Networks, Theory, and the Web

Represent LA

Yesterday Tara, Alex and I announced the launch of Represent.LA. Longtime readers will know I’ve got a bit of a crush on LA and haven’t been very good about keeping that a secret. Earlier this year Tara wrote a bit about how LA’s tech scene kicks SF’s ass (with some rad quotes in there) and we started talking mapping out what was actually going on in town and brainstorming what that might look like. We pulled in Alex and got to work. I say “we” but in fact I did far too little for this project to get any credit, I helped with a logo and some sound boarding here and there, but Alex did all the serious coding work and it was really Tara’s initial vision so they should get the mad props. I give them my mad props anyway. It’s a super rad project and I’m delighted to have played even the smallest role in it, and can’t wait to see how it fills out and hopefully gives people doing technology projects in LA something to be a little more proud of and help show off how rad LA is.

Can we please stop calling things Social Media?

Seriously.

Look folks, 15 years ago the web was static. “Online media” was a web page with a “under construction” gif on it that never got updated. That’s what people expected. We’ve come a long way since then. Our media, which we largely consume online, now includes comments, ratings and suggestions from our friends, ability to give feedback or better yet edit and republish or add our own opinions to, etc etc etc. It includes these things by default. If something launches without these things, the first feedback from the people who encounter it are always “please add…” and then a list of the previous features. But they aren’t features anymore, they are the norm. Saying “Social Media” some how makes it seem like this is special or different, but it’s not, it’s the most common thing and we all want and expect it.

But worse than that, the term “Social Media” is an odd shaped box and no one is exactly sure what the application of that label means. Are Yelp and Twitter the same thing? What about Twitter and YouTube? Or Instagram and Tumblr? What about Facebook and Google+? Surely Pinterest and Airbnb are the same. At least, they must be the same thing as Spotify, right? And CNN now reads tweets on air. They are all “Social Media” so they must be the same…

See the problem here?

It’s 2012, all media is social – so let’s just go ahead and stop pretending like “Social Media” means anything and start describing sites and services and applications by what makes them unique and different rather than the one thing that makes them all the same.

Thanks.

Super private email lists

In thinking about and talking to people about the kind of social network I want, the notion of email lists keeps popping up in conversations. Traditionally I’ve been pretty down on email as a means of conversation, and generally try to discourage it’s use when ever possible. Though I’ve listened to the arguments and as a means for keeping a small group of people connected it may just have it’s merits. What’s been most interesting for me recently is talking to people who run incredibly locked down private lists.

Oddly related, I’ve been reading a lot about outlaw biker gangs. I’ve been devouring both biographies of bikers and undercover agents who infiltrated the clubs. I say it’s related because in both situations we’re talking about a goal of a tight knit group that functions well, and in both cases when it’s been made too easy for people to join those groups, or when the groups have become too public, things have fallen apart. When the clubs stay private, avoid soliciting new members, and require very long “prospecting” periods before potential members can join so that all existing members can feel them out, things generally work better.

On leaving Facebook

For better or worse, I consider myself a fairly principled person. That is, I’ve chosen to live my life in a way that reflects my convictions. From what I eat to how I vote to what I spend money on, I consider how those choices impact me, those around me, and the world as a whole. I consider what my actions and choices say about me as a person, and take great care to ensure I like who that person is. Ethics are important. Convictions mean something.

If you know me in person you know this to be true. It’s not about changing the world, or even changing anyone else’s mind, it’s about being comfortable with my own choices. It doesn’t make life particularly easy, but I sleep really well at night.

When it comes to the internet, I’ve always tried to have my online presence reflect my offline presence. I frequently speak out in favor of things I support, and against those I don’t. But I hadn’t considered that where that online presence was also said something about me.

The Network I Want

Over on the NYT Blogs Jenna Wortham has written a piece about Instagram and the internet’s “secret” places. It’s a great piece and she discusses a number of things really interesting to me, especially given the recent acquisition of Instagram. I’ve written before about how the personal nature of Instagram was very appealing and I think that their focus was on just one thing (they didn’t even have a web UI) really worked well for them. It felt private, even if it wasn’t, and that was attractive. But with Facebook, arguably the least private place on the web, taking over the controls there, it’s no longer even a pretend safe haven. Jenna writes:

“…privacy is an illusion. There is no fail-safe way to publish privately online. Top-secret tweets and conversations can always be captured by screen shot and texted or e-mailed.”

Which is true, and something people need to realize more often. I had high hopes that Path would be a private place but it’s hard to feel private when updates are published to Facebook, and it’s hard to see the value in limiting connections, when in a click of a button you can share with everyone. I desperately want a place that doesn’t share with everyone. I recalled a few notes I made last year, kind of a wish list…

Blogging Evolution

Haven’t done this whole “blogging a reaction” thing in a while, feels so retro! So Anil Dash has an interesting post about an even more interesting branch discussion asking ‘How do blogs need to evolve?’ I couldn’t just post a comment with my thoughts on either of those so instead I’m blogging my thoughts about blogs here, on my own blog. That’s equal parts cute, awesome and annoying.

I have some thoughts on this topic in general and on the issues that were brought up in the conversation linked above as I’ve been blogging since before blogs were called weblogs, and doing so on this here domain since early 2001 – before that it was elsewhere on the web. Anyway, I won’t kick you off my lawn because I have opinions I’m about to unleash.

6 Tips to make email suck less for everyone

I posted these over on my google+ account, but thought I’d put them here for future reference as well.

  1. NNTR – Add “nntr” to the end of purely informational emails so that people know there is No Need To Respond. This will help cut down on all those “cool” and “thanks” emails you get every day.
  2. EOM – If your message is short enough, put the whole thing in the subject followed by EOM (end of message) so people know they can just delete it without spending the time opening it or saving it for later or whatever.
  3. 3SR – 3 Sentence Rule. Try, try really really hard, to keep emails under 3 sentences. If you need to write something longer than that, maybe email isn’t the best way to communicate those ideas.
  4. SINGLE SUBJECT. Send one email for one topic, this makes replies easy and ensures that some line item isn’t over looked causing frustration.
  5. TL;DR. Too Long, Didn’t Read. If you have to be sending an email that is several paragraphs, (something you shouldn’t be doing anyway) include a TL;DR: single line at the top explaining WTF the email is about so the reader can quickly decide if it’s something they need to drop everything to read now or can circle back to later when they have more time.
  6. CLEAR CALL TO ACTION: WTF do you want the outcome of the email to be? Worst thing you can do is “leave the ball in their court” cuz they will just bounce it back to you. Ask for some specific result very clearly, ideally in the first few lines.

I think I like Instagram more than Twitter

This popped up in my Instagram stream this morning thanks to my friend Shane Nickerson and until I read it I never would have thought it, but instantly agreed when I saw it. Which if you know me is shocking because I’ve been a very long time proponent of Twitter and vocal hater of Instagram. So this is a pretty crazy flip flop. But here’s why I think I suddenly agree with a statement like this:

Twitter used to be about people. It used to be about conversations. Now it’s about news, it’s about broadcasts. And just just from a “who is using it” standpoint – businesses grow and that’s a good thing, but from an approach from the corporate level. As a Twitter user I used to feel like Twitter was paying attention to how I was using the site and trying to make that better, and now I feel like I’m being told how to use it regardless of what I want. I don’t want to hate on twitter, it changed so many things for me, it’s just pretty clear the direction it’s heading isn’t that interesting to me anymore.

Instagram is what Flickr mobile should have been. I hated Instagram initially because I felt that I could already do everything it was offering, and better, on other services. No high res images? GTFO!