook were not really very fun anymore. And worse, the fun things they had supplanted were never coming back. Forums were depopulated; blogs were shut down. Twitter, one agent of their death, became completely worthless: a water-drop-torture feed of performative outrage, self-promotion, and discussion of Twitter itself. Facebook had become, well … you’ve been on Facebook.

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The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens

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Each social media network creates a particular kind of teenage star: Those blessed with early-onset hotness are drawn to YouTube, the fashionable and seemingly wealthy post to Instagram, the most charismatic actors, dancers, and comedians thrive on Vine. On Facebook, every link you share and photo you post is a statement of your identity. Tumblr is the social network that, based on my reporting, is seen by teens as the most uncool. A telling post from 2014: “I picked joining Tumblr and staying active on here because: 1. I’m not attractive enough to be a Youtuber 2. Not popular enough for twitter 3. Facebook is dumb.” You don’t tell people your Tumblr URL, you aren’t logging the banalities of your day—you aren’t even you. On Tumblr, you can revel in anonymity, say whatever you want without fear of it going on your permanent record. You can start as many Tumblrs as you like, one for each slice of your personality, whether that’s gymnastics fandom (how I got into Tumblr) or Barack Obama-Harry Styles slashfic (it exists) or akoisexual identity (when your feelings of sexual attraction fade once they’re reciprocated). A Tumblr staffer pointed me to a blog called Dolph Lundgren & His Action Nips, which is just shirtless photos of the actor with his nipples turned into blinking GIFs.

When Tumblr launched in 2007, the simple layout—text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, video—was its primary appeal: less bloggy than Blogger, less puzzling than WordPress. Tumblr’s templates were more customizable than Facebook, making it a good place to put your portfolio, perhaps some journal entries. But the defining feature of Tumblr culture is reblogging: Any user can repost content from any other Tumblr and add their own comments. All of these likes, reblogs, and comments pile up in a log of “notes” appended to the original post as it travels through the network’s feed. Celebrating someone else’s brilliance is part of the content you offer, giving exposure to both the creator and the reblogger.

When I began reporting on the world of Tumblr teens, I first wanted to explain the absurdist comedy of Pizza and dozens of other Tumblrs like hers. But I soon discovered a secret world hidden in plain sight, one in which teenagers, through wit and luck, had stumbled into a new kind of viral fame and fortune, by outsmarting internet ad networks and finding ways to earn thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars from their intentionally unambitious jokes.

Meet Tumblr’s 15-Year-Old Secret Keeper

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On the Internet, the word “heartbreaking” is often used as a device to get us to click and gawk at remarkable tales of loss — the bride left at the altar, the long-lost family pet. On The Last Message Received Tumblr, the heartbreak doesn’t really need a headline to sell itself.

The sorrow appears in a scrolling cascade of text bubbles that contain both small slights, such as being ghosted inexplicably, and huge loss, like losing a parent. It’s hard to look away because the blog is full of stark endings, the kind of sadness that won’t happen to you until happens to you.

The Last Message Received is actually the successor to an even more popular project the teenager created this year: On Dear My Blank, more than 17,000 people have asked her to post anonymous letters that they will never send. Just like on The Last Message Received, notes on Dear My Blank are mostly about loss.

The letters are to crushes, parents and ex-lovers, and Emily receives up to 100 of them a day.

 

The Death and Life of Great American GeoCities

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[The blog] Animated Text is part of a retro aesthetic renaissance sweeping the Web, one that pays homage to old-school computing systems and software like Windows 95 and Microsoft Paint. Nostalgia certainly plays a part, in the same way it does with collectors of vinyl or old typewriters, and for good reason: This revival is, in many respects, a reaction to the manicured lawns of Facebook and Twitter and a celebration of the earlier, less sterile (and surveilled) environments that people once inhabited and created online.

…Presented in isolation, these nearly extinct images and file formats become something like works of art — or at least digital tchotchkes for a generation too young to remember the blend of frustration and awe a 56K modem could inspire but old enough to appreciate the beauty of its early transmissions.

Is it the Beginning of the End for Online Comments?

The Daily Dot recently became the latest news website to get rid of user comments

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Vibrant online communities? Or cesspools of abuse? Have comments had their day?

The debate about comment sections on news sites is often as divisive as the comments themselves. Recently outlets such as The Verge and The Daily Dot have closed their comments sections because they’ve become too hard to manage. And they’re far from alone.

That’s the downside. But it’s also worth remembering that many news organisations – including the BBC – have used comments sections to make real connections with audiences, find stories, and turn what was once a one-way street into a multi-headed conversation.

