Nicolas Magand on the internet

My name is Nicolas Magand and I live in Paris, France. I work as a social media and engagement editor at the Global Editors Network, a non-profit aimed at promoting innovation and sustainability in the news industry. Here I blog mostly about tech and media, but many other topics can face my enthusiasm.

Wasting time on the internet and digital boredom

Dan Nosowitz for the New Yorker, in a piece to which I was nodding all along; beautifully written too, as you can tell from the first paragraph:

The other day, I found myself looking at a blinking cursor in a blank address bar in a new tab of my web browser. I was bored. I didn’t really feel like doing work, but I felt some distant compulsion to sit at my computer in a kind of work-simulacrum, so that at least at the end of the day I would feel gross and tired in the manner of someone who had worked. What I really wanted to do was waste some time.

I highly recommend you read the whole thing, especially if you’re looking to ‘waste time’, but so many great points made here, and such a pleasure to read.

Speaking of losing time when using the computer: Very often, after I’ve read the news from a website I like, I open a new tab and spontaneously start typing the first letters of the same website, for the browser to suggest the full URL. It happens every day, and sometimes I have to wait for the page to load to realise I was already reading the same website. As if I did not have an Instapaper list the size of a small novel to keep me busy already. Is there a name for it? If not I suggest hypernewtabophagia.

My thanks to Daniel Benneworth-Gray for including this link in the latest Meanwhile newsletter.

The cost of free platforms

Owen Williams, writing in the Charged newsletter about Medium's latest pivot, one that is actually pivoting away from publishers, after opening its arms to them at first:

All of this is to say: Medium is great, but be wary! Owning your own platform is important, and valuable, even at this point in the internet's maturity cycle.

This part really comforts me into my choice of platform for this very blog. Sure, I do not 'own' the whole thing (it's Squarespace), but one thing we forget too often when mentioning platforms is the – very tricky – word 'free'.

If you don't pay for something with money, you usually pay by giving away some of your data. Most people are OK with this idea, and that is fine. Such data can be used to improve products, and that is why Google Photos and Gmail – to name a few – are so good at what they do while also being free to use. But if you're not paying with actual money, platform companies will never consider you as the true customer, they may never adjust their products to better suit you, they might never help you get your content out once they disappear.

Medium is not alone is this neglect of its users, Twitter is acting up like this with developpers and power users too.

1. The short notice those publishers were initially given is telling you how much people at Medium think. ↩︎

2. After seeing the failed experiment of – now defunct – The Awl, and now this, which publisher would trust Medium now? Medium burned a bridge on that one, but without publishers on its side, how can it charms users enough to pay? ↩︎

3. This blog used to be hosted on the great and minimalist Svbtle platform. Their Svbtle Promise is a fantastic commitment to the paying users of the service. (I switched to Squarespace to merge, a couple of Tumblr blogs, and the main blog into one platform. If it has been just for Hypertexter, you'd probably read those lines on Svbtle. ↩︎

Improving traffic in New York City

Jason Kottke linked to a very interesting article on The New York Times, about how some European cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam can insprire new traffic patterns designs. The author of this article, architect and urban designer John Massengale, has a few ideas for New York City:

  1. Decrease the number of Manhattan streets that function as transportation corridors primarily devoted to moving machines through the city.

  2. Design and build Slow Zones where people actually drive slowly.

  3. Make the transportation corridors that remain better urban places, with a better balance between city life and moving cars.

All great ideas, and I think Paris could really use one or two to improve the mess that is car traffic here.

There is surprinsigly no mention of the promises of autonomous cars: reduced number of cars on the roads in the long run, radically different traffic patterns, improved safety, etc. This article on Slate explains this very well.

There is also no mention of electric vehicles, and their undeniable positive impacts on air pollution and city noise.

