Showing all posts tagged: technology

How to design 1999-like websites in 2023

23 January 2023
entropy8.com, legacy website, screen shot

Websites designed in the late 1990’s, especially personal sites, like the in-your-face Geocities pages, might have been inaccessible, difficult to navigate, devoid of standards, and completely lacking in latter day best practice methodology, but they were fun. Bold. Colourful. Non-generic.

Professional web designers of the time may have hated them, but I dare say they loved to hate them. And they might be about to again. British web engineer Sophie Koonin — who built her first Geocities page at age ten — is on a mission to bring the flamboyant and weird back to the web.

This time though without the HTML markup hacks, and proprietary code, of twenty-five years ago:

I’d love to see this spirit return today – the experimental and fun side of the web. My goal is to show you how we can be just as creative today but using modern and accessible methods. Because, as fun as they were, old websites were a nightmare for accessibility. We didn’t really use semantic HTML, we used tables for layouts (instead of, y’know, tabular data), everything was constantly flashing and moving. Luckily for us, the modern web allows us to be just as creative while still considering the user at the other end of the browser.

Talking of websites built during the nineties, I found out the other day that entropy8 (screenshot above), an example of beautiful website design from the era, built by Rome, Italy, based American digital artist and sculptor, Auriea Harvey, is still online. I used to visit entropy8 a bit, back in the day. Websites designed by artists are also what the web needs more of.

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Are the current tech layoffs a result of over recruitment?

23 January 2023

The layoffs in the tech sector continue, with Microsoft and Google among companies announcing mass redundancies across their operations last week. Ten thousand people are impacted at Microsoft, and twelve thousand workers at Google have been sacked. Although both company CEOs struck a contrite tone in breaking the news, that will be cold comfort to workers who have lost jobs when higher inflation, and rising interest rates, are already posing challenges for many people.

But why are so many employers in the tech sector announcing layoffs, almost one after the other? A few weeks ago I read an article by Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, of the Stanford Graduate School of Businese, who suggested the redundancies were a form of social contagion. One company sacks some workers, other feel they have to do the same.

John Gruber, meanwhile, writing at Daring Fireball, sees another possible reason for the job losses. He thinks many of the companies announcing layoffs had spent the last few years over recruiting:

There are numerous reasons the tech industry wound up at this layoffpalooza, but I think the main reason is that the biggest companies got caught up in a game where they tried to hire everyone, whether they needed them or not, to keep talent away from competitors and keep talent away from small upstarts (or from founding their own small upstarts). These big companies were just hiring to hire, and now the jig is up.

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Nick Cave calls ChatGPT written Nick Cave song grotesque

18 January 2023

A fan of Australian musician Nick Cave, named Mark, asked ChatGPT to write the lyrics to a song “in the style of Nick Cave”, and sent the resulting output to Cave to look at.

Despite disliking the lyrics, Cave, who described the song as “bullshit”, and “a grotesque mockery”, wrote Mark a gracious, informative response, noting this was not the first time someone had asked the AI powered chatbot to perform such a task:

What ChatGPT is, in this instance, is replication as travesty. ChatGPT may be able to write a speech or an essay or a sermon or an obituary but it cannot create a genuine song. It could perhaps in time create a song that is, on the surface, indistinguishable from an original, but it will always be a replication, a kind of burlesque.

ChatGPT may be capable of a good many things, but being truly artistic is not (yet) one of those things.

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Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, part of cassette tape revival, but why?

14 January 2023
Cassette tape, image by Ratfink1973

Image courtesy of Ratfink1973.

Taylor Swift and Harry Styles are among musicians to recently release material on… cassette. As in cassette tape, or compact cassette. But at least eighty percent of both performers’ target audience must be under the age of thirty-five. How many of these people would have even heard of cassettes, let alone have access to a cassette player?

Australian writer and radio presenter Richard Glover is on the money in saying cassettes, along with rotary dial telephones, VHS tapes, camera film, and typewriters, having had their day, belong in the past:

But not every piece of old technology was a boon. The typewriter, for instance, was a menace. The sliding carriage seemed designed to knock over any coffee cup momentarily perched on your desk, while vigorous typing would produce tiny portholes on the page every time you hit the “o” or the “p”.

