What’s really behind those Facebook quizzes


Here’s what’s really behind these quizzes on Facebook.

1) First of all, the “92% of people can’t…” line is total BS. There’s nobody keeping track of scores. That “92%” line is designed to entice you into taking the challenge. It’s not based on any collected data at all, and has that “92%” number on it from the moment it’s released on Facebook.

2) The quizzes are designed to be easy so that you will do better than the “92%” and will share the quiz and brag about it, thereby enticing others to take the quiz.

3) You’ll notice that every question in the quiz is on a separate page. That’s not because there are slick web designers or usability experts behind the page; it’s because every time you go to a new question you load a whole new set of ads, thereby generating loads of ad revenue for the people who made the quiz. (There can easily be 12-20 ads per page.)

4) For quizzes that are designed to tell you something about your personality — what Star Wars character you are, or some other personal quality — know that the results are based on total BS. Some person spent half an hour in a cubicle drawing up a matrix based on nothing more than what kind of mood they were in that day, and that’s it.

5) By going through the quiz and then sharing it, the people making the quiz are gathering data about the things you like. (Car quizzes label you as a car fan; geography quizzes label you as a person who likes to travel, etc.) They sell this data back to Facebook (or perhaps a third-party ad manager) who uses it to build your Facebook advertising profile, which in turn determines what ads and “sponsored posts” you see.

So please do not think that these quizzes tell you anything about yourself, or that the results have any research or scientific thinking behind them. Go ahead and keep doing them if you like — after all, they can be fun — but remember that you’re a bit of a sucker every time you do so, and the results mean nothing.

The only purpose behind these quizzes is to keep you clicking and sharing so that other people can make money from it. But hey, people have to make a living, right? Fair enough. But for Pete’s sake just be aware of the level of BS you’re engaging in when you do it, and don’t bother bragging that you’re better than “the 92%” and don’t even bother questioning the veracity of that figure, because now you know it’s all just made up to suck you in.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)

Books I Read in 2011 (…and a few notes about my iPad)

A as per new-year tradition, here is the list of books I read in the year just ended, with commentary to follow:

  • Stet, by Diana Athill*
  • A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
  • Homo Evolutis, by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans*
  • Headlong, by Michael Frayne
  • On Being a Photographer, by Bill Jay and David Hurn*
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John Le Carré
  • The Happiness Manifesto, by Nic Marks*
  • Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, by Peter Maas

Yes, that’s a whopping nine books, two of which (Homo Evolutus and The Happiness Manifesto) are “Kindle Shorts,” meaning they are very quick reads. Clearly the trend is downward, as 2010’s list contained 23 items and 2009’s contained 32. My high point since starting this tradition in 2004 was 38 books read in 2007.

The list is so short I’ll dispense with the usual breakdown of author by gender, fiction vs. non-fiction, etc., as you can see all that at a glance. One thing that is worth mentioning is the ratio of electronic books (“ebooks”) to paper ones; in this case 4:5. (The titles in the list marked with an asterisk were e-books that I read on my iPad.)

There are two factors that I can blame for this decline in book ingestion:

  • A significant change in my daily routine. Since early June of 2011 I have stopped commuting, so I no longer spend 150+ minutes a day crammed into a stinking and overcrowded subterranean tube with only my books to save me;
  • My iPad.

I won’t go into details on that first point, as the new paradigm (working from home) is still a work in progress. I’ll need at least another six months before I can say anything definitive about that.

As to the iPad, it’s both a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is easy; just watch the iPad commercials on TV. The curse is that the iPad is so full of instantaneous endorphin-jacking delights that I fear my brain is being trained away from the kind of pleasures one typically hopes for from a long and solitary reading experience, such as:

  • Deep immersion into a another world. It could be a world with a bunch of different characters, locations, and situations, but if it’s all in the same book then those things are unified by the author’s voice and intentions. Falling into that for extended periods (read: more than 140 characters at a time) is a pleasure and maybe even an acquired skill. In either case I fear our ability to go there, or to even know there is a there to go to, is rapidly disappearing.
  • Deep focus on the characters, locations, and situations within the world of the book. This isn’t quite the same as simply being immersed. When you achieve focus it puts that immersion on a whole other level.
  • Relaxation and mindfulness that come from the above mentioned immersion and focus. It can be meditative and good for the mind. From what I’ve read, studies have shown (and my personal experience bears this out) that spending time on Twitter of Facebook before going to bed can cause problems falling asleep. The oversimplified explanation is that those rapidly-firing tweets and posts and links cause your brain to fire rapidly too, putting it into an uneasy and unrestful state and making it harder to relax and go to sleep. You don’t get that with a book.