OnePlus reveals the OnePlus 6

After weeks and weeks of teases, leaks, rumors, the OnePlus 6 was unveiled earlier today. Marques Brownlee is part of the first batch of YouTubers that were able to do a "hands-on" video of the phone. A few notes on the successor of the OnePlus 5T, which is the phone I use every day:

  • Why does it have a glass back if wireless charging isn't available? Maybe it will come with the 6T? Glass is obviously more fragile than metal, ceramic, or plastic. It is heavier, and also more slippery. The only good reason to have a glass back is wireless charging. It may look more shiny, but most people will then use a case or a skin anyway.
  • Mandatory and welcome camera and chip upgrades, but nothing really new besides this glass back, water resistance, and yeah, the notch. I don't mind notches. What I do mind is having a notch while having a "chin" or bottom bezel: It makes them look a bit asymetrical. Notches obviously became a marketing feature, for the phone to be part of the iPhone X-class of phones in the eye of the potential buyer. So far, I think only Apple, Xiaomi, and Essential Phone really nailed the "bezel-less" design. Vivo's prototype sure looks interesting, but a prototype if far from becoming a device shipping to millions of customers in just a few months. Pretty sure every compagny has a prototype like this by now, they just decide not to show it.
  • Speaking of marketing, I am not a big fan of the marketing campaign for this phone: I really can't figure it out. Not a big fan either of the recent venture of OnePlus into the ugly world of cryptocrurrencies. I am sensible to what brands do outsides of the products I end up buying, because I am now limiting the numbers of brands I buy from, choosing them more carefully.
  • The usual six-month cycle update from OnePlus: improvements here and there, consistant build quality and software polish, fantastic value.

1. Update: Apparently the glass helps with network connectivity, allowing the device to reach faster 4G speeds. ↩︎ 

2. Thankfully there is a software feature to "disable" the notch, which makes the phone look much better IMHO. (Symetry!) ↩︎ 

3. The Mix 2 from Xiaomi I think had the best design of all, along with the Essential Phone. I considered it for a while before getting the 5T. The Mix 2S did not really live up to this particular design: the new camera placement ruined, guess what, the symetry. ↩︎ 

US intelligence mentions risks of buying Chinese phones, provides no evidence

Matthew Miller, writing for ZDNet

The US intelligence chiefs first referenced US government employees and state agencies in the briefing, but then they expanded concerns to private citizens and recommended we not use products from Huawei and ZTE. As a US military veteran and man who bleeds red, white, and blue, I'm willing to give up on such products — provided there is actual evidence of nefarious activity. So far, none has surfaced.

Regardless of what is happening with ZTE, Donald Trump, and the US right now (unsurprisingly it is a big mess), the last sentence of that quote is intriguing to say the least.

Maybe the evidence will come later. Maybe the US intelligence doesn't feel it needs to share this evidence with the public. Maybe they just don't have any. I wonder how it will impact brands like Lenovo (who owns Motorola), and OnePlus.

Prince detailed discography, as a website

If it is featured in Daniel Benneworth-Gray's newsletter – Meanwhile – you know it is good: Prince Discography Annotated. This is the title of the website, and the exact whole thing. Something I would have loved to have all those years listening passionately to Prince's gigantic collection of songs.

So many anecdotes and gems to discover. My favorite part so far, on his 1989 album – and one of my favourites, Batman:

Prince was a lifelong fan of the comic book character Batman. As a child, the very first song he learned on the piano was the theme song for the late ‘60s television series Batman — an anecdote that Prince would share many times throughout his life, including at the first Piano and a Microphone show he performed at Paisley Park in January 2016. So when the director Tim Burton contacted Prince to ask if he could use two of his singles, 1999 and Baby, I’m a Star, for his new movie, Batman, Prince didn’t just sign off on the idea; within a few weeks he was on set with Burton watching rough cuts of the movie, meeting the stars of the film like Jack Nicholson, and preparing to compose an entire album-length soundtrack to accompany Burton’s work.

If you think you would like to know a bit more about Prince, but you do not know what you would enjoy most, this ressource is a fantastic place to start and browse around.

Two bonus Prince links:

  1. The Roots' Questlove participated in this one-second Prince blindtest, and he was pretty good. I am proud to say that I got them all right too.
  2. Yesterday, May 10th, was the day the Lovesexy album was released 30 years ago, one of his best albums, and the one with arguably the best cover, shot by French photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Here is what Mondino said about his work with Prince, in an interview for Vice i-D:

I did a little drawing during the night, starting from the idea of a nude. In the morning he said, "It's perfect." That same night we chose just one Ekta which I took back to Paris with me. Then I scanned that photo and used the only machine that could retouch in Paris. It was my friend Kiki Picasso who had the demonstration model. Prince took a plane and we all found ourselves in the kitchen, the kids horsing around with his bodyguards. In the end Prince destroyed everything, and he said to me, "I think what you did with the flowers was best." The cover came out and got banned in quite a few States. It's a religious image par excellence.

