What Makes a Quality Playlist?

Earlier this evening I made a “Genius playlist” on my iPhone from White Town’s song “Your Woman” and it turned out surprisingly well, considering all the music was automatically selected by a computer algorithm in a matter of 1 or 2 seconds. Steph commented on how much she was enjoying it, and Caleb danced the whole time. I was impressed.

I suppose methods used to measure the quality of a playlist are a much-debated thing. We could get into deep aesthetic discussions about how one song can lead into the next and bring the listener through “arcs”, and there’s nothing wrong with seeing playlists that way. But to me, there’s a simple beauty in playing the hits, straight up, without any pretentiousness to it. We got pretty close to that here. I really love about 20 of these 25 songs, even if most of them hail from deep throwback territory.

  • White Town – “Your Woman”
  • Cake – “Never There”
  • The Cardigans – “Lovefool”
  • EMF – “Unbelievable”
  • Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet (Radio Edit)”
  • Beck – “Where It’s At”
  • U2 – “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
  • Thomas Dolby – “She Blinded Me With Science”
  • Cut Copy – “Lights & Music”
  • Cake – “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”
  • They Might Be Giants – “Birdhouse in Your Soul”
  • Simple Minds – “Don’t You Forget About Me”
  • Cold War Kids – “Hang Me Up to Dry”
  • Phoenix – “Everything Is Everything”
  • Shannon – “Let the Music Play (David Delano, Dirty Lou & Swedish Egil Remix)”
  • Hot Chip – “Over and Over”
  • Yello – “Oh Yeah”
  • Beck – “Devils Haircut”
  • Scissor Sisters – “Take Your Mama”
  • Madonna – “Beautiful Stranger (William Orbit Radio Edit Version)”
  • Radiohead – “Karma Police”
  • Gorillaz – “19-2000”
  • Cut Copy – “Hearts On Fire”
  • The White Stripes – “My Doorbell”
  • The B-52’s – “Rock Lobster”

Perhaps the perfect playlist would use the Genius feature as a starting point, and then take manual tweaking and editing to bring it to perfection.

Cthalloween Postmortem

Cthalloween officially ended tonight about 45 minutes ago, and it was a ton of fun! Many thanks to our organizers @jaybushman, @kriskowal, @segphault, and yours truly, @joshlewis.

A few stats:

  • We had over 1000 tweets during the event itself, not to mention several hundred before and after the official start and end times.
  • 133 people tweeted about Cthalloween in total.
  • Our top-volume tweeter was @JimGleeson with 255 tweets! What can I say? Wow. That’s 4.5 times more tweets than the #2 in volume.
  • The top five in volume after Jim were @Servantofproces, @officergleason, @falconesse, @theatermonkey, and @wordwill. Nice work, guys.
  • @arstechnica was kind enough to tweet about our game and give us a few more players.

If you had a favorite tweet, a good link, or an observation about the event, post it in the comments and enlighten us all!

Update: It is crucial to mention that our event’s fantastic, green-tentacled “Twitterthulhu” icon was created by none other than John Kovalic of Dork Tower fame, and sponsored by gameplaywright.net. Many thanks!

If you find yourself craving raw data (and c’mon, who doesn’t?) we have some good news for you! Download this zip file to get a raw SQLite and MySQL dump of every Cthalloween-related tweet. Pick your database flavor and have a swim in the data. Hooray!

Tomorrow! Twitter + Cthulhu = Cthalloween

Twitter + Cthulhu = Cthalloween

Last year, we orchestrated War of the Worlds 2.0 on Twitter. Many people had fun, and Wired wrote about it.

You didn’t think we’d stop there, did you? No, of course not. You’re a reasonable person.

I know many of you may be unfamiliar with the work of H.P. Lovecraft. That’s perfectly OK. In fact, here, let me help you.

This weird fiction author created many strange and frightening things. And amongst them, a horrible creature that has taken the world of sci-fi horror by storm. This creature’s name is Cthulhu. This Halloween, Cthulhu and his evil buddies are coming back, and you can play along at home. We’re calling this open-ended fiction game “Cthalloween.”

If you’d like to participate or follow along, you’ll find the Cthalloween wiki and @cthalloween on Twitter to be of great service in your endeavors.

Enjoy! And… do try to stay sane, OK?

The Problem with Tablets

There are lots of rumors swirling about an Apple Tablet. It’s to Apple’s credit that people get excited about (and start reviewing) a device they’ve never seen. Maybe Apple is making one, maybe not. I have no idea. But the rumors are swirling more quickly than usual, gaining details as they go. They feel pretty credible.

Still, there’s one problem with all these rumors.

Tablets are awkward. If you want to watch a movie on it, how do you prop it up? How do you hear it? If you want to send email, are you doing that on a flat surface? You wouldn’t hold it up in the air and type with your thumbs. It’s too wide and heavy, and easily droppable. If you want to listen to music on it in your car or at the gym, you can’t easily take it on the go because it’s too big to fit in your pocket or sit in your console or on the dashboard. You’d want to put it into a backpack or briefcase, at which point it’s just another laptop. (To be clear, I’m not saying the previous things won’t be possible on the device, but that they can’t be comfortable or ideal without forethought on the part of the device’s designers.)

