Emergent Optimisation

blackbeardblog:

Emergent Optimisation

To understand this post you need to look at this other post I just reblogged. So open that in a new tab.

That post is a nested reblog thread. One of the things people really hate about Tumblr is nested reblog threads – they are ugly and clunky and hard to read. What could possibly be good about them?

They are also a form that Tumblr has perfected, and done so in a way unique to the platform. So they’re a brilliant example of social media form generating social media content.

Look at that thread about the keycode. It has multiple authors reblogging and adding to a single post, but it forms a coherent narrative (correction, correction to the correction, then extended theorising on top of the correction, a reaction post, then a punchline post, then an applause post.)

That’s cool, but it’s nothing new in itself – you see funny Facebook threads, messageboard zingers, etc. But Tumblr is particularly good at making these nested threads which work as narratives and as jokes across a bunch of authors. You see them a lot, and now the site’s been running a while, you often see the same post return with new additions. How? The clue is in the notes – almost 400,000 – and in how content works on Tumblr.

On Tumblr, when you reblog something it becomes a post on your own Tumblr – a separate piece of content, either identical to the original or with your own additions. Anyone who follows you can then reblog your post. By default they keep your additions.

This is the key point – nobody else does that. Facebook shares don’t do that. Retweets don’t do that. The Tumblr reblog is a subtly unique mode of sharing because it gives secondary contributions equal weight. It removes control of a post from its poster, and turns it into a pass-the-parcel game. (This is one of the reasons why fandoms and Tumblr go so well together).

Secondary contributions can branch off, though. A post like the keycode one, with 400,000 notes, will have gone through a vast number of reblogs. I can’t go back and check, but I would hypothesise that there will be a lot of different versions on the way to the one I reblogged. There will be versions that fizzle out, and versions where the arguments keep going rather than being elegantly built on. Most intriguingly, there will be versions close to the one I blogged but where the applause post comes to soon or some other vital piece goes missing.

In other words, what’s happening is an evolutionary process. A piece of content mutates, and the best versions of it survive and spread, until ultimately you get something which is so well paced it feels like it was scripted. When that finds its way to you, you tend not to think about all the builds and iterations that brought it to you – it feels seamless, just part of the way Tumblr is. “What You See Is All There Is”, as Daniel Kahneman puts it. You don’t notice the process that created the post.

But really this is incredible. In research terms, what these nested reblogs are doing is a combination of co-creation (multiple authors), optimisation (gradual refinement) and A/B testing (parallel versions exposed to different groups in the wild). If this was a testing tool from a research company it would be amazing.

But it’s not, and it’s not something mandated by Tumblr or (I’m betting) consciously built in. It’s an emergent property of the platform and how its dashboards work, that happens freely and uncontrollably. That is just fantastic. Sometimes I bloody love social media.

(There is a downside, of course – emergent optimisation is value-neutral. This has two consequences. Posts are being optimised only for popularity, not for accuracy. This becomes a real problem in factual threads, where corrections and debunkings may not be the things which ‘succeed’. The other issue is that emergent optimisation treats filter bubbles like ecosystems. The same post about, say, Lena Dunham, might circulate independently in pro-Girls and anti-Girls circles, adapting to fit each of them. That isn’t really a ‘problem’, though.)

algopop:

Gay Check Online by  Netro (Kim Asendorf and Ole Fach)

Gay Check Online may seem totally offensive and inappropriate at first, but think back to reports in March 2013 that Facebook had sussed out that someone was gay without many clues to go on, hinting at perhaps an algorithmic, Bayesian deduction that was unfavourably made available to ad placement software. The artists are clearly commenting on the hidden motives of data-mining and statistical analysis being carried out by services such as Facebook. Categories for people that are useful for ad targeting are usually decided using Bayesian Probability - the system may not know your age, gender, political or sexual orientation, but your online behaviour may match a certain pattern that helps ‘predict’ such details.

Gay-Check-Online makes visible and parodies these systems using face detection software and an algorithm that works under ten seconds. 

Based on scientific studies about facial characteristics of gays, the Internet Agency NETRO has created an online tool to verify your sexual orientation in under 10 seconds. NETRO wrote an algorithm to compare your face with the original databases from the studies of the Charles University in Prague and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. In approximately 10 seconds a face is measured and analyzed and the sexual orientation can be determined. Gay Check Online is a rapid and simple method to provide the user with a sense of security and clarity.

algopop:

Developer Kevin Ludlow experiments with Bayesian Flooding, a technique used to confuse Facebook profiling and recommendation algorithms. 

Over the past several months I have entered a myriad of life-events to my Facebook profile… Some of those life-events are true, and some of them are not. In my fictitious life I’ve explored a dozen different religions, had countless injuries and broken bones, suffered twice through cancer, been married, divorced, fathered children all around the world, and have even fought for numerous foreign militaries.
My intent was to coin the term [Bayesian Flooding] within the same sphere as Bayesian Filtering, a common method of filtering junk email by word analysis. Of course both terms pay homage to Thomas Bayes, a mathematician best known for Bayes’ Theorem… a commonly applied mathematical formula used for calculating the conditional probability of some event given that some additional event has occurred, or that some additional knowledge has been gained.

algopop:

Developer Kevin Ludlow experiments with Bayesian Flooding, a technique used to confuse Facebook profiling and recommendation algorithms. 

Over the past several months I have entered a myriad of life-events to my Facebook profile… Some of those life-events are true, and some of them are not. In my fictitious life I’ve explored a dozen different religions, had countless injuries and broken bones, suffered twice through cancer, been married, divorced, fathered children all around the world, and have even fought for numerous foreign militaries.