Music in digital formats might have its naysayers — high compression, reduced quality — but it has eliminated the need to haul cumbersome players, speakers, and storage cabinets for all those cassettes, around with us. Call me a philistine, but I’ll take the convenience of carrying my music collection, and my books come to that, in my pocket, any day of the week.

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The wave of tech company layoffs and social contagion

12 January 2023

I’ve worked in a number of organisations in the past that have been subject to rounds of staff layoffs or redundancies. In most cases the prime motivation was cost cutting, and the decision to proceed was usually made by a senior executive who would not have to deal directly with the subsequent fallout. For anyone not familiar with the process, it was not pleasant. Stress, anxiety, baseless rumours, and misinformation, were all in abundance.

Despite noises made to the contrary by management, the negative impact on workers — both those departing, and those staying behind — was seldom given thought. In one situation, a former colleague made what is probably a common observation: there’ll still be the same amount of work to do. New work processes and technologies might reduce some of the load, but likely not markedly.

Like many people, the recent wave of layoffs in the tech sector has puzzled me. One company announced a round of redundancies, and the next thing other tech companies are following suit. But why? Surely all these companies, Meta (the Facebook owner), Linkedin, Twitter, Tesla, Netflix, and Salesforce — who are but a handful of organisations to send employees home in recent months — cannot all be struggling financially.

This make the staff cuts all the more baffling. But as Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business explains, the layoffs are a case of social contagion. In other words, because one or two tech companies have been shedding staff, everyone else feels they must do the same. Long story short, there is no real reason for the redundancies, and the turmoil they create for workers, and the organisations themselves:

The tech industry layoffs are basically an instance of social contagion, in which companies imitate what others are doing. If you look for reasons for why companies do layoffs, the reason is that everybody else is doing it. Layoffs are the result of imitative behavior and are not particularly evidence-based.

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Not moving to Canada or Mastodon, I’ve been on Twitter too long

9 January 2023

Josh Nicholas, writing for The Guardian, about a recent decline in active members on social network Mastodon:

The number of active users on the Mastodon social network has dropped more than 30% since the peak and is continuing a slow decline, according to the latest data posted on its website. There were about 1.8 million active users in the first week of January, down from over 2.5 million in early December.

Aside from grumbles about Mastodon being difficult to use, I think a lot of people are wary of having to start over again somewhere else. If Twitter had ceased to exist, gone off-line, members who wished to remain active on a micro-blogging service would have no choice but to find a new platform, but that hasn’t (yet) been the case.

I joined Twitter in 2007, as did many of the people who follow me. Today some of those people have tens of thousands of followers, something that would’ve entailed considerable time and effort to achieve. The prospect of leaving that behind, and rebuilding their following on another service, would be daunting.

Despite Mastodon experiencing a growth surge in recent months, and making headlines in the process, membership peaked at about two and a half million accounts in December 2022. This compared to Twitter’s 368 million monthly active users at the same time. Some people moved on, but plenty stayed back.

Anyone then looking to start again would have found barely any of their Twitter followers on Mastodon, rendering a move questionable. So much for the Twitter members who threatened to depart, to “move to Canada” so to speak, after Elon Musk assumed ownership. In the same way some Americans, unhappy with the prospect of Donald Trump becoming U.S. President, declared they would migrate to Canada, in the event he won office. Ultimately few, if any, made the move.

While some Twitter users might have gone to Mastodon, or another micro-blogging service, or left social media behind all together, their numbers were limited by the looks of it. Staying on, rather than starting from scratch, turned out to be more appealing. Twitter had a way of retaining members, sitting — out of sight — up its sleeve, all along.

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Apple Books puts AI narrators to work voicing select audiobooks

8 January 2023

Text-to-speech AIs have begun narrating select romance and fiction audiobooks available from Apple Books. Audiobook listeners electing an AI… entity (is that how I should refer to them?) to recite their title can choose between two digital voices, named Madison and Jackson. An additional two AI narrators, Helena and Mitchell, will soon be reading out non-fiction titles. Apple says the move will reduce costs, making it easier for independent authors and publishers to produce audiobooks:

The feature represents a big shift from the current audiobook model, which often involves authors narrating their own books in a process that can take weeks and cost thousands for a publisher. Digital narration has the potential to allow smaller publishers and authors to put out an audiobook at a much lower cost.

