Social Media

Spam Report

15 February 2019

While checking the Akismet spam filter to respond to one of the commenters on another thread, PG discovered a statistical summary of the last twelve months of TPV from a ham/spam perspective. He thought some visitors might find it interesting. (Click on the graph for a larger version)

PG really enjoys reading 99% of the comments that appear on TPV, but he had no idea there were almost 11 thousand comments he didn’t see because Akismet zapped them. That’s 36% of the total comments that were submitted to the blog.

Since PG opened up Excel to calculate that 36% spam percentage, he played with the numbers a little bit more.

Absent the spam filter, PG isn’t certain how long it would have taken him to clean up the spam by manually deleting spam comments.

However, Excel at hand, if each spam comment took him an average of 15 seconds to identify and delete, that would total almost 45 hours in addition to the time he already spends on TPV that he would have to devote to keeping the conversational space tidied up.

If it took 30 seconds per spam post, that’s almost 90 hours. 60 seconds per spam would total about one month of 8-hour Monday-Friday work days.

PG’s calculations only assume time spent on the 10,744 spam comments that Akismet caught during the last twelve months. However, in order to identify the chaff or mostly-chaff comments, PG would also have to at least briefly examine the wheat comments before determining he wouldn’t need to delete them.

The total number of wheat and chaff comments would have been almost 30,000. Presumably, without Akismet cleaning the chaff, spammers might well have been incented to drop more comments into TPV, thereby consuming more human filtering time.

PG needs to figure out a way to make a donation to Akismet.

“Meaningful Interactions” on Facebook

7 February 2019

From Fast Company:

About a year ago, Mark Zuckerberg began publicly pushing a certain idea about social media and its supposed benefits, one he said was backed up by research: Facebook, the CEO claimed, is more beneficial to users when they engage more frequently with people they care about, rather than just scrolling through the news feed and passively looking at posts.

. . . .

New findings, revealed last week in a major study by researchers at Stanford University and New York University, threaten to undermine what has become one of Zuckerberg’s most salient pro-Facebook arguments, and a key justification he cited for controversial algorithm changes rolled out last year that favored posts from friends and family over those of news outlets and other pages. Those changes were part of the Facebook CEO’s new emphasis on “meaningful interactions,” something he outlined in a Facebook post in January 2018:

“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.”

. . . .

While the study attracted a lot of attention last week for its conclusion that deactivating your Facebook accounts can be good for your mental health, it also called into question past research that seemed to place a premium on the kind of “active” Facebook use Zuckerberg has been publicly espousing.

“We find little evidence to support the hypothesis suggested by prior work that Facebook might be more beneficial for ‘active’ users—for example, users who regularly comment on pictures and posts from friends and family instead of just scrolling through their news feeds,” the researchers wrote.

. . . .

The Stanford study, however, found that people who deactivated their Facebook accounts reported similar effects on subjective well-being, regardless of whether they were active or passive Facebook users. “Perhaps surprisingly, we see no differences in the effects of deactivation on the subjective well-being index,” the researchers wrote.

. . . .

When Zuckerberg first wrote about his “meaningful interactions” mantra, it reflected a significant change in positioning, one that came in the wake of mounting evidence that too much screen time is having a negative impact on people’s well-being. Faced with that criticism, Zuckerberg said at the time that Facebook would no longer simply encourage people to use the service, but rather it would focus on encouraging them to use it the right way. That meant tweaking news feed algorithms and nudging users toward content from their friends and family.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG notes Facebook’s admission in 2018 that the personal information of 50 million of its users was compromised by hackers, many news stories about the increased number of people deactivating their personal accounts and the increasing use of fake accounts on Facebook for various political purposes and to facilitate personal attacks on others.

He finds himself disinclined to use Facebook for engaging in meaningful interactions with others.

Welcome to the Bold and Blocky Instagram Era of Book Covers

2 February 2019


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From Vulture:

If you’re looking for the most anticipated books of 2019, chances are your search will start with Google and end at Amazon. Chances are even better that one book cover will consistently jump off the screen: Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf, its graphic white title entwining with a writhing, jewel-toned print of a shape-shifting beast. This first book in the Booker Prize–winning author’s Dark Star trilogy, a queer, Afrofuturist fantasy series, has already been called the “African Game of Thrones.” (Another tagline: the literary Black Panther.) It’s clearly being positioned by publishers and booksellers as a cultural icon, with a blazing cover to match.

