Rian van der Merwe

Product manager • Designer • Speaker

Some interesting research here that seems to indicate that all the privacy scandals are finally catching up to Facebook:

New numbers from Edison Research show an an estimated 15 million fewer users in the United States compared to 2017. The biggest drop is in the very desirable 12- to 34-year-old group.

I’ve been too much on the outskirts of the new Michael Jackson documentary, but Kottke’s Observations on Leaving Neverland finally broke through the wall. It is, dare I say, a must-read. His quote from Wesley Morris’s Michael Jackson Cast a Spell. ‘Leaving Neverland’ Breaks It. really stuck with me as well:

Michael Jackson’s music isn’t a meal. It’s more elemental than that. It’s the salt, pepper, olive oil and butter. His music is how you start. And the music made from that — that music is everywhere, too. Where would the cancellation begin?

I regret to inform you that people are literally arguing about who gets to profit from other people’s poop:

Much like the fight over prescription drug prices, the “poop wars,” as one doctor described it, mirrors long-running tensions in American health care between pharmaceutical companies and patients.

Human feces, it turns out, are a potential gold mine, for both medical researchers and drug makers.

Happy 60th recording anniversary to Kind of Blue

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the recording sessions for what ended up becoming the most famous jazz album of all time (and, I would argue, possibly the most important album every recorded):

They came into the session having never rehearsed the music together, with Davis offering only sketched outlines of the changes. As Cobb put it in Ashley Kahn’s very thorough account, Kind Of Blue: The Making of a Miles Davis Masterpiece, “The call I got from Miles for that record was just like any other record. He’d say we’ve got a date, where it is and what time it is — I didn’t know if it was Kind of Blue or Kind of Green at the time, you know?”

I highly recommend Kahn’s book, it’s a fascinating account of those recording sessions. I also enjoyed this video of Ted Gioia — author of the great book How to Listen to Jazz — discussing the significance of the album:

And finally, this was a long time ago, but I was once inspired to link Kind of Blue and design in a post called A story about Miles Davis and the nature of true genius. I’m not sure it holds up, but I certainly enjoyed writing that one. Either way, Ken Norton did a way better job of it in his Kind of Blue infused Mind The Product talk called Please Make Yourself Uncomfortable - What product managers can learn from jazz musicians.

But honestly, the best thing to do on a day like today is to just listen to the damn thing.

The Atlantic looks at How Parents of Child Influencers Package Their Kids’ Lives for Instagram, and it’s about as weird (and often creepy) as you might expect:

Though a photo might appear simpler to create than a long narrative blog post, complex preparations go into packaging a kid’s life for Instagram. “When the money came into play, the visual aesthetic, the vocabulary, and the processes of capturing parenthood on social media greatly changed,” Abidin said. “With the rise of the influencer industry en masse, instead of the stories of children going through the process of trying out the products with their moms, they have been reduced to props.”

Jeff Beer does a fascinating deep-dive into Netflix’s use of social media in his Fast Company article Inside the Secretly Effective — and Underrated — Way Netflix Keeps Its Shows and Movies at the Forefront of Pop Culture:

The company uses its social and brand editorial department as the engine that keeps Netflix shows and movies at the forefront of the pop-culture conversation. By imbuing its social platforms with the personality of a meme-happy fan who lives for TV and movies (rather than being stunt-driven, deadpan, or, worse, mocking the very audience it seeks), Netflix’s approach goes beyond mere promotion and jumps armpit-deep into participation and collaboration. They’re both marketing, but the Netflix strategy pushes over into something more surprising: an ongoing, creative dialogue with audience members who can sniff out forced enthusiasm in a nanosecond. When what Netflix delivers on social feels genuine, the difference in engagement is stark.

Nathan Heller explains Why the Life-Insurance Industry Wants to Creep on Your Instagram. In short, they want to have a look at your lifestyle and use that to set premiums. Of the many, many problems with this approach, the impact it might have on the already-too-performative nature of social media is the one that intrigues me the most:

Not only does this have the potential to squeeze daily digital life into a performance of health and virtue for any man, woman, or robot who might be observing but it also encourages disingenuous performances, in pursuit of cheaper premiums.

The data-vacuuming of the life-insurance business is, in this sense, a symptom of a change already under way. It has become a truism that digital life is a polished simulacrum of the real world, subject to inputs—sponsorship deals, selective curation, filtering effects, and all the inequalities of opportunity these comprise—that create a distorted image of the self. This is, presumably, why the Department of Financial Services is wary of using social media for something as important as underwriting a human life.

Related reading: Andrew Maynard’s The Forgotten Risk of Fitness Trackers.

I bet you didn’t think today would be the day you read an interesting article about public toilets, and yet here we are. John Metcalfe explains Why Portland’s Public Toilets Succeeded Where Others Failed:

The toilet’s durability can be chalked up to its defense-first design. “I think one thing we have ahead of other toilet designs is that we’ve learned people like to do nefarious things” to public lavatories, says DiBenedetto. So the Portland Loo includes a variety of bells and whistles meant to keep in check the most degenerate of bathroom users.

The toilets are made of heavy-gauge stainless steel, they have no running water, no mirrors, bars at the top and bottom of the structure (so sound can flow freely), and graffiti-proof coating. And because of that, they are still standing.

Steve Rousseau wants to know why music visualizers disappeared, and frankly so do I. His post takes me back to that simpler, pre-streaming time:

If you grew up with the internet back then, you likely got your music from a malware-riddled file sharing program, you stored it in an incomprehensible mess of folders and filenames on the family computer and you played it with a media player that had a custom skin downloaded from WinCustomize. And to top it all off, you wouldn’t just listen to the music, but you’d watch the visualization — a dazzling mess of colors that somehow suited all moods and genres.

I support this plea to bring back the visualizer.

This is the first post I’ve seen that goes into detail on how the collaborative music database Discogs is changing the music industry. From Back to the Stratosphere: How the Rarest Music in the World Comes Back:

Taken together, between the more serious collectors, the individual sellers, and the record stores selling online, Discogs offers a useful snapshot of what’s out there, who has a given release, and who wants it. We’re in a new era because everyone wondering about the relative interest in an artist, a song, or an album is looking at the same numbers. And because on Discogs these lists and selling prices are in the open for anyone to see, it becomes a way to gauge desire, to monitor records that go in and out of fashion.

Discogs is by far the non-work site where I spend most of my time. It’s an incredible achievement and wonderful rabbit hole.