I don’t know what professional book narrators will think — though I can guess — but the move also makes sense for those authors who currently chose to narrate their own work. They can save several weeks of recording time, leaving them to focus on what they do best: write. While it could be said AI narrators were inevitable, that will be cold comfort for their human counterparts.

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The Playlist, a Netflix series about the founding of Spotify

2 January 2023

The Social Network, the 2010 dramatization of the creation of Facebook, directed by American filmmaker David Fincher, was one of my favourite films of that year, even though I may not be the biggest fan of the Facebook itself. But the audacity, the arrogance, the energy, the self-belief, and the growing realisation Mark Zuckerberg (as portrayed in deadpan fashion by Jesse Eisenberg) was onto something, was infectious.

The Playlist, trailer, a Netflix produced docu-drama dramatization about the founding of music streaming service Spotify, released in October 2022, is another start-up show I’m looking forward to seeing, as the Spotify story has some similarities to Facebook.

In 2006, Spotify co-founders Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, set about building the “best music player in the world”. One that was both free to use, and legal. To succeed they said, “we just need to get hold of the music rights.” What could be simpler? But, the rest — as they say — is history.

Led by Daniel Ek, a group of passionate young entrepreneurs come together in what seems to be the impossible task to change the music industry — and the world. They set out to create a legal streaming service for music.

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Australian CBDs will bounce forward, not back, in 2023

29 December 2022

Rob Stokes, NSW Minister for Cities, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Rather than forcing workers back into CDBs, many of whom took to working from home during COVID lockdowns of the last few years, the NSW State government is looking at other ways of reinvigorating city centres across Australia’s most populous state:

Our CBDs are going to bounce forward, not back. They will rebound on a totally different trajectory in 2023. Over the course of the pandemic, the NSW government has invested $66 million in ways to reinvent how our central urban areas function. Programs to move dining into streets and public spaces, pop-up events, new walking and cycling paths, and reduced controls over music, retail and service of food and drinks have all changed the way we experience city streets.

The writing has been on the wall for CBDs for some time. With the advent of robust technologies allowing more people to work from home with greater ease, it was only a matter of time until workers migrated away from city centres. The COVID lockdowns, and work from home mandates, only brought forward the present state of affairs, it did not precipitate it.

None of that helps businesses who have long been based in CBD areas, and are struggling with the change though. Many are still reeling from the impact of COVID, not to mention construction of Sydney’s light rail transit system. Here’s hoping these initiatives are of benefit.

And here’s something intriguing. According to Stokes, the concept of CBDs was devised by white, middle class men, for white, middle class men:

The phrase “central business district” was coined by white, male, middle-class planners in Chicago in the 1930s and 40s, based on the notion that cities work most efficiently when different groups work, live and play in different precincts. CBDs were designed to be used by white, middle-class businessmen, 9-5, Monday to Friday. They were never really designed to include anyone else.

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AI creators of artworks may be unable to copyright their work

27 December 2022

AI technologies may make better writers, artists, and illustrators than people. They could well be able to produce stunning works of art, literature, and whatever else, but there is one downside: the Artificial Intelligence creators may not be able to copyright their work.

The United States Copyright Office (USCO) has initiated a proceeding to reverse an earlier decision to grant a copyright to a comic book that was created using “A.I. art,” and announced that while the copyright will still be in effect until the proceeding is completed (and the filer for the copyright has a chance to respond to the proceeding), copyrighted works must be created by humans to gain official copyright protection.

While the USCO is yet to make a final ruling on the matter, I can’t see this small hiccup interfering with AI creators plans for world dominance.

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2023 the year of the RSS reader for email newsletters?

27 December 2022

While I trawl Twitter, Instagram, and other aggregator sites for news and information, I still also use Really Simple Syndication (RSS)… yes, I hear the laughter. If I had my way though, I’d rely solely on RSS, where every channel I peruse could be pulled into a single, convenient, interface. Trust me, reading the whole internet is so much easier when you only have to look at the one screen.

RSS, which, by the way, is really simple once you get the hang of it, allows you to read the content of any website, or social media platform for that matter, offering a RSS feed. But not everyone saw RSS as simple, and consequentially the technology has been out of mainstream favour for some time now. RSS developers were also at loggerheads as to the direction the syndication technology should take, while publishers were uncertain as to how they could monetise content served via RSS.

