June 3, 2019

Imagining the future of social media with the IndieWeb

With mainstream social media platforms slow to reform over issues of privacy, addictiveness and lack of regulation, IndieWeb social media platforms provide an alternative for people who want to connect across the world, without the baggage of traditional platforms.

What is the IndieWeb?

Supporters of the IndieWeb are a loose collective of developers and techno-utopians developing their own social-media platforms, which they hope will retain what’s good and remove what’s bad about social media based on principles that are less corporate and more humane. Decentralization is a major goal to achieving that because the current issue is that most online activity takes places on servers owned by a small number of massive companies. Because we don’t pay for the privilege of using those servers, companies have to find other ways to draw value from users which is why we now have issues of compromised privacy and “engineered addictiveness” to increase alternative revenue streams.

Alternative forms of social media include Micro.blog where users post on their own domain hosted on Micro.blog’s server or their own personal server. This means the site only acts as an aggregator, users own what they write and can do what they want with it—including posting to competing aggregators. This system is what IndieWeb developers call “publish on our own site, syndicate elsewhere” or POSSE.

With another, Mastodon, users join a specific server called an “instance” as opposed to a single website or app. Each instance has its own code of conduct, terms of service and moderation policies. This allows users to choose instances with policies they agree with and leave others without losing access to the whole Mastodon social network.

How could it work?

The IndieWeb is unlikely to ever replace current mainstream social media platforms.

The two most important things that social media platforms require are business models and network effects. Social media platforms are powerful only on the basis that it’s where “the network” is. It could be friends, peers, entertainment, whatever it may be. But to support that is a robust business model that allows the scale and development to happen at a reasonable pace. Any sort of challenger to mainstream media would need to solve both and up until now, nobody has tried hard enough to make a non-ad-driven social media platform which prioritizes a certain type of content.

Further, for those working in certain industries, social media literacy (especially with mainstream platforms) will eventually become requisite knowledge on par with Internet literacy if it hasn’t already. So for those who don’t want to or can’t bring themselves to abandon traditional social media, they can only try to limit the negatives of those experiences within the confines of the platform as they very slowly reform.

This means that IndieWeb will remain just that for those who want it: indie in the sense that it’s a more private, particular version of something mainstream that are widely known and used by everyone. In other words, whether it’s a referral-only speakeasy with artisanal cocktails or a neighborhood dive bar only a few crowds can appreciate, the point is that the crowd is smaller and you have a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into.

May 27, 2019

Toronto's proposed "Google City" kicked off a fierce debate over future smart cities


Google sister company Sidewalk Labs had earmarked disused land in Toronto for its urban experiment, the results of which would go on to influence other burgeoning smart cities in the world. Instead, Toronto ended up suing them.

The dream

Back in 2017, Sidewalk Labs partnered with Toronto Waterfront, the agency charged with revitalizing the disused Quayside land to envision an Internet-based smart city that included autonomous cars, innovative garbage collection, sustainable energy, and a mix of green office, retail and maker spaces.

Ex-deputy mayor of New York Dan Doctoroff led the project, working with a team of both government and digital experts. What began as a plan to develop a 12-acre former industrial lot developed into 300 acres of adjacent Port Lands.

By developing these lands and building a waterfront light rail line, Sidewalk Labs would gain a cut of the development fees and property taxes that would normally go to the city.

The project has consulted 20,000 residents with those residents and their officials deciding if the plan goes ahead.

The reality

Until now, Toronto has been less than pleased and the project:

  • “Canada is not Google’s lab rat,” said MJ Bryant, executive director and general counsel of The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which is suing three levels of government over the contract. “We can do better. Our freedom from unlawful public surveillance is worth fighting for.”
  • A group of Toronto residents called Block Sidewalk quickly organized to petition against it, citing a lack of transparency and consultation before the contract was awarded. That group involved Councillor Paula Fletcher, who previously fought to keep the Port Lands from being developed
  • Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of BlackBerry, called the project: “colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic and political issues,” he said.  “Of all the misguided innovation strategies Canada has launched over the past three decades, this purported smart city is not only the dumbest but also the most dangerous.”

