Ed Zitron is zesty and as the kids say, I am here for it

Ed Zitron has a free newsletter called Ed Zitron’s Where’s Your Ed At, in which he goes into great detail about how terrible tech companies are. Or at least that’s what he’s been riffing on lately. And he doesn’t mince words when describing the villains of these pieces. The current newsletter as I write this is titled Sam Altman is Full of Shit.

Some might think he’s being overly dramatic with the way he describes the various players and manipulators, but in the current political space, it feels right to me–we need to push hard on this stuff, so the average person stirs out of their social media-induced slumber and realizes what is happening and maybe (maybe) begins to care a little about it. And then change can (or should) happen.

Here’s the full description from Ed’s About page in case you are curious about whom this guy is and why you might want to read what he has to say.

Who Are You, Exactly? And What Is This Newsletter?

My name’s Ed, I’m the CEO of national Media Relations and Public Relations company EZPR, of which I am both the E (Ed) and the Z (Zitron).

I host the Better Offline Podcast, coming to iHeartRadio and everywhere else you find your podcasts February 2024. (Editor’s note: Ed should probably update this, as it’s May 2024 as I type these words.)

I write about stuff that interests me – issues in society, primarily those surrounding tech, but occasionally move into other areas and more personal pieces depending on my mood. I try and write once a week.

I was previously a games journalist, writing for PC Zone, CVG, Eurogamer and others. I’ve been published in the Wall Street Journal, USAToday, TechCrunch, and named one of the top 50 PR people in tech four times. I’ve written two books, and you are welcome to learn more here.

I live and work out of Las Vegas, Nevada.

From the About page of Where’s Your Ed At

Check it out, but be prepared to rein in your OCD–his pieces run long, but those 20 minutes feel like they fly by for me.

LinkedIn’s malicious notifications

LinkedIn decided to send me an unsolicited email recently. I immediately unsubscribed, because I have negative interest in receiving anything at all from LinkedIn.

Today I got another email. I followed the Unsubscribe link and logged into my LinkedIn account. There is a section called Notifications. Convenient!

It has a lot of categories:

That’s 11 categories–and several have sub-categories, each with their own notifications. You can disable all of them, if you like (I like this very much). What you can’t do, however, is just turn off ALL notifications at once–the option doesn’t exist.

This is LinkedIn, and by proxy, Microsoft, showing contempt for its users. Turning off all the notifications requires 24 clicks. 24! Absurd. This should be illegal. It probably is in Europe.

I’m now pondering whether to just delete my LinkedIn profile entirely, make it part of The Culling. LinkedIn is bad and should feel bad.

A few tips for a better Mastodon experience

I do most of my social networking on Mastodon these days and I’ve talked a bit before about why I like it. Here are a few tips on making it a better experience and a recap on why I like it.

Why I like Mastodon

  • It’s smaller. Sometimes smaller is better. I can comfortably work through my feed and leave Mastodon for a while and not feel that weird and unhealthy FOMO. It’s easy to dip in and out of, not a central part of my life.
  • The decentralized nature of it means it’s not subject to the whims of a giant corporation or a giant corporation headed by a narcissistic racist piece of work, or, as is sometimes the case, both! It is subject to the whims of the server you choose, but (with a certain degree of bumpiness) you can move to another server if things get really bad.
  • Due to its non-corporate nature, it has no ads. It runs off of donations, like it’s the web from 2003 or something. No ads is a benefit I cannot overstate enough.
  • There is no algorithm. For some people who just want an endless slurry of things to look at, this is a downside. To me, it means you can choose exactly what type of content you want to see, which is far more preferable.

Tips for a better Mastodon experience

  • The official phone app and web client are fine, and you have to use them to adjust certain settings, but there are a lot of third party clients that make the experience better:
    • The Mac has a ton of options covering paid, subscription-based and free. Some popular choices include Mona, Ivory and Ice Cubes (all can be found on the App Store). There are many others.
    • Windows has fewer to choose from. A decent one is Whalebird.
    • Any OS (including Linux and phone browsers) can use one of several fine web clients. Two popular ones are Elk, which has a Twitter-like look and feel, and Phanpy, which goes for a minimalist look and has some interesting twists, like boost carousels.
  • Use filters! You’ll need to set these up in the official client. Go to Preferences and Filters. You can use this to filter out content you’re not interested in. For example, if you don’t want to see something associated with a particular tag, just add the tag here. If you hate all manner of dogs, add dogs and anything tagged #dogs will not be shown in your feed. You can also specify how granular you want the tag to be filtered out (you can still allow it in conversations, for example).
  • Use hashtags! This one is simple–follow hashtags that appeal to you. I follow #sketch, as an example.
  • Use hashtags (yes, again)! If you post, use an appropriate hashtag, so others can find your post if they’re interested in the topic.
  • Avoid or reduce exposure to politics. Political debates exist on Mastodon, and you’ll generally not come out of them feeling better. Why do that to yourself? On the other hand, if this is what you groove on, go nuts! #uspolitics exists for you.
  • It may be obvious, but follow people you know (or whose posts you enjoy).
  • Boost stuff you like! Boosts will show up in the feed of anyone following you. It’s an easy way to share. Just don’t, you know, boost literally everything you see.
  • If you don’t want to choose a server, go with the default mastodon.social. It’s big and well-managed.
  • Be nice! Don’t deny people their experience or be an over-explaining jerk.
  • Approach Trending/Explore/For You (depending on the client you use) with caution. You might find stuff you like, you might not. It’s probably better to spend a little time tweaking your feed using hashtags and following people you know.
  • Remember to go outside, hug kittens and do other offline stuff. Mastodon, like any social media, should not be the thing your life revolves around.

