As Reddit radically implodes (8000+ subreddits have gone dark as of the time of this writing!) due to the hubris and nearsightedness of its leaders, it’s worth considering what really goes into the DNA of an online social platform.
I once worked on an industry-specific social platform of sorts at a (now defunct) startup. They came up with the brilliant strategy to invent a bunch of randomized nonsense visitor stats for “claim this!” profiles of various people in their industry (scraped from god knows which email/phone databases) to get people to join the platform. I pushed back on the idea of essentially bald-face lying to everyone as a wise marketing strategy, but I was overruled. If memory serves, I ended up building this feature. Yup, I just went along with it. Hey, a fella (and relatively new dad!) has to make a living!
It remains one of my biggest regrets of all time. I think about what I did often. I was one of them! One of “those programmers” who produces bullshit at the behest of faulty biz dev asshattery. Never again.
Which is why this story about Reddit founders making hundreds of fake profiles so site looked popular from all the way back in 2012 is so enraging (and I rather wish I’d known about this already). Reddit quite literally faked its popularity in order to become popular. Yes, it’s true that jumpstarting large online communities is super challenging, and one can be forgiven for giving into a certain bit of temptation to mask any whiff of appearing like a ghost town. Yet I’m certain Reddit could have found a more ethical route than simply seeding their database with fake users…even all the way back 11 years ago. (And before a reply guy waltzes in to tell me that well actually all the big social platforms seeded their communities/content like this, I really don’t give a shit. It’s wrong when Reddit does it. It’s wrong when Facebook does it, or Twitter, or whoever. Don’t do it.)
Words matter. Intent matters. Artistry matters. Integrity matters. And karma’s a, well, you know. I think Reddit’s seeing the “comes around” end of the cycle playing out right now, and—though I wish otherwise—I doubt we’ll witness a sudden illumination and genuine display of repentance at Snoo HQ. Expect even more #enshittification in the days ahead.
Look, I get it. You already subscribe to too many newsletters. So much to keep up with. But guess what? I only send out a newsletter once a week. And if you‘re feeling curious, peruse the Creator Class archive. You might find something that resonates with you! It’s a great way to stay current with what I’m publishing, and newsletter recipients always get some extra insight just for them. So what are you waiting for? Let’s roll!
I am what some folks might call Extremely Online. I’ve certainly wrestled with this at times, and there have been moments when I feel the need to pull back from incessantly scrolling through whatever timeline is in vogue (for me these days that’s Mastodon) and commenting with meme GIFs.
But I’ve come to accept my fate. Furthermore, this is something I’m good at. Yes that right, I’m good at internetting (for better or worse). What I’m not so good at is occasionally dipping my toe into the water of being Extremely Offline.
Intentionally going offline is vital to my mental health (and yours too). For some people that might not prove such a huge issue as they have family ties or other social commitments IRL to attend to. For me though—except for the times I’m actively involved in playing with/supervising/teaching/going on adventures with my kids—I’m basically a single (divorced) dude who remote works, quit attending church years ago, and whose extended family all live out-of-state.
If I’m going to have a social life apart from opening up yet another chat window, I need to wrangle my own support structure out of thin air.
And so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing this spring and summer. I’ve had to push myself—force myself some days—to get out there and Meet Real People. It doesn’t always come naturally to me, but I’m always glad when I do it.
Shout out to Meetup which—despite a rocky road these past few years first being acquired by WeWork and then being let go among all the zaniness there—still seems to be going strong and providing an excellent way of discovering groups of people IRL doing interesting things.
I’ve gone on hikes, focused on writing alongside fellow artists and creatives, laughed it up playing a wacky party game at a dinner event, and, yes, hung out with some local techies too. I’ve also been keeping an eye out for festivals or other fun community activities I might participate in. What will I be up to next? Who knows!