Why cities should be rightfully protective of privacy

One of the major oppositions to this project stems from the lack of consultation and especially lack of popular demand for such an initiative, especially one that could siphon money away from the city that could more directly serve residents’ needs.

Further, Toronto’s stance shows an unwillingness to trade so many personal freedoms up front in exchange for a city that, while designed to look and function beautifully, relies heavily on collecting massive amounts of data. It’s also worth mentioning that the technologies Sidewalk Labs would introduce may be of more benefit to the technology vendors its partnered with than the city.

As Canada’s equivalent to New York, which is the very subject of Mozilla’s report on the relationship between cities and tech, Toronto is neither struggling nor as heavily populated as other world cities where the desire for helpful smart infrastructure is as high as concern for privacy is low.

In Toronto’s case, it demonstrates that even if individual users might be okay to sign away their freedoms and privacy for the sake of convenience or obligation to use a given service, cities represent the interests of between thousands to millions of their residents and as such, signing off on their privacy to a 3rd party should always be a highly considered decision.

May 20, 2019

Jeff Koons' record-breaking art sale might be part of a bigger and worrisome movement

Jeff Koons recently broke the record for highest auction price for a living artist when his 1986 “Rabbit” sold for $91.1 million at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale last Wednesday.

Why was it so expensive?

While the hammer price (winning bid price) of the metallic rabbit sculpture and that of the previous record holder—a 1972 painting by David Hockney called “Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures”—was significantly lower at around $80 million, Christie’s raised the buyers’ fees that pushed the work to its total price.

But really, why was it so expensive?

We’re entering a new era of art collection with a heavy concentration around household names and their ability to generate hype and value. Top-tier artists and galleries are taking a comparatively large chunk of the pie. A recent series of stats show that art transactions exceeding USD 1 million were 40% of the art market, but only 3% of the transactions.

Should we dismiss Koons so quickly?

What can the 62-year-old artist look back upon in his three-decade-old career? :

  • His work is influential to sculpture by combining elements of pop, minimalism, and Duchamp
  • He’s introduced a sense of “MAYA,” Most Advanced Yet Acceptable by taking familiar concepts and changing their meaning and scale.
  • His particular affinity for shiny objects brought color and a new energy to the field that draws a quiet admiration if it isn’t drawing disdain.

For better or worse, many objects of his that are easy to write off as gaudy, simplistic and just plain bad—such as his eponymous “Balloon Dog (Orange)” that sold for USD 58.4 million and “Play-Doh” that went for a mere USD 22.8 million—speak to audiences even now and thus generate regular discussion that keep the artist relevant and the dollars coming.

But the real issue is that with these types of record-breaking transactions, they’re firmly leaving the next generation of artists potentially out on their own. In a recent New York Times article, affluent but not super rich collectors were no longer willing to participate in the art market. Seeing living artists sell for upwards of USD 90 million suggested their five-figure work was not worth buying. While Koons’ sale is breaking records at the auctions, the real concern is the hollowing out of the middle and emerging class of artists who may never have the opportunity to break out.


April 25, 2019

An important new job role is needed. The editor and content creator who makes sense of our world.


In an increasingly saturated media space that has companies and creators vying for audience attention, companies of all natures will be looking towards Editor-in-Chief-like roles to help shape narratives and guide teams of editors and content creators.

The war for attention

With a smartphone now capable of reaching almost every song, movie or book created and its user pulled in thousands of different directions from different content creating people or companies, there is a need to deal with—and fight for—the increasingly fragmented attention of audiences. There’s more than enough eyeballs in the world, but you need their precious seconds most of all. This means companies are starting to play hard ball.

More skin in the game

Over the past decade, there are now 32% more people on LinkedIn reporting that they work as content or editor roles at non-media companies.