Scroll on through the best-of lists and other titles will pop just as loudly: The title of Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s Bangkok Wakes to Rain gleams in gold letters over a drippy green abstraction of leaves. Helen Oyeyemi’s Ginger Bread shouts in bold yellow against a lightly ombré coral backdrop, its plane broken by a black crow grasping a gleaming tangerine. And Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things features a twisted, hand-drawn flamingo on a field of avocado green, with the title scrawled over it in what appears to be a fat white sharpie.

None of these titles is available yet, but anywhere you find them online will likely direct you to preorder on Amazon. [Ed.: Guilty.] In fact, their covers are designed to ensure that you will. At a time when half of all book purchases in the U.S. are made on Amazon — and many of those on mobile — the first job of a book cover, after gesturing at the content inside, is to look great in miniature. That means that where fine details once thrived, splashyprints have taken over, grounding text that’s sturdy enough to be deciphered on screens ranging from medium to miniscule.

If books have design eras, we’re in an age of statement wallpaper and fatty text. We have the internet to thank — and not just the interface but the economy that’s evolved around it. From the leather-bound volumes of old to lurid mass-market paperbacks, book covers were never designed in a vacuum. Their presentation had everything to do with the way books were made, where and how and to whom they were sold. And when you look at book covers right now, what you’ll see blaring back at you, bold and dazzling, is a highly competitive marketing landscape dominated by online retail, social media, and their curiously symbiotic rival, the resurgent independent bookstore.

Link to the rest at Vulture and thanks to DaveMich for the tip.

Young Adult Author Cancels Own Novel After Race Controversy

1 February 2019

From The Guardian:

An up-and-coming young adult author has cancelled the publication of her highly anticipated debut novel, following a flood of online criticism from readers over her depiction of race and slavery.

Amélie Wen Zhao’s novel, Blood Heir, was sold to publishers for a high six-figure sum last January. A fantastical retelling of the Anastasia story involving “a princess hiding a dark secret and the conman she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder”, it was scheduled to be published in June.

But in a statement on Wednesday, Zhao said that negative feedback from the young adult community had led to her asking her publisher, Delacorte Press, not to release the book “at this time”.

Following positive early reviews, a groundswell of criticism of Blood Heir began last month, with reviews posted on Goodreads and Twitter calling out what one reader described as “the anti-blackness and blatant bigotry in this book”, particularly its depiction of slavery and the death of a particular black character.

. . . .

“It was never my intention to bring harm to any reader of this valued community, particularly those for whom I seek to write and empower … I don’t wish to clarify, defend or have anyone defend me. This is not that; this is an apology,” wrote Zhao on 30 January, adding that she was “grateful to those who have raised questions around representation, coding, and themes in my book”.

Zhao, who raised in Beijing and emigrated from China to the US at the age of 18, said she wrote the book “from my immediate cultural perspective”, writing that the slavery storylines in her novel “represent a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country”.

“The narrative and history of slavery in the US is not something I can, would, or intended to write, but I recognise that I am not writing in merely my own cultural context,” she wrote.

Zhao had previously said on her website that she had set out to create “a diverse cast, many of which are beloved and dear to a third-culture kid like myself … a tawny-skinned minority of a Russian-esque princess; a disowned and dishonoured Asian-esque assassin; an islander/Caribbean-esque child warrior; a Middle-Eastern-esque soldier”.

“I write fantasy, but my story draws inspiration from themes I see in the real world today. As a foreigner in Trump’s America, I’ve been called names and faced unpleasant remarks – and as a non-citizen, I’ve felt like I have no voice – which is why I’ve channeled my anger, my frustration, and my need for action into the most powerful weapon I have: my words,” she wrote last year.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

See also How a Twitter Mob Derailed an Immigrant Female Author’s Budding Career

PG didn’t really need any additional reasons to stay away from Twitter, but he got some anyway.

On-Trend Design

1 February 2019

This is a bit different than most of the topics TPV addresses, but one of the tasks of a successful indie author is to promote the author’s books.

Newsletters and social media are likely the most common tools for these promotions (although PG would be happy to hear about others). However, standing out in an inbox or on an Instagram feed is not simple.

Images are one means of standing out. Colors are another.

From Shutterstock (All images are from Shutterstock with additional information about each image in the OP):

Looking to refresh your work with the most popular new color combos? Revamp your designs for the new year with these three on-trend neons.

