We all know the feeling. You're sleepless in the sad hours of the night or stumbling around early on a hazy weekend morning in need of something to read, and that pile of unread books just isn't cutting it. Why not take a break from the fire hose of Twitter and RSS and check out our weekly roundup of essential writing from around the web about technology, culture, media, and the future? Sure, it's one more thing you can feel guilty about sitting in your Instapaper queue, but it's better than pulling in vain on your Twitter list again.

On GIFs

The GIF isn't popular just because it makes sharing short, hilarious video clips incredibly easy — the file format's history and success can be traced back to Marc Andreessen's work on Mosaic back in the early '90s.

Enthusiasms: Simen - GIF: A Technical History

From a technical standpoint, the success of the lowly GIF is a mystery. Both as an image format and as a video/animation format, it’s vastly inferior to the alternatives. It only supports 256 colors; its compression is inefficient; it doesn’t support sound; the last specification was published more than twenty years ago. Yet it’s still thriving.

On moderation

ASCII art, memes, and rage comics are good for a laugh, but are they good for community?

StackExchange: Jeff Atwood - The Trouble With Popularity

We know that closing the cookie jar is painful. We feel your pain. Nobody likes having their fun taken away. But it’s too addictive and too easy, and in the absence of any moderation, the community would do nothing but add and upvote the easy, fun stuff.

On recovery

Jay Kirk writes about the oddly effective "psychiatric arcade" that's helping burn victims cope with pain.

GQ: Jay Kirk - Burning Man

The data showed that in terms of reducing pain, anxiety about pain, and time spent thinking about pain, playing Nintendo Mario Kart compared poorly to SpiderWorld. The reason VR was so much more effective than a regular video game came down to a quality called "presence"—that sense of being immersed inside an artificial world.

On separate webs

Should tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, and Google really be rushing to create their own mini-internets?

LRB blog: Daniel Soar - World Wide Webs

In desiring so aggressively to create ‘one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google’, Google, like every other technology company, is now emulating Apple.

On local

Forget the hot new app with millions in VC funding for the moment and consider how the low cost of publishing and spread of smartphones could change local markets and news. The Columbia Journalism Review takes an in-depth look at how Texas high school football coverage is changing and more data rich than ever before.

Columbia Journalism Review: Jake Batsell - Friday Night Bytes

The most aggressive suitor of that audience, for the moment, is The Dallas Morning News, which last fall launched a real-time scoring project that featured live play-by-play coverage of about fifty games a week. The initiative, which includes a $1.99 app for the iPhone and Android, is believed to be the first of its kind for high school sports. "It’s taking local to another level," says Mark Francescutti, the News’s senior online managing editor of sports

On Facebook

Cutting through the glut of Facebook IPO news this week, Alexis Madrigal notes a telling stat for the company's future: the low revenue per monthly active user.

The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal - Here's the Number That Matters in Facebook's IPO Filing

So, if tripling the size of the social network to 3,000,000,000 users is not going to be enough to justify its valuation with its current revenue per user, there is only one strategic direction for Facebook to go. It needs to generate more revenue per user. A lot more.

Have any favorites that you'd like to see included in next week's edition? Send them along to @thomashouston or share in the comments below.