DiSo, Personal, Vidoop

The Fall of Vidoop

Vidoop logoWhen I left Flock in 2006, I blogged the occasion, having helped start the company by contributing a vision for what I thought the web needed: a social browser.

When I was laid off from Vidoop last month, I didn’t so much as tweet about it. The circumstances were different this time. But because the lack of information coming from the company is disappointing (if not frankly irresponsible) it seemed time that I wrote down my recollection of what went down.
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Digital Identity, Life online, Personal

RIP @factoryjoe

Twitter / Mr Messina: Oh, and in case you missed ...

Sometime last week, after two Manhattans, I decided to change my Twitter username from @factoryjoe to @chrismessina. In the scheme of things, not a big deal (yeah, okay, so I broke a couple thousand hyperlinks…). And yet, I can’t but feel like I’ve shed a skin or changed identities… at least to a specific audience.

I started using Twitter in 2006 as “factoryjoe”. Of course, this is the nick that I use everywhere —from Flickr to my personal homepage — so that choice was obvious. I essentially own factoryjoe on the web — people even occasionally call me “Joe” when we meet, such is their familiarity with my online persona. But that’s not my actual name.

When I talk in front of people and I introduce myself as “Chris Messina”, the disconnect between my real name and my online persona becomes distracting. And, over time, my motivations for having a separate online identity have waned.

But first, I suppose, I should provide some background.

Where did “factoryjoe” come from?

Every so often I’m asked where “factoryjoe” came from: “Kind of like ‘Joe the Plumber?’” “Kind of,” I say. “But not really.”

Growing up, I drew comic books for fun. In fact, for most of my formative years, it seemed pretty clear that I’d pursue a career in art. I worked in pastels, watercolor, pen and ink; I preferred pen and ink above all the others though, taking lessons from Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and others as Image Comics came on to the scene. It was a fond dream of mine to someday pen my own sequential art.
1984 PosterIn high school, I read Nineteen Eighty-Four and became enamored with the character of Winston Smith, Orwell’s “everyman” character. In Winston Smith, I found a confederate, struggling to assert his individual humanity against the massive, dehumanizing forces of groupthink and oligarchy. Similarly, I identified with Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and his struggle against homogeneity and mediocrity. The contours of “factoryjoe” began to emerge against the backdrop of the metropolitan “FactoryCity”, where industrialism was proven a sham and one’s conspicuous pursuit of passion ruled over the shallow pursuit of material consumption.

Factory City

Factory Joe was the anonymous shell in which I could plant my aspirations and designs for the future. He served as a metaphorical vessel through which I could mold a broader narrative.

So… changing your Twitter username?

In every superhero’s journey, there comes a time when the mask grows bigger than its owner. Is it the mask that provides the wearer with his power, or is it something integral to the individual?

I once believed that I needed to have a deep separation between myself and my online persona — that they should be distinct; that I should distrust the web. Over time I’ve realized a great deal power by closing the gap between who I am offline and who I am online. I suppose this is the power of transparency, developed through consistency and demonstrated integrity.

@factoryjoe was, therefore, my first go at creating an online identity for myself. A kind of “home away from home” that I could experiment with before this whole social web thing caught on.

As it happened, this was fine when I had a small group of friends who used similar aliases for themselves, but more recently — inspired by Facebook’s allergy to pseudonyms and non-human friendly usernames — it seems that not only owning your own identity is in vogue, but using your real name is an act of assertiveness, inventiveness or establishment. Heck, if you’re willing to share your real name with 150+ million compatriots on Facebook, is there really that much to be gained from obfuscating your actual name on the open web anymore (that’s rhetorical)?

So, back to Future of Web Apps… following my workshop with Dave, I took a step back to think about how it must appear for me to be working on the social web and identity technologies while maintaining this dichotomy between my offline and online personas — in name only. C’mon, when people have feedback and I’m talking on stage — who do I want them addressing? — my assumed identity … or me? The friction that I invented is just no longer necessary.

