Every week I keep tabs on what’s trending, new technology, and consumer habits that impact the social web and our culture. Sign up to get this in your inbox every Friday here.
The Blob Opera: Google’s latest machine learning experiment is Blob Opera, where you control four colorful blobs by changing what pitch they sing – either set to traditional holiday carols or make your own. The creators trained a machine learning model on voice recordings, and the blobs are singing what the algorithm “thinks” opera sounds like, based on what it learned through the training. An additional model works to enable the harmonizing. Try it here. Mobile is best. Google’s Arts & Culture App is better.
Unpacking Social Media’s Cultural Impact in 2020: The global events of 2020 had a huge impact on the culture of the social web this year.
- Vox’s Rebecca Jennings wrote an ethnography of the infinite scroll of confounding, cringeworthy, or otherwise outrageous opinions that made up 2020’s year of bad social media posts. Key quote: “It’s fun to dunk on a bad tweet, but what is the point when the tweet in question was probably sent by someone who, like the rest of us, is lonely, scared, and incurably bored?”
- Brook Auxier at Pew Research wrote that social media continues to be an important political outlet for Black Americans. Key quote: “Social media benefit marginalized populations – by both leveling the playing field and allowing people from these groups to pursue social change.”
- The Cut’s editor-in-chief Stella Bugbee wrote about the tension of not-posting. Key quote: “For the first time in years, my best friends are calling me to ask where I am and what I’m doing, instead of seeing it mediated first through Instagram.”
- Ben Collins wrote a piece for Nieman Lab about the accidental conspiracy theorists in our lives and how to reconcile relationships them. Key quote: “A lot of America slipped into conspiracy thinking during this pandemic, and they got there from yoga Instagrams and NFL forums and private church choir Facebook groups that were systematically invaded by QAnon and anti-vax recruiters… We’re going to have to learn to create a vocabulary to talk about how their friends fell down the wrong YouTube hole and came out speaking another language.”
AR Baby Yoda (aka Grogu) in Your House: Simply Google search “Baby Yoda,” “Grogu,” “The Child,” or “The Mandalorian” on mobile or in the Google app, scroll down to the Knowledge Panel with a Wikipedia summary of the character, click “View in 3D” and BOOM – you’ve got Grogu projected into your home (or whereever you want to put him) via the magic of native mobile browser augmented reality. Or maybe it’s The Force.
Anonymous Video Chat Apps Are Growing In Popularity Again: Ten year-old anonymous video chat app Omegle is finding a new life thanks to YouTube and TikTok. Even Roblox has introduced a similar feature, called Ro-Meet and yes, it’s more kid friendly than Omegle. The rise of this type of social networking is creating new memes, including a satisfying trend of spurning famous TikTok influencers by pretending not to know them.
Fitness Subscriptions and Wearables Compete for Your Steps (and $$): Watch out Peloton! This week Apple launched Apple Fitness+, a new fitness app with recorded exercise classes that you can do from an Apple TV, iPad or iPhone, so long as you own an Apple Watch. Also this week, Amazon made its Amazon Halo wrist-based wearable and app-based classes available to the public. Although Greg’s review is NOT GREAT: “If you aren’t an Apple Watch or Fitbit fan and are looking for an entry-level wearable (without a screen, clock, alarm, or speaker) that stores photos of yourself half-naked and you’ll probably have to replace within the year, Amazon Halo could be the device for you.”
App of the Week: This week news app Gawq launched its 1.0 app with the objective of creating radical transparency through algorithm-free news aggregation. Users can filter out Opinions, Non-News, Paid News and Pay Walls in curating their feeds. And whatever you click will not affect what you see in the app tomorrow. Try it out here.
Business Reads of the Week: Five Research-Backed Tips to Make Zoom Calls Less Exhausting; How Couples Can Find Balance While Working from Home; Conferences After Covid Will Be Shorter—and Smarter; What if you could do it all over?
Buzzword of the Week: GEO, aka Gif Engine Optimization, aka getting your brand’s GIFs into culture.
- Atlanta is emerging as the new influencer capital, with Black creators changing the influencer economy.
- Twitter killed Periscope, but we’ll never forget that “going live” on social is now mainstream and built into lots of social networks thanks to Meerkat and Periscope. Audio “Spaces” are next.
- Reddit bought TikTok-clone Dubsmash, setting itself to enter the short-form social platform wars in 2021. Keep your eye on that.
- Walmart will pilot live stream video shopping on its TikTok profile at 8 PM ET tonight. Follow here.
- After a 20% reduction in sharing, Twitter changed its Retweet format back to allow you to share content without reading it again. The move is…. not great.
- The internet is obsessed with talking about what may happen Dec. 21 to the point it became a meme.
- The LA Times answers the question what happens to the Space Force after the Trump administration. Short answer: it’s here for good, or at least quite a few years.
- The 60 year-old coding language COBOL is still in use across government servers and banking, which means if you have talent coding from half a century ago, there are jobs in demand to help states process unemployment claims and more.
- Google Photos is adding “cinematic photos” to its core product, similar to how Facebook uses machine learning to make images look 3D. Look for that update coming in the next month.
- If you drive down Sunset or Santa Monica Boulevards in West Hollywood this month, you’re probably seeing robotic ground delivery drones making deliveries for Pink Dot as part of a three-month test.
- Insta of the Week: @madmenbuteveryoneisnice