Weekly Wrap-Up, 7-13 Sep 2019

This week I’m introducing a new Friday edition of the newsletter, which will be sent to everyone. It’s called the Weekly Wrap-up, and will be a summary of the week’s culture-tech coverage here on Cybercultural. It’s partly to show free signups what you’ve been missing, but also I’ll add a few bits of brand new content (primarily as a thanks to my paying subscribers 🙏).

Some of you will recognise the inspiration for this: a long-running feature on ReadWriteWeb called the Weekly Wrap-up. It was a weekly roundup of web technology news and trends, and one of my favourite features of RWW (I always wrote it myself, even after I began employing many other writers). And hey, it was even available as an email newsletter! Here’s an example from 2007:

Ah Feedburner, how we miss you. But enough with the nostalgia, let’s get to what’s new in culture-tech!

A Peek Behind The Paywall 🔓

Here’s a list of news stories I wrote about this past week for paying subscribers. I’ve included a few choice quotes from my takes.

  • Apple TV+ costs $4.99 per month and launches on November 1 📺

    • “Ultimately, this slow build of new tv shows won’t matter, since most new subscribers will come from the one free year offered to anyone who buys a new Apple device […]”

  • Apple Arcade is launching on September 19th for $4.99 a month 🎮

  • The rise of vertical videos & other music video innovations 🎹

    • “The vertical video format includes new, TikTok-like short looped videos, a format that the popular artists of today - like Taylor Swift and teen sensation Billie Eilish - are taking advantage of.”

  • Netflix loses title as No. 1 bandwidth-eating application 🦖

  • Experimental, non-violent video game ‘Sky: Children of the Light’ is a hit 🎮

    • “Most noticeably, and unlike many popular video games, there’s no fighting or shooting.”

  • Joshua Beamish's @giselle reimagines classic ballet in the digital age 🎭

  • The Face magazine is back in print, after its 2019 relaunch on the Web 📃

    • “Of all the cultural industries, magazines - with their reliance on brand affinity and visual identity - are one of the best placed to monetize on the internet.”

  • Almost everything about Goodreads is broken 📚

If these are the type of culture-tech stories you’re keen to track, with my added analysis, you can get them in your inbox twice a week as a paying subscriber:

Deeper Dive 🥽

In this part of the Weekly Wrap-up, I’ll take a deeper look at one of the stories I covered this week.

I was fascinated by The Ringer’s story about “vertical videos” on Spotify. As noted, artists are not only releasing entire music videos formatted for vertical screens (an example from Taylor Swift), they’re also doing short looped videos to accompany their songs on Spotify. This is done using a Spotify feature called Canvas:

“Canvas is an 8-second visual loop that can be added to any of your tracks to appear in the Now Playing View in place of your album artwork. It's a new format for artistic expression on Spotify that we’re currently testing with a small group of artists.”

As Hypebot noted back in January, a Canvas video “replaces cover art and will loop in the Now Playing view of the Spotify app.”

The other thing I’ve noticed is that when you’re playing an album, sometimes each song has a different video or looped clip. It definitely adds to the experience of listening to a new album, and yet the potential is there to take this much further. Just as MTV videos ignited the popular music scene in the 1980s, perhaps these new, smartphone-centric, videos could be the defining visual aspect of the next decade in music.

In the short term there’s speculation this could turn into a version of ‘stories’, the popular Snapchat and Instagram feature where people post mixed-media clips as a short narrative device (this feature is also on Facebook, although it’s less popular there). Based on some code sleuthing, Jane Manchun Wong thinks that “Spotify is working on bringing Stories to Playlists, providing artists a way to connect with listeners through storytelling.”

I love it and am looking forward to seeing more musicians experimenting with vertical videos and Canvas.

Best Reader Feedback 🗣️

Glen Barnes, a Cybercultural subscriber, made an excellent point in response to my take on the new Apple Arcade:

This is my dream for Cybercultural: that readers will regularly comment on the stories I highlight. As I learned in the RWW days, it’s all about building a high-quality community - so we can all learn from each other. In this case, a community of culture-tech fans. Thanks Glen, and I encourage others to send me feedback; whether via the subscriber comments section on Substack, on Twitter (or any other social media), or even via direct email to me (just hit the reply button).

One More Thing 🙋

When I write enthusiastically about a new technology, I like to ‘eat the dog food’ and use said tech more. So after my recent public posts (1, 2) about my hopes for Tumblr and blogging, I’ve revived a couple of old Tumblr blogs.

Firstly, I’ve re-branded my personal Tumblr blog as the Cybercultural Tumblr (“Multimedia miscellanea brought to you by Cybercultural, a newsletter covering the intersection of tech & culture.”). You may also want to check out my other Tumblr, Indie Bookstores (“Celebrating indie bookstores all around the world.”)

That’s the first Weekly Wrap-up, I hope you enjoyed it! Once again, if you want culture-tech in your inbox more often, please consider subscribing. It’s just $7 per month or $70 per year, and you’ll receive all four editions of Cybercultural each week. You’ll also be a valued member of a growing community of culture-tech fans here.