The Age of Platforms: Will they be everywhere?

Much is made of our living in the age of algorithms, but I think that’s been true for centuries (at least since double entry bookkeeping, at least a methodology if not an algorithm). To me distinctive thing about our time is the advent of platforms, the Internet itself, and all its flavors, communication, collaboration, video, education, moving of merchandise, much of it happens on (or is indirectly supported by) a platform.

One industry that was former “platform champ”–they built it and exploited it for revenue–was the newspaper biz. So it’s particularly interesting to watch that model morph, and a Q&A on the Times site by reporter John Hermann and platform expert Andrei Hagiu takes stock of some of the changes. An excerpt. Worth reading the whole thing, and thinking about another world that is rocked by the advent of platforms, education.



NYTimes: How do pre-existing companies typically make the transition from being an independent participant in a particular category to being, basically, a platform constituent? That’s a broad question, but — is there an industry that might have useful parallels to the media industry with something like a major social platform?

HBS Prof and Economist Andrei Hagiu: I don’t think it’s true that transitioning from independence to life on a platform necessarily has to make things worse. One thing that I think a lot about — in conversations with venture capitalists and others — is the notion that platforms or marketplaces inherently commoditize. I think more likely what’s happening is the following: I think platforms, or marketplaces, make it a lot easier for, say, the content providers or app developers that are very, very good to rise to the top, and pretty much commoditize everyone else. So if you’re average, it’s definitely going to be very bad. Life is going to be worse on a platform, because you’re exposed to more competition. If you’re very good, life on a platform is a lot better.


Whole Q&A from the Times

here: Online Media Is Tested When Social Platforms Come to Town.

"All the news that's fit to print"

Once a platform all its own, and now coming to a platform near you (or on you, in the case of your cell phone!).

 

Impossible, beautiful bicycles

bicycles

Gianluca Gimini’s collection of surreal, everyday bicycles

Italian/American designer (his slash, not mine) Gianluca Gimini asked people to draw a men’s bicycle from memory. Although it’s a form that is familiar to most people, it’s surprisingly hard to draw. (It’s also, as he points out, an interesting exercise in epistemology. Even though we “know” what a bicycle is, and how it works, that’s rarely sufficient for drawing a functional diagram.)

On the other hand, the non-functional diagrams people gave him were often beautiful, and as imaginative product designs. he realized that they go far beyond what any one designer could ever hope to dream up. So he rendered the bicycles in photo-realistic images, which are both weirdly fascinating and beautiful. Check out his “velocipedia” for more.

Unreasonable Words: ALA’s 10 Most Challenged Books

The American Library Association has released their State of America’s Libraries Report 2016 and nestled among many interesting tidbits is the current list of most challenged books in libraries. (I assume this is all libraries, but, as usual, the list is heavy on teen titles, always the scorched earth of book censorship.)

Out of 275 challenges recorded by the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, the “Top Ten Most Challenged Books in 2015” are:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

via Executive Summary | News and Press Center

John Green! He’s practically an institution after “Fate,” and a wonderful writer to boot. And although I am in hearty agreement with the assessment of “poorly written” for E.L. James’s entire oeuvre, where’s the fun (or habibithe feasibility) in expelling works for that? “Condones public display of affection” is also a head-scratcher, and one would assume understanding a ‘religious viewpoint’ is one of many reasons The Bible, still the big dog on the porch of banned books, is read and worth having in a public library collection. Fun Home the musical just won the Tony, and the graphic novel is a great, and poignant read, and by reliable accounts the show is super. I’m not really much of a graphic novel reader, but one positive effect of this list on me is that I now want to read Habibi, which of course, I’ll get from my public library.

Poetic Words: Sharon Olds

poetryBoth Poetry Daily and Knopf Poem of the Day do celebrations of National Poetry Month (April, of course, the ‘cruelest’ month). Sharon Olds was one of Knopf’s selections, and she has always resonated with me, perhaps never more so than in this poem.

Directly

Then, one late afternoon,
I understand: the harm my father
did us is receding. I never thought
it would happen, I thought his harm was stronger than that,
like God’s harm—flood, or birth without
eyes, with mounds of tissue, no retina, no
pupil, the way my father on the couch did not
seem not to be using eyes
but not to have them, or to have objects
for eyes—Jocastal dress-brooches.
But he had not been hated, so he did not hate us,
just scorned us, and it is wearing off.
My son and daughter are grown, they are well
as if by some miracle. The afternoon has a
quality of miracle, the starlings all facing
the west, his grave. I come to the window
as if to open it, and whisper,
My father’s harm is fading. Then,
I think that he would be glad to hear it
directly from me,

so I come to where you are, bone
settled under the dewed tangle
of the blackish Northwoods moss like the crossroads
hair of a beloved. I come to you here
because it is home: your done-with body
broken back down into earth, holding
its solemn incapable beauty.


Perhaps all writers make use of their family first and foremost, but few do it as fearlessly.

Shakespeariana

Lots of observances of the 400th anniversary of WS’s death (so long ago, so recent!)

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 3.03.57 PMTwo web destinations I particularly liked: Neil MacGregor “Shakespeare’s Restless World,” a BBC Radio and podcast series akin to his “History of the World in 100 Objects.” In 20 short episodes, he takes an object as a means to glimpse what the experience of playwright, players, and audiences might have been like. (For instance, the simple Protestant chalice in the church where Shakespeare was baptized provides a lens into the roiling drama of Catholic v. Protestant politics and power and the fears relating to the successor to Elizabeth).

Wonderful scholarly Shakespeare websites abound, but some the main repositories of primary docs have come together to put up an exhibit that gives you a chance to see for yourself the printed legacy of Shakespeare’s age.

Shakespeare Documented is a quick trip to those rare Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 3.09.32 PMbook collections in these great libraries, and from your armchair, you can follow links for the full texts, and ‘page’ through the versions of the plays that were first published as well as many contextual docs.

Pretty picture: A couple of design tidbits

Herewith, a couple of engaging graphic arts encountered in my traversing of the web.  First, Design Facts, a collection of brief, fascinating snapshots of design history.

design_facts

Designer Michael Bierut of Design Observer takes on (and defends) the much maligned new logo for the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Which, like him, I rather like.)

Met Logo

 

From his piece,

There are lots and lots of reasons that this is, if not a great logo, then certainly a better logo than the one it’s replacing. The old symbol, that beloved (albeit to my eyes kind of generic and clip-artsy) Pacioli M, needed to be captioned with the full name of the institution: five words, ten syllables, twenty-six letters, all in poor old Trajan. This was cumbersome in every sense, particularly as the institution prepares to open in the former Whitney Museum building on Madison Avenue (to be renamed The Met Breuer after its architect). That new site, along with the less-visited but utterly lovely Cloisters, makes the Met a citywide complex that demands not a monolithic identity, but a way to connect up all the pieces. The new logo, a self-reading wordmark that acknowledges the institution’s two-syllable colloquial name, will serve effectively as the hinge for the whole system.

Change=hard.