by Sunita

The semester is over, spring is sliding toward summer, and I’m trying to get organized to make the best use of my non-teaching months. So far I’ve read two books this week. That’s productive, right? Meanwhile, have a hodgepodge of links.

First, Twitter had a disappointing earnings report a few days ago, which led to a number of posts on what its weaknesses are and how it could recover from them. This piece by John Hermann makes the point that since every website wants you to stay within its confines rather than surf away and spend your time elsewhere, Twitter is becoming more inward looking. It’s an understandable process for a public company but it feels antithetical to what made Twitter so appealing in the first place:

In 2013, a month before going public, Twitter starting putting images in its feeds. It added “fav” and “retweet” buttons to the main flow. The effect was Facebook-like. The feed felt more substantial, and less dependent on the things it linked to. It was no longer a scroll of jokes and comments and headlines; it was a scroll of jokes and comments and headlines and photos and videos and chunks of articles. People had a few more reasons to stay in the feed, and fewer to leave.

The path Twitter chose then is the one it still seems to be on; each change since then—most recently, Twitter added the ability to embed tweets within tweets—has emphasized Twitter’s own feed over the things it references. For years, Twitter was largely and stubbornly centered around links, contributing to the web and providing and layer through which to interpret it; now, it is withdrawing into itself.

The new media news is also full of how companies are trying to adapt to Facebook’s push to keep content siloed within Facebook, so while I’m still horrified at the idea that Facebook should buy Twitter, I can see how the financial logic makes that idea attractive.

Next, an interesting piece from the always insightful Christopher Fowler’s blog on how blog tours are appealing from an author’s perspective. Fowler is a successful, veteran mystery and horror author who has managed to stay viable in the face of massive upheavals in the publishing industry. He makes a great point about how traditional publicity has changed and how blogs can be an improvement:

So this year marked a subtle change for me in the way advanced book information reached the public. My publicist set up a blog tour, and I handled around thirty blog interviews for ‘The Burning Man’. There were a few repeat questions, but generally the standard of question was far higher than it would have been from a harassed national paper, who would most likely get the details wrong anyway. Many now write for more than one paper at a time, just to cover the bills.

Being interviewed [by] readers who run websites also gives you a direct link to your readership. You can afford to be more erudite – you’re talking to people who actually buy books – and have more relaxed and honest discussions. From my experience this year, it feels that publicising books in this manner is the way forward – and it’s bloody good fun.

From my romance reader’s perspective, I am not thrilled by the proliferation of blog tours, because they feel fluffier and less useful to me than reviews or analysis columns. But Fowler’s post reminds me that good ones can be fun and illuminating.

On a serious note, Baltimore is settling back to normal and entering the less public but difficult phase of the protest aftermath. This column by Jeffrey Ian Ross, a professor at the University of Baltimore, hit on something that bothered me in the media coverage of the protests: the introduction of the perspective of writers and actors from The Wire to explain real-world events:

And then there was television producer David Simon, the creator of The Wire, who on his website posted a lament for the city he so successfully caricatured, allegedly staying up past 3 am on Monday night/Tuesday morning answering posts from followers and critics. Not to be outdone, the news media featured interviews with former Wire actors J. D. Williams (who played Bodie) and the New York Times published an op-ed by Sonja Sohn (who played Kima Greggs). When the news media gives voice to actors who play fictionalized characters in a television series set in Baltimore, something has gone incredibly wrong.

I’m not denying their sincerity, and I know Simon was a reporter before he was a writer. But the elision of fictional and real Baltimore makes me uncomfortable. There are plenty of knowledgeable researchers and policy makers who could have contributed, but the media tends to go for the tried and true. There’s a reason you see famous faces (and the same non-famous faces) over and over again, and it’s not necessarily because they know the most.

On a more upbeat note, something not-horrible from the Hugopocalypse. Sirius sent me a link to an author who has decided to review books in the style of the Morose Small Canines. The first review took on The Little Prince:

Reading this book it is obvious that the author was relying more on demographic appeal than quality storytelling, a fact that is only confirmed when you realize that The Little Prince was written by a Frenchman. It is well-known that the French have been Stalinists ever since they were conquered by Hitler. Did you know that Hitler was a leftist? They teach kids in school that Fascism is the opposite of Stalinism but Hitler and Stalin agreed to carve up the world between them and they would have got away with it if it wasn’t for God’s America.

The one good moment in the story is when the Prince realizes that a self-entitled bitch of a rose is taking advantage of him and decides to go his own way. If more men went their own way then we would break the stranglehold that Feminazis have on the sex supply and you can bet there would be more equality around here.

Everything is out of balance because of feminism. You have women who are 6s, 5s, and even 4s who believe they deserve a man who is a 9 or 10 and they won’t “settle” for you even if you’re a 7. They’ll never get the man they think they deserve but because women don’t need sex the way men do they can turn lesbian and hold off forever.

You have to go read the whole thing. There are two more reviews, one of Madeline and another of Green Eggs and Ham. And there are comments from people who don’t quite get what is going on. Of course.

Finally, the UK held an election this week. Someone said that the polling debacle was for political scientists what the financial crisis was for economists, i.e., a huge collective failure. I can’t disagree, although it will be a while before we understand exactly how we failed. In the meantime, here are a couple of links for excellent maps of the different stories the constituency votes tell us, one to Buzzfeed (yes, the unthinkable has happened and I’m linking to Buzzfeed), and one to the sociologist Kieran Healy’s map of second-place finishers.

Healy also includes a brief but clear discussion of the effects of the first-past-the-post system and how it distorts the relationship between vote share (total votes cast for parties) and seat share (the number of seats a party gets in Parliament). By that metric, GE2015 was one of the least proportional outcomes in UK history. A more extensive discussion can be found here. The second-place results tell us that Labour is stronger than it looks, but also that the anti-immigrant, right-wing party phenomenon may have finally crossed the Channel for good. We shall see.