The Null Device
Politicians in France are alarmed at French teenagers adopting another unwelcome English habit, this time it's le binge-drinking. A committee of MPs, representing the constituencies of Burgundy and Champagne, no less, has proposed a solution: encouraging French teenagers to drink good French wine, and not those horrible Anglo-Saxon alcopops:
The report for the Parliamentary Economics Committee, drafted by Philippe Martin and Gérard Voisin, members of President Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), said that the young were forgoing wine's "health benefits and tasting pleasure" with a desire for higher alcohol content. "To be French is to know wine," said the report. "Learning about healthy living starts from childhood and primary school."
"It is a sign of changing times, that families no longer fill the wine-glasses of 15-year-olds at Sunday lunch, but the teenager is far more likely to go out and get smashed," said an expert.
What News Corp. doesn't want you to know about MySpace. It turns out that the grass-roots indie-hipster youth web sensation is actually nothing of the sort, but actually the product of a shady spam/adware company:
The whole site is, in essence, a marketing tool that everyone who registers has access to. Users constantly receive spam-like messages from said bands, business, and individuals looking to add more "friends" (and therefore more potential fans, consumers, or witnesses) to their online identity. A testament to this strange new social paradigm is the phrase "Thanks for the Add," a nicety offered when one MySpace user adds another as a friend. Best yet, to use the site, members must log in, causing them to inadvertently view advertisements, and then read their messages on a page with even more advertisements. In the world of MySpace, Spam is earth, air, fire, and water.
3. Tom Anderson did NOT create MySpace. Most users don't know that Tom Anderson (pictured) is more of a PR scheme than anything else--the mascot designed to give a friendlier feel to a site created by a marketing company known for viral entertainment websites, pop-up advertising, spam, spyware, and adware. As MySpace's popularity grew, the MySpace team moved to create a false PR story that would best reflect the ideals and tastes of its growing demographic. They wanted to prevent the revelation that a Spam 1.0 company had launched the site, and created the impression that Tom Anderson created the site, and the lie worked. According to Anderson, the bulk of his initial contribution is as follows: "I am as anti-social as they come, and I've already got 20 people to sign up."Which goes some way towards explaining the numerous irritating, spammy, user-hostile design decisions all over MySpace. If this article is true, then being acquired by Murdoch may have even made MySpace less evil.
This week's Cat And Girl is a good one:
An interesting article, by danah boyd, on the social dynamics of Friend relations in social software, predominantly Friendster and MySpace:
The most common reasons for Friendship that I heard from users  were:Boyd, er, boyd describes some ways in which the design of a social-network implementation (i.e., is Friendship transitive, what information is displayed about users, how access to information is controlled, and whether or not friendships can be ranked) influences the social dynamics:
- Actual friends
- Acquaintances, family members, colleagues
- It would be socially inappropriate to say no because you know them
- Having lots of Friends makes you look popular
- It's a way of indicating that you are a fan (of that person, band, product, etc.)
- Your list of Friends reveals who you are
- Their Profile is cool so being Friends makes you look cool
- Collecting Friends lets you see more people (Friendster)
- It's the only way to see a private Profile (MySpace)
- Being Friends lets you see someone's bulletins and their Friends-only blog posts (MySpace)
- You want them to see your bulletins, private Profile, private blog (MySpace)
- You can use your Friends list to find someone later
- It's easier to say yes than no
Collecting is advantageous for bands and companies and thus, they want to make it advantageous for participants to be fans; because there is little cost to do so, those who connect figure, "why not?" When Friends appear on someone's Profile, there is a great incentive to make sure that the Profiles listed help say something about the individual.
When a Friend request is sent, the recipient is given two options: accept or decline. This is usually listed under a list of pending connections that do not disappear until one of the two choices is selected. While most systems do not notify the sender of a recipient's decline, the sender can infer a negative response if the request does not result in their pages being linked. Additionally, many systems let the sender see which of their requests is still pending. Thus, they know whether or not the recipient acted upon it. This feature encourages recipients to leave an awkward relationship as pending but to complicate matters, most systems also display when a person last logged in on their Profile. Since it is generally known that the pending list is the first thing you see when you login, it is considered rude to login and not respond to a request. For all of these reasons, it's much easier to just say yes than to face questions about why the sender was ignored or declined.There is more fodder here for those who hold that MySpace is evil; the site, it seems, is designed to clutter social networks with "junk friends" (i.e., strangers and brand campaigns) and deliberately amplify social drama. Case in point: its "Top 8" feature, which allows users to say who is and isn't their bestest friend ever, and/or to whine about not being in someone's Top 8.
"As a kid, you used your birthday party guest list as leverage on the playground. 'If you let me play I'll invite you to my birthday party.' Then, as you grew up and got your own phone, it was all about someone being on your speed dial. Well today it's the MySpace Top 8. It's the new dangling carrot for gaining superficial acceptance. Taking someone off your Top 8 is your new passive aggressive power play when someone pisses you off."