omg lol

Yes, I did it. Did what? If I listed everything, we’d be here a while, and while I love lists, I don’t know if I love them that much.

What I did four days ago, though, was secure the following:

https://stanjames.omg.lol/

If you click that link, you’ll see this:

Why did I do this? Now I can do a list!

  • It was cheap (they were having a sale that turned out to be 42% off).
  • It intersects nearly perfectly between tech/geek and silly for me.
  • My name was available (Creole Ned is not, you may be shocked to learn, my real name).
  • It’s like having a little box of nerd toys to play with.

It has to be renewed every year, so I’ve got 11 months, 3 weeks and 6 days as of this post to decide if I want to keep it or not. In the interim, it’s play time. I’ll have more on this in the next week.

(Also, the status you should see in the right sidebar is courtesy of omg.lol)

I can wait

I find this kind of message depressing (it’s from Mastodon, the site mentioned is focused on Mac and Apple stuff):

The implied message, of course, “If you PAID me money, you could be watching this video from the future RIGHT NOW.” Instead of waiting a single day.

I don’t begrudge anyone asking for money for videos or writing they produce–if they think their work has value, go ahead and charge for it. But releasing the paid members version a day early is nothing more than a tribute to the vanishing attention spans prevalent in a social media-addled society where everything must be NOW and also, QUICK CUTS and SHORT and MORE, MORE!

I can wait a day. Find a better pitch.

And now, Maru getting into a small box:

Substack makes the latest chapter of The Culling easy!

NOTE: This post is updated semi-regularly with any relevant news on the mentioned newsletters.

Substack has been in the tech/media news lately, for all the wrong reasons. Their position on moderation can be roughly summed up as:

  • Sex is bad
  • Incitement to violence is bad
  • Everything else, including actual Nazis, is OK!

After re-affirming that they would not actively moderate content on their platform, and only offering to remove a few newsletters specifically brought to their attention, a number of prominent newsletters opted to leave Substack, with most moving to Ghost, which, unlike Substack, is not a platform, just a company that provides a blog/platform service and that’s about it. Others went to Buttondown1My own piddly newsletter, recently renamed Doodlings and Noodlings, is debuting on Buttondown this very month, Beehiiv, other hosts or moved to self-hosting.

My stance on this situation is:

  • Substack is free to choose whom they host on their platform
  • I, likewise, can choose to not have any paid subscriptions on Substack, since my payments are helping to fund a lot of hate. See here for details: All the garbage I found on Substack in 1 hour
  • I also can choose to move my own newsletter elsewhere, which I have done

I’ve gone a step further now, by unsubscribing to all free Substack newsletters. In every case, I have written a polite message to the newsletter author letting them know why I have unsubbed. I’m hoping some of them will switch to other hosts, but at this point I think the ones who haven’t are probably leaning more toward not moving. And that’s their choice–as is mine to unsub!

I’ll update this post with any word back I may hear from these newsletters. The two I most recently unsubbed to are:

  • Austin Kleon (paid)
  • Experimental History (free)

UPDATE, January 29, 2024: Apparently I subscribed to a lot of Substack newsletters! 😛 Here’s more I’ve unsubscribed from:

  • Design Lobster (free–no pay option exists)
  • Links I Would Gchat You If We Were Friends (free–no pay option exists). UPDATE, January 29, 2024: The author wrote me back to say she has been in touch with Substack execs and is looking into moving to a different platform. Good to hear!
  • The Status Kuo (free, paid option exists)
  • GameDiscoverCo (free, paid option exists). I didn’t email to explain why I was unsubscribing, probably because I doubt they will move.
  • I’m Fine I’m Fine Just Understand (free, paid option exists). This one is weird, because it’s a comic about a person transitioning and Substack famously already had an exile a few years back for hosting openly transphobic writers. I also didn’t explain why I’m unsubscribing here.

I have perfected the non-post

This, of course, doesn’t look anything like me, and the hands are the usual nightmare stuff that screams “AI-generated”, but I still kind of like the composition.

