Encryption and Suspicion

Networks, Theory, and the Web,Uncategorized — Sean Bonner @ 6:19 am

Why using encryption is seen as suspicious — the difference between privacy and secrecy.

encryption

(Originally posted on Medium)

Not long ago I discussed some of the steps I was taking to ensure some privacy online and since then have had quite a few conversations with other people about their own efforts to do the same. We most frequently talk about how easy or hard something is to implement and express shared desire to have more of these options baked in as standard features on normal applications used by everyone. If encrypting an email was as easy as CCing some for example, it’s safe to assume more people would encrypt their emails.

These discussions also inevitably note that the simple act of encrypting your email is more likely to draw the attention of folks like the NSA because to some people this is seen as suspicious behavior. But I don’t buy it — if encrypting your email is suspicious that’s only the case because not many people do it, which is only the case because it’s not that easy. And now we’re running in circles. But lets think about this a bit more for a second.

What’s so suspicious about it? (more…)

First 140 People On Twitter

Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 10:27 am

(crossposted on Medium)
A conversation on twitter last night reminded me of a list I’d seen compiled many years ago of the first 140 people to sign up for Twitter – known as twttr at that point. The site where the list had been posted was down but thanks to The Wayback Machine I was able to find the list. I thought I’d repost it here just for posterity.

top 6 x 6 following list on Twitter I find this list incredibly fascinating for a number of reasons. We all know what twitter is now, but no one knew what it would be then so if nothing else (with the exception of the people who worked at Odeo) this is a snapshot of a somehow connected (it was invite only) group of people who were willing to try out new things that likely made no sense to them at the time. Who is on the list is just as interesting as who isn’t – and seeing how it spread. Jason Cosper invited me and I invited both Xeni Jardin and Richard Ault who signed up immediately. I recall the first few days much more vividly than I do the following 6 months. Random text messages from people stating that they were making sandwiches or going to the store, and the feeling that this info was probably important in a context I couldn’t quite wrap my head around – which made it exciting. It was also annoying. But it found it’s groove and as I’ve said before the service went on to change my entire world and how I communicate with people, and I’d argue I’m not the only one who feels that way. I can’t imagine a world without Twitter today. And because those first few days and weeks were so new and weird, this list is a bit nostalgic for me. I don’t know how it makes anyone else feel, but like I said I just thought it was worth archiving.

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(Note: Unfortunately it seems that a few people on this list, over the last 7 years, changed their usernames or stopped using them and someone else has snatched those names up. They are obvious when you follow the links below, so this list is more an archive of the names and accounts, no so much the current users.)

(more…)

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. (more…)

Encryption and Privacy – What I’m Using

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[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. (more…)

Introductions: The Art of Curating People

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(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. (more…)

Where is my mind

Links & Fun,Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 12:59 pm

I’ve been low on motivation and inspiration recently and my creative output has been weak. This is a short term lull I assure you, and I assure me. In the meantime, this is where I spend my time on the internets. as me:

I have a mailing list called Just Another Crowd that I send emails out to from time to time, mostly collected links that I may have posted elsewhere along with some commentary, occasionally more commentary than links. I’m trying to use Path more often too, but that’s really for friends only.

I’m also “behind the curtain” so to speak to various levels on a bunch of projects which you may or may not find interesting:

I have a few other projects that aren’t quite ready for primetime yet. Once they are, I’ll post ‘em.

Los Angeles & Tech

Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 12:23 am

Last week Tara and I had the pleasure of grabbing lunch with Bryce Roberts while he was in town scoping things out. Today he posted some notes about Los Angeles and it’s tech scene(s) that I wanted to follow up on because, well, you know I have a lot to say on the subject. If you haven’t read that post you should do that now, as what I have to say will make much more sense given that context.

So just a bit of credentials for anyone who stumbles across this and isn’t already familiar with my LA dedication – In 2003 I, along with Jason DeFillippo, launched Blogging.LA which was certainly the first group blog specifically about Los Angeles, and arguably one of the first group blogs about anything. (It’s funny because it’s common place now, but in 2003 finding a blog with more than one author was rare.) That would morph into Metroblogging and I spent a lot of time over the following years talking to VCs about funding for it. In 2006 I along with a few friends put on the first Barcamp in Los Angeles because we knew there was a vibrant and active tech community here that we felt didn’t know about each other. It was a massive success and there would be 6 successive Barcamps over the next 4 years before it got too big and fragmented into several smaller and more manageable events. In 2009 I instigated the opening of the first public hackerspace in LA which 3 years later is world renowned, award winning, nearing 100 members and has events almost every night of the week. Last year, along with Alex & Tara I help build Represent.LA to once again try and solidify, or at least put a face to the LA tech scene.

