The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Content For Sensitive Situations

Good advice on how to write error messages, apologies, requests for personal information and other pieces of functional content which may trouble the online reader if done badly. Try to be “gentle, calm, direct, and serious”. Instead of saying, “We regret to inform you that we are unable to process your request as your credit card has expired”, just say, “Your credit card has expired. Please try another card” (879 words)

Covering The Cops

Classic profile of Edna Buchanan, later a celebrated crime novelist, in her days as crime reporter for the Miami Herald. She “dresses every morning to the sound of the police scanner”. When she started in 1973 “a murder was an occasion”. Now Miami has America’s highest murder rate. “A police reporter could drive to work in the morning knowing that there would almost certainly be at least one murder to write about” (7,830 words)

Apple Can’t Hide

“The best-sourced reporter covering Apple Inc., one of the world’s most secretive companies, is a 20-year-old junior at the University of Michigan. His name is Mark Gurman. He makes more than six figures a year as senior editor and scoop master at 9to5Mac.com, a news outlet most people have never heard of.” He types his stories in class, and gets no help from Apple, which doesn’t regard him as accredited Press ( words)

Paulo Coelho, Fiction’s Digital Alchemist

Coelho’s 27th novel, Adultery, will hashtag well — an important consideration for a writer who does his own promotion on Facebook and Twitter, where he has 25.6 million fans and 9 million followers respectively. And it seems to work: he has sold 165 million books in some 80 languages, accumulating a fortune, by his own reckoning, of $535m, which probably makes him the second-richest living novelist (2,282 words)

The Internet’s Original Sin

Internet elder statesman confesses to a sin of his youth: “We created one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad. It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting the ad directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association with the page’s content. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good” (4,300 words)

BuzzFeed’s Business Model

BuzzFeed is worth at least its latest $850 million valuation, and probably much more. It’s a media company, but it’s not (primarily) a content company; its core competence is the technology of marketing. BuzzFeed proves with its content that it knows how to reach huge, young, mobile audiences. Then “it can then sell that secret sauce to advertisers, and help them reach the same audience, using the same tools” (1,320 words)

The First Cut

Steven Soderbergh’s television series, The Knick, achieves “a level of visual virtuosity rarely glimpsed on the small screen”. The setting is an American hospital in 1900. Dr. John Thackery, the moustachioed protagonist, “is equal parts cowboy and clinician, improvising radical techniques on live, barely willing subjects”. The series “makes you see the world in a different way. Even the parts you’d much rather ignore” (1,940 words)

Draft Number Four

Another classic from the New Yorker’s ungated archive, while it lasts. John McPhee on how to beat writer’s block. Always plan on four drafts. The first is the dark night of the soul. “Blurt out, heave out, babble out something — anything — as a first draft. With that, you have achieved a sort of nucleus. Then, as you work it over and alter it, you begin to shape sentences that score higher with the ear and eye” (6,150 words)

Amazon, Price And Value

Publisher defends the virtues of traditional books. “Books are the only medium for thick descriptions of the world that human beings possess. By ‘thick’ description, I mean an extended, detailed, evidence-based, written interpretation of a subject. If you want to write a feature, or blog, or wikipedia entry, in the end you will have to refer to a book. Authors and publisher-curators are in the civilisation business” (1,230 words)

Pinterest — A Database Of Intentions

Interview with Evan Sharp, co-founder of Pinterest. “We think of Pinterest some days as this crazy human indexing machine. Where millions and millions of people are hand indexing billions of objects — 30 billion objects — in a way that’s personally meaningful to them. We’re not building a machine that answers questions, although that’s great. We’re helping you discover the things you like” (4,000 words)

Public Displays Of Transaction

Old hat to you, no doubt, but new to me: Venmo is a social media app which combines, more or less, the functions of PayPal and Twitter. Other people can watch you making payments. “A lot of people seem unaware of the stories they’re telling in their transactions. This will likely change once it becomes more mainstream, but for now, it’s the Wild West of uninhibited, relatively public commerce” (784 words)

Weird Al Endures

Weird Al Yankovich had his biggest moment in 1984 with a middling success for his Michael Jackson parody, Eat It. But “the world turns over a new batch of dorky teens” every generation, and Al has outlasted the artists he parodies. “We get older but he stays the same age — goofy, juvenile, exuberant, and proudly uncool, a gawky guy with a perm and a nasally, insistent voice, whose tastes run toward geek humor and polka” (1,280 words)