These days I am restricting most of my social media stuff to Mastodon, and lately I’ve started doing non-posts. They go like this:

  1. See an interesting post from someone I follow, or someone whose post has been boosted by someone I follow.
  2. Start writing a reply to the post.
  3. Question whether the reply adds anything of value.
  4. Exit out of the reply, opting not to post it.
  5. Repeat Steps 1-4.

Why do I do this? I’m not entirely sure, but I think it’s related to this latent fear of saying the wrong thing, somehow, of offending or coming across as weird or odd. I am a fairly shy person in face-to-face interactions, and I think this might be the online equivalent to that. I just prefer to watch others talk. Or type, in this case.

Proving this, I was originally going to make this a post on Mastodon, then changed my mind and posted it here instead.

One last look at social media for 2023

Here’s my year-end summary of me and social media, by platform:

Mastodon: Pretty much the only one I use right now. I recently saw it described as the platform for nerds, and I think that’s accurate. After some initial interest when Twitter started falling apart under Musk, it seems to have peaked, but it’s still an important, useful and entertaining place. It takes more work and people don’t like that with their social media. I don’t mind, because:

  • No ads
  • No algorithm
  • A ton of third party clients for every platform, including alternate web clients. My current favourite is Phanpy, which is a terrible name, but a very handsome minimalist web client: Home / Phanpy

Facebook: Hot garbage. Also, cold garbage and medium-warm garbage. A hellscape of ads and “Suggested for you” with a few posts from people you’re following dotted in-between. I have no idea why anyone would use Facebook anymore, except for very specific purposes (you’re a member of a group, your family or friends refuse to move to something else because they are terrible people, etc.)

Instagram: The web version is still bare-bones and ugly. It will be this way for as long as it exists. It’s basically Facebook Lite at this point, but with more images and videos. Lots of videos. Do you like videos? Because it has videos. Also, plenty of ads. The ads are also videos. That said, it’s still noticeably better than Facebook, though I rarely visit these days.

Threads: It’s OK. For now, there are no ads, but that will change eventually, and it will join other Meta sites in being an ad-clogged hell. Very bare-bones and minimalist, but not the good kind of minimalist, just ugly and unappealing. If they follow through with federation, it may be possible to follow people and interact through one of the excellent Mastodon clients, so there is that. I check in every month or so, never post.

Bluesky: Their eventual business model (basically premium services over ads) is admirable in a way, but I am skeptical it can work. Also, the fact that it is still invite-only gives me pause. If they still can’t scale up now, after this long, when will they? It feels a bit like a doomed private club. The people there will have a grand time, until it abruptly shutters. I have an account, but have never posted. The web interface is also spartan and unattractive.

There are other social media platforms out there, but I either don’t have accounts or don’t use them in any meaningful way. And then there’s X (formerly Twitter) and all I will say about that is:

  • I deleted my account.
  • I give it a few more years of dumpster fire management before it finally shuts down.
  • I see a faint glimmer that the Twitter name could end up in the hands of someone who might do something good with it. But it is an extremely faint glimmer.

Overall, I get most of what I need from Mastodon, as it best fits what I want, which is not to have my posts showered with likes and adoration, because I seldom post and don’t care for or need the affirmation–while not denying likes and affirmation are still nice! I am interested in the trajectory of Threads as it relatives to the Fediverse. Everything else is pretty much meh to bleah.

We’ll see how things shake out in 2024, which will be all sorts of fun on social media with the U.S. presidential election at the end of the year.

My preferred Mastodon clients

Mastodon is currently the only social media I really read or post to currently, because I like its model:

  • I curate what I want to see–no algorithm!
  • It’s decentralized, so no one “owns” it and if your server goes to poop, you can move to another
  • No ads! I am fine with ads in some situations, but online ads are almost always awful, invasive, resource-hogging and can even contain malware as a bonus

Mastodon has a web client and an app for smartphones. Both are fine, but because there are no horrendous API fees or dictatorial owners crushing third party apps, you can enjoy one of many different apps. I use the following:

Mac: Mona. This is a one-time purchase (no subscription). It looks nice and runs well.

Windows: I use two web clients because all the Windows apps I’ve tried are ugly, bare-bones, or both. I have no idea why this is, but it is (IMO). For a more Twitter-like experience, there is Elk. And for a more minimalist experience, with cute animations and the like, there is Phanpy.

I checked out the Threads web app

Yes, I literally checked it out. And then I went on to other things. I could spend time “curating” a list of people/organizations to follow, as I did on Mastodon, but:

  • Am I really going to get something on Threads that I don’t get on Mastodon, other than whatever their algorithm serves me?
  • It’s busier, with more posts and more replies. My time is not infinite, do I really want more social media stuff to sift and sort through?

