Gifs as art (or is it art as gifs?)

More examples of this new emerging art form. It’s not just about clipping from movies!

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

By artist Carl Burton… Although technically very impressive, I find them slightly uncomfortable, don’t you?

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

It turns out that I’ve posted Carl’s work before on this blog. He did the artwork for the second series of Serial, which I referred to in a post about podcast tech. Stunning graphics.

by Carl Burton

by Carl Burton

Check out more of his unusual but hypnotic work on his Tumblr page.

Sunday Seven: search, podcasts and responsibility

Some interesting articles and ideas from the past few days:

Hacking the technology boys’ club – by Anna Wiener, for The New Republic

With her evocative and intriguing article about the tech scene in San Francisco, past and present, Anna Wiener opens up the possibilities of a more tolerant and open Internet ecosystem.

 “Code is not neutral. It can’t be; it’s a creation. “The engineer’s assumptions and presumptions are in the code,” the writer and programmer Ellen Ullman wrote in a 1995 essay published in Harper’s. “The system reproduces and re-enacts life as engineers know it: alone, out of time, disdainful of anyone far from the machine.””

The article is not so much a portrait of programmer and writer Ellen Ullman as a simultaneously affectionate and scathing description of the current boom.

According to Ullman:

““If the first boom was like a disobedient band of dreamers and hackers, the new boom is more like a well-drilled army on maneuvers…They want to change the world, but they work all the time. So what exactly do they know about the world except as it is presented inside the cloisters of VCs and startup culture?””

The limitations of the tech culture shape the opportunities it hands us. The real opportunity lies in opening it up, increasing diversity, toning down the hype and going back to the revolutionary roots of potential that making and breaking things implies.

“White men still dominate the industry, as do white interpretations of diversity. Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum, however, and it would look very different if it contained the “assumptions and presumptions” of multiple demographics. Software products would be more powerful, more accessible, and more democratic—Twitter, for example, would look a lot different today if it had been built by people for whom online harassment is a real-life concern.”

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3d calligraphy, by Tolga Girgin. So very cool. Talk about words that jump out of the page at you! Via Colossal.

by Tolga Girgin, via Colossal

by Tolga Girgin, via Colossal

by Tolga Girgin, via Colossal

by Tolga Girgin, via Colossal

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So, Like, Why Are We So Obsessed with Podcasts Right Now? – by James Wolcott, for Vanity Fair

You know that podcasts have gone mainstream when they’re featured in Vanity Fair, and by none other than James Wolcott. Funny, informative and insightful, he lays out the state of the sector by focussing on personal experience and tastes, and in so doing gets us eager to find our own. I’ve been a podcast addict for years now, but James showed me that my “expertise” is limited and not very relevant. For that I am grateful. Podcasting has broken out of the geeky subsegment (my speciality) and is now Culture-with-a-capital-c.

James has managed to increase my excitement and my sense of overwhelm at the explosion of this new art form, which isn’t actually new. The spoken word has held rapt attention for millennia. I suspect, though, that it has never been this varied. Or this good.

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Lists are the new search – by Benedict Evans

Benedict turns is attention to the problem of lists, curation and search:

One of the things I love about Benedict’s articles is how he points out what we feel like we knew all along, only we didn’t know it. It’s obvious, but we didn’t see. He does it here with the conundrum of search vs. curation, which is really the age-old pull between massification and selectivity, volume and quality, fame and privacy.

“I wonder, as ecommerce matures, how much will be carved out into exactly the kind of spectrum of large and small retail beyond the big aggregators, and how far this removal of geographic constraint might make it easier rather than harder for them to take sales from the giants, in part by removing that density problem. That is, there might be a lot more lists, they might be hard to find, and not be part of some global aggregator, and that might be OK.”

We seem to be realizing more and more that we don’t want access to everything, just the good stuff. And search can let us down on that. Lists are much more efficient, interesting and educational. But how to find the lists?

“The problem with using a list instead of a searchable database is how you get to scale – or perhaps, what kind of scale you can have. … But if the list is shorter (that is, more aggressively curated as opposed to just compiled and catalogued), then who’s doing the curation, and more importantly, how do you find the list in the first place?”

Suggest something, please.