I’m also subscribed to about half a dozen newsletters, but I struggle to keep up with the many and myriad newsletters presently in circulation. And still some people say we’ve not yet reached “peak newsletter”. Really? I reached peak newsletter at least ten years ago. Having said that, I have vague plans to publish a newsletter here, but I’m not sure I want to inflict yet another newsletter on the world, as there’s surely enough of them already.

Imagine though you could read all your email newsletters by way of a RSS app. But you wouldn’t be seeing a web version of a particular email newsletter, something a provider like Mailchimp makes available. Instead, an email newsletter RSS app would pull the content of all the newsletters from your email in-box, and funnel them into the email RSS app. You’d then see your email subscriptions displayed in the same way as the RSS feeds of any websites you subscribe to are.

An email newsletter RSS reader just might make browsing all those newsletters a little more manageable. And the idea’s not so far-fetched either, says Nikki Usher, writing for NiemanLab, who thinks such an app is possible, various technical issues notwithstanding:

I predict that these people won’t stand for a universe where their email becomes ever more crowded just because of Elon Musk mucking up Twitter. The only way to survive in a world where multiple DC-insider publications are launching multiple newsletters and Twitter is no longer socially acceptable is to use an RSS reader that satisfies the intelligentsia and political elite.

Will we get it? It may well be that the feed from email to robust RSS reader needs an API that isn’t yet possible, given password-protected, your-and-Gmail’s-eyes-only email. RSS readers may need their own ecology of analytics in order to be commercially desirable and worthy of tech investment.

Might then 2023 be the year of RSS? Even if it is for email newsletters? It seems like a big call, but I’m watching this space. Might the current malaise towards the today’s centralised internet see RSS return to favour? Again, a big call, but who knows.

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Authors back up your manuscript every day, it’s not difficult

19 December 2022
Desk with laptop, image by malcevsasha

Image courtesy of malcevsasha.

The story about British writer Ann Cleeves losing her laptop, and, in the process, potentially the manuscript of the novel she was currently writing, is enough to give anyone who’s ever written a book nightmares for weeks. Some people devote years to developing their manuscript. Imagine if it were lost — irretrievably — in the blink of an eye?

While Cleeves was reunited with her laptop, it had been run over by a car, and buried under snow for a day or two, in Lerwick, a town in Scotland’s Shetland archipelago.

Cleeves was unsure whether any data could be retrieved from the device, but was thankful she’d emailed herself a copy of the document shortly before misplacing the laptop. “Not too much will be lost,” said Cleeves. Let’s hope so. Let’s also hope Cleeves has a clear memory of what work had not been copied. Losing even a couple of paragraphs could be devastating, especially if an author’s power of recall is not the best. The best part of the story may be lost forever.

But this sort of thing should not happen anymore. Authors no longer handwrite, or use typewriters, to write book drafts. They no longer depend on keeping a handwritten backup of their work. Nor do they need to use carbon-copying, or photocopying to create duplicates. At least they shouldn’t.

Who can forget the scene from Richard Curtis’ 2003 film Love Actually, when pages of the manuscript Jamie Bennett, portrayed by Colin Firth, is working on, blow into a nearby pond?

Why the hell wasn’t Bennett keeping any copies — whatsoever — of his work? More the point, why the hell was Bennett even using a typewriter? Because he sought to be charmingly technophobic? That’s not endearing, that’s foolhardy. Laptops were hardly uncommon in 2003, and were surely a more sensible option for a writer who seemed to be moving about, as Bennett was.

He’d have easily been able to keep a copy of the work-in-progress on a laptop’s hard drive (HD). And for extra peace of mind, he could have transferred copies to a thumb drive or two. Thumb drives had been around for a couple of years by that stage. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

Of course it could be argued Bennett had other things on his mind at the time we saw him. A recent relationship breakdown. Emerging feelings for the woman, Aurélia, who was looking after his villa in France. Not to mention the part the manuscript blowing into the pond played in the fledgling romance between Jamie and Aurélia. But rom-com movies aside, word processors, and other writing apps, make backing up documents as valuable as a manuscript easy.

No writer should find themselves in the situation either Cleeves or Bennett did. Because there are plenty of simple, secure backup options. Dropbox and OneDrive, for example, are among numerous cloud storage services. If you prefer to keep your work within the four walls of your home, setting up a separate backup folder on your HD isn’t difficult. Regularly copying that backup folder, and its contents, to a couple of thumb drives, which you keep somewhere safe, is an additional safeguard.