So factoryjoe isn’t going away — not entirely at least. It’s a useful vessel to inhabit and I’ll continue to do so. But on Twitter, Facebook, and on my homepage, I’ll use my real name. There is simply no longer a good reason to differentiate between who I am online, and who I am off, if ever there was.

. . .

Postscript: I’m now @chrismessina on Twitter. If we were friends before — no need to make any changes — Twitter took care of that already. @factoryjoe‘s been retired, but now that I got it back from Recordon (he was just jealous, since he has the worst username ever), who knows, maybe he’ll return someday. We’ll see!

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Personal, Social justice, Technology

Future of White Boys’ Clubs Redux #fowaspeak

White Boys (+1)

In September of 2006, I wrote a piece called The Future of White Boy Clubs taking to task Ryan Carson for putting together a speaker lineup for his Future of Web Apps conference made up entirely of white men (for the record, Tantek resents being lumped in as “white”; he’s says he’s Turkish).

As a white male speaker, I wanted to make a point that not just lamented the dearth of female speakers, but also asserted a broader point about the value of diversity to tech conferences.

Two and half years later and the future of the web was yet again being presented from the perspective of a bunch of white guys — and were it not for a last minute substitution, Kristina Halvorson wouldn’t have made it on stage as the sole female voice.

Kristina Halvorson: I LOVE DUDES by Judson CollierKristina felt compelled to say something and so she did, sharing the last 10 of her 25 speaking minutes with Ryan Carson and me, confronting this perennial elephant in the room and calling for specific action.

Without context, some members of the audience felt ambushed.

But Kristina hadn’t planned to bring this up on stage; she wanted to talk about copy! Had progress been made over the last two years, she wouldn’t have had to. But she felt strongly — and after receiving encouragement from Kevin Marks, Daniel Burka and me — she decided to raise the issue because, frankly, no one else had plans to.

She didn’t merely want to complain and didn’t wish to inspire guilt in the predominantly white male audience (what’s there to feel guilty about anyway?). Her point was to frame the issue in a way that helped people recognize the symptoms of the problem, identify where responsibility lies (answer: with all of us) and provide constructive means to address them.

Let’s be real: I doubt it’s lost on anyone that the tech industry and its requisite events lack women. We know this. And we all suffer as a result (for the perspective and experiences they bring, among other things). Lately it’s getting worse: depending on the study you read, there are more females online than males, and yet enrollment by that demographic in computer science is on the wane. Events that purport to be about the “future of web” and yet fail to present speakers that represent the web’s actual diversity serve only to perpetuate this trend.

Turns out, white men also don’t have the monopoly on the best speakerseven in the tech industry — yet their ilk continue to make up a highly disproportionate number of the folks who end up on stage. And that means that good content and good ideas and important perspectives aren’t making it into the mix that should be, and as a result, audiences are getting short-changed.

The question is no longer “where are all the women?” — it’s why the hell aren’t white men making sure that women are up on stage telling their story and sharing the insights that they uniquely can provide!

Why should it only be women who raise their voices on this issue? This isn’t just “their” problem. This is all of our problem, and each of us has something to do about it, or knows someone who should be given an audience but has yet to be discovered.

As a conference organizer, Ryan pointed out that he’s not omniscient. As a fellow conference organizer, I can tell you that you aren’t going to achieve diversity just by talking about it. You have to work at it. To use a lame analogy: if you want food at your event, you’ve got to actually place the order, not just “talk about it”.

Similarly, with female speakers and attendees, you’ve got to work at it, and you’ve got to think about their needs and what will get them come to you (remember, it’s the audience that’s missing out here).

Now, to be fair, I know that Ryan and his team reached out to women. I know that some were too busy; others unavailable; some accepted only to later cancel. Yet still, only two of eight workshops were run by women (with Kristina doing double duty as the only female speaker). It wasn’t for complete lack of effort that more women weren’t on stage or in the audience; it was also the lack of visibility of — and outreach to — women operating on the cutting edges of technology, business, and the web.