On The Other Hand…

Lest you think I’ve only been reading in multiple doses of 140 characters, let me put that idea to rest. One of the joys of the iPad is the easy access it gives me to long-form magazine writing. In 2011 I read far more long articles in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Economist, Slate, Salon, Al-jazeera, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and various other newspapers and magazines, than I have in any other year in recent memory. Most of it comes via Twitter, where I follow a lot of those rags as well as people who link to them. For me, that’s the best thing about Twitter: endless linkage to great articles.

I use Twitter together with Instapaper to make it a more comfortable experience. Twitter provides the link, and if the article seems worth reading I’ll shoot it over to Instapaper where it is trimmed of all extraneous clutter and ads. It then sits there patiently, waiting for me to read it at my convenience (I don’t even have to be connected to the internets). I’ll describe this in detail in a later post. To many of you it’s probably second nature, but for people who don’t have iPads and who don’t use Twitter, you gotta see this stuff to believe it.

So I’m still not sure if the iPad is more blessing or more curse. I love the on-board dictionary that you can call up any time by just touching a word. I love that I can highlight and write margin notes on any ebook and many online articles. But I am short attention-spanned by nature, so it is hard to spend time simply reading a long piece without slipping out for a Twitter or email break every few minutes, which inevitably breaks the flow of the immersive experience.

I hope to read more books in 2012. I already have half a dozen on “standby” on the iPad, and my frequent trips to The Word on Milton, S.W. Welch, and Drawn & Quarterly mean my ever-expanding pile of unread paper books remains ever-expanding. Here are a few that I pulled out yesterday and put on a dedicated shelf in an attempt to force a commitment to read them this year:

Books I will read in 2012

Wish me luck!

This is Blork (This is not Blork)

To be precise, this is the Blork Blog, part of the Blork Network. It is not, and has nothing to do with, the new whatchamacallit thingy that Dave Winer has created and calls “Blork.” If you’re looking for Dave Winer’s Blork, start here.

But if it’s the Blork that’s been around since 2000 you’re looking for, you’ve found it. Whereas the Blork Network used to revolve around this, the Blork Blog, lately it’s been all about the photos and the tweets. (I might get back to more regular blog posting, but I make no promises.) And just in case you haven’t been following, cornerstones of the Blork Network are:

Less vital aspects of the Blork Network include:

Pretty much dormant corners of the Blork Network include:

  • My DP1 (a blog about the once mysterious and enigmatic DP1 digital camera).
  • From the Hip — Montreal (Street photography blog that set the stage for Street Scene).
  • Blork even appears on MySpace and Facebook, but hey, those aren’t worth the extra couple of bytes to make the links.

Because you can never have too much (original) Blork.


The Blork Blog is officially ten years old.

One might expect on such a majestic occasion a dissertation on the meaning of having documented the first decade of the 21st Century in real time, or of breaking ground in a new medium, or perhaps simply a recap of the “best” or “favorite” posts.

Heck with that.

How about a quick look at where things stand now? Loyal readers will have noticed that I don’t blog as often as I once did. This is partly because of how the medium has evolved and partly because of how it has fragmented. When I started this blog, blogging was the only gig in town for those who wanted to “be the media” and to write and read quickly and easily generated content unfettered by editorial or corporate meddling. Back in those early days, most bloggers were writing about the issues of their day (distinct from the issues of the day) and that was about it. Many people read blogs simply because they were blogs. Writing standards were low, but that was irrelevant in light of the proverbial immediacy of the medium. Eventually blogs began to specialize and along came the food blogs, the gadget blogs, the pundit blogs, and the self-help (weight loss, smoking cessation, career advancement, etc.) blogs.

That was a natural and necessary evolution. I never really went along with it though, despite the illusion for a while that this was some kind of food blog. It remains, at its peril, very old school in that it is, as it was, an online representation of yours truly. To wit, as a child, then a teenager, then an adult, I was never able to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. So it goes with this blog, although in this case more deliberately. Going against all the received wisdom of what a blog “should be” and how I should specialized and promote it so as to gather more readers, I have deliberately chosen to keep the Blork Blog essentially as its always been.

