Red dots & metrics

John Herrman at the New York Times writes:

When platforms or services sense their users are disengaged, whether from social activities, work or merely a continued contribution to corporate profitability, dots are deployed: outside, inside, wherever they might be seen. I’ve met dots that existed only to inform me of the existence of other dots, new dots, dots with almost no meaning at all; a dot on my Instagram app led me to another dot within it, which informed me that something had happened on Facebook: Someone I barely know had posted for the first time in a while. These dots are omnipresent, leading everywhere and ending nowhere. So maybe there’s something to be gained by connecting them.

I have been trying out a new approach to social networking lately: not using them  – at least not using them the way they are intended. I’ve installed Facebook News feed blockers on both my phone and my work computer. Still, even when I get the impulse to visit Facebook, even though there’s no feed greeting me, there’s that little globe at the upper right corner of the screen with a red badge affixed to it. A news organization went live hours ago, an event is coming up today and two of my friends are going, someone posted in “cool pizza group” (a cool group devoted to pizza).

These badges really do represent a disregard for the user; they promise something that needs addressing but rarely represent that. They are advertisements for users to keep using their phone.

Twitter, for its part, is egregious in its use of badges to spur engagement. If one stays off of Twitter for more than two days, reopening the application presents a numbered badge, but doesn’t usually show engagement on the user’s tweets. Rather, it shows stuff that happened on Twitter. A person one follows just liked another’s tweet. Things like that. If someone is highly engaged, Twitter does not think to show users these things: It knows you are a captive audience. As someone’s who has been off the service for more than a month, I shudder to think of the things Twitter thinks I want.

(Also, for a brief period of time on Twitter’s iOS app, years ago, the app made it so users could not even disable the application’s system-level badge from notification settings. How this was even possible from a development standpoint puzzles me.)

David Zweig at the New Yorker wrote about a tool that removes metrics from Twitter. The badges remain, but retweet, like, follower counts and tweet age are all removed. In this new, metric-less world, Zweig found relief and comfort of not seeing the popularity contest that the social media site often is.

These sort of user-facing metrics that encourage are nothing new: Internet forums, pre-social media, showed number of posts and rewarded users based on post count, often with a new user title. However, there is something insidious about how the modern websites that eat up so much of our time exploit its users’ attention in the name of financial gain.

Anyway! Thanks for reading! Please like and share.

Beats 1 Is Pretty Cool

Frank Ocean’s radio show is a nice reintroduction for Beats 1.

Friday afternoon’s — or Friday morning’s, or evening’s depending where in the world you were — big music news was a two-hour block of radio called “Blonded Episode 001,” a Beats 1 radio show from Frank Ocean.

The episode featured tracks from Prince, an interview with Jay Z (an indication of a thaw between Tidal and Apple, which have fought over exclusives and have had stalled acquisition talks, or just Ocean doing his own thing?) and very few, if any, words from Ocean himself.

For many, this was the first time that many music listeners had decided to tune into Apple’s radio-station-cum-advertisement-for-Apple-Music perhaps since Drake dropped a new track called “4 PM in Calabasas.” It was fascinating to see music publications light up with the news, which tend to ignore major artists presenting shows. But Frank Ocean is elusive, so it’s big news when he pops up.

At two years old this June, Beats 1 has become a bit of a sleeper hit — in the way that the most famous company can have a sleeper hit. The station has led to a few of my obsessions of late (Christine and the Queens and Anderson .Paak to name two) and is always an entertaining listen when I tune in.

For the uninitiated, Beats 1 has about 8 hours of anchored programming to start Monday-Thursday (at 12 p.m. Eastern time), with Zane Lowe, Judie Adenuga and Ebro Darden. These three DJs really drive the network, premiering songs from up and coming artists. Their playlists are diverse, but tend to skew toward pop and hip hop that is generally adjacent from what’s played on terrestrial radio.

After that, there is a request hour, followed by artist-driven programming. Elton John has a show, St. Vincent had a show, Run the Jewels has a show, Ryan Adams has a show. Each show is mainly an hour of music, perhaps with a few interviews interspersed. You get the idea.

I find that the best way to listen, for me at least, is just to jump in on my commute. This means I usually hear the end of a playlist hour, followed by Ebro Darden’s show. Darden’s show is almost always upbeat and irreverent. But maybe you will find something else to love about Beats 1, like its quirky shows and other DJs.

It’s, of course, not perfect; like the rest of Apple Music, it suffers from faults. There are some things Beats 1 could improve on itself: even more live programming at around 8 a.m. Eastern would be a nice start. It’d be cool to have an East Coast drive time playlist, rather than a repeat of last night’s programs, which is what usually airs. It could also never play 21 Pilots’ songs ever again and it would be the greatest station on earth.

The Music app itself could be a lot better at promoting Beats 1, too. The radio tab does display what’s live and offers on-demand content (provided users have an Apple Music subscription). But maybe the app could notify users when a particular artist they “follow” or have played in the last year are appearing on the program? Setting up show-specific alerts would be cool, too. (Something like this has definitely been proposed before.)

Despite these minor complaints, Beats 1 is worth checking out. It’s zany and fun, and very of the moment. It might be a walking billboard for a music subscription (“You’re on Apple Music. This is Beats 1” is a very common bumper slogan on the network), but its original programming is unparalleled from other streaming services.

Listen to Beats 1, you might just find a song you love.