Having the sense of a local support structure apart from pixels on a screen, being able to look fellow humans in the eye and make a genuine emotional and intellectual connection, is something I simply don’t take for granted. Having lived through a pandemic and been Extremely-Extremely Online for weeks or even months at a time (most of 2020 is simply a blur to me, I can’t remember WTF I was even doing), a couple of hours of levity over a beer or walking along a forest path pointing out a grand vista or a word of encouragement from another creator in the room…these are moments I treasure. And I can’t wait for more.
If you feel like you need more of a support structure where you live, what’s that single first step you might be able to take today?
I used to blog a ton about #freelancing and maximizing your productivity and success as a “free agent” — I even tried running a local meetup here in the #Portland area.
It just occurred to me I hadn’t done much of that in a long while. I do still talk about #creativity and time management on occasion in my Creator Class newsletter and in the podcast, but not specifically about working as a freelancer.
As I look ahead to some of the product-driven work I’m participating in this year, I think it may be a good time to start this up again. Juggling client projects and product efforts (including open source software) is always this intricate dance of managing energy levels and expectations (and income!). Takes a lot of practice. I’m not saying I’ve reached “expert level” or anything…but it’s a nice feeling to know I’m performing much better now than in years prior.
One might perhaps come to the conclusion after following me in recent times that I’m just a technology skeptic. I must believe all the tech bros are jerks, and I hate anything newfangled. Cue the Old Man Yells at Cloud memes.
But believe me when I say this: I’m not a technology skeptic. I’m a bad technology skeptic. If I think a technology is fundamentally poor and ill-thought out, destined to (maybe) benefit a select few at the expense of the many, I’m going to call it as I see it. And we’ve had a bucketload of bad technology hype cycles lately.
But one major technology I’m actually extremely bullish on, one that I think does have tremendous potential, is the concept of the metaverse. And no, I don’t mean anything actually being built by Meta right now. I mean the initial conception of the term, which I understand to be a pervasive digital virtual reality where what you do matters.
Many of us use what I might call “proto-metaverses” all the time. My favorite is Minecraft. My kids and I have a handful of home servers we engage in regularly. And what we do there matters. If we build something today and come back a week later, it’s still there. If somebody drops a TNT block next to the wall of my house and it detonates, my house is destroyed. If I decide to go off exploring and find an exciting new landscape to play in, I can write down the coordinates and teleport there again in the future. I have memories of things I’ve done in Minecraft, just like I have fond memories of playing the Myst series of games—as if I were actually there, in a real place. That’s the magic of digital worlds.
The first metaverse I ever experienced was Second Life. (This was almost two decades ago!) I spent a lot of time there, built a lot of things, made friends. I ended up choosing to leave because I got really addicted. I was spending too much time in my “second life” and not enough time in my “first life”. That’s the danger of this technology. The addiction.
Still, I’m an unabashed fan of metaverses, and I’m always excited to hear about and possibly try out new ones. What I’m ultimately hoping for is that the World-Wide Web evolves into a #metaverse platform. If I could easily invite a bunch of friends over to “jaredwhite.com” and we could hang out in VR, wouldn’t that be amazing? I like think so. But it needs to be a truly #openweb solution, built atop open specs and open protocols. The worst thing in the world would be if any one corporation ends up “owning the metaverse.” We must resist that at all costs.
New technologies come along and inevitably we call them progress. And any detractors of said technologies are immediately labeled luddites.
(Which for some reason is a pejorative even though the history of terrible working conditions in early factories is undeniable—and with all of the benefits brought on by the Industrial Revolution, it was by no means a clear “win” when it comes to ethics, humane treatment of labor, and corporate responsibility!)
Yes, new technologies arrive on the scene, and folks look at them all starry-eyed and imagine how stellar the future will be.
But we rarely take the opportunity to consider the costs of these additions. I don’t mean just monetary costs (although that’s legit). I mean ethical, cultural, sustainable, mental, spiritual costs. What do we gain, sure, but also, what do we lose?
Free things in life are rarely free.
I was once given a free hot tub. Free!! Incredible, right? Turned out to be a terrible mistake.