Come for the rant about emails, stay for the gif

MG Siegler, writing on 500ish Words:

There are two things at work that everyone seems to universally hate: email and meetings. And I think the hatred stems from the same basic reason: they’re both black holes in which time enters and never returns. Sometimes such a use of time is worthwhile and necessary. But far too many emails and meetings are quagmires that distract us all from doing actual work.

I've always liked to read tech rants (and I've written my share of them in the past), but when they are about emails, I usually love them. Some great points made by Siegler here, about how email is basically a black hole for productivity and efficiency. Well worth a read (and a link), but the gif chosen to illustrate the piece is absolutely perfect.

Don't read this if you don't want to get mad

Avi Selk, on the Washington Post

The major reason to use two spaces, the researchers wrote, was to make the reading process smoother, not faster.

I have to say I agree with Khoi Vinh on this one. This article got me mad, and the whole idea is so ridiculous to me that I had to link to it.

Why not three spaces after each dot? Why not only use m-dashes to separate sentences? Why not capitalize the whole first word of every sentence? There is a fine line between comfort and style, and for me this line is called design.

If two spaces after a dot made the reading experience slightly better for some, it appears like systematic typos to me, or as pompous provocation from the writer. This doesn't improve my reading experience at all, on the contrary, it distracts me and I end up ranting about it.

A depressing picture of the Instagram situation

Katie Notopoulos, at BuzzFeed:

Our feeds have grown stale and are littered with ads and celebrities and influencers: people who are still posting actively, professionally, obligatorily. And Stories has made the stakes for posting photos to the feed way higher.

Sometimes you stumble upon an article and you instantly wish you had written it. Everything Notopoulos says is true: Stories ruined the Instagram experience – not that this new experience is bad, but this is not the Instagram we grew to like.

When I ask some of my friends why they are not on Twitter, most of them say something like: "I would not know what to say, what to share. And if I knew what to share, it probably would not be good enough for me to bother anyway." I feel the main Instagram feed is the same now, thanks to Stories leaving the feed to perfectly crafted posts. When you publish something on the main feed, you can't help but wonder if this is good enough, if this pretty picture you just shared is worth the attention of your followers.

Instagram used to be fun and casual, where everybody seemed able to share something cool once in a while, where pictures of food where the only thing to avoid if you wanted to be a cool kid. But that was before. Instagram newsfeed has slowly morphed into an intimidating effort, and the app itself into a pile of never-ending Stories threatening to blow out your phone's speaker in public.

The surprising part of this observation on Instagram, like Gruber pointed at, is that the disappearance of the chronological timeline is not even mentioned by Notopoulos (nor is the map feature which I loved). Surprising in the sense that you would expect, after seeing the title of the article, that this would be one of the main gripes she has with Instagram.

A word on the persistant, repetitive display of ads every five posts, I have a question: How many new brands of hipster wallets can there be out there anyway?

Focus, avoid social clutter, get your time back

In Hagakure, there is a saying: “The more the water, the higher the boat.” I love it because it makes sense for a lot of things in life. Except for one: information overload.

Unfollowing is the new black. It has been a few weeks now that I’ve decided to clean my news feeds. RSS feeds, Twitter followings, Facebook likes, etc. Everything had to go through some heavy cleaning for me to breathe a little.

Don’t have time to watch the Instagram Stories that matter most to you? Unfollow the accounts you always skip.

Your Twitter feed is a mess of links, pictures and retweets? Unfollow those who tweet too much, mute them, disable retweets. Keep only those you cherish, only those you want to read every time.

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Apps and services I like and use

When it comes to apps, you can say that I am a nerd. I like to find the perfect app for a specific task, and I don’t mind buying a few just to try them out. I often juggle between “all-web-apps” and “all-native-apps” but lately, I tend to privilege the latter.

These are the apps I use today; three months from now, there will be changes. I am not mentioning the obvious apps that I use (Safari, Facebook, YouTube, music apps, etc.), I am only listing those that you might not know, or forgot about. If there is no mention of a particular kind of app, assume that I use the basic stuff.

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Check also

Whenever I watch Columbo, as you should, I take some screenshots.

Making lists is something on which I love to waste time; my—ever-changing—favourite songs list was a real challenge.

On the great Letterboxd, I keep a log the movies I watch, rate them, sometimes review them. 

If you speak French, I highly recommend my friend Nabil's podcast: Art Oriented.

Click here if you want to go back to the contact page — Twitter me here / RSS me there.

Copyright © 2013–2018 Nicolas Magand