I also have 213 tattooed on my finger and LA on my foot.

Somewhat related, I spent much of 2010 on the other side of the VC table, working closely with Neoteny Labs – a fund led by Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman – which gave me a considerable amount of insight about how VCs look at companies, locations, and how they approach deals.

That out of the way – I’m really excited that Bryce has taken an interest in LA. As you can see, I’ve been thinking highly of the place for quite some time. The truth is, the people here in LA know how awesome it is. That’s why we’re here. But most people outside of LA have no idea what is going on here. LA has an image problem in that Hollywood has been really good at making up a fictional version of itself and painting that as LA. I guess people outside of LA don’t understand what fiction is, and assume that the LA they see portrayed on TV and in Movies must be real. It’s not. Hell, Hollywood “the place” doesn’t even have anything to do with Hollywood “the industry.” But, that’s beside the point. Point is if you’ve never spent any time in LA chances are your impression and opinion of the place are dead wrong – but the vast majority of people are happily uninformed. So it’s refreshing to see someone take more than a passing interest.

Bryce spends the first part of his report making LA/NYC comparisons. Which neighborhoods match up and things like that. Which places he thinks are similar is up for debate, but that’s hardly the important part. The gem here is the comprehension that LA is not just one thing. Not just one place. But lots – and I mean a lot – of smaller places with their own personalities all nestled up next to each other. Santa Monica is not LA. Venice is not LA. Hollywood is not LA. Downtown LA is not LA. Silver Lake is not LA. Pasadena is not LA. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This place is giant and every step in every direction is different. This is a good thing and something you have to understand to begin to understand LA.

He notes that there are some great incubators, not a lot of local funding here. Bingo.

This is an excellent observation. In my time hunting for funding for Metblogs I met with a wide variety of both angels and larger VC funds in town – as well as out of town. Not all, but vast majority of VCs and Angels I met with in LA were aggressive, greedy, and very interested in seeing just how many hoops they could get you to jump through. The term sheets I was offered were outright hostile. I met with a lot of people who liked to talk about how much they invested in the local tech scene to try and take credit for anything and everything happening here. Turns out by “investing in the local tech scene” many of these people meant throwing parties or comparing bank accounts with other local investors who valued cashing checks more than investing them.

Needless to say those were not positive experiences. Years later when working with helpful, excited and positive VCs at Neoteny Labs I’d realize just how bad those other deals had been. When I spoke with VCs out of LA I was repeatedly hit with “there’s nothing happening in LA, you’d need to move closer to us before we could consider investing.” Immediate deal breaker.

LA really needs investors who are supportive of both the growing scene and LA itself. There’s a unique atmosphere here that, if nurtured, could produce some incredibly awesome companies. I have no doubt about that at all. Some of the most creative and driven people I’ve met in my entire life have been in LA.

As for the disconnect between Hollywood (the industry) and the LA tech scene, I agree completely that this relationship is underdeveloped. I think a lot of that blame lies on the shoulders of super conservative business advisors, hired by people and companies with expendable income and charged with doing something/anything with that money except losing it. Which makes investing in tech start ups less than attractive. There’s also the thing – when you are a hammer everything looks like a nail. A lot of people in Hollywood (the industry) think the whole world is struggling to be them. So any intermingling with other industries would really just be showing those folks how Hollywood does it. This is where a lot of the content crossover comes from.

That’s not everyone of course, there are some very smart people in Hollywood that have made moves into technology, but largely this has been driven by one person who really gets it, not an industry that understand it. It’s progress, but it’s slow. I think there will need to be some very noteworthy success stories coming from these partnerships to convince others to get their feet wet. I think this will happen, but it won”t be the result of parties, mixers, or networking events. It’ll be because awesome people working on awesome projects get together and do awesome things.

