Tag: WordPress

How To Block Genius.com Annotations

Monday, March 28th, 2016

dunce

(image by alansheaven)

Update, 2016.05.25: I’d recommend using Genius Blender, a simple JavaScript one-liner, over the methods described below. You can read more about the security issues surrounding Genius in my new article for the Verge.

Over the weekend I wrote a tool to break the annotation functionality of genius.com.

Slow down. You wrote a what to do what to who now?

Genius, formerly known as Rap Genius, is a web site that allows users to annotate blocks of text that appear on other sites. It’s very cool technology; you can just visit any page on the internet using a Genius redirect link, and it will show up with all sorts of additional information which has already been appended by other people. I wrote some code which lets site owners break the Genius annotations for their site, as well as a WordPress plugin which makes that code much easier to use.

If it’s cool, why do you want to break it?

There are two sides to that coin. The existence of the technology they’ve developed should be concerning to anybody who wants to put something on the internet. Not everything needs or deserves freeform annotation by users, and some things – some people – may be actively or disproportionately harmed by it. Genius has made special arrangements with some sites, such as the New York Times (which is also my employer), but hasn’t provided a way for smaller users to either opt in or opt out. This means they’re effectively forcing it on everyone.

I’m also firmly of the opinion that we’ll all be better off if functionality like this is handled by a standards body like the W3C, or a non-profit like the WikiMedia Foundation, or at least an open-source software project. Annotations are a pretty fundamental expression of the nonlinear ways we talk, write, and think, so I’m nervous about the possibility that the content and mechanisms could end up owned by a single for-profit tech startup.

Why did you do this now?

A few days ago Ella Dawson wrote a very upsetting blog post about how Genius was functionally equivalent to forcing crude, violent, or hateful user comments onto a web site she created as a safe space to write about the sensitive work she does. When she reached out to Genius for help, the solution they suggested was “don’t look at the annotations.” This bothered me, so I stayed up all night tinkering and figured out how to make a defensive tool.

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Maura Magazine

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Goodness, I can’t believe I’ve neglected to mention this for so long. We’re already four issues in, but I’m the main geek behind the web presence for Maura Magazine, a new digital weekly for iOS devices helmed by the amazing writer and editor Maura Johnston. She fielded my pitches at the Village Voice for a while, and you may have also read her work at a number of other wonderful publications.

This is her new experiment in small-scale direct journalism. Using an infrastructure provided by my fellow geeks at 29th Street Publishing, she publishes a handful of long-form stories each week which are pushed to a custom app loaded on the iPads and iPhones of her eager subscribers, each of whom pays a buck or less per issue, with payments automated via iTunes. Writers get paid, readers don’t have to deal with ads, everybody wins.

There’s been more coverage of this than I’d care to outdo here, so let me just refer you to some of the other guys:

As for the site, a lot of the heavy lifting is being effortlessly handled by WordPress, but I’m still really excited about a lot of the things happening in the custom functions I wrote — these are among the coolest WordPress ideas I’ve ever come up with. I don’t want to go into too much detail since we’re not openly sharing the plugins yet, but in a nutshell, the paywalls are dynamic, and you will start to see them move and react as we continue to charge along here. For example, this past weekend one of the articles was temporarily unlocked to match the HBO schedule.

And, as with my last attempt to merge tech with editorial, a hearty shout out to my good friend Buster Bylander, who jumped in with his amazing visual design sense once I was done fiddling around with the code for generating the content loops. We are both very proud of this. Please subscribe!

On being yellow

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Smiley Face

At long last, here’s the new web site. As you have probably noticed, it’s very yellow, which I absolutely abhor, but there’s a good reason behind that. More on that in a minute.

After entirely too much procrastination, I finally got around to relaunching using WordPress. I’ve been working with WordPress for years, so I didn’t have any excuse other than the time it took to convert the old flat HTML files (yikes!) to WordPress posts. (I never said it was a good reason.)

Since I have a tendency to make everything I do far more difficult than it needs to be, I’ve also gone back and added as many relevant pictures as I could find. There were a couple of edits here and there, but for the most part the text content is the same — that is, except for the article excerpts I added all over the place. The end result is that even with the old items, there’s now far more content to read and look at, and now that everything has comment functionality, you can even interact.

I get a much better admin interface on my end, which should translate into updates that are more timely and regular. There’s also an RSS feed for those of you who might want to check up on me more regularly (all three of you). All of this should have happened in about 2005.

One of the other reasons it took me so long — after I had made up my mind to switch, I mean — is that I built some things along the way. I wrote this WordPress theme myself, and it has some cool extra functionality built in. I’ve disabled it for now, but I should be rolling it out eventually. (When I’m good and bloody well ready, so stop asking.)

That stuff is also the reason it’s yellow. Sorry, was that anticlimactic?