It was going to cost money to set the hot tub on a proper foundation. It was going to cost money to clean. It was going to cost money to hook it up to the necessary plumbing. So we never set it up. An unused hot tub sat there in our back yard for months. (Years?)
And that wasn’t the worst part of it…it ended up costing us real money to haul it away when it came time to move!
The free hot tub…wasn’t free at all.
Technology is rarely additive.
The philosophy of #minimalism has taught me to realize that every new thing I add to my life—whether it’s an object or a technology or a social network or a hobby or a job or even a friendship…everything comes with a cost.
Sometimes those costs are well worth it. Few obvious downsides and the potential rewards are significant. Worth the effort. Worth the risk.
But there’s always a cost. And sometimes the cost is just too damn high.
Any time someone tells you about a mind-blowing new technology (web3) that’s going to revolutionize everything (#generativeAI) and change the world forever (self-driving cars), ask them what the costs are. If they can’t tell you, either they don’t know (because they’re ignorant), or they don’t want you to know (because they’re grifters).
Either way, do your due diligence. And inform the oncoming hordes shouting Luddites! Luddites! that their myopic view of history needs profound correction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately. As an artist, to a certain extent you don’t want to lean on nostalgia. It feels lazy. You should always be pushing the envelope, trying to be edgy and provocative. Original in some sense.
But nostalgia can be a worthy muse if you let it. The moment you cross over from old & tired to retro & vibrant isn’t always easy to pin down, but it’s absolutely real. And to master the subtle art of the throwback, the revival, the clever pastiche…well, there’s nothing lazy about that. #creativity
Fun fact: this is the first post I’ve made in quite some time using a CMS (Content Management System).
But wait! you say. Your #website is built with Bridgetown. Are you saying Bridgetown now has its own CMS?
Well, I could tell you, but then I’m afraid I’d have to kill you. 😎
A brief bit of context here: I’ve built a number of CMSes over the many years I’ve been a web developer—several just in the era of Jekyll. Because of that prior experience, I have deeply resisted building a CMS for Bridgetown because I know how incredibly “easy” it seems at first and how incredibly hard it actually is in practice.
But I think I may have finally cracked this nut, and it has less to do with building a CMS per se and more to do with building a platform and a toolkit which lets developers build themselves a CMS. That’s all I can say for now. Stay tuned. 😄
Over the years, I’ve settled on Bear as my note-taking Mac/iOS app of choice for most “brain dumps” / “draft posts” / “future content ideas” purposes due to its understated minimalist design, excellent Markdown support, easy tagging, and rock-solid sync between all my Apple devices. (I also use Craft, but that’s reserved more for “knowledge base” information like technical solutions, saved bookmarks, and other resources.) Most of the recent content on this blog, my newsletter, and my podcast all start life as #writing in Bear.
But don’t I feel like a dummy today! I only just learned that Bear features easy wiki-style links to other notes. Discovering this gave me a brilliant idea: I should create a Bear Home Page for housing an up-to-date presentation of my most relevant notes in a freeform setting. (To be clear on terminology, I don’t mean a “homepage on the web”…I’m talking about a special note in Bear that’s pinned to the top for easy access.)
So that’s exactly what I’m working on today. By defining headings and sections, adding lists, linking to specific notes I want to focus on in the near-term, adding additional context, etc., I can create a living document which is easy to navigate and review.
I realize that for the note-taking/wiki-obsessed people out there, this may seem like a well, d’oh! moment, but I’ve never been terribly successful at managing my notes. Good at taking them, not so good at reviewing them. I’m hopeful this new “home page” will really help me stay focused in the new year. What do you think?
All right, this took me way too long to fix, but I’ve taken a page right out of Dave Winer’s playbook (recent nudges here) and changed my feed output so “titleless” posts (like this one) are truly titleless. Any feed reader these days worth its salt should work with that just fine. Now I just need to get in the habit of microblogging more often here, rather than on Mastodon! (Even though I love Mastodon…) #website#writing