Ongoing Twitter binfire destroys site’s USP and demands people pay to create content for the platform

I remember years ago a loved one getting all excited about a letter they were sent about a book publishing deal. Someone was offering to publish their book. All they needed was a bit of money. Or, rather, a lot of money. It made said loved one sad, but a swift intervention and explanation of the scam that is ‘vanity publishing’ stopped a costly mistake. Twitter now apparently exists in broadly the same space.

Making good on an unsaid promise to destroy everything that was once good about the service, Musk has ordered his underlings to simultaneously destroy Twitter’s USP and discover how many gullible users it has. This all comes by way of a new character limit that will be exclusive to subscription tier Twitter Blue.

Having apparently fired all the copywriters, Twitter announced in a block of text that would make even the sternest production editor cry that you’ll now be able to send up to 4000 characters in a single tweet – if you pay to do so. By default, the tweet will collapse to the standard 280 and add a ‘show more’ link – perhaps the sole sensible decision Twitter has made since Musk’s takeover.

The broader picture here, though, is nonsensical. Twitter was a place where ideas spread, but not necessarily where they lived. People typically linked to longform content elsewhere. And, yes, although some folks on the site craft threads comprising a dizzying number of linked tweets, those communications have a distinct rhythm of their own, and are shareable on an individual basis.

4000 characters upends what makes Twitter unique, and welding it to Twitter Blue suggests Twitter thinks content creators should pay Twitter for the privilege of posting original content on to Twitter’s platform – a platform currently run by a man who showcases a flagrant disregard for rules, and presumably can be trusted with IP roughly as far as you can throw a Tesla. That sounds like a pretty crappy deal to me.

February 9, 2023. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Exploring the implications and existential terror of AI’s impact on creative industries

Last summer, I wrote a piece for Stuff magazine: AI is primed to eat the world – but it’s dining on what people already created. Within, I explored the then largely nascent world of consumer-accessible creative AI, digging into the visuals and text output these systems could crank out in seconds.

Since then, things have moved on. Not a day goes by now where we don’t see someone mulling over a bleak future for creative industries, as AI becomes smarter – and in some cases, more human – in terms of what it can produce.

Political commentator and columnist Ian Dunt today mulled on Twitter: “About 50% of the time I get excited with AI stuff, 40% I get worried about my career/the general economic implications and 10% entering a state of baffled existential terror.” Marina Evans then responded: “It feels like it’s being used to replace humans in exactly the wrong way.”

I have a lot of sympathy for both viewpoints. It is exciting to see what AI tech can do, but also deeply worrying thinking about how AI can now be used for everything from political disinformation to revenge porn. And in the creative space, I do find it sad that certain people are rubbing their hands with glee, considering AI primarily to be a cost-saving shortcut that removes swathes of paid creative types entirely.

Ideally, AI should be used to offload routine work so humans can do more interesting, useful and creative things. This is happening in, for example, machine learning operations. You often see AI employed in largely automated systems, poring though data at extreme speeds, and then alerting humans to handle key decision points. Without AI, these systems would be unviable or even impossible.

But AI has created a ticking time bomb within certain creative industries. There are already publications using AI to write routine articles – only sometimes bringing in human editors to make corrections. The internet is awash with AI-generated art and pseudo-photography, making illustrators fear for their very livelihoods while AI systems eat these people’s entire creative histories to use as the basis of their own output. There are exceptions – AI is good at dealing with mechanics. In video, it can sometimes sort a rough edit to give an editor a head start. And even in the aforementioned creative spaces, it has value as a trigger for inspiration.

The bigger concern is when higher-ups determine that mediocre/derivative output (which is where a lot of AI is right now) will do. But that misses the snag that when you run out of data to feed into the system, you get a kind of endless remix of grey. And it also glosses over what happens when humans are removed entirely or where key data is missing in the first place. AI can currently write, say, a review of a software product that a layman would read and think is OK. But an expert would spot errors. For an app, whatever. But for something critically important? That’s not good.

I’m not sure where things will go from here, but I’m not optimistic. Today, we exist in a strange space, where people are wowed by AI or hand-wave it away. The Ryan Reynolds ChatGPT Mint ad is a case in point. Reynolds offers good acting – at least, I hope that’s the case because what the AI comes up with is box-ticking mediocrity. However, if everyone does this again in a year, what will the AI come up with by then?