. . . .

With influencers and tastemakers looking to neon as the next big color trend in fashion, it makes complete sense that analysis of the Shutterstock search data revealed these three energetic hues as the colors that Shutterstock users are most excited about right now.

. . . .

This flouro green takes natural influences and exaggerates them, throwing them into a digital sphere. Think The Matrix, Flubber, and the iridescent scales of geckos and chameleons, and you’re on the right track.

UFO Green strikes the perfect balance between nature and technology, making it the perfect color to bridge the gap. Use it to create designs that are at once peaceful and reviving, as well as forward-thinking.

. . . .

UFO Green is the younger, more fun-loving sister of nature-inspired greens like sage and forest. Enhance the natural tropical tendencies of UFO Green by enhancing your photos with flouro green filters.

..
. . . .

Neon typography is an eye-catching way to evoke a nightlife mood, and works especially well on events flyers and posters. This neon font has a classic, vintage-inspired style that evokes Parisian absinthe bars.

Link to the rest at Shutterstock

PG understands that not all the ideas in the OP will suit a particular author’s taste, but climbing out of an appearance rut may improve visibility and engage readers and prospective readers better than only updating the written message in new promotions.

What It Felt Like When “Cat Person” Went Viral

11 January 2019

From The New Yorker:

In the fall of 2017, I was finishing up lunch at a Noodles & Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I saw that I’d missed a call from a 212 area code. I thought, I bet my story just got into The New Yorker. This was an unusual assumption for me to make, given that, at that point, I’d had a single story accepted in a print literary magazine; the rest of my published work was available only in online genre venues, like Body Parts Magazine and Weird Fiction Review. The story I’d submitted to The New Yorker had already been rejected, politely, by every other publication I’d sent it to, but, a few weeks earlier, my agent had received an e-mail from Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker’s fiction editor, which read, in its entirety:

Hi Jenni,

I just want to apologize for holding onto this one for so long. It’s an intriguing piece and I have it circulating here now, so should be able to get back to you in the next week or two.

Sorry to keep you waiting,

Deborah

If you are not in the habit of submitting short stories to literary magazines, this might not seem like such a big deal to you, but, when I learned that the fiction editor of The New Yorker knew my name, I was so thrilled that I forwarded the e-mail to my mother.

. . . .

On Monday, December 4th, my story “Cat Person” came out in the magazine and online. I posted the link on my Facebook page, at which point nearly everyone I’d ever met either liked it or sent me a message saying “congratulations,” and I responded “thank you!!!” Then a bunch of my friends took me out for drinks at a local cocktail bar and, after that, it was pretty much over.

Except that it wasn’t. Three days later, I was sitting in a coffee shop with my girlfriend, Callie, trying to write, when she looked up from her computer and said, “There’s something going on with your story.” Callie is also a writer, and she used to work in publishing, so she was much more connected to the literary Internet than I was. She seemed slightly unnerved. “It’s just Twitter,” I said, with the smug dismissiveness of a thirtysomething late millennial who had tweeted a grand total of twelve times in her life. Callie tried to explain what was happening; I failed to understand. Then I went home, fired up Twitter, and saw that I had a bunch of notifications from strangers. I was reading through them when my mom called about something unrelated. I tried to explain to her what was happening, and then she went online herself and, at some point, she said, “Oh, my God, Kristen, someone Barack Obama follows just retweeted your story.” Then she burst into tears.

In brief, “Cat Person” is a story about two characters—Margot, a twenty-year-old college student, and Robert, a man in his mid-thirties—who go on a single bad date. The story is told in the close third person, and much of it is spent describing Margot’s thought process as she realizes that she does not want to have sex with Robert but then decides, for a variety of reasons, to go through with it anyway. When the story appeared online, young women began sharing it among themselves; they said it captured something that they had also experienced: the sense that there is a point at which it is “too late” to say no to a sexual encounter. They also talked, more broadly, about the phenomenon of unwanted sex that came about not through the use of physical force but because of a poisoned cocktail of emotions and cultural expectations—embarrassment, pride, self-consciousness, and fear. What had started as a conversation among women was then taken up and folded into a much larger debate that played out, for the most part, between men and women, its flames fanned by the Internet controversy machine.

. . . .