And although not the most secure, there’s the aforementioned method of emailing yourself copy of the manuscript file. It’s better than nothing. Preferably that’s a password protected document, and your email account is with a reputable web/cloud based provider.

Leaving a single copy of your manuscript on your computer HD is leaving all your eggs in one basket. Sadly though, I suspect there are plenty of writers who still do not understand this. But failing to back up work isn’t down to a lack of backup options, it’s more down to a lack of routine. For many authors, making copies of their work files may not be a part their work routine. If that’s you, change that conduct today. Make it the last thing you do at the end of each writing day.

Add “backup work files” to your daily to-do list now.

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Can an algorithm assess the quality of a novel manuscript?

18 December 2022

It pays to follow Australian scientist and writer Dr Karl Kruszelnicki (aka Dr Karl) on Twitter (as long as Twitter continues to permit such behaviour), especially if you are writing a novel.

The other day he posted a link to an article published in 2014, about a literary algorithm that is apparently capable of quickly assessing the quality of an unpublished novel manuscript. The article expounds upon research conducted (PDF) by Stony Brook University into the matter:

Regarding lexical choices, less successful books rely on verbs that are explicitly descriptive of actions and emotions (e.g., “wanted”, “took”, “promised”, “cried”, “cheered”, etc.), while more successful books favor verbs that describe thought-processing (e.g., “recognized”, “remembered”), and verbs that serve the purpose of quotes and reports (e.g,. “say”). Also, more successful books use discourse connectives and prepositions more frequently, while less successful books rely more on topical words that could be almost cliche, e.g., “love”, typical locations, and involve more extreme (e.g., “breathless”) and negative words (e.g., “risk”).

Fascinating, no? Remember though, don’t let the algorithm write the book, let it guide you in writing the book. But if you wish to avoid algorithms all together, look at the way Irish author Sally Rooney — for one — does things.

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Will 4000 character tweets be the end of Twitter as a micro-blogging platform?

12 December 2022

In Twitter’s early days, the original one-hundred-and-forty character limit per tweet was a test of a micro-blogger’s ability to be succinct yet informative. It may have been harsh, but the more you thought about the seemingly restrictive limit, the easier it became to craft compelling tweets. One-hundred-and-forty characters forced users to be to the point, and not waste a single character in doing so.

But the increase, across most languages, to two-hundred-and-eighty characters, in November 2017, seemed like the striking of a happy balance. Twitter still felt like a micro-blogging platform, while giving members a little more latitude in their tweets.

Then last winter it was reported Twitter was trialling a notes function. Members would have been able to append a text file — containing two-thousand-five-hundred words — to a tweet. That seemed liked a sensible idea, as I wrote in June. People without a website or blog, would be able to make Twitter the focus of their web presence, without having to get involved in the effort of maintaining a website. And anyone who didn’t want to read what was effectively a two-thousand-five-hundred word tweet, could simply scroll through to the next item in their feed.

News today of a proposed four-thousand character limit doesn’t mean people still can’t skip past any tweet they don’t want to read. But it is a game changer. Yet the real question is: why is this happening in the first place? To increase user engagement? Of that, I’m not sure. For me Twitter has always been a place where I can scan the main feed looking for stories of interest. And if something takes my interest, I can click through for more on the story, by way of the embedded link in the tweet.

And what of interactions with other users? A two-hundred-and-eighty character tweet limit surely helped keep conversations ticking over. How will discussion fare now people can make sprawling contributions to the discourse? Will anyone hang around to read whatever is tweeted?

One thing is certain, if the four-thousand character tweet limit is adopted, Twitter will cease being a micro-blogging platform — which is what made it so popular in the first place — and become something else altogether.

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How to Replace the Sky an interactive comic by Matt Huynh

10 December 2022

How to Replace the Sky: New York based Australian artist and illustrator Matt Huynh explores his relationship between technology and his work.

I probably won’t stop using new devices to make and share my work any time soon. My habits and instincts have been shaped too much by what the gadgets need me to do. But maybe that would all change if only I could shape my tools to suit me instead.

And in the same week ChatGPT lands, and, who knows, stands to change the way we do anything and everything.

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Australian government to review copyright enforcement laws

7 December 2022

Mark Dreyfus, the Australian attorney-general, says he will conduct a review of Australian copyright laws to ensure the income of artists is maintained, and copyright protections align with changes in technology that now allow the work of artists to be accessed across multiple platforms.