This is what our on-stage discussion sought to address by soliciting recommendations from members of the audience tagged with #fowaspeak. By bringing the negative spaces in the conference agenda to the fore — calling attention to the incidental omission of women presenters — we acknowledged that that lack wasn’t necessarily the realization of intent but something more insidious.

It isn’t that women need “help” from white men; this isn’t about capability. To the contrary, the saturation of men in technology leads to women become marginalized and invisible. They are there, and they are present, but somehow we don’t miss them when they’re not up on stage standing next to us. And that’s something that absolutely must change.

Turning the spotlight to deserving women who work just as hard (if not harder) than men does not diminish them, nor should it minimize their accomplishments. An intelligent audience should be able to discern who on stage is meritorious and who is not.

That there are fewer women in the industry means first that conference organizers need work harder to find them and second that audiences need to become vigilant about their absences on conference schedules. It is something that all of us must internalize as our own struggle and then take ongoing, explicit actions to address.

As far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest opportunities to seize the future of web apps is to cement the necessity of diversity in our processes and in our thinking, not for the sake of diversity alone (deserving though it is) but because the technology that we produce is better for it, being more robust, more versatile and flexible, and ultimately, more humane.

The future of web apps — and the conferences that tell their stories — should not be gender-neutral or gender-blind — but gender-balanced. Today, as it was two years ago, we suffer from a severe imbalance. It is my hope that, in raising the specter of consequences of the lack of women in technology, we begin to make as much progress in stitching diversity into the fabric of our society as we are making in producing source code.

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Civil liberties, Personal, Philosophy, Social justice, Society & economy

My argument against Proposition 8

Politics is something that I normally don’t cover on my blog, but not for any particularly reason. I typically get more [publicly] worked up about technology and the economics and politics of technological development than I do about directly human-facing issues, but that’s not because I’ve ever lost sight of the fact that ultimately all this technology is intended to serve people, or that there are more important, and more visceral, issues that could be tackled for greater, or longer lasting effect. It’s just that I haven’t really felt like I had an articulate contribution to make.

Perhaps until now.

If you’re not interested in political discourse, that’s of course your prerogative and you certainly can skip this post. Personally, however, I’ve become increasingly interested in what’s going on in this country (my country), and increasingly enamored of political dialogue (however bereft of content as it sometimes is) as well as our representative democracy — an imperfect system to be sure, but one that at least, by and large, affords its constituents a voice in matters local, state and federal. And personal.

Here in California, we have a cagey system of democracy where voters are provided the opportunity to consider multiple arguments for and against several propositions presented on a ballot to determine numerous policies at both the state and local level. I voted absentee yesterday (as I’ll be traveling to Oceania later this week) and along with the ballot for the presidential election, there were two accompanying ballots, one for the state and one for the city of San Francisco, where I am a resident.

On the state ballot is Proposition 8, effectively an amendment to the California state constitution that would ban gay marriage by defining it strictly as a union of a heterosexual couple: one man, one woman.

I voted against this proposition. And I’ll tell you why.

Voting no Proposition 8

Back in the day…

When I was a senior in high school (in conservative “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire), I supported an initiative to create a gay-straight student alliance, or GSA. At the time, I was on the staff of the newspaper and was more informed of the various controversies affecting my classmates, but I’ll admit, I was also pretty ignorant of other “lifestyles”. Still, if my parents taught me anything, tolerance and self-respect were a few of the more subtle lessons that must have stuck, which led me to support the effort.

As I had done for many of the school’s student clubs, I created a homepage with information on the GSA initiative and hosted it on my own website. I had also single-handed built my high school’s website (even though I couldn’t get any educator besides the dorky librarian to care) and inserted a banner ad into the site’s rotating pool of four or five ads promoting the other school club sites that I’d designed.

The ad for the GSA, which didn’t say much more than “Find out more” with a link off-site, was in rotation for several weeks when I was called down to the principal’s office to explain why I was announcing school policy without authorization. So it goes in the petri-dish of adolescent high school politics and unbalanced power relationships.