So now we know the problem. What’s the solution? Let’s think about what we know about Apple.

First off, we know Apple isn’t the kind of company to leave the aforementioned problems to the consumer. They’ll solve the problem for you before they sell you the product, and oftentimes include the solution within the device. (Or sometimes sell extra accessories.)

Secondly, Apple never makes a device just to get something into a particular form factor or “make a play for a niche.” When they create, they have particular needs and particular uses in mind. If it’s not widely useful, they won’t make it. They don’t want to waste money and time making a device no one wants and no one can take pleasure in using. They’re far more likely to make a device that does one or two things extremely well at the expense of other functionality than they are to make a device that does a hundred or a thousand things in a mediocre, awkward way. In fact, I would say that particular tendency is at the absolute core of Apple’s mentality.

So the big question in my mind is this: what would Apple think people could enjoy doing with a 10-inch touch screen tablet? It’s not a laptop. It’s not an iPod or iPhone. It’s something else. Why does it need to exist?

I have a wild guess. Ready?

My guess is that it’ll compete with the Kindle and launch with an iTunes Book Store. You’ll be able to put all your textbooks for school on it, all your novels, periodicals, blogs, the Bible, comic books, whatever. Then, via a slick UI, they enable the user to highlight certain passages and take notes (audio, video, or text). You’ll be able to search all your books and notes via built-in Spotlight technology. Suddenly it’s got the souped-up power of a computer with the easy utility of a well-loved paperback. They could also augment it socially by making it an always-online device which you can use to collaborate with friends and have discussions about anything you’re reading.

Perhaps in the future, publishers of original text would be able to submit and sell their writing in the iTunes Store in the same way iPhone application developers do today. Suddenly bloggers and other writers can make a buck on their craft without having to cling to a huge parent organization. If you’re a good writer, you can do that for a living and you’ve got a gigantic potential audience waiting to pay a few cents here and there for your creations.

In a nutshell, the device will be “Reading Redux.” It has uses in business, education, and in the home. We all read all day. We’re all stuck in paper. That’s gotta change.

Reading Redux is compelling. A device with current functionality shoehorned into a different form factor is not compelling to you and me, and it isn’t compelling to Apple either. That’s not what we’ll see.

How To Not Abuse Your Twitter Followers

Anytime someone expresses an opinion about how others ought to do something, they risk coming off as an insensitive, egotistical jerk. I hope I can diffuse that problem in this post while allowing us to discuss the issues at hand. Your patience is gold to me, friends. I hope this whole thing doesn’t come off as cranky. I’m shooting for helpful, mostly, and angry only where it really needs the teeth.

I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to Twitter. I use Twitter a lot. I’m coming up quickly on my 7000th tweet on my personal Twitter account, and I’m often annoyed by Twitter almost as much as I’m delighted by it. Because of that, I’ve built my own little list of personal rules over time, and I’d like to share those rules with you now.

My four rules: Favorite Freely, Don’t Retweet, Go Private Quickly, and Don’t Use Me.

  • Favorite Freely. When you see a tweet you like, take the time to thank the author by marking it as a favorite. You don’t have to be too reserved with what you mark. Think of a favorite like a laugh or a pat on the back. Freely given, but never forced. That will dictate how many you should give. Thanks to Twitter’s built-in individual favorites pages (here’s mine), and 3rd-party services like Tweeteorites, favorites are meaningful, first-class citizens of the Twitter world and not a silent afterthought.
  • Don’t Retweet. Controversy! I hold this rule for three reasons:
    1. I’m following you for your tweets, not the tweets of your friends. If I wanted to read theirs, I’d follow them. It’s not offensive, it’s how the system works. Please don’t break the system.
    2. If it’s a “social justice / I have to spread the word” kind of thing, you can always take what they say, put it in your own words, and post that to Twitter with “via” attribution. Easy, and much nicer. Doing less than that feels lazy and abusive of your followers’ attention.
    3. If I want to see the tweets you really like, I’ll just subscribe to your favorites. No need to force me to see them by broadcasting them.
  • Go Private Quickly. If you’re publicly conversing with someone, tweeting back and forth repeatedly, consider taking the conversation private if it adds little or no value to those who follow both of you. It gets spammy really quick if you’re exchanging details about something that isn’t likely to be helpful or interesting to other people. That’s lazy and inconsiderate. So, one reply? No problem. Five? Way too many.
  • Don’t Use Me. This is the Golden Rule of Twitter. Don’t consider me and your other followers to be part of a force that you can bend and manipulate to increase your respect, fame, and fortune. I follow you because I’m interested in what you have to say, not because I want to make you rich or fulfill some ego-centric dream you have. If you’re going to sell me something, it had better be a rarity and it had better be a sincere endorsement of something you personally and deeply love. The more you push your money-making, notoriety-making schemes on me, the closer you get to becoming a… well, I won’t use the word here. It’s distasteful, and this is a family show. In short: be a person. If you have something to sell, open another account for that. If people don’t follow that account, take a hint.

If you have additional rules that don’t seem to be addressed here, add them in the comments, or feel free to agree or disagree with me there.

Happy tweeting!