January 16, 2022
Your five-minute guide to the best of Protocol (and the internet) from the week that was, from a once-and-for-all end to internet debates to the Wordle controversy that swept the web.
And please note that we’ll be off tomorrow for MLK Day, but back on Tuesday!
It’s GIF, with a hard “G.” I don’t make the rules, and neither does the guy who invented the file format in the first place. This week, the internet decided. Out of 114,495 votes (and rising), a whopping 80% said GIF sounds more like “gift” than it does a brand of peanut butter.
The pronunciation debate was the first question on Neal Agarwal’s website, Let’s Settle This. Among the other long-debated questions posed to users: whether cereal is a soup (no, by a landslide), “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” is better (“Wars” for the win) and which way you should roll your toilet paper (over, in a truly crushing victory).
“I’ve watched the same exact debates travel from forum sites in 2007 to the blogosphere, and then to Twitter, and now onto TikTok in 2022,” Agarwal told me over email this week. There are, of course, a near-infinite number of debates he could have picked, but he said he tried to pick debates that have stood the test of time. But he tried to keep it lighthearted: “I don’t think a poll would help solve any political debates." The results that surprised him most? The impressive “Star Wars” victory, and the razor-thin margin between pineapple-pizza lovers and haters. (The haters won, with 52% of the over 105,000 votes.)
You may have come across Agarwal’s work before. He’s a developer at MSCHF, the creative collective known for the Jesus Shoes, a competition to see who could keep their finger on an app the longest and the thing where you could watch every episode of “The Office” unfold as a Slack conversation. On the side, Agarwal’s website hosts a way for you to spend Bill Gates’ money, a delightfully horrible take on a white-noise machine and a portal to the internet of exactly 10 years ago.
Agarwal said he views his work as both a learning experience and an art project. “The early web had so much experimentation and serendipity, and it seems we lost some of that in the social media age,” he said. Working on the web gives him more control over the experience and lower barriers to entry — ”I only download maybe one to two apps per month, but visit 100-plus different websites per month” — as well as increasingly few sacrifices. “There are still lots of things apps can do that websites cannot, of course,” he said. But he sees the gap shrinking, and wants to do his part to promote the open web.
One thing that unites most of his work is a lot of experimenting with interactivity. One of Agarwal’s projects, called “Rocks,” is just a website with a bunch of rocks. You can move the rocks around. That’s the whole thing. But it’s technically impressive, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend a half-hour just tossing rocks around. For another project, Agarwal said he wanted to build something “where instead of just learning about the ocean you can have a site to actually ‘dive’ down the ocean.” The resulting website lets you scroll 10,924 meters down ... and it takes a while.
Now, there’s no chance Agarwal has successfully ended all these debates forever. In fact, the mere existence of Let’s Settle This ramped up some of those debates all over again, so we may never officially decide how a dog would wear pants (back half, not bottom half, obviously) or whether a hot dog is a sandwich (hard no). But if you don’t want to fight about it? Agarwal gave you an out. “So if someone out there is trying to start an old debate in the comment section, someone can post a link to the page and be like, ‘Hey, we don’t need to fight about this anymore, it’s been settled.’”
Then you can get back to the real debates, like how many days there are in a week. That one we’ll never know.
We asked for your favorite internet debates, and you responded! Thanks for your input. Here are a couple of our favorites:
“I always pronounced it 'Jif' like the peanut butter, but I wasn’t too proud to buy that special jar of 'GIF/Jif.' Pretty good peanut butter, too.” — Mike O’Brien
“My fav internet debate is are smartphones listening at times to users for ad purposes! I know it's been 'debunked' but it's my fav tech conspiracy theory and something I think is more true than what all the debunking articles have found.” — Creighton Vance
As businesses grow during the pandemic, they also encounter pressing challenges to maintain that success. Among them is the pressure to strengthen their digital backbone, which leads to the question: How can companies find the ideal technology provider suited to their evolving needs?
There are scores of Wordle clones on iOS because of course there are, by Nick Statt
The crypto-communists behind the Web3 revolution, by Ben Pimentel
Meet the women bringing tech’s worst secrets out of the shadows, by Anna Kramer
The best company TikToks are unhinged — and it's working, by Sarah Roach
How performance improvement plans backfire against the workers they're supposed to help, by Michelle Ma
Why AI software companies are betting on small data to spot manufacturing defects, by Kate Kaye
My first impressions of Web3 – Moxie Marlinspike
The subversive genius of extremely slow email — The Atlantic
World’s biggest crypto fortune began with a friendly poker game — Bloomberg
I think I know why you can't hire engineers right now — Nash Reilly
‘Crypto colonizers’ in Puerto Rico try to sell locals on the dream – The Washington Post
As Kazakhstan descends into chaos, crypto miners are at a loss — Wired
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you Tuesday.