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How Two Guys Built the Ultimate GIF Search Engine – by Adam Satariano, for BloombergBusiness

Like emojis on steroids, gifs distract, sure, but they also enhance communication, filling in the non-verbal cues and the virtual wink that text can’t convey.

The ability to find all of this in one place is partially the result, of course, of alcohol.

giphy dog

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So long social media: the kids are opting out of the online public square – by Felicity Duncan, for The Conversation

This gels with what my daughter’s friends tell me: Facebook is boring and not clique-y enough. It is much easier to keep up with friends on messaging platforms. Instagram and WhatsApp are their playgrounds of choice, and most have their Instagram profiles set to private (where they can choose who gets access to their updates). According to Felicity Duncan, more and more teens are relying on “narrow broadcast” platforms such as Messenger and WeChat to reach just the people they want to reach. “Public” broadcasting does not seem to be for them.

“Today, however, the newest data increasingly support the idea that young people are actually transitioning out of using what we might term broadcast social media – like Facebook and Twitter – and switching instead to using narrowcast tools – like Messenger or Snapchat. Instead of posting generic and sanitized updates for all to see, they are sharing their transient goofy selfies and blow-by-blow descriptions of class with only their closest friends.”

So, as Facebook’s demographic gets older, and Twitter’s reach gets narrower, what does that say about the breadth of connection and the extension of world awareness that public streaming media was going to open up for today’s youth? If most of their interaction is reduced to their narrow world, how will that shape their outlook on life? Is it a version of reverting to the familiar in times of stress? Or is it a normal part of growing up?

“As more and more political activity migrates online, and social media play a role in a number of important social movement activities, the exodus of the young could mean that they become less exposed to important social justice issues and political ideas. If college students spend most of their media time on group text and Snapchat, there is less opportunity for new ideas to enter their social networks.”

Social media has gone so far beyond connecting people, that it’s losing younger users. Which could well mean that the valuations – based on mass reach that looks like it isn’t so mass after all – are at risk. Could the younger generation’s messaging habits end up breaking the tech bubble?

“We may be seeing the next evolution in digital media. Just as young people were the first to migrate on to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they may now be the first to leave and move on to something new. This exodus of young people from publicly accessible social media to messaging that is restricted to smaller groups has a number of implications, both for the big businesses behind social media and for the public sphere more generally.”

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It’s not Cyberspace anymore – by danah boyd, via Medium

Another insightfully disconcerting (and disconcertingly insightful) article by danah boyd (no capitals), about shiny new toys and how all is not well in the tech world.

“Shifting from “big data,” because it’s become code for “big brother,” tech deployed the language of “artificial intelligence” to mean all things tech, knowing full well that decades of Hollywood hype would prompt critics to ask about killer robots. So, weirdly enough, it was usually the tech actors who brought up killer robots, if only to encourage attendees not to think about them. Don’t think of an elephant. Even as the demo robots at the venue revealed the limitations of humanoid robots, the conversation became frothy with concern, enabling many in tech to avoid talking about the complex and messy social dynamics that are underway, except to say that “ethics is important.” What about equality and fairness?

…We all imagined that the Internet would be the great equalizer, but it hasn’t panned out that way.”

It’s not so much that the current ecosystem fosters inequality (because that’s debatable). It’s that the power has shifted to the outsiders, who are losing track of what they started out believing in.

“There is a power shift underway and much of the tech sector is ill-equipped to understand its own actions and practices as part of the elite, the powerful. Worse, a collection of unicorns who see themselves as underdogs in a world where instability and inequality are rampant fail to realize that they have a moral responsibility.

They fight as though they are insurgents while they operate as though they are kings.”

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Two things I really enjoyed this week:

  • An offsite meeting in beautiful Barcelona. Interesting people, breathtaking train ride, great cava, long post-meeting walks…

IMG_1654 Barcelona

  • My favourite cocktail at the moment is the Negroni: 1 part gin + 1 part red vermouth + 1 part Campari + a tiny bit of soda water + a slice of orange or a strip of orange peel. Not too sweet, not too bitter, and very soothing.

negroni-tanq

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Enjoy your Sunday! There aren’t enough of them!

