Wecome to “Around the Web,” WhatTheyThink’s new regular Friday feature, a miscellany of random news items that caught the attention of our editors and contributors this week. Some are industry-related, some are peripherally related, some not at all.

A New Use for Silk

No, not that silk. Silk from spiders. Creepy but fascinating! From ScienceDaily:

Seeking a solution to the problem [caused by inserting metal plates to support healing broken bones], UConn professor Mei Wei, a materials scientist and biomedical engineer, turned to spiders and moths for inspiration. In particular, Wei focused on silk fibroin, a protein found in the silk fibers spun by spiders and moths known for its toughness and tensile strength.

Are You Following Blockchain Developments? You Should Be.

Blockchain is a technology underlying cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, a way to trade a currency without a central bank. It is a continuously growing list of records or blocks, added securely to a ledger, which is a chain. According to eMarketer, “Each piece of content is a block, and you want to add that to the chain, which is the ledger.” The information is verified by a number of people solving complicated math with their computers, and then tagged on to the chain and it can never be changed. It is difficult to game since the initiator cannot designate who will participate in the verification process.

There are different blockchains for different purposes. It is not just restricted to cryptocurrencies. It’s being used to monitor and track supply chains, such as in food distribution. It is also being explored in the advertising industry. This allows brands to track how their programmatic media spend is allocated, among agencies, publishers, etc. It allows a level of transparency not available before to brands, in effect, “draining the swamp” and determining whether or not the various players who take a cut of the revenue are actually adding value. It will also likely enable payments by cryptocurrency to take place right along with the ad buy, streamlining cash flow across the supply chain. It also makes fraudulent activity more difficult.

Blockchain technology also has potential in identity management. I recently came across another blockchain implementation: dock.io. This connects all of your social media and other profiles into one sharable source using blockchain technology in a decentralized data exchange powered by Ethereum. It is designed to give users full ownership and control of where and how their data is used and to ensure their data is always up to date and consistent. 

Here’s a great article from eMarketer, which includes an informative podcast explaining blockchain.

Why you should care: This is an emerging technology at this point, but it appears that it will have significant impact on us, both personally and professionally, as well as how many businesses operate, in the not-too-distant future. It is important to follow developments like these so that you and better prepare to take advantage of them as appropriate, and so they don’t sneak up on you as a disruptive technology you are not prepared for.

Warren Buffett’s View of the State of Newspapers in the U.S.

CNBC launched the Warren Buffett Archive, the world’s largest video collection of the Oracle of Omaha speaking about business, investing, money and life. A notable Buffett quote from the archive and from an article in his Omaha World-Herald reflects that print newspaper circulation has fallen more rapidly than he expected. "I've been surprised that the rate of decline has not moderated," Buffett said...

Quoting the paper: "Only perhaps the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have a digital product with robust enough revenue to be 'viable' over the long-term, Buffett said. Meanwhile, the majority of the approximately 1,300 print newspapers in the country are suffering and haven't found a way forward. 'It is very difficult to see—with a lack of success in terms of important dollars rising from digital—it's difficult to see how the print product survives over time.'"

The newspaper death watch predicted that printed newspapers in the U.S. would become irrelevant by 2017. Didn't quite happen, but seems it is heading that way. It’s a stark reminder of the decline when someone like Warren Buffett, who loves printed newspapers (and owns quite a few!) is reduced to predicting their demise.

Nike Flyprint: Blurring the Boundaries Between 3D Printing and Textiles

Nike is making news again with a new and improved 3D printed fabric upper for athletic shoes. Following a record-breaking Italian marathon run by Eliud Kipchoge last year, Nike went back to the drawing board to correct several issues, including added weight due to water absorption. The result is described here.

If you act quickly, you may be able to get your own Nike Flyknit shoes using the Nike app. Just in case there is a marathon in your future.

Digital Textile Printing: Changing the World for Fashion Designers

In this video, Mark Sunderland and Hitoshi Ujiie of Jefferson University discuss the impact of digital fabric printing on the fashion industry.

The Internet of Things: Our Looming Dystopia (Part the First):

From the Twitter Machine:

The control unit of a Ski lift gondola in Austria was exposed to the internet, allowing you to start/stop/reverse it and even configure the steel cable tension!

Original article (in German).

Lost In Spaces

All things considered, it’s a fairly benign Twitter debate, but there has been a bit of a kerfuffle this week over an old typographical debate: should there be one or two spaces after a period?

Via Boing Boing, the Washington Post cited a new study from researchers at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., that attempted to gauge the relative readability of one- or two-space options:

the researchers, Rebecca L. Johnson, Becky Bui and Lindsay L. Schmitt, rounded up 60 students and some eye-tracking equipment, and set out to heal the divide. [Note the random use of one and two word spaces, the cheeky monkeys. —Ed.]
First, they put the students in front of computers and dictated a short paragraph, to see how many spaces they naturally used. Turns out, 21 of the 60 were “two-spacers,” and the rest typed with close-spaced sentences....
The researchers then clamped each student's head into place, and used an Eyelink 1000 to record where they looked as they silently read 20 paragraphs. The paragraphs were written in various styles: one-spaced, two-spaced, and strange combinations like two spaces after commas, but only one after periods. And vice versa, too.
And the verdict was: two spaces after the period is better. It makes reading slightly easier.

Here’s the thing, though. The paragraphs the subjects were told to read exclusively used Courier New, a fixed-width font. It should be noted that it was the advent of the typewriter (well, sort of, but not really) that began the two-space practice. (Back before any kind of automated typography, if you wanted justified text, you had little recourse but to noodle with word spacing, and typesetters used to add entire en and em spaces after periods.) The practice of adding additional space after periods was adopted by typewriter users when typewriters were only capable of using mono- or fixed-spaced typefaces, like Courier, where each character and each word space has exactly the same width, which adversely affects legibility. The two-word-space convention was a visual cue to make it clearer that a sentence had ended.

CreativePro has a nice essay on this, saying:

It’s a question of balancing the white space bound up in each character with the spaces around them. In addition, a single word space simply lacks the visual impact to cue the reader that a sentence has ended. The punctuation mark alone, in short, isn’t enough to punctuate the texture of the type flow.

However, the vast majority of the typefaces we use regularly are proportional-width, where characters and spaces vary, and legibility is less peoblematic. Thus, two spaces aren’t really necessary.


Johnson, one of the authors, told Douglas that the fixed-width font was standard for eye-tracking tests, and the benefits of two-spacing should carry over to any modern font.

Alas, dear researcher, that’s not an assumption that should automatically be made.

It’s all kind of a moot point anyway; the improvements in reading speed were so slight that it would scarcely make a difference. You’re not going to get through War and Peace any faster if it is set with two spaces after each period.

When asked if he had any comment on this subject, our typography maven Frank Romano said he was going to devote a Fridays with Frank video on it. Consider yourselves warned.