Friday Faves: What We’re Reading This Week

Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Dogs to Follow on Social Media


Whoopi says: As a REG team member (together with my niece, Sansa), we take our role as office companions seriously. We enjoy being part of the digital ecosystem and our appearances on social media tend to represent our perspectives or what we’ve been up to when we’re not working in the office. For us, this article stood out because – as Julie, the author, highlights – social media is useful for dogs:

“… if the dog (and person behind the dog) spread helpful messages about dog behavior, cognition, training, or general dog awesomeness.”

Julie has selected the dogs listed in the article based on social media messages that display the essence of being a companion dog: resilience, agility, cognitive prowess, learning, companionship, and often, general hilarity. Sansa & I think we do all of these – and some more.


Meet the Professor Who Teaches a 7-Hour Long Class Called ‘Existential Despair’

Nat says: I thought I’d share two articles this week which both touch on existentialism: What does it mean to be a human and live a meaningful, authentic life? My PhD aligns to an existential philosophical paradigm, so I tend to seek out these types of news stories each week (I’m quite the life of the party!). This week I saw an article about a 7-hour long university class called ‘Existential Despair’. I thought the class description was simply describing how I spend most of my evenings – reading and contemplating existence  – but what I think the article does do is raise a valid issue with the current education system. Many students want a qualification, not an education, and they often want to take the path of least resistance towards their end-goal. However, the existential class forces students to be present, silent, and uninterrupted by technology. Without directly doing so, the subject encourages students to question themselves and the world they live in – something that many people (and researchers, for that matter, who produce the material that is taught in universities) are afraid of doing.

I think people fail to realise how prominent existentialism is in their lives whether they’re at work, at home, or at school. As a species we ask ourselves who are we? why are we here? where are we going? how should we spend our time and conduct ourselves? And what is the meaning of life? Everything we do in life is how we answer these questions. This leads me onto the second article which is an hilarious tongue-in-cheek mockery of email undertone in the workplace. Most people’s lives unfold at work, and if they do not find meaning in their work or if their personal values do not align with corporate values, feelings of despair and ‘existential crises’ can ensue. Although the humorous office emails might have some degree of truth to them, one of the great hidden messages within them is that if you’re not doing meaningful work, why are you doing it? The same can be said for enrolling in university. If you do not want to learn, have you merely enrolled so that you can get a degree, which will get you a job, in the hopes that you too can engage in meaningless email exchanges for the next 40 years?



How Understanding Animals Can Help Us Make the Most of Artificial Intelligence

Anne says: Inspired by Whoopi’s selection and influenced by Nat’s meaningful and authentic life – this week’s article is all about AI (artificial intelligence) and training dogs!

From time to time I’ve been known to exclaim in response to organisational training programs that: “Training is for dogs and babies” (ie. not for adults in workplaces). This article highlights the typical dog training approach based on reinforcement for desired behaviours and accidental reinforcement – then uses the analogy to relate how our understanding of these processes can provide a way of training AI through deep learning.

“In reinforcement deep learning, human designers set up a system, envision what they want it to learn, give it information, watch its actions and give it feedback (such as praise) when they see what they want. In essence, we can treat the AI system like we treat animals we are training.”

As the article concludes, it raises the question of training robots – perhaps we all need to do advanced dog training to understand how we’re going to work alongside our robot colleagues in the future?
For me, I’m delighted that I have Whoopi, who will no doubt always find a way to modify the required task to meet her own needs, while still giving me the perception that I’m in control!


Bye, Twitter. All the Cool Kids are Moving to Mastodon

Emilio says:

“….in a move seemingly designed to send the Pepe the Frogs of the world into a rage, the ability to create safe spaces is prized.”

Disruption seems to be the norm in our ever-evolving (digital) world – challenging even the most revered establishments in the social media kingdom.

