The Problem with Follower Counts

Recode recently published this interesting article: ‘Twitter co-founder Ev Williams says in retrospect that showing how many followers you have wasn’t ‘healthy’’. It covers some intriguing comments that Twitter co-founder Ev Williams made about the effects of showing how many followers each user has. Here’s the key point:

“I think showing follower counts was probably ultimately detrimental,” Williams said at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. “It really put in your face that the game was popularity.”

To me, Twitter has always obviously been about news and instantaneous communication. Instead, it has become yet another hub for trolls, fake news and harassment. The article goes on to discuss how follower counts, whilst viewed negatively now, were a major driver for Twitter’s early success and publicity.

Overall, the argument reminds me of a fantastic point that was made by creator of Micro.blog, Manton Reece. The site offers a friendly, engaging microblogging platform for people who are completely over the lunacy and bullying that is present on the major social networks. Besides costing a mere $5 per month to have your own hosted blog site, the real attraction is that there are no likes or follower counts. You can see who you follow but not who follows you. Not to mention, the lack of likes means that if you want to engage with someone, you actually have to reply to them. Manton set out his mission with further details here.

I joined because of a recommendation on Accident Tech Podcast by co-host Casey Liss, who was uncertain about his usage of Twitter, which he acknowledged has been instrumental in fuelling online narcissism and an upheaval in global politics. I still use Twitter happily but decided to reassess how I use it and other similar social media sites. I now post almost nothing to Instagram and I have focused my own following list on Twitter to those in whom I really have interest. It also helps in being able actually to read all of the content that you follow, rather than having an endlessly scrolling feed. I now use Micro.blog instead as a hub for quick thoughts, personal experiences and photos (the last of which I once posted to Instagram).

Sure, Micro.blog isn’t perfect and harassment can still exist there, however, the focus on genuine interaction combined with human content curation (no algorithms) and a payment plan means that users are generally much more engaged and also noticeably friendlier.

If you’re sick of the turmoil that’s often caused by follower counts, likes and excessive hashtags, check out Micro.blog. You own your content, so if you dislike it, you can export your posts and simply take them elsewhere.

Passing the Newspaper

Society is full of little niceties and customs that we don’t always consider.

Earlier this morning, I was sitting at one of my favourite cafés, reading an article on my iPad Pro whilst I waited for my wife to arrive at the table. There was a father-daughter couple enjoying breakfast at the table next me, before she had to go to school. Although I was already browsing the Web and obviously using a digital device, the father kindly turned to me as he and his daughter were getting up and offered me his newspaper.

I thanked him for the offer but declined politely. He said, ‘No problem’, then they left.

The fact that he was reading a newspaper is probably a generational thing, however, I find this gesture to be quintessentially Australian. That’s certainly not to say that friendliness doesn’t exist elsewhere around the world, but the custom of moving on from one’s table and offering a newspaper to another patron is something that I have only ever seen at home… never overseas. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!) What amused me was that this was such a learned, ingrained behaviour that he did it even though I was visibly reading online news on my device.

No doubt, this kind of custom must be the result of Australia’s enduring ‘Britishness’. Having worked with Germans in the past, they often questioned me (as the only Australian-born staff member in the office) why Australians felt the need to engage in constant social niceties and small talk. ‘It’s simply inefficient!’, they would say, particularly when a queue of people is behind you at the local supermarket checkout. That’s probably why they fling your groceries down the end of the line… there’s no time for chit-chat once the venerable barcode scanner is in action.

Whilst I would argue that the very specific offer of a newspaper is on its way to being completely antiquated, I value these moments and increasingly take notice of them in everyday life. As we all bury our faces in our devices, it’s important to look up, acknowledge and say ‘hello’ to strangers. This fixed attention to devices is something that I have noticed particularly on public transport.

Whilst it may sound corny, small talk and everyday acknowledgements are the glue that keep civil society together. Always take the time simply to say ‘hello’ or make an offer. It makes a difference.

Elon Musk on ‘Recode Decode’ with Kara Swisher

I really need to listen to this podcast more often.

As far as interviews with big corporate bosses go, this is a genuinely interesting and frank one. Musk addresses a range of questions from Swisher regarding the Model 3, conflict online with journalists, the toll on his employees, engineering feats at The Boring Company and more.

Musk on journalists…

Count how many negative articles there are and how many I respond to. One percent, maybe. But the common rebuttal of journalists is, “Oh. My article’s fine. He’s just thin-skinned.” No, your article is false and you don’t want to admit it.

The stress of running Tesla this past year…

It’s been terrible. This year felt like five years of aging, frankly. The worst year of my entire career. Insanely painful.

Confidence in Tesla’s lead over other car companies in software and self-driving…

The other car companies… I don’t wanna sound over-confident, but I would be very surprised if any of the car companies exceeded Tesla in self-driving, in getting to full self-driving. 

You know, I think we’ll get to full self-driving next year. As a generalized solution, I think. But that’s a… Like we’re on track to do that next year. So I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else is on track to do it next year.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts or Overcast and read the transcript on Recode.

Album Review: re:member by Ólafur Arnalds

Whenever I happen to stick on the radio or browse the top charts on Apple Music, I’m often disappointed by the waves of new music that I encounter. A lot of it continues to be disposable and entirely forgettable, failing to push music into really new and interesting directions.

For some reason, the nation of Iceland appears to be immune to this musical mediocrity, with bands and artists like Björk, Sigur Rós, Of a Minor Reflection and Of Monsters and Men continuing to release truly impressive albums that defy your expectations.

Neo-classical composer Ólafur Arnalds is no exception to this Icelandic trend. With his latest album, re:member, he has created something both beautiful and technologically innovative. The album was created with his new musical system, called Stratus. The system includes two self-playing pianos, which are triggered by a central piano that is played by Arnalds. The custom-built piano software is the result of two years of research and work by audio developer and composer Halldor Eldjarn. As Arnalds plays a note on the piano, two different notes are generated subsequently by the Stratus system, which creates unpredictable harmonies and melodies to form songs.

What is striking about this album is its subtlety and its feeling of optimism and hopefulness. Quite often, such piano music would probably be described by many as aimless, however, Arnalds is a master of holding listeners’ attention, guiding them through an often mysterious, other-worldly soundscape.

For me, this album definitely passes what I call the ‘HomePod test’. In my experience at home, Apple’s HomePod offers absolutely superb audio separation and deep bass without distortion or excessive vibration. Arnalds’s re:member sounds like it was made almost with the HomePod in mind, including shimmering, high piano notes contrasting with deep, drawn-out bass throughout many of the tracks. Each and every part of any given song shines and is clearly discernible.

Two particular stand-outs on the album (besides the opening title track) are partial and ekki hugsa, which demonstrate this HomePod-readiness. I’m typically the kind of person who detests the use of anything other than title case in my music library (harking back to my old manual iTunes file-tagging days), however, Arnalds has convinced me otherwise here. The use of lower-case letters on each track title seems fun and alternative, giving even more of a positive and informal feel to a neo-classical album.

For such a tiny nation, Iceland certainly has its act together and keeps producing impressive material. I wish that musicians in other countries would sort theirs out.

You can stream the album re:member here on Apple Music.