Hollywood (the industry) has the reputation for seeing on failure as a condemnation of an entire theme. If a movie about earthquakes flops, no studio is going to make another one for long time because it can’t be that the movie just sucked, it has to be that people don’t like that theme. And similarly if a movie about zombies does well, you can expect a hundred more zombie movies any minute now – because it can’t be that it was just a good movie, but that people want that theme. We suffer from the same problem in tech. If a site fails – lets say a local product that raised a mountain of cash before even launching a site – then obviously local isn’t viable. It can’t be that it was jut a crappy idea, or poor implementation – it has to be that the theme is bust. And likewise, if something works, get ready for a million copycats. This quickness to accept or reject an idea is harsh on it’s own, but put the two industries together and you get lot of skepticism. Which is why I think when this happens – and I again, I firmly believe it will – it’ll be individual driven. It’s just a question of who those individual will be.

Bryce says that he “can see LA really stepping into it’s own over the next few years” and I think he’s right. I’ve been championing this place for over 10 years now and while I’ve always really liked what was happening here, what I see happening right now is the most exciting it’s ever been. And if people like Bryce and the folks at OATV (among others who have been here recently) are noticing that too, I think it’s more than just local hope.

A year without Facebook

I quit Facebook – quite publicly – in April of last year. Here’s the article I wrote about it explaining my reasoning. It hasn’t been a full year yet, but this week Douglas Rushkoff announced he’s quitting Facebook and several people have pinged me for thoughts so I thought I’d just put them all here in one place. I’m not going to spend any time on reasoning as I think between the two posts I just linked that is more than covered. What I will talk about is what this decision has been like to live with.

The truth is, I’ve hardly noticed it. That’s not to say I haven’t missed anything, rather I havent missed anything I’ve missed.

I’ll tell you when it has been obvious to me – when I try to sign up for a service or website and the only option they offer is Facebook connect. I’m a self diagnosed web addict and terminal early adopter so I check out and sign up for a *lot* of stuff. And in a years time I can only think of 3, maybe 4 times this issue has come up. This was actually the thing I was most worried about and it’s clearly not the issue I thought it would be at all. And actually, all of those examples have been opportunities to tell the founders (though they haven’t always listened) that only offering one way to sign up for their service, and an unreliable 3rd party option at that, isn’t such a hot idea. One of those products that I couldn’t sign up for was just a few weeks ago, but all the others I’ve never heard about again. I’m not saying that only offering Facebook Connect as the way to sign up for their service was suicide for them, but feel free to make that assumption. I won’t name names out of respect for the dead.

It’s also been a little noticeable when using things like Kickstarter – which I use all the time – I can no longer see what my friends are backing. I miss that, not enough to regret quitting Facebook, just to realize I would like Kickstarter to develop their own way to do this in house.

There have been a handful of things where someone has said “Oh, ________ posted this to Facebook, I know you aren’t on it so I’m forwarding it to you.”

There have been a handful of things where someone has said “I posted it on Facebook” and I’ve said “I’m not on Facebook so I can’t see it” and they’ve said “Oh… I’ll post it somewhere else too, hold on..”

Have I kept in touch with all the people who I was connected to on Facebook? No. Have I missed them? Not really. In 2010 I wrote that Facebook made me feel like a shitty friend, in part because it was maintaining (or recreating) connections with people that under any other circumstance would have fallen out of my life. That kid I sat next to in one class in 10th grade. That girl I had a crush on for a few months in 9th grade. That guy that is friends with one of my cousins that I met one time at a wedding or something. Without Facebook normal people in these situations never would have stayed in touch, with Facebook it was nice to connect but we never really had anything to say to one another other than “oh so nice to reconnect” then just flooding each other with random status updates. 100% of those people that I had very weak ties to I lost touch with. But I also no longer feel bad about not caring about their updates, I don’t feel bad that I don’t have more to say to them, and I don’t feel bad that they aren’t a part of my life. So I’m not convinced those loses are really a bad thing.

I will say that leaving Instagram was tougher. I had a group of people that I really liked and it was a way to connect with them that worked. I’m still in touch with many of them on other services though it’s not the same intimacy or personal kind of connection that Instagram was. Maybe Vine will fill that gap to some extent, maybe not. But leaving Instagram was definitely harder, but I do feel like it was the right choice. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in. Someone had to.

But with Facebook specifically, have I felt the need to go back? Not at all.

Not even once.

Am I any less worried about people relying so much on it? Nope.

Do I wish more people would leave it in the dust? Yep.

Do I think people are starting to figure it out? Still up in the air.

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