I remember the e-mails coming and coming—first, fan letters from people who’d discovered my story and liked it, then anti-fan letters, from people who’d discovered my story and didn’t. I received many in-depth descriptions, from men, of sexual encounters they’d had, because they thought I’d “just like to know.” I got e-mails from people I hadn’t talked to in years who wondered if I’d noticed that my story had gone viral.

. . . .

I’d wanted people to be able to see themselves in the story, to identify with it in such a way that its narrative scaffolding would disappear. But, perhaps inevitably, as the story was shared again and again, moving it further and further from its original context, people began conflating me, the author, with the main character. Sometimes this was blunt (“What, The New Yorker is just publishing diary entries now?”) and other times it was subtler: the assumption was that I’d be happy to go on the radio and explain why young women in 2018 were still struggling to achieve satisfying sex lives—in other words, the assumption was that my own position and history would be identical to Margot’s. I was thirty-six years old and a few months into my first serious relationship with a woman, and now everyone wanted me to explain why twenty-year-old girls were having bad sex with men.

. . . .

So what was it like to have a story go viral? For a few hours, before I came to my senses and shut down my computer, I got to live the dream and the nightmare of knowing exactly what people thought when they read what I’d written, as well as what they thought about me. A torrent of unvarnished, unpolished opinion was delivered directly to my eyes and my brain.

. . . .

I want people to read my stories—of course I do. That’s why I write them. But knowing, in that immediate and unmediated way, what people thought about my writing felt . . . the word I keep reaching for, even though it seems melodramatic, is annihilating. To be faced with all those people thinking and talking about me was like standing alone, at the center of a stadium, while thousands of people screamed at me at the top of their lungs. Not for me, at me. I guess some people might find this exhilarating. I did not.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and here’s a link to Cat Person.

Amazon will win advertising dollars away from Facebook amid privacy concerns

10 January 2019

From re/code:

Amazon could double its ad revenue among top US ad buyers in the next two years, giving it 12 percent of total ad spending in 2020. Meanwhile, Facebook’s main social network platform is expected to lose 3 percentage points of market share in that time.

That’s according to a new Cowen survey of 50 senior US advertising buyers in late December that showed Amazon is expected to gain more digital ad market share by 2020 than any other platform.

These ad buyers controlled a total of $14 billion in digital ad budgets in 2018. The investment bank weighted the data so that bigger spenders factored in accordingly.

Ad buyers are mostly pulling their growing Amazon spend from other digital platforms, the survey found.

Google and YouTube are also expected to lose a modest amount of ad revenue share through 2020. Facebook-owned Instagram is expected to see a 2 percentage point increase in that time, helping to balance out its parent company’s loss.

. . . .

Facebook is particularly vulnerable, thanks to its recent spate of privacy issues.

Of the 50 ad buyers, 18 percent said privacy concerns would lead to decreased ad spend on Facebook, more than any other platform, according to the Cowen survey.

But it’s also likely Facebook’s stagnating daily active user growth in the US and Canada— its most valuable markets — is at least as big a factor as its myriad privacy mishaps.

Link to the rest at re/code

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

4 January 2019

From New York magazine:

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

. . . .

Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world’s greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures. In October, small advertisers filed suit against the social-media giant, accusing it of covering up, for a year, its significant overstatements of the time users spent watching videos on the platform (by 60 to 80 percent, Facebook says; by 150 to 900 percent, the plaintiffs say). According to an exhaustive list at MarketingLand, over the past two years Facebook has admitted to misreporting the reach of posts on Facebook Pages (in two different ways), the rate at which viewers complete ad videos, the average time spent reading its “Instant Articles,” the amount of referral traffic from Facebook to external websites, the number of views that videos received via Facebook’s mobile site, and the number of video views in Instant Articles.

Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what’s the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there’s something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook’s claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day — though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.

. . . .

And maybe we shouldn’t even assume that the people are real. Over at YouTube, the business of buying and selling video views is “flourishing,” as the Times reminded readers with a lengthy investigation in August. The company says only “a tiny fraction” of its traffic is fake, but fake subscribers are enough of a problem that the site undertook a purge of “spam accounts” in mid-December. These days, the Times found, you can buy 5,000 YouTube views — 30 seconds of a video counts as a view — for as low as $15; oftentimes, customers are led to believe that the views they purchase come from real people. More likely, they come from bots.

. . . .

Link to the rest at New York magazine

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