June 2013

Message Boards might just be the solution to Comments

In the mid 90’s the community where I spent the most time online was Alen Yen’s ToyboxDX. This site was the epicenter of the Japanese toy collecting world, and naturally in our pre-twitter, pre-blog, pre-social networking world, the message board there was where all the action was. This was also a pre-wikipedia world so research was much trickier and that message board was invaluable for those of us trying to figure out what toys which companies released and when. I still have good friends who I first met soaking up details about rare chogokin and sofubi there. We had built a vintage toy nerd utopia… and then the Transformers kids showed up with their unrefined discussion about toys made in the 80’s. People threatened to leave the site because it had become a cesspool of US released plastic toy talk. It was a nightmare as you can imagine.

Until someone had an idea – what if, all Field of Dreams style – we could build something for those Transformers dorks that would be more appealing to them and would get them out of our faces. We made a special “Transformers” section of the message board (along with an “off topic” ghetto) and instantly the problem was solved and the classic toy threads returned to their previous unmolested toysnob glory.

In the years since then I’ve thought about this strategy time and time again when working with communities online. Adjusting where someone hangs out is easier than adjusting how they hang out. It’s not about getting someone to talk about something else, rather finding the right place for what they want to talk about.

Encryption and Privacy – What I’m Using


[Originally posted on Medium] Can you imagine if an email program shipped today without a “reply all” feature? Or a browser shipping without tabs? It’s a crazy prospect because those things are used so frequently used, to not include them would ensure instant death for this new software. I’ve often complained publicly that privacy and encryption tools aren’t thought to be just as crucial, and expressed some annoyance that developers don’t consider them mandatory. Afterall, if these options were baked in and simple people would use them all the time, right? Or at least much more frequently. Recently a friend threw this back at me and asked if we, all of us, are not to blame for these things having a low priority because we neither use them regularly nor demand their inclusion in our software?

I initially objected to this idea, but the more I thought about it the more it rang true. Saying “it’s too hard to use so I’m not going to bother using it” doesn’t provide any motivation for people to make it easier because hell, people aren’t using them anyway. On the other hand if people used these things regularly and “how hard it is” became a common gripe, then making it easier would suddenly be very attractive. Looking at it this way, maybe we really do only have ourselves to blame that these technologies and assurances aren’t ubiqitus. And when faced with a realization like that, I always feel like I have to at least try.

So I spent a few days looking back over the tools I’ve used in the past, the tools I want to use now and bringing things a bit more up to date. There’s always a balance between convenience and usefulness because I know myself and if something is a pain in the ass I’ll eventually stop using it. So one of my main criteria here is that is has to be easy to use, even if there are a few hoops to jump through in the initial set up stages. I’m a Mac users and do a lot of my work in the browser so I have a preference for tools that “just work.”

As I have these conversations with others from time to time, I thought I’d share what I found and what I implemented so that perhaps others might find something useful in the mix. I don’t pretend to be an expert here and welcome suggestions for improvement.

Fight yourself, you always win


Everyday I tell myself to write and everyday I don’t. Everyday I tell myself to take photos and everyday I don’t.

That’s not entirely true but it feels that way, and I take more photos than I write words but I obsess about writing more than taking photos so there is that. For weeks, months I’ve been in this back and forth thinking about writing and having sparks of ideas but because I can’t see the full idea I give up before I start which I know is the 100% wrong thing to do and I think about that and then I do it anyway. I’m in this particularly awesome headspace of thinking that my work has to be brilliant (not that it should be, but that is obviously is) but at the exact same time thinking it’s complete crap. I don’t even know how to classify that particular brand of crazy but it’s a near perfect balance of massively over inflated ego and crushingly low self esteem. Which results in inaction. And either way, I’m right.

And here I am writing about that – again – rather than the things I want to be writing about. I’d guess that a batch analysis of the archives of this blog, all 15 years of it, would result in far more posts about struggling with writing than actual writing. Blogging about blogging. Writing about writing. It’s useless, and yet I keep doing it. Back in January I told myself that once and for all I was going to put all this behind me and write a book this year. I didn’t restrict myself to what, because while I’m horrified and clueless about writing fiction it’s what I really want to do. But I know how lost I get when I try, and given that I have actually completed some of the non fiction writing I set out to do I wanted to leave that door open to myself. But here we are at the end of June and I have, maybe… 35 words written? If even? I don’t want to count. And they aren’t even complete sentences. Just words.

Part of it is indecision. I realized that this year – it’s something that I fight through it other parts of my life as well but really holds up my writing. I don’t know if I’m making the right choice about what to write. This idea is good, but I like this idea too, but that other idea could be interesting – but would anyone actually want to read that kind of a story? Who cares what other people think, I’m gonna write what I want to read! Which could be this idea, or that one. Or maybe this other one could work too. Well shit, I can’t write about all these things at once, how do I even begin. And then I don’t.

Deadlines tend to work for me. When someone contacts me for a piece in a magazine or whatever and says they need X by next Friday then I nail that no problem. I think if I had an editor screaming at me to finish something I’d probably finish it. Or maybe better yet a group of friends (a writing group?) that were expecting to see something, and I was expecting to see something from them at the same time. I think that would motivate me. Or would it? I don’t even really know. But 20 minutes ago I told myself I had to finish a blog post before I left to go pick up Ripley from preschool, so there you have it.

Introductions: The Art of Curating People


(I initially published this piece on Medium)

Over the years I’ve often found myself in the situation of knowing two awesome people who didn’t previously know each other, and been lucky enough to put them together and see even more awesomeness result from that new connection. I’ve done this enough that from time to time people have referred to me as a hub that connects a bunch of spokes. I blame my short attention span on the fact that I’ve got a foothold in a number of different networks – technology, art, music, etc… – which helps out here as well. To skip to the point, I like connecting people.

Now I should point out immediately that I don’t just connect anyone and everyone, and this is where the “art of curation” business comes in. I could be mistaken, but I think I have a pretty good sense of what people are doing and where they might click and I take considerable care on who and how I introduce people. You’ll see why that is important in a moment. So of course, in thinking about introducing people, how you do that becomes ultimately important. In this, as with many other things in my life, I think about what I like, what works for me, and then try to apply that outward.

What I like: When someone I know and trust connects me directly to someone else they know and trust, gives context for the introduction (who each of us are, how they know us, why we’re being introducted), and then gets out of the way so that I and my (potential) new friend can chat and see what might come from this. I feel like this is the most natural way to meet someone and interact with them, with the least pressure. The best introductions that have ever been presented to me have happened this way.

What I don’t like: When someone I know puts me in touch with someone, or asks to put me in touch with someone, and then tries to play middle man on all interactions, almost holding the contact for this other person at arms length. Right away I feel pressure to say the right thing, or to jump through someone elses hoops and it becomes very difficult very quickly to interact with this new person. I’ve made a few freinds from this, but more often than not talks never go beyond the initial moderated chats.

What I really, really, really, really don’t like: When someone I may or may not know connects me with someone they may or may not know, gives no context for the introduction and then acts like the three of us are instantly best friends, business partners and possibly lovers. This is awkward on every level, and there’s really no way anyone can walk away from it feeling at all positive.