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The “Public Square” And The “Everything App”
Look, I really don’t want to pretend like anything of any substance has happened with Elon Musk and Twitter. He hasn’t bought it yet, merely offered Twitter his original asking price, but only if the Delaware Chancery Court adjourns the case. Eric Talley, a Columbia law professor, told The Verge that though there may be delays because of this, “The lawsuit will not stop dead in its tracks. It will continue.”
Amid the Musk hoopla yesterday, a lot of people took to Twitter to, well, do what they always do when Musk makes headlines — act like he’s actually done the thing he’s saying he’s doing. (Which he almost never does.) And while a lot of people (men, mostly) spent a lot of time yesterday tweeting a bunch of weird Elon Musk fanfic, both for and against him, a couple things popped up that I did want to address.
“In a world where Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, Elon Musk owns twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch own the rest of the public square, it seems like time to re-evaluate anti-trust laws and also how our information is concentrated and disseminated,” tweeted Justin Horwitz, media strategist and political activist.
Yes, I agree. Trustbusting is as American as apple pie. Let’s do it. But I also wanted to interrogate Horwitz’s idea of “the public square” with regards to Twitter because I’ve seen many people make this point about the site.
Right now, in America, Twitter is the main website through which all culture travels. It has been that way for a while and though TikTok has a chance to unseat it, Twitter is, most importantly, still very easily searchable, which is why it’s held on to its title as the “frontpage of the internet” for so long. Here’s an ugly picture I drew of what the US internet looks like in 2022:
You basically have Twitter at the top of the social web. Beneath it are algorithmic video sites. YouTube would be above the surface of the water and TikTok below it. Then you have sites that still use some form of social graph for delivering content like Facebook and Instagram. Then you have the stuff you would google, which, at this point, is just Reddit links and CBD scams, and then beneath that you have Pinterest backlinks, and at the bottom of the ocean, message boards like 4chan. (This is basically my “reverse idiot funnel” from a different angle.)
But the question is whether or not, within this understanding of the internet, as a series of macro forces moving content up and down various levels of discoverablity, there is such a thing as a “public square” or whether or not we even want one.
Jason Linkins, the deputy editor for The New Republic, wrote this another way, tweeting, “Periodic reminder that Twitter isn't the ‘public square,’ it's an entertainment app; we haven't been tweeting long, we won't be tweeting forever, its existence will be a blip.” And, while I agree with him, I will say that we have been tweeting for a while now. In fact, next March, Twitter will have existed for more than half my life (uh oh!).
There are a couple reasons why a lot of important people suddenly want you to think of Twitter as a public square. First, politicians, journalists, and business leaders are scared to leave, so they’ve decided Twitter is the most important website in the world. Second, men like Musk want to corral public online expression into one website and then control it. Musk tweeted again yesterday that he wants to turn Twitter into an “everything app”. Silicon Valley capitalists are desperate to create a Western version of WeChat, the Chinese digital passport that facilitates payments, messaging, and other social media features. And the deep irony is that Snapchat is probably the closest thing to WeChat we have in America, but it’s not the app that these guys spend their days gossiping on, so they’re wasting all their time and energy ruining Twitter. What guys like Musk are saying when they say they want Twitter to be an everything app, though, is: “I don’t want to get off this website, but I want complete control over how it works and I don’t want you to be able to leave either.”
OwO wuts this *glomps and adds a new live show to my schedule* Next week, I’ll be at Depths Of Wikipedia Live at Caveat in New York City on October 10. Then I’ll be back at Caveat, performing at The Meme In The Moment on October 26. And then my podcast co-host Luke and I are hosting another live event in London in November. It’s called Bad Posters Club and if you like Garbage Day or like our podcast, you’ll definitely like it, as well. Hope to see you there! If someone manages to come to all three of these, I’ll either give you a free shirt or call the cops depending on your vibe.
Also, think about subscribing to Garbage Day if you haven’t already. You get lots of extra stuff like the new weekend edition and Discord access.
YouTube Now Is Just What Cable TV Was In 2007
The mishmash of TV, streaming, digital video platforms, and short-form video apps is an incredibly weird place to be at the moment. Netflix, Amazon, Disney+/Hulu, and HBO Max are all spending outrageous amounts of money to dominate pop culture with immersive cinematic universes and addicting must-see “television”. While YouTube and Twitch and Instagram are experiencing intense existential crises because of TikTok because, for some reason, those apps think TikTok is their competitor.
And linear TV, both broadcast and cable, is in a pretty dire spot. Yet again this month, panicked murmurs about the future of “late night TV” started spreading following Trevor Noah’s announcement he’s stepping down from The Daily Show. Now, first, I’d say that the pandemic actually had a bigger effect on longevity of late night TV than anything. Seeing huge stars like Stephen Colbert essentially vlog from their bathtubs removed any remaining illusions one may have had about television being somehow more important than internet video. But, also, I just can’t imagine like, watching a guy at the end of the day tell me about what happened lol. What a weird idea! My phone is screaming at me all day long. Why would I choose to relax at night by reliving the daily agonies of life in 2022?
Anyways, as much all of these different channels, platforms, and apps think they’re all competing for the same thing — our attention — they’re actually all sort of different, and at least from the outside, it kind of feels like for the first time in a while we have a very clear understanding of how we watch videos.