I first discovered Twitter as a social media intern many moons ago and found it a great way to share my views and thoughts to the world on a range of topics dear to me, as well as converse with others – in 140 characters or less. Despite its many stellar uses including the ability to deliver live breaking news and inspire and give voice to marginalised groups, Twitter has been besieged with a raft of challenges: too many fake accounts, too cluttered and a haven for trolls. Worst of all, it is struggling to grow its user base. Or perhaps, Twitter has just become uncool?

Well, a new kid on the micro-sharing block has emerged (I am not yet on it, but very keen to), personified as a burly elephant-esque creature, the Mastodon. It presents itself as a free, decentralised, non-commercial, open source social network with a more intuitive interface. It claims to be a safer platform for users to openly share their thoughts with what it calls “private ‘toots'” (think of it as their version of a ‘tweet’), with a 500-character provision for every ‘toot’, stringent moderation and verification processes in place (thus no hooligans, bots, trolls and pesky ads). It uses, and is compatible with, different servers which makes the network less costly to run. It claims there is never any intention of growing their user base to monetise and make money out of it. And whilst Mastodon seems to maintain an underground presence, its user base is now 41k strong and growing.

Many have argued Twitter has become stale and needs to fix the mess it is in with a solid direction. Meanwhile, Mastodon seems to be to filling the void and gathering pace.

Will the burly beast crush the bird in the end? That remains to be seen.

To tweet or to toot? Now that’s the question.


Netflix Officially Kills Star Ratings, Replacing Them With Thumbs Up and Down

Joel says: Along with many of you out there, I spend a good portion of my time viewing content on Netflix. You may have noticed if you’ve logged in this week that Netflix has changed it’s somewhat confusing ‘star rating’ system to a simpler ‘Thumbs up/Thumbs down’ % rating system. So I called the star rating system confusing and some people may think “How is that confusing? The movie is showing 2 stars, it mustn’t be that good right?”. Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Many people didn’t realise that the star rating system was pulling from Netflix’s ever amazing back end algorithm’s to display what it thinks you would rate the movie. It groups users into groups based on similar content and viewing patterns and displays you a star rating based on what others in your ‘group’ have rated said movie or show. So based on that it is completely possible for the same movie to have different ratings on your’s and another friends account. Kinda cool but a bit confusing right?

Instead of the star rating next to each title, Netflix users will now see a personalised percentage “match score.” That’s a prediction “of what Netflix thinks you may enjoy watching, based on your own unique tastes”. The match score is based solely on algorithms analysing a user’s individual viewing habits and behaviour, not a measure of overall popularity among all Netflix viewers.

According to Netflix, the thumbs-based ratings will produce far more accurate recommendations for what you want to watch — and many users have been confused about what the five-star ratings were used for. The company says when it tested out thumbs ratings, it saw a 200% increase in ratings activity.

If you’re interested in how the old star rating system worked you can read about that here:


Decoding Emotions as an Online Community Manager

Jakkii says: One of the aspects of AI that I’ve been reading about recently is the idea that evolving AI will require individuals to develop and improve our Emotional Intelligence as a critical skill at work (and in life). Emotional Intelligence is a two sided coin: not only do we need to be aware and in control of our own emotions, we must be aware of and responsive to the emotions of others, behaving empathetically in our interactions with them. When it comes to communities, we often talk about sentiment analysis as a means to understanding the ‘feeling’ of a community. The challenges in accurately determining sentiment of a given piece of content, of a group, or of a community – let alone of an individual – are well documented. Human judgement is often required in order to distinguish between positive, neutral and negative sentiment, between sarcasm and seriousness, between taking the mick and being genuine. However, we don’t often consider the emotion of the individual, and how identifying and acknowledging this can help us be better digital communicators, better problem solvers, and deliver better experiences for our community members. As community managers, how do we learn to identify emotion online? And how can we help guide others to be better at this as well? This piece offers some great tips for learning to decode emotions online, and is well worth a read for anyone interested in improving their ‘digital emotional intelligence.’