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A normal day on Twitter in 2019
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My First Day On Bluesky
Yesterday morning, I got access to Bluesky, the still invite-only Twitter alternative funded by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Bluesky is essentially the same general layout and experience as Twitter, but is currently missing some of the bells and whistles. There are no drafts, you can’t DM anyone, there are no hashtags, it doesn’t have a publicly-searchable feed, and the usernames are the same long, ugly domain names you see on Mastodon. Which isn’t an accident. Bluesky is federated, just like Mastodon.
Bluesky runs on a protocol called the Authenticated Transfer Protocol, or AT Protocol. Mastodon, meanwhile, runs on a protocol called ActivityPub. Though the two apps — Bluesky and Mastodon — are virtually identical in purpose and functionality, after a few minutes using Bluesky, I was able to finally figure out why I dislike Mastodon so much: I don’t care about federating, I don’t want to pick a server, I just want to jump on an app and look at posts, and Mastodon’s posts are too long and wide and don’t look good and Bluesky’s posts — which users are now calling “skeets” — are narrow and compact and easy to read. But, most important of all, Bluesky, several hours before I got my invite, was completely overrun with some of Twitter’s most annoying and deranged shitposters. Which meant, upon opening the app, I immediately knew what to do. In fact, the first post I ever saw on the app was about gooning (more on that at the bottom of today’s newsletter).
Yesterday, in the span of a few hours, Bluesky had its first “main character” moment and its first high-profile bullying incident. Two big milestones for any social network. The “main character” moment came after users discovered that dril’s username was reserved on the app, which meant he couldn’t get an account. A sex worker on the app said she was happy dril couldn’t join Bluesky because he had backed the #BlockTheBlue campaign on Twitter, which she believed was hurting the livelihoods of sex workers, the logic being that sex workers needed Twitter Blue to promote their services. Everyone dunked on her for a while and then moved on. A few hours later, after dril and a bunch of other high-profile Twitter users like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had moved over to Bluesky, blogger Matthew Yglesias announced he had joined, as well. And then a bunch of users threatened to kill him with hammers until he announced he was taking a break from the app. User have not threatened to beat Jake Tapper to death, for what it’s worth. In other words, yesterday was a normal day on Twitter in 2019. Or, maybe, more accurately, a normal day on Twitter in 2012.
Which is why Bluesky is the first “Twitter replacement” I’ve seen that I actually think could replace Twitter. I initially thought Substack’s Notes had some promise, but after some time lurking on it, I genuinely think it’s too confusing to reach mass adoption. For instance, I still don’t know if following a person on Notes means I am following them on just Notes or also following their newsletter(s). The whole thing is sort of a jumbled mess and I think it mixes together long-form and short-form content in a way that is not very conducive for conversation. But the main reason I could see Bluesky succeeding is, simply, because not everyone can get on it right now.
There were lots of moments in the late 2000s and early 2010s that solidified Facebook and Twitter as the two main social networks in America, and, then, around the world, but there were two events that I think are often overlooked.
The first was that, as MySpace was beginning to go through a major identity crisis as it crossed over into a truly mainstream platform in the mid-2000s, Facebook launched. And, at first, oit nly allowed users with a college email addresses to join. It was a simple, clean alternative to MySpace’s bloated mess and not everyone could use it right away. Which meant, by the time I was able to get on it as a highschooler in 2006, I already knew what it was sorta and was weirdly excited to try it.
The second event was a bit more obscure, but I would argue had a much bigger impact on the way Americans think about public social networks. Around 2011, users from Something Awful’s Fuck You And Die forum, or FYAD, began to make accounts on Twitter. They brought with them a very specific kind of surreal and acerbic writing style and vaguely leftist political point of view (which years later would splinter off into the “dirtbag left”). This pocket of users, which included accounts like dril and Tree_Bro and writers like Jon Hendren, David Thorpe, and Leon Chang, eventually became known as “Weird Twitter”. And weird Twitter would define the core voice of the site and, I would argue, turn the tweet into a true delivery mechanism for culture.
