The online game of Wordle has been online since November last year but it broke into popular view in January when the yellow and green chicklet pictograms started showing up in people’s social media timelines.

The game is elegant in its simplicity.

Wordle refreshingly lacks any viral loops (players are limited to a single game each day) and there is no flashing banner ads or login requirement. Wordle is an old school, web 1.0 mobile web site that sets a cookie to see if you’re a new user or returning user, that’s it.

Most people learned about Wordle from a Jan. 3rd NYT article, Wordle is a Love Story that profiled the creator of the game, Josh Wardle. Here we learn that Josh created Wordle for his partner and that Ms. Shah helped narrow down the list of words. We also learned that Josh was an Product Manager for Reddit and was also behind two other popular “collaborative social experiments,” The Button and Place.

We also learn about Wordle’s counter-intuitive viral success.

The breakthrough, he said, was limiting players to one game per day. That enforced a sense of scarcity … which leaves people wanting more

Wordle is a love story

The colored grids that have blossomed all across social media were inspired by players that were manually sharing their results using manually constructed grids using emoji (BuzzFeed digs into a group of New Zealanders who were part of this). Wardle built a way to automate the creation and sharing of the results but, again, chose to remove the normal elements that are “table stakes” on a mobile game,

If he were optimizing the game to gain as many players as possible, he would have included a link at the end of the tweet that the tool generates, he said. But after looking into it, he said it would have looked “trashy” and not as visually compelling, and he liked the grid’s mysterious air, which he felt piqued people’s interest.

Wordle is a love story

The result of this manufactured scarcity and mystery has been that the game exploded into the zeitgeist.

It also resulted in people rushing to the iOS app store and pay for an 5-year old game called Wordle!. Touchingly, Steven Cravotta, the developer, contacted Josh and the two worked out a charity to donate the proceeds.

Since then, there have been hundreds of posts going into the best “start words” (I like this Wired piece). As an ultimate badge of honor, Google even added an easter egg when you search for “wordle” on the site.

Due to the open nature of the site, there are several spin-offs including (credit to @waxpancake, the /r/wordle subreddit, and #wordle on SmartNews Slack for this list)

There are also a number of sites & services that have sprung up to make the Wordle experience more interesting.

  • @WordleStats will let you know how your results stack up against everyone sharing their results on Twitter.
  • Townscaper will take your results and turn them into a weird, stylized building.
  • Worldle Archive lets you go back and play every Wordle since launch.
  • Worldle Helper is a python script that will help narrow the possible solution
  • WordleBot for Slack – add a Wordle leaderboard to Slack

Finally, if you want to mute Wordle results on your Twitter feed? Someone wrote about that too.

Did I miss anything? Add them in the comments!

The week that was

A man attempting to break into a Maryland home by coming down the chimney got stuck and had to be extracted by the firefighters and police.

Vaccination rates increased dramatically in Quebec after the government passed a law requiring proof-of-vaccination before you could purchase alcohol or cannabis.

Saturday Night Live stars Pete Davidson and Colin Jost bought a decommissioned Staten Island ferry and plan to turn it into a floating comedy club.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s massive GMC Yukon SUV rolled on top of a Toyota Prius.

A woman checking her email spam folder discovered a non-spam message informing her she had won a $3M lottery jackpot.

The Italian Supreme Court added the sound of a toilet flushing at night to a list of human rights violations ending a 20-year neighbor dispute.

Media Innovation

I enjoyed Brian Morrissey’s Digiday podcasts which featured interviews with various media executives. His experience in publishing and advertising brings out a level of detail in his conversations that goes deeper than most but still accessible even for a trade publication.

His The Rebooting newsletter is his attempt to branch out on his own and share his findings each week via text. In this week’s issue he writes about the recent optimism in digital publishing startups due to several high-profile individuals setting up shop to try something new. In the last round, the large platforms (Facebook, Google) sucked up all the investment and called the shots, this time, he says, it’s different.