If nothing else, there’s one lesson we all need to learn – yet again – when it comes to disruptive technology: things never quite shake out as you might expect. Technology – and the world in general – is unpredictable. And AI may well turn out to be the most disruptive technology we will see in our lifetimes.

January 15, 2023. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Has Apple or everyone else got Dynamic Island backwards?

It looks like there’s growing consensus that Dynamic Island’s primary interaction model is wrong. Michael Tsai compiles commentary across two posts, which include people grumping about how a tap on Dynamic Island opens an app, whereas a long-press is required to expand what’s in the island to use its controls. Everyone from Nilay Patel at The Verge to John ‘Daring Fireball’ Gruber seems to want the opposite.

I’ve taken a contrary viewpoint. The iOS Home Screen has long had a similar interaction model. Whether you’re interacting with an icon or a widget, a tap opens an app, whereas a long press (and, previously, Force Touch) exists for actions. To my mind, Dynamic Island follows this existing convention, rather than making up new ones. So if a timer’s in the island, you tap-hold to perform a contextual action, or tap to open the item’s app. Even if you take a more desktop analogy of minimising to a ‘dock’ (which is in some ways how Dynamic Island presents), Apple is being consistent in this regard.

Rob Jonson on Twitter disagrees, arguing we’re effectively talking about a long press for a quick interaction and a tap for a deeper one (that is, opening the app), which “doesn’t seem right to me”. He asks: “Put it another way – is the dynamic island primarily the holder of the full app, or the holder of the expanded dynamic island?”

I’m clearly in the minority here (albeit, at present, a minority that includes Apple), but it’d feel odd to me if a long-press in Dynamic Island was the route to launching an app, just the same as it’d be weird elsewhere in the operating system.

October 18, 2022. Read more in: Apple, Opinions


The best of the best of 2000 AD

July 1989. Best of 2000 AD Monthly #46. That’s when I was properly hooked. Barely a teen, I’d until then read UK humour comics, bits of DC and Marvel, and licensed fare like Transformers. I’d been given a couple of ancient 2000 AD annuals, but they were full of hokey content and hadn’t aged well.

But that ‘Best of’ was something else. Judge Dredd with his stompy boots on the cover. Within, a veritable feast of classics. The Exo-Men. Block War. The Aggro Dome. Black and white art by Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, Mike McMahon and Colin Wilson. It was a window into an amazing world that instantly made Marvel fare I’d read look stale.

The months passed. More Dredd. The mind-boggling Nemesis The Warlock. Strontium Dog gut-puncher Slavers of Drule, with the late, great Carlos Ezquerra on art duties. That was the issue that convinced me to start buying the weekly ‘Prog’. #651 was my first, long after the comic’s first ‘golden age’. No matter – I plugged gaps over the years by way of comic stores, car boot sales, and a huge collection very kindly donated by a member of a famous band.

Despite being well north of 40, I’m still collecting. I now have over 2300 issues of 2000 AD, and look forward to the Prog arriving every week. Current editor Matt Smith has during his tenure (now by far the longest on the comic) managed to keep 2000 AD fresh, decades into its run. As classic strips fade, new quality ably replaces them: Brink; Proteus Vex; The Out; Jaegir; Thistlebone.

The one downside is that 2000 AD, despite being 45 years old, remains largely unknown beyond the UK. Even within the UK, it’s often referred to as a historical artefact, as if it’s no longer a going concern. In the US, it’s on the periphery, with most collectors having heard of (but not read) Dredd, and owning a set of Zenith hardcovers, because Grant Morrison. But then, that shouldn’t be a surprise when potential new readers are faced with 45 years of history and ask: Where do you start?

In short, with Best of 2000 AD. No, not the comic I bought in the 1980s, but publisher Rebellion’s revamped, modernised take. Originally conceived as a newsstand monthly, COVID necessitated its rebirth into a series of six chunky volumes. Under the slogan of the “ultimate 2000 AD mix-tape”, each book aims to give new and lapsed readers a taste of 2000 AD’s history across 200+ pages.

Issue 1 sets the stage with a superb Jamie McKelvie (The Wicked & The Divine) cover, and gorgeous design work by Tom Muller (X-Men). A complete John Wagner Dredd tale kicks things off, before we dig into the first volume of Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard’s claustrophobic space station police procedural Brink – a modern-day 2000 AD classic.