Technology means we can now all enjoy music, television, movies, books and art at the tap of a finger. Australia’s creative industry needs an effective copyright system that keeps pace with new technology and protects creators and other copyright owners from the unauthorised use of their works. This review will consider whether the copyright enforcement mechanisms in our laws remain appropriate, effective and proportionate.

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A return to blogging RSS and blogrolls for content discovery

6 December 2022
Links page, disassociated.com, late 1999

While I’m not one hundred percent sure we’re entering the end-days of social media, some recent talk of a resurgence in blogging, and a return to using RSS for content discovery, is encouraging. It’s kind of the web I know the best. But like anyone else, I can be found on the socials, Twitter and Mastodon, among them. I should add I’m an introvert, so my socials are relatively quiet. And no, the irony of that last sentence is not lost on me.

I first acquired the disassociated domain name, disassociated.com.au, in 1997. disassociated.com, meanwhile, came along in early 2003. But not before someone else, who’d bought the name, tried to sell it to me in the early 2000’s. But way back in the day, a person’s own website was always regarded the central pivot of their online presence. Pages on the early socials, Friendster, MySpace, and later Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, were always seen as “outposts”.

As a web person you had presences there, because everyone else did, but they were not core to your overall online presence. And for good reason. The socials might have been public web-spaces, but they were privately owned. Fall foul of their terms of service, and you stood have your account suspended, or worse, permanently shut down. Sometimes without recourse, because you were in the realm of someone else who was setting the rules.

But no problem, you still had your largely untouchable core online presence, your website, at your own domain, which was self-hosted somewhere. Until we didn’t. The socials became too easy to use. They were free, and no hosting charges needed to be paid. Having a self-hosted website required some degree — no matter how little — of technical competence. Twitter and Instagram offered unlimited server capacity, ease of use, and, through their sprawling memberships, a multitude of potential followers. No more drawn out wrangling with SEO to find eyes to see your stuff, an audience was already present. You simply (sort of) had to make yourself known to them.

But before SEO and the socials came along, audience building was a little trickier. Website owners and bloggers were required to put in a lot more groundwork. In the late 1990’s I was writing blog posts before blogging was a thing. Back then we called these blogs online journals. To make ourselves known to other people then, we might write an online journal post about them, while linking to their website at the same time. Another option was through guestbook comments.

Guestbooks were one of the earliest methods of interacting with a website owner, and were hugely popular in the late 1990’s. There were akin to the comments section of a blog post, although the discussion was confined to a single page on a website, where the guestbook was situated. Another tried and true way of making yourself known to other website owners was by way of a links page. Above is the links page that featured on disassociated in late 1999. I know a lot of those links are gone now, but later on I might click links and see who is still around.

I guess you could say website link pages evolved into the blogrolls that once adorned the main pages, usually a side bar (which I stopped using about ten years ago) of a blog, when blogs per se arrived. The search engines however bought about the demise of the old school blogroll, from around 2007 or 2008. They were concerned many of the inclusions to what were the favourite websites of the blogger, were paid placements. In those earlier days, the search engines were also opposed to the practice of linking to so-called “bad neighbourhoods.”

Bad neighbourhoods were seen as websites having little, or no relevance, to the subject matter of the blog that linked out to them. For instance, it was seen as bad practice for a blog focussed on film production to link to a blog focussed on baking cupcakes. That could only be downright suspicious, couldn’t it? Too bad if the cupcake blogger was the significant other of the film production blogger, interlinking was simply unacceptable, and might earn you a slap down from a search engine.

Hopefully those days are behind us. The web is too vast and diverse a place for anyone to stay in their own lane. But blogrolls have been making a comeback. Not so much on individual blogs, but in the form of a number of aggregator websites, which are focused on content discovery, and the work of outstanding writers and bloggers. Chief among them are feedle, Blogroll, ooh.directory, and FeedLand, which is a feeds repository.

As I wrote on Twitter recently, “search engines are great for finding resources on topics of interest but scrolling through lists of blogs and randomly spotting something compelling is plain fun”. I for one am hopeful of a blogging renaissance, and other ways of discovering content, far from the shadows of the social media giants.