The long term opportunity lies in smarter bundles. New publishers like Defector Media, Every and Puck are building these models. Newsletters have always been a reaction to an industrialized content industry that uses distribution hacks to vacuum up attention data in the service of advertising. These new models allow for the content creators to share in the value they create. That’s only right, and the publications that try to hoard the upside will mostly lose out. More egalitarian ownership is a key part of Web3 but also the future of publishing businesses.

The Roaring 20s of digital publishing

I am a fan of smart aggregation and bundles. With all the newsletters and small media start-ups, the pendulum will swing back towards discovery. Modern machine learning technology and new subscription/rev-share models should provide an opportunity for innovators in this area.

Maybe this time, Lucy will let Charlie Brown kick the football.

The week that was

Amazon engineers scrambled to update Alexa’s library of “challenges” when a concerned parent reported the AI assistant suggested sticking a penny in an electrical socket.

A meteor exploded in Pennsylvania with the energy equivalent to 30 tons of TNT.

A three-ton Russian satellite plunged into the Pacific Ocean.

It rained small fish in eastern Texas.

The Taliban ordered shop mannequin beheadings, saying the dummies are ‘idols’ and are forbidden by Islam.

Israeli scientists have figured out how to harness electricity from seaweed.

The Girl Scouts are launching a new cookie. This year you can ask for Adventurefuls.

Sony announced the firmest plans yet for their new electric cars.

Kim Jong-un surprised the world by informing us all that it was actually his dad who invented the burrito.

Tired of unflattering Google search results, the country of Turkey officially changed its name to Turkiye.

A newly discovered species of tree found in the jungles of Cameroon was named after Leonardo DiCaprio.

TWTW in 2021

We made it! 2021 was a journey for all of us – even if you stayed in one place, hunkered down, as events of the world swirled around you. 

For the final post of the year I dug into the click data for all the TWTW posts and newsletter issues to bring you the annual The Week That Was rundown of the most popular stories of the year.

I started The Week That Was as a distraction, a place to collect the amusing stories that I ran across each week during the course of my work. As the news grew more alarming and dire, I began to look forward to the weekend when I pulled together the best of the week and wrote a sentence or two about each story – it was more than a distraction, it helped level-set me.

In a year that started with an insurrection at the Capitol and ended with 800,000 Americans dead from Covid, doggedly sending out “quirky stories from the week prior” felt defiant. If some of these stories made you smile, we connected, it was worth it.

Here are the most popular stories that you collectively tapped or clicked on during 2021.

  • Mayhem ensues after thousands show up for fake Daft Punk concert in Belgium – New York Post
  • Mystery tree beast turns out to be croissant – BBC
  • We spoke to the New Yorker who found a whole apartment behind her bathroom mirror – Curbed
  • Mysterious car parked on same Italian street for 47 years becomes tourist attraction – Mirror
  • Wearing socks with sandals is officially cool forever – Vice
  • Oakley’s new reusable tactical face mask won’t fog your glasses – Maxim
  • A section of Trump border wall in South Texas cost $27 million a mile. It’s being foiled by $5 ladders – Texas Monthly
  • ‘Solved’: the mystery of the ‘slut’ scrawled on The Grapes of Wrath manuscript – The Guardian
  • Nearly 100 guests forced to leave Florida hotel after being told it was sold – Fox 35 Orlando

Have a wonderful New Year. Take stock of what we’ve  all been though with a countdown of your own. See you 2022 with fresh eyes, living for the new now.

Thank you for reading!

Categorized as TWTW

The week that was

3,837 people accused of witchcraft may be pardoned posthumously centuries after the fact under a new bill put forward in the Scottish parliament.

A global study of the plastic-degrading potential of bacteria found that one in four organisms analysed carried an enzyme that could naturally digest plastic.

The Sami, indigenous people of Northern Norway, famously have 100 different words for the different types of snow. But global warming has brought a new type of freezing rain for which they have no words.

