"Humanity’s digital public square”

Read to the end for a good TikTok

Twitter’s Final Form

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will reportedly announce he’s running for president during a Twitter Space tonight with the site’s still-current CEO Elon Musk. DeSantis’ team, of course, got the date wrong in their own announcement, but that’s understandable. I’ve been working under the assumption that the DeSantis campaign is just a bunch of adult softball teams that met at an Applebee’s happy hour and decided to give politics a whirl because getting into racially aggravated fights with service workers had lost its thrill.

The DeSantis Space, though, is sure to be a big moment for Twitter. It’ll be the moment Musk truly activates the site’s new identity. As Charlie Warzel wrote in The Atlantic yesterday, “Under Elon Musk, Twitter has evolved into a platform that is indistinguishable from the wastelands of alternative social-media sites such as Truth Social and Parler.”

After months of clumsily reconfiguring the site into a delivery mechanism for right-wing politics, tonight will be the moment we all find out if Twitter can really take on Fox News. I’m sure Twitter’s deeply unreliable metrics and the American mainstream political press’s compulsive need to report on everything to do with the presidency means no matter what happens, tonight will be regarded as a success. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Tucker Carlson makes an appearance, though, there does seem to be some question about what he’s allowed to do under the contract he’s still on at Fox.

I have been admittedly confused about what Musk was doing with Twitter because I was still trying to make it fit with what the site used to be. But let’s run through all of it again, now that we know that it has seemingly always been about Musk beating Rupert Murdoch.

First, there’s Musk’s insistence, as recently as last night, that Twitter is “humanity’s digital public square”. This is untrue, but it’s precisely untrue in the exact same way that Fox News’ slogan “fair and balanced” is. Twitter is not a public square, it is a broadcast platform for the one percent but, post-deverification, it is also a pyramid scheme built on a foundation of a confused old people and desperate strivers at the bottom waiting for promised quality-of-life features that will never come while billionaires and wealthy institutions sit comfy at the top, easily paying a fee to drown out their critics. And like all good pyramid schemes, the normal people at the bottom are regularly told by Musk that if they keep paying more and more they’ll eventually be able to make money themselves.

Which brings us to Musk’s utter disregard for content and community moderation. As early as last December, formally-banned extremists started getting their accounts back. And, this week, a Twitter Blue subscriber complained to Musk that they weren’t making any money from “the videos [they] share”. At first I thought their videos were just random videos scraped off Reddit — the tell is if the videos don’t have sound or a TikTok watermark — but if you look closely, they aren’t even doing that currently.

They’re embedding other Twitter users’ videos in their tweets. Apparently, the videos they had been uploading directly were getting taken down for copyright and original owners were demanding money.

Musk, in his typical deadpan, replied, “You might want to consider turning on subscriptions.” As in, put the copyrighted material that you’re illegally uploading to my site behind a paywall so you can more directly monetize off of it. Which is an absurd thing for the owner of a user-generated content platform to say publicly. Though, it’s only absurd if you believe he cares about any of this, which he doesn’t. All of these tools — the paywalls, the two-hour-long video uploads, the boosted replies from Blue subscribers — were created for right-wing publishers like The Daily Wire, who have now moved their video podcast operation from YouTube over to Twitter and are even dropping sponsor information in replies to their videos.

While I hate to give Musk even a little bit of credit, the idea of buying the platform that birthed every progressive political movement of the last 20 years and flooding it with right-wing content in the hopes that progressive users stay and fight is, in theory, a devious business strategy. You can easily imagine the pitch for this: What if Fox News could directly profit off the outrage it generated? The fact Musk is installing a new CEO that comes from NBCUniversal seems to signal that the road ahead will be about formalizing all of this. Because he wants to own the whole stack — Tucker Carlson and GOP candidates, right-wing digital publishers, violent far-right extremists, and, also, the liberal tears they produce.

Will this work? I think we’ll have a better sense tomorrow. But I will say this, if I was trying to recoup almost 90% of my ad revenue which I lost by being a huge dumbass, I’m not sure I would rest my future on a Twitter Space with Ron DeSantis and The Daily Wire’s podcasts.

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The Bungled Max Rollout

Another day, another enshitted platform. HBO Max, a streaming service which, for a brief moment, was my most-watched and loved streamer, rolled out the new version of their app yesterday, which is called Max. The rollout did not go well, there were crashes and outages and it all ended with something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before, which is a message that sits in the HBO Max app now that instructs users to go download a new app. I checked and this is even true for smart TVs. If I didn’t unfortunately care about the finales of Succession and Barry this weekend, I’m not sure I’d bother to go through with that excruciating ordeal.

The best take I saw on this whole debacle was from Michael Tae Sweeney on Bluesky, who skeeted, “Forcing users to download a new app as part of the HBOMax -> Max rebrand kinda confirms what I suspected, that the Discovery acquisition of HBO/[Warner Bros.] was a way for their execs to conceal that Discovery+ was a doomed failure and no consumers wanted to pay for their dogshit content.”

