Elezea Newsletter 58: Dresses and Consequences

I send out a sort-of weekly email newsletter with articles and reflections on design, technology, internet culture, and more. This is one of them. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Design has consequences. So the news that Facebook Users Are Sharing Less shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. If you design a platform to optimize for ads and professional content, people are going to share fewer personal updates. That’s not coincidence. It’s experience design. Erin Griffith says as much in his article:

The increase in professional content on Facebook has been gradual, but the company has welcomed it. Facebook wants people to share this stuff — videos, news articles, entertainment — on its platform because it means people will spend more time inside its “walled garden” than anywhere else on the Internet. The company has done a great job of curating professional content and giving users what they like, and as a result, Facebook is more addictive than ever.

For a really smart take on all of this, see Ben Thompson’s prescient Facebook and The Feed.

While we’re talking about Facebook, Sapna Maheshwari has a fascinating investigative piece about e-commerce scamming on the platform. In Say No To The Dress! Sketchy Facebook Sellers Make Millions Tricking Women she explores how overseas companies steal images of reputable clothing and then send their customers terrible knockoffs like this one:

She explains how smart these scammers are:

The subpar retailers don’t set off copyright infringement alarms either, with most selling garments under generic names like “scoop collar sleeveless floral print” dresses and “chic lace designed hollow pencil jeans,” rather than using protected brand names like Nike or Gap.
They game Facebook in other ways too: Many delete negative comments and posts on their pages, and some even post bogus customer service phone numbers and contact info, which isn’t an actionable offense.

Right now one of my favorite newsletters is Paul Ford’s Track Changes. It’s really weird and different, in the best possible way. In Laughter Doesn’t Scale he makes an interesting point about humor on the internet, and Twitter in particular:

This is one of the reasons why Twitter is such an existential pit, because the moment you have any success (i.e. lots of retweets) you are immediately punished by complete inanity, forced misunderstanding, nonsense — and, sometimes, if you’re a woman, by a miscellany of invasive threats. There’s no medium that punishes success like the Internet.
It’s not that people don’t get the jokes you make; they don’t even get that there is a joke at all. To them you are not funny, and never will be.

He goes further to say that this fact has implications for product designers:

This factor is rarely considered by product people, or by anyone, but it’s real. Humor is an amazing means of reaching a large audience, jokes are naturally viral — but there is a powerful immune system that kicks in with any successful joke. The Internet is the world’s greatest joke killer — and yet everyone thinks they are funny.

Ok, let’s move on to more serious stuff. Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant has a really interesting look at workplace collaboration in the Jan/Feb issue of HBR. In Collaborative Overload they explain how collaboration requires three different “resources” from people:

First, it’s important to distinguish among the three types of “collaborative resources” that individual employees invest in others to create value: informational, social, and personal. Informational resources are knowledge and skills — expertise that can be recorded and passed on. Social resources involve one’s awareness, access, and position in a network, which can be used to help colleagues better collaborate with one another. Personal resources include one’s own time and energy.

Here’s the problem:

These three resource types are not equally efficient. Informational and social resources can be shared — often in a single exchange — without depleting the collaborator’s supply. That is, when I offer you knowledge or network awareness, I also retain it for my own use. But an individual employee’s time and energy are finite, so each request to participate in or approve decisions for a project leaves less available for that person’s own work.

They offer some solutions to help balance out the resources and not burn people out.

In a similar vein, Frank Furedi explains how our obsession with “distraction” is nothing new, in his essay The ages of distraction. In fact, for a long time distraction was seen as a moral issue:

Amid celebration of attention as a virtue, educators, religious commentators and medical professionals constantly expressed fears about the moral harms of inattention. From the later 18th century onwards, anxieties about the ‘habit of inattention’ were increasingly represented as a moral disease. In his medical textbook of 1775, the German physician Melchior Adam Weikard diagnosed the condition of what he termed ‘lack of attention’ (Attentio Volubilis or Mangel der Aufmerksamkeit). His description continually shifted between medical and moral deficits. According to Weikard, inattentive people lacked the stability and moral fibre necessary for concentration. They were ‘characterised as unwary, careless, flighty and bacchanal’. They were portrayed as relatively immature, reckless and unreliable.

Brian Barrett did a really great Netflix profile for Wired called Netflix’s Grand, Daring, Maybe Crazy Plan to Conquer the World. The scale that they are dealing with is almost too hard to fathom:

In North America alone, Netflix is singlehandedly responsible for 37 percent of downstream Internet traffic during peak hours. The service as a whole streams 125 million hours of content every single day. Without relieving as many pressure points as possible, things could get ugly, fast.
The total capacity of the Internet’s country-to-country backbone is 35TB per second, says Ken Florance, Netflix’s VP of content delivery. “Our peak traffic is more than that … . Our scale is actually larger than the international capacity of the Internet.”

I started a new job this week, and I really like it so far. I wrote down some initial thoughts on remote work, and that will probably start to become a bit more of a theme in coming months. And with that, I wish you a wonderful weekend…