Over 80 died when their overloaded boat sank miles off the coast of northeastern Madagascar. The head of the national police force almost lost his life when his helicopter, which had been investigating the sinking, crashed into the sea. General Serge Gellé and another passenger, swam 12 hours back to shore.

If you’re looking to withdraw from society and wait out the Omicron wave, there’s a opening for a caretaker on small island off the coast of England that might interest you.

Dutch authorities have halted the sale of anti-5G necklaces and bracelets that have been found to be radioactive.

If you always felt the 1960s TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a bit off, Caitlin Flanagan sticks the knife in and twists. “Santa presides over a nonunion shop where underproducing elves are deprived of breaks and humiliated.”

The week that was

The US is imposing new sanctions on Chinese biotech and surveillance companies involved in the biometric surveillance and tracking of Uyghur Muslims.

The Iranian government vowed to impose sanctions against American entities and individuals involved in police brutality against Black people.

Everybody was reading Renay Mandel Corren’s obituary.

Cracks appeared in Meta’s “warm and fuzzy” depiction of virtual reality as one beta tester reported being groped by a stranger.

Jeff Garlin, an actor in the TV series The Goldbergs, was kicked off the set after HR complaints about his abusive behavior. Garlin’s body double will take his place while Garlin’s face will be digitally superimposed in post-production.

Eric Clapton successfully sued a 55-year old German widow for listing one of her late-husband’s bootleg CDs for $11.

In order to prevent smash-and-grab looting raids, The Grove, a high-end shopping mall in Los Angeles, added fencing that resembles barbed wire to its outdoor decor. “The coil wire is a reasonably new technology in retail crime prevention”

Due to a “lapse of concentration” a trader listed a Bored Ape NFT for a tenth of its market value. The lucky buyer sniped it for the equivalent of $40k and re-listed it for $248k.

Former First Lady Melania Trump proudly listed an NFT that is a watercolor of Melania Trump’s icy glare encoded with an audio recording of Mrs. Trump reciting “a message of hope.” Each piece is available for 1 SOL ($180).

Russian economists have concluded that investing in Lego is more lucrative than investing in gold.

The week that was

A Beijing University shared that Chinese authorities successfully controlled the weather with extensive cloud-seeding operations prior ceremonies commemorating the founding of the Communist Party to “ensure clear skies and low air pollution.”

A Brooklyn neighborhood is at peace again after the source of the high-pitched ‘chirp’ was tracked down to a resident who set up an animal repellent device on his balcony and left town for a couple of weeks.

Amazon’s AWS data center in Virginia was knocked offline for several hours taking down major sites across the internet including everyones Roomba.

The supply chain woes hit the cream cheese market and New Yorkers are freaking out.

Food Guinness World records were broken by an 850-pound pot brownie and, just in case you get the munchies, a 350-pound vegan burger.

NYC Restaurant Streeteries

Back in March, I wrote a post for the SmartNews intranet explaining to my colleagues in Japan the temporary sheds you see on the street outside of restaurants. In San Francisco they were called parklets, here in NYC they are called streeteries. They were built so restaurants could comply with Covid restrictions on indoor dining.

As we head into the winter and perhaps another wave, we may start to use these again.

Restaurants are the lifeblood of any city but in New York they are vital as in, “important for life.” When Lockdown began, people were not able to leave their apartments to meet face-to-face for conversation. 

I have only been here for a couple of months but I can already appreciate how social New Yorkers are compared to people in other cities. One cannot walk down the street without having a short exchange with the people you meet. As a shark has to swim to run water across their gills, New Yorkers must talk to survive. Even for a short ride in an elevator, silence is awkward. I was not here when the shuttering of restaurants was announced but I can imagine that the inability to meet with friends and clients for dinner or weekend brunch was a shock to the system, almost unbearable.

But New York City is famous for its workarounds. Like water flowing downhill, supply adjusts to meet demand. By mid-summer City Hall announced the Open Restaurants program to allow patrons to be served safely, outside.