Sweeney went on to write, “Guys who got rich off of garbage reality TV always told themselves that they were populists who were in touch with what consumers REALLY want and it turns out their success was actually a product of linear TV's addictive ‘watch whatever's on’ flow rather than a real preference.” Which has so many corollaries to digital media that it makes my head overheat like an old computer when I consider them. It is very possible that the entire pop-cultural landscape right now is imploding because people are no longer interested in just mindlessly staring at trash on their screens and everyone at the top of the companies making that trash are doing everything they can to fight against that.

The last important development here is that Max has also compressed the credits for movies and TV shows into a general “creators” section. This is either a dumb lazy thing a bad company did to rush out their new awful app or something more nefarious. My bet is on the former, rather than the latter because they’ve already announced they’re going to put real credits back in.

Oh, also, worth mentioning here that the Netflix password sharing apocalypse has finally arrived. I don’t know what’s coming next, but the golden age of streaming is over.

A Right-Wing Twitter Weirdo Photoshopped Himself Into A Giga Chad

I googled around and it seems like this account is not a troll. It’s a teenage conservative who does not look like this at all. If you want to see what GOP Josh actually looks like, please head over here.

“ChatGPT Saved My Life”

I thought this was an interesting story, but not for the reasons the original poster probably intended. The TL;DR is a redditor started getting a lot of stiffness and soreness and asked GPT-4 about it. Its diagnosis was rhabdomyolysis and warned that the the redditor might start peeing blood soon. Which then happened about a day later. The redditor went to the hospital and it turns out GPT-4 was right.

There’s a lot of questions here about what’s actually going on with the redditor, but I want to zoom out and talk about GPT-4 diagnoses because this isn’t the first story like this I’ve read. Back in March, GPT-4 analyzed a dog’s blood charts and accurately diagnosed what was wrong, as well.

As these stories pop up people act like they’re an incredible marvel of AI superintelligence. They’re no doubt interesting, but I’m old enough to remember when people were sharing the same stories… about Google. WebMD and its ilk are so bad nowadays that it’s become a universal punchline, but the real takeaway here, if you ask me, is that it turns out platforms are useful when they aren’t beaten down by ads and spam and all the other capitalistic trappings of the current internet landscape. You don’t need a chat bot to use the internet this way. You just need an internet that isn’t full of junk.

Speaking of which…

Ads Are Coming To AI Chatbots

Marketing Brew has a good piece about this. Google is launching a new search interface called the Search Generative Experience. Which sounds like a very bad band from the 70s. The Marketing Brew piece has screenshots of what the ad units will look like. And here’s a video of it in action, as well.

I am surprise by how unimaginative this is tbh. It feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of both what people want from generative AI and also what people want from search. “What do people want from AI and search, Ryan,” you may ask. Well, as I’ve written before, I think combining search and AI chat is actually the wrong way to go and I think companies are making a big mistake by assuming they satisfy the same needs. Search is about surveying an overview of sources. You look something up, you see a bunch of options, and you come away with some kind of consensus. AI chat is about explaining data in a way that’s easy to understand or, in a lot of cases, having an automation do a data-intensive task for you because you’re busy or inexperienced. Sometimes you want a library and sometimes you want a tutor.

Here’s another good example of how these two things are different: If I’m walking around New York and want to see what’s in my area for restaurants, I want to use search. I want to see a list of restaurants, some basic info, and explore the listings myself. If I’m trying to budget out meals for the week and make them fit a certain nutritional plan, I would want an AI chatbot.

Jamming the two together and stuffing the results with ads is the worst of both worlds.

A YouTuber Recreated A Lost Nintendo Presentation About Zelda’s Open World System

This is honestly really cool, even if you aren’t completely engrossed in Tears Of The Kingdom right now. (I’ve played closed to 50 hours and I just started the story lol.)

The channel Game Maker's Toolkit dug through the Internet Archive and had a bunch of Japanese articles translated in an effort to recreate a thought-to-be-lost Nintendo presentation about how the team behind Breath Of The Wild designed their open world system. A lot of it turned out to be common sense and, yet, the strategy they used for making a fully explorable Hyrule is missing from a lot of other open world games I’ve played recently. Looking at you, Sonic Frontiers

Why Do People In TikTok Podcast Clips Look Like That?

Vox’s Rebecca Jennings had a great tweet this week about how all those podcasts you see clips of on TikTok have a very specifically ugly aesthetic. In a followup tweet, Jennings called it “very Los Angeles-coded”. Which I think is getting close to capturing how weird this content world is.

The ubiquity of the Shure SM7b microphones, the athleisure loungewear, the interchangeable Shein clothing, the same round plush chairs, walls that are white, gray, or blue, the guys who all have the same manicured stubble, the already-dated Gen Z middle-part haircuts. The only thing way I can describe it is algorithmic. Like watching a signal degrade over time.

It honestly feels a lot like Myspace right before the first season of Jersey Shore dropped. Or like Rock Of Love-era VH1, which feels closer to where these video podcasts are culturally, considering most are either about how to make a lot of money or about how guys who make a lot of money hate women.

Congrats To Every Breaking Bad Frame In Order

They finally made it to The Frame.

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a good TikTok (Tumblr mirror).

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***

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