Here are some examples of both non-media and media companies producing new types of content to reach audiences:

  • Airbnb: started a subscription print magazine that’s free for hosts.
  • Bumble: the dating app launched a lifestyle magazine
  • WeTransfer: the file-sharing service released a magazine to highlight movements and stories within creative culture
  • Goldman Sachs: they have a talk show now.
  • Verizon: hiring an “Editor in Chief-Social” to oversee high-frequency coverage of the companies activities.
  • Away Luggage: The luggage company’ magazine focuses on the concept of travel through the stories of locals and influential creatives.

What this new type of role actually needs to do

Aside from simply being an effective manager that can steer teams of talented people towards goals and creating content that grabs attention, the underlying need is for these editor-in-chief-like roles is to lead by making sense of the world around them, their colleagues and their audience and turning those insights into a strong direction.

Why? If we take different media forms as diffusions of the greater narrative a brand wants to depict—what would go on the “Our Story” page of the company website—those same forms are easily imitable but worldviews are not as much so.

People will give a few fleeting seconds, maybe minutes to easily digestible content that appeals to spontaneous hedonism, but they’ll give hours—regular hours and loyalty—to platforms they can turn to for compelling original perspectives when everything else leaves them beleaguered, distracted and lost.

Making sense of the world, however, requires an always-on mentality that isn’t for the faint of heart. To see and hear as much possible is a grueling task but is a requirement of the job to help scatter and rebuild narratives that explain where we are currently and where we’re going.

April 3, 2019

JR, the renown French street artist, takes over Paris' Louvre Museum

JR Pyramid Louvre Paris

JR, the Parisian artist known for his incredible works, has surprised everyone once again with his latest installation.  This is not the artist’s first foray with the Louvre: he previously made the iconic pyramid disappear altogether in 2016. The installation, erected to mark the pyramid’s 30th anniversary, was up only during the weekend for onlookers to experience.

Even though Hong Kong held all the spotlight this week for a week full of festivities, JR took the art world by surprise once again. As is now customary for the artist, his work takes on a larger than life persona and weaves itself with the Louvre’s DNA. The installation celebrates the iconic pyramids’ 30th birthday (and is likely a much needed outdoor installation for the French museum). New modern works of this kind highlight the art world’s willingness to push boundaries and embrace innovative formats. Perhaps this will usher in a new trend for bigger and bolder projects in the next few months and years. More interestingly, we hope this will also enable more large scale collaborations. We’d definitely love to see a KAWS x JR installation sometime soon.

JR Pyramid Louvre Paris

JR Pyramid Louvre Paris

JR Pyramid Louvre Paris

April 1, 2019

Concrete Objects and Futura release a collaborative "NULL" Figure

Who’s involved and what is it?

Concrete Objects and artist Futura partner on a collaborative figure. Concrete Objects is a project by designers Samuel Ross (of A Cold Wall* fame) and Jobe Burns. The brand emerged out of their friendship and interest in creating a design-focused dialog around products beyond just clothing and sneakers.

The underlying inspiration of the brand is a mutual appreciation for brutalist design. Together with legendary artist Futura, they’ve released a series of customized “NULL” figures, a Concrete Objects original. The hand-crafted figures are cast in epoxy resin with a “hand painted matte finish to immobilise the light that passes through it.” Let us simplify the unnecessary jargon, the matte paint doesn’t reflect light.

Why it’s important?

Samuel Ross’ label A COLD WALL* alongside Futura are two respected names in the realm of youth/street culture. Their involvement presents product through a new lens around design that extends beyond the ephemera of modern day fashion. The hand-made pieces provide a new vector for a younger generation to understand the concepts that drive consumer products.

The figures are available now via the Concrete Objects online store. with a retail price of GBP 800 (or approximately $1,046 USD). If you’re interested in hearing more about Samuel Ross’ story, head over to our interview.

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