Sunday Seven: feelings, gifs and bitcoin

Some articles and ideas found over the past week that I either enjoyed or that moved me:

The Tinderization of feeling – by Alicia Eler and Eve Peyser, for The New Inquiry

“Living with a sense of overwhelming choice means exerting an insane amount of emotional energy in making the most banal decisions. What should you watch on Hulu tonight? Make a Facebook status asking for recommendations. Tweet the question to your followers. After perusing for an hour, settle comfortably into Seinfeld, which you’ve seen a million times before. Wonder whether you made the wrong choice. Do it again anyway. There is some comfort in sameness.”

In an article packed with bracingly familiar observations that surprise you and at the same time make you think “Oh. Right.”, warning flares go off about superficiality vs. insight, freedom vs. investment.

“Dating apps facilitate rapid connection and constant communication, but trusting someone still takes as long as it ever did. So Tinder demands a certain amount of emotional dissociation — to distance oneself from emotions by treating connecting to others as a game. The only criteria is to choose and choose fast, choose as many as you want, choose so many you’re not even making a choice. This simplicity can provide sweet relief.”

Tinder is more than a dating app, claim the authors. It is turning us into binary creatures that trivialize choice and make all decisions on a left-swipe/right-swipe basis. Complex decisions become easy, shorn of emotional involvement. And easy decisions become complex, in the search for something better.

“Tinderizing can surpass romantic relationships, and if you get sucked in, you can find yourself living in a yes/no, chill/ignore, 0110101011 existence. You’ll find yourself stuck on Amazon or Yelp for hours, looking for the perfect dustbuster or the best Japanese restaurant in your area, unwilling to choose because there could be a better option ahead in the information stream.”

A brilliant wake-up call to the sobering consequences of delightful convenience and the fast-paced appification of our social and commercial lives, the article offers a suggestions for a potential remedy: share the experience, invest emotionally in the binary decision, and keep it all in perspective.

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The digital materiality of gifs – by Sha

A fascinating romp through the history and future of .gifs – love them or hate them, they are increasingly a part of our media language, so you might as well learn something about where they are and where they’re going. There’s some weird stuff going on in the “meme economy”.

gifs

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A Bitcoin Believer’s Crisis of Faith – by Nathaniel Popper, for The New York Times

Has Bitcoin failed? Mike Hearn thinks so. In a long, somewhat bitter and worrying piece, he announces his resignation from Bitcoin activity.

Here you have Nathaniel Popper’s gripping summary of Mike’s decision and the tension that led to it.

“The current dispute… is a reminder that the Bitcoin software — like all computer code — is an evolving product of the human mind, and its deployment is vulnerable to human frailties and divergent ideals.”

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How SnapChat is targeting the over-35 crowd – by Paresh Dave, for the LA Times

snapchat billboard

“Almost everyone I talk to, it’s their niece that shows them Snapchat.”

Yup, it was my niece that showed me SnapChat. And yup, I find it fascinating. I’m still trying to figure out how it works, but the immediacy of it grabs you. And the fact that you only get to see the message, image or video once makes it so much more like a conversation. It also, strangely, easier – no need to carefully craft anything at all, because it’s there for a fleeting moment and then it’s gone. Much more “genuine”. And I totally understand how it would lower inhibitions and raise expectations.

Sure, there’s the seamy side. But it’s so much easier to “connect” than on Facebook or even Whatsapp. And there’s charm: National Geographic videos, Sweet, The Food Network…

Even the Wall Street Journal (not so charming, but you know what I mean.)

“Business reasons also are fueling other types of interest in Snapchat. New York magazine reported that Wall Street bankers like Snapchat’s self-destructing chat feature. University admissions officers have used it as a recruiting tool. Marketers, of course, are trying it.”

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How to use search like a pro – via The Guardian

One of the most useful tip sheets I’ve read in ages, I didn’t know some of this stuff.

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Some weird cool stuff from CES 2016

… which will no doubt soon be must-haves.

An alarm clock that wakes you up, not with beeps and trills, but with the smell of brewed coffee or freshly baked croissants.

sensorwake

An app and coffee machine that reproduces any photo on the surface of your latte.

photo on latte

Video games for dogs.

cleverpet

And a whole lot more. There’s a lot of ingenuity going on out there. Whether there’s a business case to back it up, that’s a different story.