First you have movies, some which are good enough to watch in a theater and many that aren’t. Then you have streaming TV shows, which largely no longer have self-contained episodes, which means you can’t watch them with other people. Like unless you and your friends or partner organize moments to sit down to watch a show together, streaming TV has essentially become a solitary experience. Now, if you have cable, and friends are over and you need something to stare at, you can turn on a random channel and watch like an edited-for-TV movie or Below Deck or something. But most young people don’t have cable anymore, so that’s where digital video platforms like YouTube, and to a slightly lesser extent Twitch, come in. I’m sure YouTube isn’t super thrilled about being the “millennial cable TV,” but it is a clear niche that TikTok actually can’t cut in on yet. Watching TikTok is not a communal living room experience (for now).
So where does that leave actual television? Well, not in a good spot, that’s for sure. In fact, it seems like YouTube might actually be reading the writing on the wall because per a recent scoop from the Australian Financial Review, the platform is in conversations with Australian broadcasters about a project they’re calling “YouTube A La Carte,” which essentially reimagines YouTube as a cable bundle for other streaming subscriptions, sort of similar to how Roku, Amazon, and Apple TV currently do it in the US. It’s a smart move and really YouTube’s best strategy for surviving TikTok — try and claim the living room first.
A Really Good Tiktok About The Radio
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Taking A Little Victory Lap On Facebook Bulletin
Look, I try hard not to be the “I told you so” guy, but, also, I do like to check back in on some of the wild predictions I put in this newsletter just to see if I’m still sharp, you know? Yesterday, Meta announced that it would be shuttering its newsletter product Bulletin. So I went back through what I had written about Bulletin, just to see what I said at the time. Let’s see how past-Ryan did:
“So Facebook will either stick to their apolitical agenda and create an insanely boring product that no one cares about and then quietly sunset it or, they’ll give up on keeping it apolitical, respond to what does best among their users, and immediately pivot into a right-wing news outlet. Excited to see which happens first!”
“Anyways, the best way I can describe the general vibe of Facebook’s new Substack clone is: ‘soon-to-be quietly sunsetted tech product I would have attended a beer and wine-only open bar launch party for in 2012 where three different weird men, still wearing their employee lanyards from work, would have asked me what my LinkedIn URL was.’”
“Facebook/Meta announced that the top publications on its newsletter product Bulletin have around 5,000-10,000 readers, which is very low for a platform Facebook’s size. But we know what kind of content does well on Facebook. It’s not a newsletter written by Malcolm Gladwell, it’s a 15-minute live video of Taylor Watson slowly revealing the results of her breast augmentation surgery that ends in a punchline that she has chicken breasts taped to her chest.”
That last one was in regards to a video that was going viral on Facebook at the time of a woman fake-breast-feeding a cat. Her videos are still pretty viral, so it looks like, yes, that is something that Facebook users would rather look at instead of Malcolm Gladwell’s blog.
This Is The Metaverse I’m Betting On
I am aware that I, uh, lean towards being what some would call “a hater” or “a stupid contrarian asshole” when it comes to products being made by big tech companies. So I have tried over the last few years to not just say that I don’t like something, but to explore the reasons why I don’t like something and also look for examples — if they exist — of a similar idea, but done in a way I do like.
So, for instance, I think the idea of a metaverse, as put forth by Mark Zuckerberg, is dumb. But I also bought an Oculus, had a lot of fun with Beat Saber, explored VRChat, got intense cyber sickness, and went looking for competing ideas of a metaverse that I would prefer. And, so, as a still-active Pokémon Go player, I’m a big fan of augmented reality and the possibilities that video filters, wearables, the mobile web, and geodata provide when it comes to bringing the internet into a physical environment. And I’ve been curious how our recent boom in A.I.-generated art might intersect with A.R. tech. Here’s a cool example of A.I.-generated clothing that I came across in August.
This project, though, by technologist Ian Curtis, is closer what I’ve been waiting for. As he writes in a followup tweet, all of the textures were all generated by DALLE-2, including the cyborg face, which was also animated by an A.I. called D-ID.
Linewives And Bucket Bunnies: A Battle For The Soul Of TikTok
If you see references to “pipeline wives,” “linewives,” “row hoes,” and “bucket bunnies,” it’s all thanks to this tweet, which was a screenshot of a TikTok by the user @ohhmtee. Here’s all the context you need.
Stay-at-home moms, wives, and, even girlfriends are big thing at the moment on TikTok. I think part of it is that there’s a sort of mean sneering and gawking at these users from more urban, upper-class, social justice-focused users. But also, TikTok’s core demographic when it first launched was literally military members and their spouses, to the point where it has caused numerous security issues for the army. And Musical.ly, the lip sync app that was absorbed into TikTok, was huge in rural America. So this kind of thing has always been part of the platform’s DNA, so to speak. But there’s a whole pocket of, let’s call it, stay-at-home-spouse TikTok that is populated by “pipeline wives,” or “linewives”.
Here’s a good translation of the screenshot above I found on Reddit:
"My husband is a welder. I'm friends with other welders' wives. Our husbands get hit on by female pipeline workers (row hoes), but we dealt with it. Now other such women (bucket bunnies) are going after the husbands of another skilled trade. I support the wives of these men. This isn't just a seasonal job to us, it's our way of life."
And here’s a good tweet with more screenshots from linewife TikTok. I wish these women the strength and courage to defeat the row hoes and bucket bunnies that may try and tempt their husbands on their next job.
A Tweet That Has Cut Me To My Core
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s an A.I.-generated Joe Biden Pokémon.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***