The Best Media Writing of the Week

The Twins of "The Social Network," the Worm on Twitter, the Future of Books and the Rise of TV Recappers

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'The Social Network'
'The Social Network' Credit: Merrick Morton/Columbia Tristar Marketing Group, Inc.
As a rule, the presence of twins make things extra weird. Think "The Shining," the Bee Gees, post-"Full House"-America, and those early days of Facebook now getting the David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin treatment in "The Social Network" movie. A central part of the action turns on Mark Zuckerberg's pilfering of the Facebook idea from Olympic rowers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who, after coming from the same egg, proceeded to attend Harvard and come up with one of the biggest internet business ideas ever. For their troubles they got $65 million in a settlement with Zuck.

Bloomberg Businessweek's Brad Stone, formerly of The New York Times Bits blog, went to see the movie with the pair, who reported a few inaccuracies but generally seemed to like it.

The Winklevosses, strapping Olympic rowers who look exactly alike, are fairly surreal off-screen, too. They dress preppily, carry identical gray Tucano man purses, and occasionally bicker over how to best answer questions.

Like everyone else in the movie, the picture of the Winklevosses that emerges from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's acid-tipped pen is not flattering: They are portrayed as pampered athletes with no high-tech chops who come up with the kernel of a business, then do little more than act distraught when Zuckerberg fleshes out the idea and makes it his own. "I think we're fairly confident that the truth speaks for itself," Cameron said.

Facebook's end-of-the-week tech meltdown overshadowed Twitter's own stumbles a few days earlier: a hacking by a Japanese developer that pointed out a serious security flaw. Nevertheless, the Guardian's Charles Arthur, with the help of blogger Richard Gaywood, does an excellent job explaining how Masato Kinugawa exploited an XSS vulnerability that hadn't been fixed in the new version of Twitter.

He spotted the idea and began playing with the idea -- and then had the idea of extending the code so that it would retweet itself using the account of anyone signed in to when they moused over the link.

At first he thought the worm wouldn't really do anything: meh, this worm doesn't really scale. the users can just delete the tweet :( he wrote.

Then within a few minutes he saw that it had started spreading virally. "holy shit. I think this is exponential: "3381 more results since you started searching," he said -- adding, a few minutes later, "This is scary."

Others picked the idea up and mutations began to appear. Some were used by a Russian site; others by a Japanese hard-core pornography site. A fresh mutation didn't wait for you to put your mouse over the link (as the warnings about that began appearing within minutes): a revised version turned the whole of the page into a "link," so that any Twitter user who was signed in would automatically retweet the infected link to their followers.

It's not only because I write TV recaps, like this one for Ad Age, that I'm interested in The New York Observer's take on the "Rise of the Recappers," written by Dan Duray. Or maybe it is -- you be the judge. In any event, the Observer has done a nice job identifying an interesting, under-examined niche in the media world -- and then teasing out the absurdity of it.

Max Silvestri says he has three friends who are paid to recap "Top Chef" alone. Mr. Silvestri is currently at work on a pilot for Comedy Central and pens frenetic recaps of "Top Chef" himself, for the food blog Eater. "I guess I've now done three or four seasons?" he said. "Maybe five. Jesus, such a waste of time."

"It's great for the audience of the people that watch your show but then you're spending four hours on a freelance humor piece that has a very small market of people that are going to read it," Mr. Silvestri said. "I always sort of struggle with that. I'm like, 'Why am I doing this?' 'Why aren't I writing something that's a little broader?'"

The next day The Awl showed us what happens if the trend continues, posting a recap of a "Three's Company" episode.

Discover's Ed Yong is sick and tired of weak journalism masquerading as objective reporting, especially in the realm of science. In properly analytic fashion, he takes to the woodshed this style of reporting that has long been pushed as the standard in journalism schools and newsrooms.

Problem Four: naiveté. True objectivity is a myth -- it doesn't exist. Every choice you make is laden with subjectivity. The most important choice of all -- whether to report something in the first place -- depends on your interests, the interests of your editor or the stance of your publication. If I decide to publish a piece of junk evolutionary psychology about gender roles, that says something about my biases. The same applies if I decide not to publish it.

This is common-sense stuff that somehow gets lost in the endless media navel-gazing. Heisenberg, most certainly, would be proud.

Finally, we have this wonderful video from the design shop Ideo offering three scenarios for the future of the book. Naturally, they all involve tablets:

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

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