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Storywizard an AI for creating instant kids bedtime stories

6 December 2022

Somewhat related to my last postStorywizard is a generative AI story creation app, that composes bedtime stories for children, complete with images, in real time.

We all have vivid imaginations and great ideas, but it’s not easy to express them and put them into writing. We built Storywizard to help parents and kids bring their ideas to life.

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Could AI technologies be the end of writers and bloggers?

5 December 2022

For a long time it was believed the inevitable rise of automation technologies would bring about the end of repetitive and labour intensive jobs. Warehouse workers, drivers, and filing clerks would need to re-skill if they weren’t to be left unemployed.

But as digital and AI technologies evolved, the threat of being usurped by a computer moved up the ranks. An article published in The Economist in January 2014 (I couldn’t find an author credit, surely a machine didn’t write it?), warned that white collar professions such as accountants and doctors were also at risk:

Computers can already detect intruders in a closed-circuit camera picture more reliably than a human can. By comparing reams of financial or biometric data, they can often diagnose fraud or illness more accurately than any number of accountants or doctors.

Creatives meanwhile, writers and artists among them, always felt immune from these technologies. After all, how could a computer possibly produce an artwork, or write a book? Well, thanks to the likes of DALL·E and Jasper, we now know it’s possible. But creative output is not the limit of these technologies. They’re also capable of creative and problem solving… thought.

For instance, an application called Consensus, promises to seek answers, or consensus, to deceptively simple questions such as “is drinking coffee good or bad for my health?”, and potentially save hundreds, maybe more, of research hours. The app, once fully developed will be able to accurately scan multitudes of research papers on a particular topic, and deliver a pithy yet informative, summary in response to the query, says Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

Consensus is part of a constellation of generative AI start-ups that promise to automate an array of tasks we’ve historically considered for humans only: reading, writing, summarizing, drawing, painting, image editing, audio editing, music writing, video-game designing, blueprinting, and more. Following my conversation with the Consensus founders, I felt thrilled by the technology’s potential, fascinated by the possibility that we could train computers to be extensions of our own mind, and a bit overcome by the scale of the implications.

I expect in time AI technologies will be able to research and write the papers apps like Consensus will scan. But while AI apps can create artworks and perhaps write novels, will they really be any better at being creative? Let’s take blog writing as an example. A lot of people blog, but how popular are all these bloggers? We know some are more widely read than others. Their writing might be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, while other bloggers struggle to attract a handful of readers.

Just because, then, a machine writes something, does that mean the work will automatically have a larger audience? Will they cause every last writer on Earth to throw in the towel, and give up? I’m not so sure. Certainly the AI writers will improve, learn as they go, hone their craft, but will that result in more readers than an article written by a person? Maybe. Maybe not. Human and AI bloggers could be evenly matched. Of course, AI blogging apps will be able to research and write articles a lot faster, and that will be an advantage.

They’ll be able to publish an article on a given topic far more quickly than I can, and that work may rank on the search engines and elsewhere before mine. And that will suit some readers, but not all. And then we come to the human side of the process. Will readers be able to interact with the AI blogging app, as they can with human bloggers, through say email or social media? More crucially though, depending on the topic at hand, will an AI blogging or writing app, have the same authority to write as a person?

Could, for instance, an AI app write about raising a family? This is something most people learn about the hard way, by living through it. How could an AI blogging app possibly claim to be better qualified than a person, through “personal experience”, in this regard? How could the app ever gain the crucial trust to write on some subjects? This I suspect remains to be seen. At their core, AI apps are capable of thinking like people. For better or worse. I dare say, unfortunately, they will find a way.

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Viva Magenta 18-1750 is the Pantone colour of the year 2023

3 December 2022
Magenta, Pantone colour of the year 2023

When I used to work in the web design shop, the announcement of the Pantone Colour of the Year was always highly anticipated. Mainly because everyone hoped their personal favourite colour would be chosen. It never happened to me, but I wasn’t fazed, there’s seldom a COTY I don’t like.

Anyway the colour (color?) of the year for 2023 is Viva Magenta 18-1750. I like it. The colour. And the name. To me, it sounds like the name of a planet that might feature in a sci-fi space opera movie franchise.

If you’re a designer though, here’s what you need to know to create Viva Magenta 18-1750. And to mark the momentous occasion on the design calendar, the disassociated website logo will be coloured Viva Magenta 18-1750 for the next little while.

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