Alan Moore’s first major hit, Halo Jones, is next. Telling the tale of an ordinary woman living in a dystopian hellscape who has to go… shopping. You’ll never look at Tesco in quite the same way again. After a quick Strontium Dog (which might baffle newbies – a smidgeon of context about the strip might have helped), there’s a critical essay of Judge Anderson high point Shamballa, by Adam Karenina Sherifm, followed by the heartbreaking story itself. A lurid Dredd short and single-pager D.R. & Quinch wrap things up.

There’s no obvious theme, but there’s a broad commonality of tone that threads throughout 2000 AD. It revels in exploring bleak realities and lacks the overt heroism evident in many US comics. Lights in the darkness come by way of explorations of humanity and hope in all its various forms, and splashes of jet-black humour that frequently punctuate even the grimmest of Judge Dredd sagas.

2000 AD also differentiates itself through pace. The Prog has long offered strips in bursts of five or six pages. Every week, something has to happen within that space – stories have to move on. Arcs are therefore swift. Imagine each issue of 2000 AD being like five US comics compressed and distilled to their essence until no fat remains. That’s why in this 200-page volume, you effectively get two complete graphic novels, most of another (Brink ends on a cliffhanger – there’s more in vol. 2), along with a bunch of extras.

It remains to be seen whether Best of 2000 AD moves the needle and finally gets the publication the greater notoriety it’s long deserved. (Be mindful how many major creators have gone through 2000 AD’s ranks!) But it must have a shot. Regardless, if you, as comics reader, have ever wondered what all the fuss is about, buy a copy. The first volume is a cracking read and bodes well for the rest of the six-book run.

Best of 2000 AD vol. 1 is available to order now, priced £14.99/$22.99.

September 27, 2022. Read more in: Books, Opinions

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Apple needs to start helping developers and not allow scammers to thrive

Kevin Archer is an indie developer who makes Authenticator App by 2Stable, a feature-rich, premium and suitably named take on, well, an authenticator app. There are of course other, similar, apps on the App Store. But he today revealed just how similar.

On Twitter, he claimed another developer lifted text from his app (including a section on Apple Watch support, despite the other app not supporting Apple’s wearable). When testing the app, Archer found a review request during onboarding, which doesn’t appear to align with Apple guidelines. And, naturally, there’s a weekly IAP subscription, because of course there is.

That’s all bad enough, but the dodgy app popped up a second time, with a different icon. The linked thread outlines how the app is not only a straight clone of the other scammy app (right down to what appears to be integrated stock art), but also directly lifts copy and functionality from Archer’s app.

On Twitter, Archer rightly said he didn’t understand how these apps pass review with features that don’t work, a copied design and a weekly subscription. He added that every day, indie devs like him get “apps rejected for silly things”, while these scammy apps sneak through.

It’s reasonable to argue Apple cannot deal with a flood of daily apps to review that might circumvent copyright – and that certain things aren’t liable to such protections anyway. If someone steals the ideas within an app, tough (broadly). Actual content is another matter, mind. But you might counter by using an argument from Apple itself that the App Store is meant to be better. It’s supposed to be curated. It should be a place where developers thrive, not where they play whac-a-mole with pretenders ripping them off.

Mind you, Archer told me even getting to whac-a-mole stage isn’t easy. Although you might reasonably argue Apple cannot pre-emptively police its store, surely it makes it easy for developers to flag when their apps are ripped off? Archer suggested otherwise: “One of the main issues with the App Store team is that you can’t contact them directly. You can contact developer support, but they are in charge of technical issues and told us on the phone they can’t put us in contact with the App Store team.”

Archer says he’s submitted a report via the App Store’s ‘report a problem’ feature and is hoping for the best. Meanwhile, Apple regularly argues that when devs hit a problem that running to the press won’t solve them. History suggests otherwise; but if Apple really doesn’t want issues to be fixed by bad press, perhaps it should give developers the tools to flag problems more rapidly with those who can actually do something about them – who then should, very swiftly, take action.

Update: MacRumors wrote about the situation yesterday. Apple has since removed both apps from the App Store.

February 19, 2022. Read more in: Apple, Opinions


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