Finally, a conference call with legs
Read to the end for a good puppy collection
The Metaverse Has Legs Now
This week, Meta announced that “legs” were “coming soon” to Horizon, their virtual reality platform. This is an unbelievably absurd thing to announce and the reactions on Twitter have been pretty funny, but Suhail Doshi, the co-founder of the Mighty browser seemed to get a little defensive of the general scoffing happening about the fact users can finally show feet in the metaverse. “I applaud Zuck and Meta for trying something so bold and ambitious in the face of what it risks. It’s easy to be a critic but much harder to build,” Doshi wrote.
And this is a fairly common sentiment you see with regards to Mark Zuckerberg’s metaversal aspirations — at least he’s trying something bold, the argument goes. The only problem is that he’s not trying something bold because his company’s whole business model, since the very beginning, has actually been about packaging the most mundane aspects of our lives into one easy digital portal.
During the height of my Facebook use, right after I graduated college, I was using it a lot. I’d log on to comment on some posts, go through my newly tagged photos, read some articles, maybe a check a group or two, see if I had any events coming up, and, eventually, watch some short viral videos there. According to my page’s timeline, I last logged into Facebook in April 2020 to share a couple stories I had written about the early phase of the coronavirus outbreak and that was that.
And, apparently, my declining interest in the site was in line with everyone else’s. In 2013, people were spending about a half hour a day on Facebook. By 2017, it was about 40 minutes a day. And, as of 2022, that number has fallen back down to about 33 minutes. Which is still a lot, but a decent drop.
I wouldn’t describe anything I was doing on the site as particularly important, but for a while, it was the most convenient place to do a bunch of different things I liked or needed to do on the internet. But, instead of any big dramatic reason for leaving Facebook behind, it simply became easier (and more fun) to use different platforms to do those things. I liked Twitter better for news. Tumblr and Reddit were better for memes and keeping up with my hobbies and fandoms. YouTube and TikTok had better videos. And the Meta-owned Instagram was easier for sharing photos and staying in touch with my friends and family.
But let’s play a little exercise. Think back to why you last opened up Facebook. And now imagine that instead of pulling it up on your phone or opening a new tab on your desktop, ask yourself if you would still feel the urge to check Facebook if it meant sliding on a bulky (and weirdly heavy) plastic helmet to do so. Which belies the central contradiction of Zuckerberg’s big metaverse project: He is touting it as a revolutionary shift in the way we interface with the internet, complete with new mixed reality VR headsets that are more expensive than iPhones. And, yet, all he seems capable of imagining with this new technology is a conference call where you can see everyone’s legs.
There are a lot of different factors as to why Facebook took over the world, but as someone who worked in digital publishing and saw the platform shoot to the top of the referral traffic list one day out of the blue, I can tell you why it initially took off. It was simply there. It was easy to use, it was free, and it was able to onboard a lot of college students. By the time I got my first writing jobs in 2011, an entire generation of students had used it to make friends and they were now suddenly young adults out in the world, still using it. So when Facebook launched a new suped-up app in 2012, announcing that “the future was mobile” — boom, the rest is history. And everything that happened to Facebook after 2012 was simply about following that momentum by acquiring other companies and adding portal features to keep users coming back.
But that strategy can’t work again now. Instead of a new app to monopolize the experience of someone else’s hardware, they’re trying to make the hardware too. They don’t just want to launch a definitive mobile app, they want to invent the iPhone at the same time. But they can’t acquire anymore and they’ve never been very good at innovating, so here we are: A $1500 headset that will let you have a weird cartoon Zoom call. But at least you’ll have legs.
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A Good Tweet
Untangling The Bizarre Indian Facebook Story
On Monday, Indian digital news site The Wire published a story claiming that Amit Malviya, the national head of India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could personally ask for posts to be removed from Meta platforms under the company’s XCheck or “Cross Check” system, which gives high-level users special privileges. XCheck, according to the Wall Street Journal, is real btw.
Malviya is the de facto head of BJP’s troll armies, which are usually called “IT cells” in India. So the idea that he could personally ask for Instagram posts to be taken down was a big deal. Basically, imagine if leaked documents showed that Steve Bannon during the Trump years had asked for specific content to be yanked off Facebook.
Meta’s head of communications Andy Stone denied the initial report. And then The Wire published what they claimed were leaked emails from Stone saying that the first report was real and that The Wire should have been on Meta’s “watchlist” for journalists. Then multiple current and former Meta employees came out saying that the emails from Stone were also fake, included incorrect details about how Meta’s email listservs work, and don’t make any sense (and also weren’t written in believable American English).