And in both instances — Facebook’s college email address requirement and the rise of Weird Twitter — there was suddenly a sense of an in-group on their respective social networks. There was exclusivity, anticipation, and cliquey-ness. But also a sense of coolness and, of course, subsequently, uncoolness. And that’s how Bluesky feels at the moment. There’s a culture there. At least for now.
Ever since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, there’s been a huge debate about whether running a social network is about culture or software. Musk, because he has no social skills and a lot of money, is convinced Twitter is just a bunch of code. It’s all about shipping new tech, no matter how janky, broken, or useless it is. And I’ve seen others argue that Twitter is a cultural service, closer to a magazine or a TV station. The features and the software don’t really matter unless the content is good. In fact, I’ve, personally, argued countless times now that Twitter’s main “feature” was just the particular social graph that existed on the app up until about four months ago.
But I think Bluesky has reminded me that it’s actually about technology growing in tandem with culture. A “good” social network, as in, one that gets bigger and more important over time, usually does so by preemptively anticipating features its users might want or need and providing them to the community before they have to ask. Or, at the very least, leave out of frustration. Which I think will be the real test for whether or not Bluesky will matter in six months.
The other possibility is that Bluesky isn’t the next Twitter, it’s just another Twitter. In fact, there is the very real possibility that we never have a one true Twitter again. Twitter, itself, shrinks and boomer-fies over time. Bluesky becomes the Twitter for shitposters, Mastodon becomes the Twitter for San Fransisco Gen Xers and anarchist furries (a Venn diagrams that is a circle), and Post News becomes the Twitter for university professors that teach marketing. And it’s slightly sad to think we’ll never have one central feed to agonize over ever again, but, honestly, it’s probably better for everyone that we don’t.
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The Elon Torment Nexus
Earlier this week I received a hot tip from a Tumblr mutual of mine. “You have to tell Ryan about this,” she said, which I promptly did, because it was truly the most Garbage Day thing I’ve ever seen.
The post below was made by Tumblr user gerardpilled and it details a torment nexus of celebrity connections, and was captioned “let’s discuss.” I’ll walk you through it.
In the center we see Joe Rogan, and perhaps you, like me, are learning for the first time that Joe Rogan’s grandmother is My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way’s aunt, making them first cousins once removed.
Less shocking and more familiar is the music industry connections between Way and Grimes, the edgelord bond between Musk and Rogan, and the well-known, but still insane fact that Grimes and Elon Musk have kids together.
The real tour de force of this chart, especially for those not particularly tuned in to the deep lore of My Chemical Romance, is the woman at the top. That’s Eliza Cuts (aka Eliza Siep), a hairstylist who was in a relationship with Gerard Way before his marriage. According to posts in MCR fan subreddits, she was legendary for allegedly making posts on fansites under sock-puppet accounts, fabricating stories, and drama-mongering, especially after her relationship with Way ended. The whole thing is swathed in clouds of dead links and arcane band lore, but from an outsider’s POV it seems to fall squarely within a known genre of groupie insanity. (I’m allowed to reclaim the word groupie, because I strongly identify as one, okay.)
Where it gets really wild is the connection between Eliza Cuts and Musk. Now going by Eliza Bleu, she has become a notable figure online recently as an advocate against child exploitation — making a name for herself detailing her own experiences being trafficked (which don't quite add up, according to people who have known her for many years). Associated with right-wing circles, she’s appeared on Tim Pool and Ben Shapiro’s podcast, and most prominently she’s gained attention for being a favored mutual of Elon Musk.
One of his staunchest supporters, she’s lent bona fides from her anti-trafficking public platform to his crusade to “clean up” Twitter. Their interactions have been public and sycophantic, but as far as “possibly fucking” goes, who can say. Having stirred up dismay on both the right and the left, she’s become a target for a variety of outlandish Q-ish conspiracies and accusations of cahoots, but her Twitter feed currently shows her continuing her committed brand of activism (and even making a Bluesky account).
