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UPDATE NOTES (22 Jan): The Sunday after this story was published, YouTube quietly rolled out a new caption format, dubbed JSON3. It’s not user-editable, and their implementation as of editing has broken text color completely, in an attempt to restrict them to an 8-bit teletype palette. It’s a bit more user-readable, though.

Closed captions are an often overlooked part of the YouTube experience.

On one hand, it’s used by communities to share in-jokes and comment on the action of a video. On the other hand, it’s treated by professional studios as an obligation, a leftover of FCC and international regulations. …


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Just 5 years ago, the ideal way for many communities to have a relatively contained means of talking online in real-time was quite different.

The communities of OverClocked ReMix and Kotaku’s reader-run blog Talk Amongst Yourselves were on the popular text-only IRC. Most gaming clans were on TeamSpeak, with the likes of Ventrilo and Mumble close behind. TeamSpeak was, in a way, the Texas Roadhouse of voice-over-IP (VoIP) chats. Other communities with no means of funding a host used Skype groups.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came Discord, which billed itself as the perfect disruptive platform — a melding of the best features from VoIP and IRC without the hosting fees — and promptly became one of the fastest-growing platforms on the Internet. …


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Too often, this very statement is ignored or taken for granted. Lately, however, we are forced to ask hard questions about websites and their roles in shaping people’s outlook on life and drive to commit murder.

Virtually every platform has needed to address this question, but only a select few have been created with that very question in mind. Instead, every day we rely on major profit-driven websites that are content with their core functionality being a hindrance to its own goals to bring people together.

This has ended friendships. This has split families. This has killed people.

Square Jello, Round Mold

The first thing to understand is another statement we take for granted: An individual platform always favors very specific uses of itself. Let’s start with some tame examples. …


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Some people saw the controversy around the Super Bowl LIII halftime show as the politics around getting performers late in planning. Some people saw it as the drama of Rihanna turning it down in protest to a rocky NFL season full of politics.

But many people saw the controversy around one song. A song so closely associated to nostalgia that people demanded it to be played to the world in tribute to the creator who made that nostalgia possible. …


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It’s a packed day in the Central District Mall. Traffic jams of people bundled up and holding stuffed bags barely manage to pass by. Believe it or not, this city still gets healthy business from this sea of stores and the strip malls surrounding it.

By the corner of Sears and the food court, a big circular popup of the North Pole stands tall, complete with a castle gate, a red carpet, a carriage-like sleigh, and a bunch of polyacrylate-dusted evergreens.

Santa’s in town.

A big queue is nestled against the side of the display, snaking back and forth a couple lengths, with whole families bunched up against each other to wait in line to talk to Santa. …


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At this point, it feels like an annual ritual.

Tumblr (currently owned by Verizon’s Oath division alongside AOL and Yahoo) does something heinous to disrupt the fabric of the community it cultivated, people in fragile communities cry foul, word spreads to the rest of the Web, Pillowfort starts opening their trap again, repeat.

Last time, it was their corporate-mandated pivot away from net neutrality. This time, it’s about flagging adult content on their website.

Maybe this could be the one?

But before any other “alternatives” start piping up, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. Because Tumblr represents the end-of-life phase of a long era in social media, and its strengths and shortcomings in that era are worth exploring. …


Pop History is a column that digs into the extended lifecycles of overlooked businesses and brands that make the news. Expect a lot of familiar faces between articles.

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So this past month marked the end of one of the most high-profile multi-channel networks on the web, and now one of the most infamous.

I’m talking about Defy Media. At its peak, they owned the likes of Smosh, Clevver, Screen Junkies, The Escapist, GameTrailers, Shockwave, the list goes on and on.

I imagine most of you were aware of this specifically because of Smosh, by far the most visible group in the YouTube scene, but if one channel’s involvement is the beginning and end of your awareness, you might be missing out on the whole picture. …


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In the midst of our society clamoring for an answer to the failings of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, we’ve had a challenger rise to the occasion. Its name is Mastodon, and it’s a scrappy platform billed as the gateway to a new twist on a classic web structure called the Fediverse.

Barely a few months into its latest spike of user migrations, people are already being turned off by the unfamiliar first-time experience, misleading reliability of servers, and inconsistent moderation.

Recently, a tweet came on my wall, retweeted by a respectable mutual, which really gave me an excuse to pin this trend on a movement that is already poisoned by the wrong people. …


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These days, you can’t go far without seeing some manner of drama involving a terrible decision made by a major website. Predictably, what happens is a brief fit of outrage, followed by a brief look into the void of the Web for something else, then a shrug of indifference and a return to the status quo of cat videos and harassment. Wet, rinse, repeat.

Most of the time, these decisions come out of nowhere. They can range from a simple font change to a new feature the site’s notifications push for a bit. …


(aka Age of Mistrust 2)

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Jack Dorsey vs Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, based on a subtweet by Holly Green

The well of mistrust runs deeper today than it did merely a year ago. Spurred on by the successful electoral sweep of Republicans and led by an increasingly-open movement of bigots of all ages, there is now an all-out cultural war happening among us.

Some real people have died defending their beliefs, or were unknowing victims of hate crime. Others still alive have played the victim card countless times to garner sympathy for their causes.

While mainstream press is well aware of the public rallies held in cities across not only the US, but in cities across the world, the front lines are really laid out in the battlegrounds of social media. Those grounds were long built up with the promise of free speech and a chance to be heard, but now it seems to primarily serve as public record for where every participant stands in society and politics. …

About

Jacob Salas

Silent Catalyst. Media Generalist. Writes mainly about pop culture history. Building a not-for-profit social web host.

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