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A sad week

My favourite… eulogies is not the right word… for two greats who passed away this week:

Thank you Mr. Bowie – full of heart-warming anecdotes that make you feel grateful to have been witness to a little piece of the impact he had

My favourite Alan Rickman role – totally agree, Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility is my favourite of his performances, too.

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Smoke and bottles – via Bored Panda

smoked bottles 3

smoked bottles 2

Wow. Artist Jim Dingilian fills empty glass bottles with black smoke, and then using brushes and small tools attached to dowels, erases the smoke to leave haunting and misty images.

“When found by the sides of roads or in the weeds near the edges of parking lots, empty liquor bottles are artifacts of consumption, delight, or dread. As art objects, they become hourglasses of sorts, their drained interiors now inhabited by dim memories.” Beautiful.

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Two things I enjoyed this week:

  • The web app Coffitivity – it provides the stimulating (geddit?) background buzz of a coffeeshop. Ideal for when you’re feeling really tired and about to doze off but you have to finish an article. You can even choose between morning coffee shop, lunchtime murmur, and university adrenalin. Soothing and addictive. A bit like coffee, really.

coffitivity

  • The podcast Note to Self – about the “human” side of the internet. Manoush Zomorodi provides interesting anecdotes and insight into how being always connected affects our lives, our choices, our habits. This week I listened to her painful elimination of the game Two Dots from her phone. And the exhilaration of keeping it off. Been there, done that.

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Have a great, sunny (even if only metaphorically) weekend!

Cinemagraphs: a new media

You’ve probably seen them around but you didn’t know what they were called. Or you did know what they were called, but you didn’t know how they were made. Today I’m going to help you with that.

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, cinemagraphs.com

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, cinemagraphs.com

They’re called cinemagraphs. If you’re wondering why they’re called that, since they have very little to do with either cinema or with graphs, it has to do with the latin roots “cinema” (= movement) and “graph” (= I write).

They’re not quite movies, and they’re not quite photos. They are much less annoying (or funny, take your pick) than gifs, and much more arresting than still images. Readers love them, brands love them, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see innovative journalists start to use their powerful counterpoint to liven up a story.

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, cinemagraphs.com

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, cinemagraphs.com

To most of us they’re new, but they’ve actually been around since 2011, when photographer Jamie Beck and and web designer Kevin Burg came up with a way to blend video with still photography, to create an effect that preserves a slight movement and gives it a prominence it wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. Time is suspended, and a glimpse of permanence lends emotion that neither a video nor a still image could achieve. If you think that’s too poetic, take a look at some and tell me that you don’t feel it too.

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, cinemagraphs.com

by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, cinemagraphs.com

How are they made? Apparently it’s not as complicated as it looks, especially if you know Photoshop. You choose the timeframe of the video that you want the movement from, and with masks, layers and loops, you superimpose the “stillness” of the first frame image.

So, is it a still image? Or is it a moving image? Or is it something else entirely? Like gifs and videos, we have here another example of media that can only be enjoyed on the screen. With their subtle messages and artistic choreography, cinemagraphs will give multimedia content a different feel. What will be interesting to see is to what extent they affect the message rather than just illustrate it.

Friday five: bubbles, podcasts and memes

Some lovely entries this week, with more of a leaning toward the frivolous than the deep (although it is possible to be both, right?):

The Facepalm Years – by Adam Westbrook for The Memo

Adam Westbrook wanted to come up with something to put in a digital time capsule that would represent our decade, now that we’re more than half-way through. This is his suggestion:

image via The Memo

image via The Memo

Why?

  • It represents our decade’s obsession with .gifs.
  • It sums up the ridiculousness of valuation bubbles.
  • It pokes fun at the fashion sense of hipsterdom.
  • It explores the growth of the visualisation of conversation (emojis, anyone?).
  • It underlines fatigued disappointment when words will not suffice.
  • This is the decade of the remix.

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This time it’s different – by Nick Bilton for Vanity Fair

An epic tale of hubris and impatience, sprinkled with wealth and innovation.

