Networks, Theory, and the Web

Encryption and Privacy – What I’m Using

Texture

[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.

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.

Where is my mind

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

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.

Banging

Man on step, Shibuya

I’ve been incredibly fascinated with a string of recently launched apps/services that are designed to make hooking up with people (specifically people you already know) much easier. Bang With Friends & Bang With Professionals which hook up to your existing networks – Facebook or LinkedIn respectively – and lets you choose people you want to have sex with. Would Love 2 does the same thing but with a focus on a relationship rather than just sex. In fact WL2’s tagline is “taking the rejection out of dating.” The details of the people you’ve OK’d is kept private but your friends are asked to make their own lists. When a match is detected, both people are notified and left to their own devices presumably to work out the bits and pieces since both sides have already expressed interest. By all accounts these services are taking off like crazy.

I’ve been talking about these on Twitter and Google+ a bit but haven’t blogged about them because I haven’t really figured out exactly what I think just yet, and in fact keep having further conversations with myself about them. I thought I should just go ahead and throw some of this out there rather than continue amassing all these ideas with no real direction.

One reaction to this is simply “Duh! Why didn’t I think of that!” – We all joke (though not really joking) about how much of online activity and profiles and networking is done with the not so obvious motive of hooking up. So on that level this isn’t surprising at all, and in fact makes tons of sense. A no brainer if ever their was one – just streamline the process and remove as much friction as you can. Well, remove the friction beforehand anyway, friction later is… well you know what I mean.

But there’s another thing to think about here, and that is why is this so attractive? Or rather, what are all the different aspects of this that make it attractive? The removal of rejection is the most straight forward. No one likes rejection and being able to start a relationship without risking any rejection is almost too good to be true. I’m jaded and suspicious so I’d assume that people added me to their list just to laugh in my face if I added them to mine, but I know that’s just my own neurosis. (Also, worth noting: I’m happily married so I don’t have a list and I’m not using the apps, I just find them super intriguing and I remember dating and it’s interesting to think how the existence of something like this would have changed the dynamic in high school or whatever)

But there are so many questions here – why are we (as a society) so afraid of rejection? Isn’t learning how to deal with rejection part of being human? Last year The Guardian wrote about the end of monogamy and I can’t help but think that piece almost foreshadowed these launches. Are we so lonely, even when we’re with people, that this seems like the most viable option? As I said I’m not really sure where my head is at with all of this but being a professional people watcher, I think there’s some rather interesting conclusions to be drawn here. I welcome any thoughts on this to help try to mold a hypothesis.

Locals Only

Ripley getting set up in First Class

Several years ago while giving a lecture at The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, the professor hosting my talk astutely noted that everything I’ve been involved with – be it putting out records, putting on art shows, building blogs, etc – all seemed to have a strong desire to build a community, and observed that perhaps a lack of community, or belonging as a child may have led to a life trying to manufacture that community. This was an art professor, not a psycho analyst, but he was more right on then he realized.

I moved around a lot as a kid so I never had the “I’ve been here all my life” experience that many other kids had. I was always the new kid and I was always trying to find my place in a group of friends who had known each other for years before I’d shown up. I was constantly trying to prove my worth and value to that community, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. When I was old enough to realize there was a world outside of my immediate surroundings and that I could actually interact with that world, I realized that world had communities too and that I might find a place that I fit in. And when the internet became an option that got a lot easier. I learned that the first and best way to a add value to a community was to actually build it.

And I love the communities that I’ve been with, but on some level I’ve always been envious of the people who grew up somewhere and were a part of the local community because of that. I have a great amount of Los Angeles pride but I’ve lived there for only 12 years. That’s longer than I’ve lived in any other place, and longer than many people who move to LA, but still nothing compared to people who were born there. And while this may not have any basis in fact, no matter what I do in LA and how much I rep it I’ll always feel that I don’t have as much claim to the city as others.

Dear Marissa Mayer

Last night I bought the domain dearmarissamayer.com and put this up:

Dear Marissa Mayer

A quick simple request, but a heartfelt one. Yesterday it was announced that Marissa Mayer, one of the earliest and most noteworthy Google employees, was taking over as CEO of Yahoo!. This is incredibly exciting for so many reasons on it’s own, but in terms of Yahoo! itself, I think flickr is their most underrated product and if they would put some support behind it, bring it up to date, give it an actually functional mobile app and commit to keeping it alive, that would be amazing. It’s no secret that everyone blames Yahoo! for killing flickr, but I don’t believe it’s dead yet, and Marissa could be the one to breath life back into it. So here’s hoping.