My source informs me that Way, despite being inactive on Twitter for many years, was one of the accounts which had bluecheckdom thrust upon it in Musk’s latest bizarre crusade. Was that some weird humiliation/revenge on the part of Ms. Bleu? Possible but unlikely. Of course, as the original Tumblr post makes clear in the form of sparkly text GIF banners, “WHY WOULD ANY OF THIS BE GERARD’S FAULT ALL OF THIS IS OUT OF HIS CONTROL.” Mr. Way is a very busy man with cool outfits to wear on stage and new music to not release. I doubt he knows or cares about any of this — would that we all were able to say the same.
Grimes Issues Her Rules For AI Audio Clones
A few days after Grimes announced that anyone could use an AI model of her voice and split the royalties with her 50/50, she decided to issue a few ground rules.
To translate this from Grimespeak, “you can produce music with an AI clone of my voice as long as what you make is in line with my values,” which is, I think, a pretty good deal. And I suspect Grimes won’t be the only artist to move in this direction. She’s also set up a way for you to register your Grimes AI creations.
It leads to some interesting philosophical shifts in how we think about an “artist”. A generative-AI effectively reduces them to an aesthetic and freezes their art in amber. Or, worse, creates a weird amalgam of their work and spits out an approximation of it. But what’s even more complicated to wrestle with is the inverse.
“It seems relatively easy to understand the copyright and business issues that flow from ‘make me a song using Taylor Swift's voice and style’,” tech analyst Benedict Evans recently tweeted. “Much more worrying for the music industry: ‘make me some songs based on the last five years of top 10 hits’ — does anyone really own that?”
Facebook Watch Originals Are Shutting Down
Facebook is shutting down its original shows for Watch. Its most popular show, Red Table Talk, is currently in talks with other networks and platforms. It’s hard not to see this as part of the same implosion of digital media affecting more traditional publishers across the web right now.
In the first half of the 2010s, large social networks began to reimagine themselves as an entire newsstands. Then in the second half of the decade, they began to morph into TV stations. Facebook, in particular, abandoned its newsstand sensibilities and seemed to truly believe that it could take on Netflix with a combination of fairly low-cost original programming and a user community of largely consisting of magicians that eat out of toilets.
But in the same way no digital publisher became the next New York Times, Facebook didn’t end up becoming the next Disney. And it has to make you wonder if this entire era will end up being nothing than a blip amid the long, slow consolidation of power from huge 20th century media monopolies as they learned how to adapt to a new century’s technological landscape.
Square Enix Released An “AI” Game And It Sucks
Square Enix recently released a remake of The Portopia Serial Murder Case, a 1983 mystery game. But the new version, which is free to play on Steam, has some Natural Language Processing (NLP) stuffed inside of it. And, according to the reviews, it’s not great:
“You have to guess the specific words it wants to see or you get stuck in an endless 'let's focus on the task at hand' loop. not AI.”
“Just an insult to a game with such an important legacy. It's actually a marvel how this manages to be a failure on all fronts.”
“I had high hopes, but I literally could not get past the first prompt. I tried being creative, and nothing. I even tried typing word-for-word the options handed to me and it did not work. Cool concept, but unfortunately it needs more work.”
As Kotaku points out NLP isn’t really AI. It’s basically helping the player answer questions rather than generate anything inside the game.
Rather than this being any big statement on the future of AI gaming, I’d, instead, argue that this is a good example of how AI is a marketing tool and the label is going to get slapped on pretty much everything all the time now.
It Is Regrettably Time To Talk About Gooning
I’ve been debating doing a gooning explainer, but seeing as how popular the meme has gotten recently, I suppose it’s time. The term dates back all the way to 2005, according to Know Your Meme, but it’s steadily been getting more popular over the last three years or so. dril referenced it in a tweet (sfw) in November, which might be why its starting to really trend now.
Anyways, all you really need to know is that “gooning” is where you watch porn for hours and hours. And the place where you do that is called your “gooncave”. And the people who do that are called “gooners”.
You know who else call themselves gooners? Fans of the British football club Arsenal. Which has led to some confusion recently.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s Shower Food Review 37.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***