Honestly, I thought this would technically have been the last Reading List of 2020 and then I realised 2020 has 53 weeks. Because of course it does.

GTA Online’s biggest update yet was made entirely from home

Perhaps the most appealing part about the update, though, is that it’s designed to be played either solo or with friends. “It’s something that’s been on our minds for quite some time and the community has been vocal about it,” Butchard says. From a design perspective, the new island was a chance to balance the experience. ”It’s something we’re keen to carry forward,” he adds. “We want to respect teams and players who want to play co-op. But at the same time still allow solo players to still get just as valid an experience out of it. There’s perks to both. If you go in there by yourself, you’re taking 100 per cent of the cut and it’s a lot easier to do stealth and plan when you’re not on comms. With multiple players you can split up and do multiple things at once. You can take more of the secondary objectives, so I could send Tarek off to the control tower to take down air defences while I start looting from the wee cash piles.”

I find this turn of events extremely interesting, if not ironic. Per Rockstar, the GTA community has been vocal about heists that work for solo play too, essentially asking for solo content. And yet this is added in GTA Online, not GTA “proper”. Operationally, I guess it makes sense. Any additional development happening for GTA V is more closely connected to its online component than the base game, heists are an important part of GTA Online and with tweaks here and there more people are kept happy without having the team re-ramp up for a part of the experience that’s been more idle in terms of developer time and effort.

At the same time it’s kind of funny that players asking for solo content get their wish in this roundabout way.

Dozens of Treasury email accounts breached in SolarWinds hack, Sen. Ron Wyden says

“Finally, after years of government officials advocating for encryption backdoors, and ignoring warnings from cybersecurity experts who said that that encryption keys become irresistible targets for hackers, the USG has now suffered a breach that seems to involve skilled hackers stealing encryption keys from USG servers,” Wyden said.

Next time your government insists encryption backdoors are necessary for security tell them they’re fools. And if they ask why (they won’t but just incase) point them to Axios’ article for a serving of their own medicine.

Facebook Says It’s Standing Up Against Apple For Small Businesses. Some Of Its Employees Don’t Believe It.

“That’s Apple’s marketing working and convincing you to scapegoat us so they can decide how the internet should work — even beyond their devices,” he wrote. “I’m an optimist who works in technology because I think tech can be a lever for democratizing access and giving opportunity. Including for businesses. And if you think this is going to stop with personalized ads . . . well, then I disagree.”

This week’s Reading List is all about irony I guess. It’s in Facebook interest to keep users within it’s own product spaces. Their apps tend to make it easier to share content with other products of theirs and add steps when you try to share content beyond them. They want users to stay within a space they control as much as possible. The reasons don’t matter right now, the intent does. Effectively keeping you away from the free web is part of their business model. Even initiatives aiming to provide free web access to countries with limited bandwidth and resources meant that all traffic went through them first. And yet, internally at least, a company with a product that draws more than 1/3 of the earth’s population to its bosom, tries to sell to to its employees that they’re looking out for the open web and whoever thinks otherwise is a victim to Apple’s marketing.

Allow me to note that this comeback says nothing of the issue of privacy and how it should be handled going forward. It only talks of business. Facebook keeps crowing over businesses and avoids commenting on the issue of privacy like the plague, even though privacy is the main argument of their competitor here an argument they won’t even try to go against. I’d say this speaks volumes.

The Vtuber Industry: Corporatization, Labor, and Kawaii

The dynamic changes because the entertainment product is the bouncing anime girl in front of the stream, not the performer themselves. This diverges from traditional streaming, where the value comes from the person being the brand themselves and ostensibly making all of their own decisions. Ninja and Shroud are not owned by Twitch, they bring value to it as a platform. When they decided to leave Twitch, that money went with them. This is obviously not the case with vtubers, whose performance feels largely interchangeable so long as the output remains consistent. While having the security of a paycheck and anonymity as a streamer is nice, the fact that your value is largely interchangeable is a huge drawback. Of course, that’s also what makes the format so appealing to the companies investing in it: at last, talent can be fungible.

Personalities can be capricious, can prove difficult to control. So why leave it to actual personalities when you can design your own and hire people, as in… actual personalities, and ask them to effectively work as low pay actors you can lord over yourself? Anyone who knows me understands that a simple mention of the terms “influencers” and “content creators” send shivers down my spine, despite the fact that there are —of course— some very, very good at what they do. But there’s always a bigger picture.

We had the Press, with its quirks, procedures, traditions and even sins. Then democratization of tech brought us the influencers. With people insisting of making things adversarial even when there’s no need to, Influencers and the Press where pitched against each other, as if one has to be better than the other and none can or should be good at the specific thing they do and bring different kinds of value to the table. Advertising money (for various reasons not necessarily connected to “influencing” at all) went to content creators. But content creators are humans and relationships are delicate. Also content creators don’t have the same restraints the Press either has and demonstrates or fails at. At least the Press has something specific to fail at. You might laugh but it’s important to have something clear to fail at, just as it’s important to have something excel in. So, first, the Press was too particular, content creators more malleable as they don’t present themselves as members of the Press most of the time. Even that comes with friction though. So why not do away with that friction by corporatising “influencing”? Hence “Vtubers”.

And this train of thought doesn’t even take into account the peculiarities of Asian markets, the familiarity of the boy/girl band model and the exploitation embedded in it. When an industry has to say you’re not fired, you just “graduated”, you know you have something special on your hands, no?