The thing is, I don’t have a need for Threads. I still check in on FB occasionally because it’s the “everyone is there” place, and IG sometimes, if I post photos. Mastodon is the only one I visit to actually check out stuff I might be interested in, to see new ideas or art or whatever. It’s not perfect, but I can overlook its flaws. It’s enough. I’d rather noodle around on this blog and be content with the handful of LLMs that check it out, really.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not saying social media is bad/evil/wrong (though it probably needs a new name to describe what is has evolved into), I’m not calling for a return of the olden times when we all read newspapers that were 50 pages of dense print, and we called each other on rotary phones to talk about a TV show on one of the 13 available channels. I’m just saying, for me, a little social media goes a long way.

Bonus social media thoughts: A July 2023 update

I last wrote about social media stuff just a few months ago: Thinking about how I use social media: A sequel of sorts

At the time, I was checking the usual sites irregularly, as I’d switched to a bedtime routine of reading actual books. Since then, irregularly has become rarely. I just haven’t missed Instagram and Facebook, so this has been a kind of unintentional culling.

The reasons for why I haven’t missed them are summed up pretty much in the post linked above: Once I broke the routine of checking in every night, I found the content was just not interesting enough for me to tolerate the endless piles of “reels” and ads. Instead, I have been spending a bit more time on Mastodon, which has no ads (by design) and no algorithm (also by design). I only see what I want to see. I follow people, then unfollow if they don’t make my socks roll up and down. That is my bar now–you must magically animate my socks or off with you.

It’s worked out decently so far.

Part of me does kind of miss posting my photos regularly, but they were only seen by a handful of people anyway, and now I can focus on posting billions of photos to my blog instead! I think in some small way this may have slightly improved my mental health, too (not visiting FB and IG much, not the posting billions of photos to my blog part, though who can say for sure!)

And now kittens:

X-tremely dumb internet moves

I never used Twitter much and was kind of annoyed years ago when I had to use it for Nike tech support. For the most part, it was always just there, popular among journalists and some celebrities, and used as a quick ‘n easy way for people to make announcements, because on a microblog, you don’t have room for much else. People defeated this by posting tweets with images that would contain 2,000 words, but still, it stayed pretty much a place to link and post blurbs/memes.

In 2022 Elon “Galaxy Brain” Musk decided he wanted to be on Twitter’s board, then no, he wanted the whole thing! He waived due diligence, offered an outrageously good offer to buy the company ($$4 billion, vastly more than it was worth) and, following their fiduciary responsibility, the company’s executives presented it to the board, which promptly voted to accept and cash out.

Someone or something got through to Musk, and he realized he’d overpaid on a colossal scale, then tried to back out of the deal. Twitter sued and just before the case went to court–which Musk was all but guaranteed to lose–he agreed to have the deal go through and became owner/CEO of Twitter in October.

To say it has been all downhill since then is to insult hills that go down.

I’m not sure what exactly is going on in his mind, but whatever it is has seemingly steered him to make about the worst possible decision at every turn, chipping away at every positive aspect of Twitter. As a result, users are leaving, advertisers are fleeing, hate speech is on the rise, actual Nazis post their actual Nazi thoughts, the site is glitchy and breaks down occasionally, thanks in part to its gutted workforce unable to keep things running smoothly as most institutional knowledge has left (quit or been fired). Attempts to gain subscription revenue have generated peanuts. Basically, nothing has improved and a lot of things have gotten much worse.

The Twitter brand has been permanently tarnished in the eyes of many.

But wait! That brings us to the title of this post. A few days ago, Musk decided it was time to rebrand Twitter itself as X, his most favourite letter. Tweets would become X’s. And so on. To a 15-year-old boy this would be very cool, perhaps even rad, and since that’s where Musk’s apparent mental age seems to have stopped, it has come to pass.

There are too many articles, opinions and hot takes to link even a tiny percent of them here. Let me just say that I think it’s a dumb idea to spend $44 billion on a company whose value is in its user community and brand identity, then actively drive away the former and completely abandon the latter. It actually goes beyond dumb, but there is no word in English I can think of to adequately describe it.

However, changing Twitter to X frees Musk (at least in his own mind) from having the site/company “be” Twitter anymore. He can literally do whatever he wants with it–it’s X now!

This isn’t the first time a social media site has stumbled and (probably) died. Let’s not forget Friendster! But it is probably the biggest and, culturally, the most significant. This is all a good illustration of why allowing individuals to have access to absurd amounts of power and money is a bad thing. Musk is an idiot, and he has destroyed Twitter because our system gives him the power to do it.

(As a side note, the rebranding has been as chaotic, dumb and ill-planned as literally everything else Musk has done at Twitter.)

Here’s one link on the rebranding and the whole thing that I found worth reading, where author John Scalzi explains why he is (mostly) leaving Twitter after its turn to X: Preparing my X-it