Category Archives: business

It’s Time for a Democratic Social Network

The social blogging site Tumblr announced that on December 17th, 2018 that they would be removing all pornographic content from their site. Anything that has been “flagged” as controversial will be deleted. The content was flagged using a computer program rather than human moderators, which has led to what you might call a scorched earth content policy. Anyone who has used Tumblr knows that this is the end of Tumblr. The site was known as an internet home for creators considered outside the mainstream, including LGBTQ artists and sex workers. It did not build a user base out of religious tracts and home recipes. The site is about to implode in conflagration of capitalist fear and greed.

The strategy centers around Tumblr’s placement in the iOS app store, which has its own arbitrary content rules. Most recently, Tumblr had to deal with a series of programs, or “bots” that were posting child pornography on their site. Even after removing those accounts, they could not get Apple to reinstate their position in the app store, and this latest announcement is a last ditch effort to get back on the iPhone.

Tumblr’s executives are going to whitewash this move for their investors, who are mostly banks and venture capital firms. They are going to make some noises about “leadership” and “tough decisions”, but we the users can see this behaviour and know its true meaning: Capital makes all the decisions on the internet, and it’s time we put a stop to it.

Social Networks have put us all in this weird situation with corporations. We are consumer and product all at the same time. We make a choice of the content we consume with our likes and follows, and that data is a product sold to advertisers who sell us ever more products. Some of those products even help users produce more content, which attracts more consumers, which generates more data to sell, and on it goes.

We know this cycle is profitable, and we are just beginning to see where it leads. I pray that we do something before we actually see where it leads, because holocaust denial and flat earth theories make big money for these companies. Facebook and Twitter are on the cusp of being regulated. They are mini-nations, with the attentions of hundreds of millions of people. But we can’t simply let them be regulated like television and radio, because that would be abandoning the best feature of the internet – the interactivity. Once again, the internet can do better than traditional media. It can be run democratically.

Consider this, have you ever been consulted about the design decisions of any social network? You probably haven’t, and if you knew how social networks were built, you would think that’s insane. Making twitter clones is a rookie trick for most coding “boot camps”. It seems like magic, but all of these social networks have been cobbled together from codebases that are available freely on the internet. Breaking off and starting your own social network is easy enough. Sites like Mastodon and Pillowfort already fill that niche, but what if their design decisions were made democratically? Every network has settings that tailor the user experience for individual users, but what about the decisions that affect multiple users, like budgets, codes of conduct, or the design of the algorithm that shows content?

In the race to become profitable, the large social networks are ignoring the users that made them attractive to capital. This is one of those unique times in technology history where plucky upstarts can take down industry titans. Instead of just transmitting and receiving content, we can change our media into new experiments in governance. Social networks have always provided the illusion of democracy with their voting systems, but we can go much further now. We could have social networks run by representation, user contribution, random lottery, or even cult of personality. Not all of these configurations work, but we already know that letting corporations and advertising run our lives on the internet is not working. We can reshape the future, we just have to try.

ArenaNet, Cultivated Consumer Identity, and The Loud Vocal Minority

It surprises me how much I continue to lie to myself about the games industry. Take ArenaNet for example. I’m not a Guild Wars player, but they had a writer named Jessica Price on their team. She is known on Twitter for talking about sexism in the tech industry, which is a tough gig if you’re not a white male. I could look at that arrangement and think, you know, the video games industry has its problems, but there are islands of free thought where workplace diversity is appreciated and strong employee opinions were at least tolerated.

This lovely vision was dashed out of existence when ArenaNet fired her over a disagreement with a twitch streamer on twitter. A developer who had worked there for 12 years was also fired for defending her. If it wasn’t obvious before, the games industry, and by extension the entire tech industry at large displays a shocking disregard for the dignity of their employees. This all could have been solved by a simple apology, but ArenaNet caved to a harassment campaign and set the worst possible precedent.

The Guild Wars players that were hurt by Jessica’s posts are gloating right now. It’s like they expect every game developer to do double duty as a customer service punching bag. One post on a community forum said, “they’ll know we got their hands around their throat and we can squeeze any time we like”

What’s even more chilling is how viciously they defend the company’s “right” to fire people. This is the voice of beaten people. They’ve gotten so used to so-called “right to work” laws and contract jobs that they resent anybody who has it slightly better than they do.

It all just makes my heart sink. The worst part is that this overbearing hyperconsumer behavior is actively cultivated by the game companies. They want people to invest their entire identities into these games. They want the kind of fans that will harass, steal, and kill for their products. That’s why they’re willing to throw employees under the bus for these customers.

After all, that’s where they get the most revenue, right? Those are the whales, the hardcore fans, the 5% of the audience that pays for other 95%. It makes sense that they cater to their most profitable customer base. Or does it? ArenaNet now has to deal with a fanbase that thinks it can strongarm anything they want from the company. The Guildwars IP is going to stagnate, since any changes are going to be met with the same kind of force they saw here. And every game developer out there is going to know what kind of loyalty they can expect from ArenaNet.

The firings at ArenaNet do not make any sense from a moral or business standpoint, as if those 2 things are separate. Game developers should not wait for ArenaNet or any other company to learn this lesson. The industry is long overdue for a union, and organizations like Game Workers Unite are stepping up to the plate. Consumers don’t have to wait either. We have to speak out against this kind of toxic behavior, and if we don’t, the loud vocal minority is here to stay.