That’s not to say it hasn’t changed at all. For one thing, the posts are generally longer in recent years. If you look at the posts from 2001 and 2002, many of them were extremely brief, on par with today’s Twitter posts. I don’t do those short snappers anymore; my brain farts go on Twitter (you can see my last three Twitter posts over there in the right-hand column, under “Recent Twitters.”)


Cartoon by Alex Gregory, Cartoonbank.com

As others have said elsewhere, people who just want to blather have newer and more convenient outlets for that, such as Twitter and Facebook. Some social media pundits claim that blogging is over, but the more intelligent and less bandstand-jumping ones say that it has simply evolved. The blatherers, they say, are over on Twitter and Facebook, but people who have something to say tend to say it in blogs.

Unfortunately there’s also the notion that people who have something to sell tend to sell it in blogs. Most often it seems that what they’re selling is just more of themselves, in order to generate more hits and click-throughs so as to get so much more advertising revenue. There are boatloads of highly commercialized blogs that do this, such as everything on the Gawker network (including longtime Blork favorites Life Hacker and Gizmodo), and the rapidly growing Three Ring Blog network, the force behind The People of Walmart, D-Bag (douchebag) Planet, and WTF Tattoos (all of which make me weep for humanity – at least American humanity – but I can’t stop looking!). Both of those networks are very successful, for different reasons, and they show the continuing value and success of the blog format. In particular they show that “success” comes from being very focused on a specific topic, or to put it another way, to appeal very directly to a specific desire.

Unfortunately, none of that has anything to do with me and the Blork blog.

After all, what am I going to specialize in? Cupcakes? Pizza? Technical writing? I’d sooner nail my head to the floor than spend the amount of time and dedication it would take to turn this into an “A-List” blog on one of those or any other specialized topics. And for what?

Forget that. The only thing this blog specializes in is me. Or to be precise, “Food (as seen and prepared by me), Montreal (as experienced by me) and me (as lived by me). Sorry folks, but that’s all it is. A few months ago I thought I might let this blog die off after it turned 10, but something tells me I’ll keep chugging away for a while yet.

For what it’s worth, I currently have almost 70 posts in “draft” mode. These are things I sketched out over the years but for whatever reason couldn’t quite make sound right, or in some cases they were temporal and their time passed before I hit “Publish.” Perhaps one of my projects for 2011 will be to work my way through some of those drafts, fixing them up and publishing them or discarding them permanently. So don’t be surprised if in the coming months you find posts about Saddam Hussein or some movie that won an Oscar in 2004. I’ll probably mark them as “recrudescents” or whatnot so as not to seem completely daft.

And in case you haven’t been paying attention, and lest you think this blog is my only online outlet, I’ll remind you that just like Gawker and Three Ring Blogs, Blork is more than a blog, it’s a network!

The Blork Network includes:

  • The Blork Blog. That’s what you’re looking at now.
  • Monday Morning Photo Blog. Live weekly photographs since 2004. No particular theme, but curated to be interesting, exploratory, and broadly scoped.
  • From the Hip – Montreal. Currently hosted on Aminus3, where it has been dormant for some time. (See Street Scene, below for an update.)
  • My DP1. Long dormant but highly informative blog about the then-mythical Sigma DP1 camera. I still get more traffic on that short-lived blog than I get on the Monday Morning Photo Blog.
  • Blork’s Literary Snippets. Essentially just a virtual corkboard for snippets of particularly good literary writing that I find in the books that I read.
  • Flickr. Catch-all photos of everything from my cats to my meals to things I see in and around home and beyond.
  • Blork on Twitter. Brain farts and miscellaneous links.
  • True Blork on Tumblr. Mostly just Hipstamatic photos and links to videos and things. Probably the least essential corner of the Blork network.
  • Blork on Instagr.am (iPhone/iPod/iPad and account needed). Bascially Twitter for pictures. My photos uploaded to Instagr.am are usually cross-posted to Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.
  • Street Scene. A new street photography blog to be launched in 2011; a resurrection and extension of From the Hip – Montreal, hosted at blork.org and with a wider sweep. [Update: it’s been launched. Here’s the launch announcement.]