'GIF' peanut butter container
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It’s pronounced ‘GIF’

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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 been settled'

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.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)

You tell us

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

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The crypto-communists behind the Web3 revolution, by Ben Pimentel

  • The true Web3 purists see the future as much more than a way to buy JPGs and make a fortune on shitcoins. They see a way to change the way the world works, the way people interact with their governments and the entire social, economic and political order. (The ambitions here are not small.) Their rhetoric sounds awfully familiar — but can the crypto-communists win this time?

Meet the women bringing tech’s worst secrets out of the shadows, by Anna Kramer

  • Ariella Steinhorn and Amber Scorah’s Lioness has become a go-to place for workers looking to share their story. It’s a way to speak directly, to get help doing so and to get protection for what happens next. It’s not a terribly lucrative job at the moment, but it’s important work, and the community around it is starting to make waves in tech.

The best company TikToks are unhinged — and it's working, by Sarah Roach

  • If you don’t follow @duolingo on TikTok, you are seriously missing out. You’d never mistake the bonkers green owl for a typical brand account, and that’s precisely the point: Companies looking for TikTok success are slowly learning to be part of the community, not gate-crashers at the social party.

How performance improvement plans backfire against the workers they're supposed to help, by Michelle Ma

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Why AI software companies are betting on small data to spot manufacturing defects, by Kate Kaye

  • “Small data” may not be the new oil just yet, but it’s a clear trend in a tech industry that’s always looking for ways to move faster and more efficiently. Companies like Landing AI are learning to use small data sets to keep manufacturing lines up and running, and spot even tiny problems before they spiral into larger ones.

The best of everything else

My first impressions of Web3 – Moxie Marlinspike

  • If you haven’t read this yet, take a few minutes and do so, because it’s a story people will reference for years to come. Marlinspike does a good job of laying out the difference between the promises and realities of Web3, and questioning whether those promises are even the right ones.

The subversive genius of extremely slow email — The Atlantic

  • The question is starting to burble around tech: What if we just, like, did less? The internet exists to make everything faster, more efficient, more real-time, but that doesn’t mean we have to live that way. Instead, we’re getting tools that turn messaging into once-a-day rituals, a rise in “slow productivity” and a search for balance that’s not going away.

World’s biggest crypto fortune began with a friendly poker game — Bloomberg

  • Changpeng Zhao, the Binance CEO everybody just calls CZ, is worth $96 billion in crypto. (And that’s just what we know of.) His company is complicated, controversial and absolutely on a tear. CZ has long held that he wants regulation for the industry, but even he doesn’t know what’s coming.

I think I know why you can't hire engineers right now — Nash Reilly

  • A thoughtful, sharp look at what engineers are looking for right now, how the Great Resignation has shaped the job landscape for employees everywhere and what it might take to convince the best people out there to come join your company. Even when it seems like there’s money everywhere, money isn’t everything.

‘Crypto colonizers’ in Puerto Rico try to sell locals on the dream – The Washington Post

  • Puerto Rico has long been the home of the crypto expats, the HODLers looking for a place to build both their network and their portfolio. These rich transplants are building a community in the country, and completely upending the one that existed long before they got there. Not everyone’s thrilled with the change.

As Kazakhstan descends into chaos, crypto miners are at a loss — Wired

  • When China cracked down on crypto mining, Kazakhstan was a natural destination for a lot of miners. It had the right climate, plenty of space and cheap energy. But as political turmoil (and a harsh winter) has swept the country, the miners are getting caught up in the struggle, and don’t always have a next move.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you Tuesday.

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