Thoughts on Pokemon Go

Image used with permssion from Kimidori

Image courtesy of Kimidori

When I see the huge age range of all the people playing Pokémon Go, I’m reminded of just how huge of a cultural impact this franchise made back in the late 90’s. Pro-tip: If you get the chance, play this game with the young child. I played this game with my son in parks and hotels while on vacation, and the experience of shared wonder is nothing short of magical.

The original Pokémon video game and anime series came out when I was a teenager. I was too busy with more “adult” shows like Evangelion or Macross Plus to pay attention to this new show that was essentially for kids. I didn’t realize that for a lot of people this was their first exposure to anime. That meant seeing a cartoon that could have long and sprawling story arcs, and there were some episodes that were more about emotional relationships than hunting down the latest Pokémon. When you come from a cartoon landscape that resets the storyline every episode, you start to build a relationship with these characters and stories that lasts a lifetime, or at least until you’re tramping through a park trying to catch a poliwag on your phone.

Another thing that I love about Pokémon Go is that it is such a classically Nintendo product, even if the game was created by a separate company. It takes off-the-shelf technology, and packages it in such a way that makes the technology so much more effective than it was before. I call this technology off-the-shelf because it uses a game engine called Unity, a technology that I’ve worked with before. The closest I ever got created my own Pokémon go was causing a cube to appear in front of an iPhone 3GS’ camera and having the game blast out Europe’s The Final Countdown. This was all for an augmented reality venture that never went anywhere.

With Pokémon Go, you see a brand stretching back 20 years combining with extremely refined technical know-how to create a product that is almost changing society. The app launched in the middle of terrifying stories of mass shootings, and in parks across America, Pokemon Go players were holding an impromptu “Take back the night” vigil.

At this point in my life, I only have the time and inclination to stand on the shores of that ocean that is Pokémon, but wherever the ocean leads, I like where it’s going.

 

February 2015 Review

We’re starting off March with another monthly review. Look at that! 29.25 hours of project time for the month of February. A new record! 24.5 of those hours went to the freelancing project from last month. The project in question is a cordova plugin to aid in the development of an app called Reaction The Game. It’s a camera app that displays scenes for you and your friends to act out. It’s shaping to be a kind of “Who’s Line Is it Anyway?” for mobile devices. I’m sure that once my cosplayer friends get a hold of this, convention shoots are about to get really interesting!

As much as I enjoy my freelancing work, it does mean that my other projects have taken a back seat. Even so, I still have to track how far I’ve gotten for each one of them. Accountability is the name of the game here, people!

Write at least one post for RainGeek
This one, sadly, did not get any time. Convention Season is coming, so there may be more to write about this month

Write 4 posts for james-strocel.com at 30 minutes each
All told, I spent 2.5 hours on my blog last month. Not too shabby, but still room for improvement.

Spend 4 hours on the Seating Plan App
I got 30 minutes into this at the Fraser Valley Ruby Brigade. I really should make this my one project to work on there.

Spend 4 hours on my Novel
I got 15 minutes and 256 at the children’s literature conference I attended with my wife last weekend. This month I’m going to put a reminder on my phone to make sure I at least look at the draft at least once a day.

Review twitch.tv setup
I got my Yeti microphone working just before month end. Now, I just need to do a few test broadcasts.

Outline a programming presentation.
This is another goal that slipped underneath my radar. I think the problem with this one is that it’s so vague. I really should just stick to a specific topic. The Call for Proposal deadline at Cascadia JS is on March 15th, so that’s as good a deadline as any. If I send one in and it doesn’t get accepted, at least I’ll get over that mental hump of sending in the proposal. The Firebase database platform would be a great fit for this conference, I’ll center my presentation around that. Ridiculously high speaker fees, here I come!

March Monthly Goals

  • Finish camera plugin
  • Write 4 posts for james-strocel.com at 30 minutes each
  • 2 hour novel writing session on Friday March 7
  • Spend 3 fvrb sessions working on Seating Plan App
  • Outline firebase presentation by March 15
  • Record a blog post using the Yeti Microphone
  • Write at least one post for RainGeek

Building the Perfect Mastermind Group

So far, things are going great for tracking my personal projects (or Personally Awesome Projects, as I like to call them). My system for collecting data is solid, and It seems like I’m going to beat my total hours from last month. I’m also getting great feedback on this process. Even so, I still feel like I’m the only one trying to get organized like this. I want to connect with other people who are taking a data based approach to managing their time. I’m pretty sure if I asked the Internet how to do that, the answer would be form a Mastermind Group.

If you read Mastermind group and thought of the Legion of Doom meeting in the swamp with Lex Luthor, that’s awesome! But I’m actually thinking of a Mastermind Group as a small team of individuals with a common goal that meets regularly to share strategies and support towards that goal.

I think I’ve actually belonged to a few of those over the years. The best one of these was the Fraser Valley Ruby Brigade, which led me to my current job. I still go there, but I wouldn’t want it to become quite so…goal oriented. It’s a great place to relax with my programmer friends, and I want it to stay that way.

Toastmasters was another great mastermind group. It was very goal oriented, but at the same time let its members move at their own pace. I may still return to this one in the summer.

If I were to form a Mastermind group based on what I’m doing with Personally Awesome Projects, it would probably have to follow the pizza rule – meaning it would not have more people than you could feed with a large pizza. We could either meet face-to-face or get together on a skype call once a month. There would be an understanding that we could check up on one another through our favorite messaging service, and that we could also call on each other for advice when things seem tough.

Then again, I wonder if this is yet another project that I’m putting on future James’ plate, and that guy’s got way too much work already. A Mastermind group is a great idea, but you’ll only get results if you put a lot of work into it. But what do you think? Does this sound like a group that you would want to join? Share your thoughts in the comments!