What Happened To Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

If you were living in Russia, you’d get your news from state-controlled television and radio, and here’s what it would tell you: That MH17 is actually MH370, the Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared in the Indian Ocean; it was secretly held at an American military base on Diego-Garcia for re-use. The plane was filled with corpses, not passengers, when it left Amsterdam; and flown on autopilot. Russia was framed (1,540 words)

On Joanna Rakoff’s “My Salinger Year”

The “sleeper success” of My Salinger Year, which has gone to a third printing and been sold as a film, probably owes much to a general nostalgia for the vanished world of genteel New York publishing. “When Rakoff arrives at Harold Ober in January 1996, the agency does not own a single computer. Agents still track submissions on little pink file cards and Rakoff spends much of her day behind an IBM Selectric” (2,080 words)

Marc Andreessen On Twitter

Twitter’s top new power user is venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. “During the first six months of 2014, Andreessen tweeted 21,783 times — an average of five tweets per hour, every hour”. Most days he tweets 50-200 times, for an average of 120 tweets per day. His penchant for sending multiple numbered tweets on a single topic has spawned “an entire Twitter genre”, the Tweetstorm (670 words)

How Pelicans Became Blue

The covers of the pioneering non-fiction Pelican imprint were as distinctive as the content. The series launched in 1937 with George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Women’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. The cover was a shade of blue “veering towards turquoise, which chemists will recognize instantly as a copper pigment of some kind” — copper phthalocyanine, sold as “monastral blue” (830 words)

For The Love Of Content Management …

… Paul Ford resolves to learn to use Kinja, Gawker’s new discussion platform. It does not go well. “it’s like that movie with kristin dunst where the world is upside down and two people fall in love and no one can reach out to each other between a code block and a blockquote there can be only a void so code paste (hardly a use case for gawker media, but still)(define (fib n) (if (<= n 2) 1 (+ (fib (- n 1)) (fib (- n 2)))))” (3,630 words)

How Are Apps Made?

“Enumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns — you can’t scrape our content! you can’t monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation” (1,030 words)

For Email Newsletters, A Death Greatly Exaggerated

Email is “the cockroach of the Internet”. It survives all disruptions. Email newsletters are even enjoying something of a boom “because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognisable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos”. MailChimp, a big email newsletter platform, is adding 10,000 users a day (Metered paywall) (1,230 words)

Brick By Brick: The Bezos Post

Jeff Bezos makes his presence felt as owner of the Washington Post. “We’re clearly in Get Big Fast mode,” says one editor. “The logic of the current expansion is Amazonian. We’re going to get big and then figure out what to do with it”, says another. There’s a touch of the Huffington Post about two new features, Morning Mix and Post Everything. The target, apparently, is 100m digital readers worldwide (5,100 words)

Ebooks Versus Paper

Too much of the debate about screen versus printed page, and by extension about the future of books and reading, focuses on the physiology of reading to the exclusion of the psychology and the sociology. “When we sit on a train with a book open in front of us, how much has our choice of reading being influenced by our ideas of what a proper book should be like, and how a proper adult should appear in public?” (1,840 words)

Reading: The Struggle

How fiction will evolve in a distracted world. “The novel of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity will divide itself into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out. The larger popular novel, or the novel of extensive narrative architecture, will be ever more laden with repetitive formulas, to make it easier, after breaks, to pick up, not a thread, but a sturdy cable” (1,745 words)

Jonah Peretti Goes Long

Big, meaty interview with Buzzfeed founder, viral content guru. “If the forest is dry and it’s been hot and the trees are close together, you can just drop a match and the whole thing will burn. There was a period between 2001 and 2003 when the dry forest was ready to burn. If you made something that was pretty funny and had qualities that caused people to want to share and talk and discuss, then things would spread pretty far” (23,000 words)

The Future Of “The Guardian”

It has money, credibility, ambitions. But does it have a plan? Good luck finding much out from the editor, Alan Rusbridger: “An hour with him is both unpleasant in the exertions required to penetrate his lack of transparency and fill the conversational void and, yet, at the same time, uplifting and restorative. The vacuum that surrounds him somehow seems to represent moral superiority and it draws you in” (3,830 words)

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