When Emily removed Andy from her Top 8, he responded with a Comment  on her page, "im sad u took me off your Top 8." Likewise, even though Nigel was never on Ann's Top 8, he posted a Comment asking, "y cant i b on ur top 8?" These Comments are visible to anyone looking at Emily or Ann's page. By taking their hurt to the Comment section rather than privately messaging Ann and Emily, Nigel and Andy are letting a wider audience know that they feel "dissed."
"Myspace always seems to cause way too much drama and i am so dang sick of it. im sick of the pain and the hurt and tears and the jealousy and the heartache and the truth and the lies ... it just SUCKS! ... im just so sick of the drama and i just cant take it anymore compared to all the love its supposed to make us feel. i get off just feeling worse. i have people complain to me that they are not my number one on my top 8. come on now. grow up. its freaking myspace." -- OliviaSmall design decisions make a profound difference to how a social web site works. MySpace seems to be designed to maximise social pressures and exacerbate social anxiety and drama. This may be out of thoughtlessness (which wouldn't surprise me, given the generally inelegant design of the site), as part of some kind of Milgram/Zimbardo-esque psychological experiment (see also: Reality TV), or just an externality of maximising appeal to advertisers and youth marketers. LiveJournal, in contrast, goes out of its way to minimise drama; for example, its notification engine won't tell you if you've been unfriended.
(via Boing Boing)
It's December, Christmas sales are entering their third month, and Britain's right-wing tabloids are full of stories about politically-correct do-gooders banning Christmas to avoid offending minorities. The problem is, further investigation reveals the stories to be utter nonsense. Birmingham hasn't ordered Christmas to be rebranded as "Winterval" (the name was used for a three-month shopping promotion in 1998, and never since), the evil secularist LibDems in Luton haven't replaced it with a Harry Potter festival, and as for the millionaire who was banned from putting up a light display outside his home, that had nothing to do with enforcing secularism and everythign to do with the large illuminated snowmen, amplifiers blaring Christmas songs and increased traffic and crime.
So what's going on here? Well, it looks like the "war on Christmas" is a quite deliberate ploy by a loud minority of religious traditionalists trying to claim more cultural clout than today's largely secular society entitles them to.
"There's something very complicated going on here," says Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society. "It has to do with the contest between Christianity and Islam: Christians are becoming very alarmed about the progress they see Islam making in this country, and they fear their own festivals will be overwhelmed. I was doing a phone-in the other day, and everybody who rang in was saying, 'They're banning Christmas!' So I said: 'Who? Where? Who's standing outside a church saying you can't go in? Who's coming and knocking on your door at 6am and asking if there's a nativity set in your house?' It's quite dangerous, I think, to incite this kind of resentment against a perceived enemy."
This year, though, the defenders of Christmas aren't only invoking the fear that nebulous Muslim forces might be about to obliterate Britain's traditional religion. Simultaneously, they have also aligned themselves with Muslim groups, arguing that the real enemy is secularisation. It's a position well-crafted for the historical moment, and for the currently fashionable notion of Britain as comprised of groups defined above all by their faith (even though barely 10% of us regularly attend any kind of religious service).Unsurprisingly, the War-On-Christmas panic is not indigenously British, but, like many forms of religious chest-beating, imported from the Colonies, in this case, America and its culture war:
Then, last year, the War on Christmas received a massive boost when it exploded on to the American political landscape, thanks primarily to two Fox News anchormen, John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly. Gibson had a vested interest, having just published a book entitled The War On Christmas: How The Liberal Plot To Ban The Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. (A note in the interests of full disclosure: O'Reilly, as I enjoy telling people whenever possible, accused me of "spout[ing] incredible nonsense" earlier this year after I wrote a story about a speech in which he invited al-Qaida to attack the liberal stronghold of San Francisco; previously, he had speculated that the Guardian "might be edited by Osama bin Laden".)(Btw, has the atheists-are-taking-away-Christmas thing spread to Australia yet? I imagine when it does, the federal government will swing into action, using its expanded powers to come down like a tonne of bricks on any officials daring to take the Christ out of
In the wake of the consumer backlash against DRM, major label EMI (you know, the ones who made all their CDs "Copy Controlled" a while ago) have started tentatively experimenting with selling unencrypted MP3s. Will wonders never cease?
Don't get too excited yet, though; the only things EMI are selling as easily-copiable MP3s are adult-contemporary and Christian rock, because
nobody'd want to pirate those the audiences for those would be less inclined to copy them. And even so, there was apparently tremendous opposition to this move within the label's management. So don't expect to be able to buy official MP3s of Hot Chip or I'm From Barcelona just yet.