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👎 Curated Feeds
My analysis of a shoddy new article discovery app | EU to charge Big Tech for new infrastructure | Twitter to take more of your money
This week I spent too many minutes watching Nothing, Forever, which is a Twitch stream that runs 24/7. It’s completely generated by AI, and seems to emulate popular 90s sitcom Seinfeld (which was known as ‘a show about nothing’). In Nothing, Forever there are long periods where no one says anything. The characters move like demented puppets and constantly glitch with the furniture. Why am I watching this? What have I become?
This week was a smelly 8-bit fart 👎. Make of that what you will. Scroll down for:
A new app called Artifact, and how it perfectly exemplifies why consumer technology needs to totally violate you in order to work as intended
The EU want to charge Big Tech companies for internet infrastructure upgrades — an insane idea!
Twitter is going to charge developers to use its API — not even an idea, just stupid!
📰 Newton’s new newsfeed for news
This bit is going to be a little different to the usual: I subscribe to’s Platformer and this week he decided to use his free-to-read article to write about how much he likes Artifact, which is a news-sharing app developed by the co-founders of Instagram.
Casey’s post is not a critical analysis of the app — it’s literally a puff piece about what Artifact will be able to do, and why the founders wanted to make it. My congratulations to Artifact’s PR team. I find it grotesque that Casey Newton would think this was a valid and interesting thing to write about without even criticising it slightly.
☝️ I have observations about Artifact itself, but first let me just quickly explain what it actually is:
They’re calling it ‘TikTok but for text’: it’s a feed of news articles recommended to you by a machine (and also articles posted by who you follow)
People can’t post anything without a link — the idea is to show your followers news articles you found interesting, and maybe attach your personal take
‘Artifact’ is apparently a conceptual merging of AI, facts, and articles; and by the sounds of things, the AI part is the main sell here. The founders maintain that feeds which consist mainly of recommendations are better than feeds that show you things from the people you actually chose to follow.
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot this week, because Artifact perfectly exemplifies how the makers of technology literally don’t even care slightly about the people they are making the technology for. Do we really need to add another algorithmically-curated feed to our already loathsome app libraries? Do we?? Look at this quote from Platformer:
“In one sense, Artifact can feel like a throwback. Inspired by TikTok’s success, big social platforms have spent the past few years chasing short-form video products and the ad revenue that comes with them. Meanwhile, like a social network from the late 2000s, Artifact has its sights set firmly on text. But the founders are hopeful that a decade-plus of lessons learned, along with recent advances in artificial intelligence, will help their app break through to a bigger audience.”
So funny that the framing here is that they were ‘inspired’ by TikTok’s success — were they? Or was it that they too wanted to run a platform powered by an aggressive recommendation system, so that they could reap all the benefits? I think what really ‘inspires’ these stodgy men is having an opportunity to own a machine that shoves content down people’s throats, instead of just letting them decide what they might like to read. The current social app landscape has stuck us in a place where we simply have to accept that a machine knows what we want better than what we do — and daft apps like Artifact will only keep us here longer.
It’s also quite alarming that the ‘decade-plus of lessons learned’ that they refer to here are NOT the ones about how newsfeeds governed by machine recommendations have destabilised democracies, allowed misinformation to proliferate in unpredictable ways, and enabled advertisers to exploit fine-grain audience segmentation to the detriment of users.
The purported benefit of Artifact is that it will serve users with high-quality news articles and think-pieces. If you click on X article, you’ll get recommended similar things in the future. We all know how this plays out. Choosing to open up an article and then having a look does not mean that you ‘like’ it; it doesn’t mean that you want to see anything like it ever again; it could mean you hate it and you’re just curious/outraged — will Artifact not just do what Facebook and Youtube do, which is to pile on more and more extreme content because it keeps you in the app longer?
Note, the articles on Artifact are “chosen from a curated list of publishers ranging from leading news organizations like the New York Times to small-scale blogs about niche topics”. This just sounds like yet another place for bloggers to compete with each other tbh. But, Artifact don’t disclose every publisher they partner with — so there’s no way of telling if they include publications written by white supremacists or TERFs or other hate groups, unless the machine recommends them to you. It’s painfully obvious that Artifact will very likely be monetised with ads. That means the founders have no reason to remove content that is ‘popular’ (and hateful) because as we’ve seen, this is the kind of content that makes the most money.
This app will not solve any problems, it will simply compound existing ones — and I don’t mean existing social problems from before social media; I mean the new problems that social media itself has given us. I spend a lot of time trawling for bits of news that might be interesting to put in this newsletter, and even I don’t see a valid use for an app that will show me articles based on my interests. I literally don’t need help ‘discovering’ the news — I just want to read it. I can already do that. If Artifact does solve any problems, it’s that the founders feel they are still not rich enough.
🍟 Other bits and bytes
It looks like the EU are proposing to push the cost of internet infrastructure upgrades onto companies that use the most bandwidth: such as Netflix and Facebook etc. This sort of makes sense on paper; these large platforms put the most strain on resource, so should probably help out with upgrades. But the problem with this is that then you either get one of these not so great things:
Superior connectivity in only Europe, brought to you by a small handful of very powerful companies — this is bad for net neutrality
Or, the companies avoid the cost by degrading or removing their services in this region
Or, the companies pay their share for new infrastructure, and pass that cost onto the consumer
Twitter is going to start charging people to use its API. This is of course
a great idea not even an idea, just a desperate cash-grab from Elon Musk. I can’t wait to watch all the interesting projects and accounts that rely on this API disappear, because guess what, sometimes people use API’s to make things that are just cool and fun, and not part of their job — but okay, go off Elon.
Right that’s me done — I hope your weekend is full of unbridled hedonistic pleasure x