The Wire still says they stand by their stories, but it feels safe to say that they probably got duped twice. Which is unfortunate because they’re a good outlet with great writers working in an impossibly complicated political environment. Also, the fact that either “leak” was believable is honestly the bigger issue here. First, Meta lies. That’s just a fact. And for years they’ve had all sorts of undisclosed ties with right-wing institutions. Also, Stone is known as a wildly aggressive PR person and I could absolutely believe he runs some kind of weird aggro watchlist for reporters. And, most importantly, journalists in the global south just have less access to companies like Meta.
As for how The Wire ended up publishing not one, but two likely-fake leaks from Meta, there could be a bunch of different reasons. But based on my few times reporting in India over the years, I’ll say that their info wars and level of political polarization is on a completely different level than anything we experience in the US. Even as far back as 2015, India’s trending topics across both Facebook and Twitter were entirely manipulated by the country’s right wing. As one blogger there told me at the time, “nothing that trends on the internet here is organic anymore.” Which is why I do find it interesting that almost immediately under every tweet about this controversy there are hundreds of Hindu nationalist sock puppet accounts begging Meta to sue The Wire. Which makes me wonder if this is exactly the outcome someone wanted to happen.
TikTok Is Not Playing The Game You Think It Is
Axios reported this week that TikTok has posted new job postings for “international e-commerce fulfillment system”. Now, I don’t want to make it seem like TikTok is some kind of unstoppable juggernaut — Chinese companies can make just as many ill-timed business decisions as American ones. But I do think this is a good example of how differently TikTok sees itself compared to how it’s viewed in Silicon Valley.
Right now, companies like Meta and Google are racing to figure out how to compete with TikTok’s A.I.-based recommendation feed, hoping to defeat it on a content level. But TikTok, aside from throwing in a quick BeReal clone recently, is more focused on building up its search and, now, we learn, its e-commerce. Which is because in China, short-form video isn’t just a way to have fun online — it’s directly and deeply integrated into online shopping platforms. Which is probably why Amazon is currently experimenting with adding short-form video to its shopping pages.
So now we’ve got a little race on our hands: Can TikTok staff up a proper shipping infrastructure faster than it takes Amazon to figure out how to make people make and watch short videos on their platform?
Good Wresting Video
This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by katato.
The Mother Of All Short-Squeezes
Dan Olson, a documentarian from Canada, recently wrote an incredibly funny thread about the Mother Of All Short-Squeezes, or the MOASS. It’s a semi-mythical concept invented by degenerate maniacs inside the Wall Street Bets subreddit. “Somehow a short squeeze opportunity back in 2020 has mutated into a straight up apocalypse cult trying to trigger the end of the world,” Olson wrote.
The TL;DR is that a lot of people made money during the GameStop pump. But a lot more people didn’t. (It got extremely dark in there for a while.) Now, all of the users who are still holding GameStop stock are dreaming about a moment where a share of GameStop becomes worth all of the money in the world, thus ending the world. More or less. For what it’s worth, the MOASS is not entirely different from how a lot of Bitcoin evangelists think about the future of Bitcoin.
If you want to go deep into MOASS theory, there’s a massive guide you can read here.
When Human Artists Are Accused Of Being A.I.
A Japanese Twitter artist was accused of using A.I. to make a picture of the virtual pop star Hatsune Miku. After a whole bunch of back and forth, the original artist showed screenshots of the Photoshop file and the Twitter user that accused them of using A.I. explained that the image just reminded them of an A.I. render they had seen recently. But if you click through on this tweet and read all the screenshots you’ll see a really interesting breakdown happening around our understanding of what human-made art should look and feel like.
I know it’s not an exact one-to-one comparison, but I can’t help but be reminded of the “is it Photoshopped” paranoia around photographs in the early 2000s or the “are they using autotune” stuff in the early 2010s. I’m also absolutely still laughing at the user that tweeted, “I know a genuine Miku when I see one.”
New Paramore Covered Like Old Paramore
Honestly, this is pretty good! It was created by a small channel called iles beats. I will say, the choruses are probably the weakest parts, though, only, I think, because Hayley Williams has become a much more interesting singer over the years. Her vocal lines are way too complex these days to fit over four power chords.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good puppy collection.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***