In our experience, our community hasn’t evolved in our comments. It’s evolved in our social media accounts. To have comments, you have to be very active, and if you’re not incredibly active, what ends up happening is a mob can shout down all the other people on your site. In an environment that isn’t heavily curated it becomes about silencing voices and not about opening up voices.

Negativity Online: An Essay Inspired By 200,000 Comments

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Excerpt from this article:

Most bloggers (and stat counters) will tell you that people don’t say much online anymore. Comments are being replaced by shares, likes and pins and unless someone has an extreme opinion, they tend to just read and move on. But when we read something that touches a nerve, or worse — an insecurity — the meanest parts of us can come out.

…When I read through comments on [DesignSponge], I get a very clear message that there seems to be some sort of unstated consensus that “normal” is best. People want to see homes and ideas and products that shock them with their creativity and beauty — but only to a certain degree. If it goes “too” far or is perceived as having been made with “too” much money or effort, it immediately tips over into negative comment land.

…Here’s what I see happening in the comments here at DS:

  1. We assume we know what someone is like because of one small glimpse inside their home/life. Just because someone cleaned up their house for their home tour or doesn’t have a pile of clutter doesn’t mean they have a team of house cleaners or think they’re better than anyone else. The amount of times people have commented that someone is probably “not a good” parent for NOT having toys shown on the floor of a child’s room blows my mind. The same goes for how clean someone’s kitchen looks (“they must never cook if it looks that clean”). The bottom line is — people clean up when they put their lives online. The only thing we can truly know from that photo is that they took the time to straighten up or, like a lot of us, shoved everything messy to the left of the photo.
  1. We assume there is a magic “normal” we can find that will somehow make everyone happy…
  1. We assume that people who are perceived as wealthy think they are better than other people or have it easier than others. Those people are then deemed fair to attack because they think they’re “above” us…

…After reading through 200,000 comments, I think a lot of the upset that people feel comes from wanting to see more diversity, more honesty and more transparency online. And I think that challenge is one for me and other content producers, and not homeowners or the people who share their lives online.

Photo by Oddur Thorisson from Manger

Trying to Keep a ‘Celebrity Class of Commenters’ Happy

Two articles about the New York Times and its commenting system. First, an article from their public editor:

Censorship! Discrimination! Downright confusion! These are some of the complaints I get from readers about The Times’s reader commenting system and its glitches. It’s always a hot topic and more so, it seems, in recent days.

…“We’re lucky to have a celebrity class of commenters,” he said, referring to the generally high quality of the discourse he sees, “and we want to elevate and recognize them in new ways.” Just how to do that, with limited resources, is a current topic of discussion among audience development people at The Times.

 …the specific concerns:

The “censorship” problem. Some readers complain that they get a notification by email that their comment has been published, but when they go to look for it, they can’t find it.

…The West Coast problem. West Coast readers complain that by the time they get around to reading The Times in the late afternoon, comments may be closed.

…The lack of opportunity problem. Readers often complain that there are stories they would like to comment on but cannot. And they don’t understand why some stories are chosen, and others that seem like obvious contenders are not.

…What’s clear to me is that – although the system is far from perfect now – reader commenting is one of the best ways for The Times to stay close to its readers and what they care most about.

And this second article, by KJ Dell’Antonia who edits and moderates comments on the New York Times’s Motherlode blog:

It’s been said many times that “the best thing about Motherlode is the comments.”

Sometimes that means the amazing, civil conversations we’re able to have here about even contentious issues… Sometimes it comes from someone who is appreciating some of the, shall we say, extreme points of view and ways of expressing them that can be found whenever a writer provokes a strong reaction here… But mostly, people say that because commenters to the Motherlode blog are the “A list” of what our community editor, Bassey Etim, described to the public editor Margaret Sullivan as The Times’s “celebrity class of commenters.”

…Where is my comment? It’s probably in the queue. As Judy put it on last Friday’s open thread: “The slow pace of moderation really detracts from conversation in this forum. What a drag!”

…The comments are all one-sided! Here’s what happens: the original post (on adoption, or vaccination or circumcision) is divisive. Naturally, people who agree with it can write civil comments, which are all easily approved. Readers who disagree may have a harder time staying within those boundaries. Some will use A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! which our system may reject before I even see the comment. Others will express their disapproval using obscenities, which we don’t allow, or they may include, in an otherwise acceptable opposing point of view, a line that’s over the line. The result is that a larger percentage of negative comments can’t be published, and if the negative point of view was a minority to begin with, the result looks like the singing of the choir.