“This time it’s different”: A decrease in IPOs… Money flowing backward… The explosive growth of mobile phones… A sense of social good…

And a new financial structure. The quantitative easing and the relaxing of investment regulations for funds and governments have led to a lot of money searching for the mythical returns of venture capital. The prevalence of late-stage private financing vs IPOs is worrying in that the accounts never get public scrutiny, and the high valuations are in many cases totally arbitrary. Furthermore, as Nick points out:

The problem with being a unicorn, indeed, is that there aren’t many exit strategies. Either you can go public, which is inadvisable without a lot of revenue, or you can sell, which is difficult given the paucity of companies that can afford to make such an offer. So, for many, the choice becomes fairly simple. You continue to raise more and more money, or you die.

So, can this continue? Unconventional but statistically relevant indicators that we are in a bubble include an inflated art market, extravagant parties, and an increase in the number of prostitutes.

And did you know that virtually every bubble bursting has been preceeded by the attempt to build the tallest buildings? Witness the construction of the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, 200 feet higher than the Transamerica pyramid.

I love Nick’s synthesis of the current startup mega-trend:

“All across the Valley, the majority of big start-ups are actually glorified distribution companies that are trying, in some sense, to copy what Domino’s Pizza mastered in the 1980s when it delivered a hot pie to your door in 30 minutes or less. Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Luxe, Amazon Fresh, Google Express, TaskRabbit, Postmates, Instacart, SpoonRocket, Caviar, DoorDash, Munchery, Sprig, Washio, and Shyp, among others, are really just using algorithms to deliver things, or services, to places as quickly as possible. Or maybe it’s simpler than that. As one technologist overheard and posted on Twitter, “SF tech culture is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?””

Personally, I’m starting to collect bubble stories. Maybe there’ll soon be a reckoning, maybe not. Either way, it will be fun to look over these a year from now. Or two. Or five. You can see my collection on my Flipboard magazine “Tech bubbles“.

flipboard bubbles

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Today’s Internet Is Tomorrow’s Aesthetic – by John Herman for The Awl

This article is almost poetry. It talks about blog/reblog aesthetics of Tumblr, and makes me want to (almost, sort-of) give Tumblr another try.

image via The Awl

image via The Awl

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Trivia – from The Guardian

Wanna hear a fun fact? Google now has a “fun fact” feature, for those down-time moments when you could use a little intellectual stimulation. Just type in “fun fact” or “I’m feeling curious” into the search bar, and feel your brain grow.

fun fact

(Go on, tell me you knew that one!)

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The Boom in Podcasts – via Medium

If you had any doubts about the boom in podcasts, this graph should dispel them:

graph via Medium

graph via Medium

I’ve written before about how pleased I am that podcasts are now a “thing”. I can’t begin to tell you how much more walking I get done. And how good some of them are. I’m currently racing through Alex Blumberg’s first season of Startup, which is entertaining, slick and at times painfully real (been there!).

I was surprised at the breakdown of popular categories, and then I was surprised that I was surprised: Christianity came a comfortable #1, well ahead of the #2 category Music. My preferred sector, tech news, didn’t even make it into the Top 10. It used to be way up there, because podcasts were a geeky thing to listen to. Altogether now, let’s say “mainstream”.

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Hipster Barbie’s Instagram Account – from Wired

One day I’ll share with you my favourite Instagram accounts. This is now one of them: @socalitybarbie.

hipster barbie

@socalitybarbie

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Enjoy the weekend! Yay, September! (I miss August!)

Digital art: gifs by Graphonaute

You know what gifs are, right? Animated images on a short loop, sometimes annoying, occasionally funny, and every now and then quite breathtaking. Gif stands for “graphics interchange format”, and their ubiquity is based on the fact that almost all servers support them, and they don’t take up much memory. For some inexplicable reason, everyone pronounces the hard “g”, but the correct way to say it is with a soft “g”, as in “jif”, according to the inventors. Go figure.

gif by Graphonaute

by Graphonaute

I’ve tried to make gifs, it’s not that easy Which is why the work and creativity in these, by Hugo Germain (aka “Graphonaute“) leaves me open-mouthed.

gif by Graphonaute

by Graphonaute

Full-blown 3d effects, on gifs? CGI rendering, on gifs?

gif by Graphonaute

by Graphonaute

Amazing. And he’s 18 years old. Take a look at his website to see more, they’re all very surprising.