My intent was to coin the term [Bayesian Flooding] within the same sphere as Bayesian Filtering, a common method of filtering junk email by word analysis. Of course both terms pay homage to Thomas Bayes, a mathematician best known for Bayes’ Theorem… a commonly applied mathematical formula used for calculating the conditional probability of some event given that some additional event has occurred, or that some additional knowledge has been gained.

I started on Instagram on a Throwback Thursday, figuring that it’d be harder to dislike photos of people as kids. As I marched down the feed, tapping the heart beside every photo, an elated, almost zippy feeling overcame me. All of these people would soon learn that I approved of them and would be forced to think about me. It felt powerful, like I was branding myself onto their minds. Then I came across hunnypot7’s picture. It was her usual softly-lit, pouty self-portrait. “Throwback to ‘09,” it said. It was a selfie masquerading as a Throwback Thursday. “That doesn’t count!” I said aloud. I didn’t want to like it. Moreover, I wanted to ask all 46 people who liked it how they could like it. But I liked it, and kept goose-stepping down the feed.

All social media is a platform for boasting, but the things they get up to over on Facebook would make even the most narcissistic sailor blush. I raised my virtual thumb to every humblebrag, political harangue, and comedy bit, feeling a giddy, albeit queasy rush, until I came across a status that gave me pause. A Facebook friend was using the opportunity of a recent tragedy to drop a celebrity’s name, and people were furiously liking it. I can’t like this sort of thing. I rationalized that I could like it purely for its ingenuity. There were so many likes, mine would just blend in, right? I liked it with my eyes closed and moved along, liking things that made no sense to like. Someone needed help moving, and I, along with thirteen other people, liked it. Someone else reposted something about a missing cat. I declined to like it. (There’s a clause in my liking contract for missing pet posts.) But seven other people did. Did they like that the cat was missing? Or do they just like cats?

When They Post A Picture Of Them Kissing Someone New

In the picture she looked quite stoked with her choice. I laughed again. She was indeed ready for some romance. I have no idea about their future, obviously. It could be a travel romance that doesn’t last much past her return home, or it could be a beautiful love story’s first chapter, all I know is it looked like a very special moment. Part of me wanted to tell her I was stoked for her. And part of me wanted to fling my phone into the waves and cuss about how the guy looked like a boring pretty boy. And I wish I were the guy who could be supremely cool with it all. I’m not there yet. I’m the guy who works hard to overcome pride, stubbornness, and arrogance. This time I didn’t make it. I couldn’t. I couldn’t “like” the picture. That just felt masochistic.

The moment melted away. I slid my thumb to pull up other pictures. Wouldn’t you know it- she also posted a picture of her at the beach, posed on a rock like the famous Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. Damnit! She totally knows how much I love the ocean and mermaids. I’d be a liar if I didn’t “like” that picture. My silence would send a message. It was like a friendship test. I wondered how anyone can be emotionally honest in our modern social nets. I laughed at my fate as I hit “like” on the picture of her posing like the Little Mermaid.

These moments of digital deliberation are now part of how we externalize our emotions. What were once messages secreted back and forth by carrier pigeons, letters conveyed in the saddlebags of the pony express, cables from the telegraph, and eventually long distance phone calls, text messages, emails, it’s all been boiled down to a “like” button. You can send a rather detailed message to someone you care about with just a social media “like.”

voldy92:

I saw this cliché tumblr photo post with like clouds or whatever and it had text over it that read “why is our generation so sad?”

and like it’s funny because the answer is right there in the photo that has thousands of notes: our generation (at least a lot of our generation that is on tumblr) uses the internet as a vehicle for getting attention, and when you are sad you get attention and so everyone wallows in that sadness, reblogs depressing things, hyperbolizes depression, falsely self-diagnose themselves with emotional and mental disorders that don’t exist but that then are born out of nothing simply because people convince themselves they are there…and the internet gives a kind of glamor or glory to being sad, because it suggests a depth and human complexity that we assume cannot be present in people who are happy. This isn’t true, or course, but essentially, being sad is “in” especially on a site like tumblr where depressing things are popular and allow one to gain attention and a fallacious sense of care from others. Now I’m not talking about people who are actually depressed and who actually use their blogs as an outlet. I do that myself too. But I realized about a year ago that a lot of the times when I would go on tumblr, the only reason I was sad was because half of the posts on my dashboard were sad. Even something as simple as “humorous” posts like “I look like shit all the time :)” are inherently sad and depressive and people need to realize that (as the #1 rule in behavioral psych) behavior affects attitude, NOT vise versa. If you put yourself down repeatedly, insult yourself and your body and continuously wallow in sadness without trying to feel better about it, then you WILL be sad because it is the behavior itself that induces the mood. If you try to act happier, if you stop repeating the negative things you are used to saying, even if it is something as seemingly trivial and negligible as “I look like shit today”, if you really try to stop yourself from saying things like that, from constantly bombarding yourself with things that are sad, you will ultimately change your attitude as well. Again I’m not talking about people who are actually depressed and use tumblr as an outlet, I’m talking about the thousands of people who are actually mentally and emotionally stable and could reach happiness if they stop forcing depression on themselves when it is not there. (Though the behavior-affects-attitude ideology also works for those who suffer from depression, so remember that if you try to act happier, if you smile more, laugh more, you can feel better after a while). I myself was severely depressed over a year ago until I realized that most of it was coming from the fact that I was not trying to force myself out of the sorrow because it was a comfortable feeling. That’s the key. You have to recognize that you and only you have the power to change how you feel. And that makes you really powerful indeed