It must have felt like the Gold Rush as restaurants spilled on to the street to secure room for their patrons to keep their businesses running. By the time we arrived here in late-September, Izumi and I were shocked at how many of these “streeteries” were open and how vibrant it felt compared to the San Francisco we just left.

Just a few days earlier, the Mayor announced that the Open Restaurants initiative would become permanent. This allowed restaurants to not only shore up their temporary setup but also spurred an investment in sturdier structures for the colder months ahead. What followed was a flurry of construction as restaurants added walls to block the wind and heaters to keep customers warm.

New Yorkers famously kept supporting their favorite restaurants as they continued to serve their customers, even during snowstorms. Architectural innovations evolved over those months and we now have a number of “hacks” to what became known as “bubble dinning” that I’d like to share with you today.

Notice how walking the sidewalk feels like walking through a shared room. When you walk the city this way, you often overhear snippets of conversation. It’s intimate and a great way to pick up a sense of how everyone is feeling and coping with the pandemic.

As with other innovations from its past, New York has made the sidewalk restaurant structures its own and woven it into the fabric of the city. With warmer days ahead I look forward to seeing more people dining outside, in the open. The pleasant side effect of these now permanent structures is that there is less space for cars to park. Add this to the dramatic expansion of bike lanes and anticipated congestion pricing under the Biden administration and we may see even less traffic on city streets.

It can only get better from here.

Categorized as Home Tagged

The week that was

America’s deadly love-affair with guns was in the news again as a 15-year old took a pistol gifted by his parents to school and shot up his classmates. I normally avoid curating violence but the river of avoidable tragedy was just too much to bear:

Clearly we need to change the culture around gun ownership. For a contrast, here’s what it takes to own a gun in Japan.

In other news:

Officers in Beaverton, Oregon corralled a hamster and took the animal into “protective custody” after pulling over a driver, the hamster’s owner, and arresting her for driving under the influence.

Scotty Thomas, a dump truck driver in Fayetteville, NC, bought a lottery ticket online. Later, forgetting he already bought a ticket, he bought another, with the same numbers. Confused at first when he received two emails saying he had won $25,000/year for life he then realized he bought two tickets that both won.

Twenty years ago Gladys from Florida called Mike in Rhode Island looking for her daughter who lives in Maryland. She was dialing area code 401, instead of 410 and, over the years, as she kept making the mistake, Mike and Gladys struck up a friendship. This year, Mike paid Gladys a visit.

Merriam-Webster selected vaccine as the most popular word of the year. Last year’s most popular word? Pandemic.

A Hong Kong metal band that broke up five years ago has found new popularity. The band’s name is Omicron.

On Friday, a group of 60+ fans gathered at the Tan Hill Inn in Yorkshire, England to hear their favorite Oasis tribute band. During the evening, a blizzard dumped over three feet of snow and kept the whole lot at the Tan Hill Inn overnight and through the weekend.

In Denmark, 25 employees and six customers at an IKEA were forced to spend the night at the store after a snowstorm. The local TV station covering the story shared photos of the “stranded Danes drinking beer and coffee and noshing on cinnamon rolls as they watched soccer together.” No mention of Swedish Meatballs.

IKEA in Tokyo is renting out a “Tiny Home” apartment for the equivalent of $1 USD/month. The 107-square-foot apartment, completely kitted out with IKEA furniture, makes “good use of vertical space.”

Car thieves are using Apple AirTags to track cars they wish to steal. Scoping out desirable cars in a mall parking lot, they slap the AirTag on the car and track them late at night when they can break in under cover of darkness. The article about this trend helpfully advertises a deal on AirTags from Best Buy.

Lawyers representing a company that goes by the name of Bong LLC are suing their NoHo building tenant, a host of underground, semi-commercial parties, because of complaints of “marijuana smoke.”

“Nobody was hurt in the blaze and the status of the snakes remains a mystery” says a report about someone who burned down their house while trying to smoke out a snake infestation.

Making lemonade out lemons, Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is minting NFTs out of his federal prison badge and putting them up for sale at Miami’s Art Basel.