Rather than use this as an educational opportunity, the principal, who later became mayor of the city, decided instead to use this situation as a reeducational opportunity and externally suspended me for six days, meaning I wouldn’t be able to graduate.

I’ll cut to the chase in a moment, but in response, I took down the GSA ad — as well as the entire high school’s site (I was hosting that on my own server too — back in 1999 schools didn’t know what a “web server” was). I vowed that I wouldn’t turn over the site files until they’d written up rules governing what students were and weren’t allowed to post to the school’s site; meanwhile my mom threatened to sue the school.

My infraction was small beans (and eventually overturned) compared with the lawsuit that GLAD and the ACLU filed against the school district barring discrimination against school clubs. By the time the lawsuit was decided in favor of the students, I had graduated and moved off to Pittsburgh, but the experience, and impression that it left on me, has resonated since.

…history repeating

None of these contested issues really consume you until you’re personally affected, as I was in high school, and today I feel equally affected by this proposition, but more capable of doing something about it.

The arguments for and against are fairly straight forward, but for me it comes down to two things:

  • First, I don’t believe that laws should codify discrimination. Our history as a nation has been blighted by both gender and racial discrimination, and now we’re facing discrimination against the makeup of certain families — specifically those of same-sex couples. Good law should strive to be non-ideological; discrimination is nearly always ideologically driven.
  • Second, if marriage as an institution stems from a religious foundation, but is represented in law, by the principle of the separation of church and state and presuming the importance of tolerance to culture, we should cleft out the religious underpinnings of marriage from law and return it to the domain of the church, especially if the church mandates that the definition of marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. The state should therefore only be in the business of recognizing in law civil unions, or the lawful coming together of two people in union. Marriage itself would be a separate religious institution, having no basis in civil law.

In other words, should marriage persist in law, then it should not be discriminatory against same-sex couples. If marriage must only be for heterosexual couples, then it should be removed from the state constitution and replaced with civil unions, which would be available to any two willing citizens.

The examples that have informed my thinking on this come from real people — friends whom I’ve now known for some time, and who I could not imagine being legally separated from their partners because of religious zealotry and illogical reasoning.

Hillary and AnnaThe first is Hillary Hartley, a good friend and fellow coworker at Citizen Space, who has been with her partner for eight years, having known her for 15. They were recently (finally!) able to get married in California, but the vote on November 4 threatens to annul their marriage. Think about that: the potential of this decision could dissolve the legal recognition of a perfectly happy, stable and loving relationship. I can’t even imagine what that must feel like, and because I am a heterosexual male, I never will. And that’s completely unjust.

marnieMarnie Webb is a also good friend of mine, who has been active in the non-profit technology space for years, and who I met through Compumentor, NetSquared and TechSoup (she’s co-CEO of TechSoup). Marnie faces the same fate as Hillary, but in her case, it would mean that Marnie’s daughter, Lucy, would grow up with parents who were legally not allowed to recognize their union, nor have rights for hospital visitation among other benefits of marriage.

The low-pressure ask

So here’s what I’m asking for. I’ll give you three options.

First, THINK about this. Talk to people about it. I’m certainly not going to make up your mind for you, but if you were (or are) in a heterosexual marriage and it was threatened to be annulled by changes in law, how would you feel about it? What would you do? The problem with discrimination is that someone’s always losing out; next time it could be you.

Second, VOTE. When you see Proposition 8 on the ballot, vote your conscience, not your ideology. Belief systems are powerful and complex, but they’re not always right. And times do change. It’s counter-intuitive to me that we’ve spent seven years and untold billions fighting for “Iraqi Freedom” when in our country we’re threatening to take civil liberties away from natural-born citizens.

Third, GIVE something. Obviously the presidential campaigns have probably tapped you out, especially given the uncertainly in the market, but you can give more than just money: you can give your time, or you can give mindshare and voice to these issues by widening the conversation, retweeting this post, blogging about it, or taking a video to record your own sentiments.

If you do want to donate money, both Hillary and Marnie have set up respective donation pages. The challenge we’re facing is that proponents of Prop 8 are better-funded and are able to put more ads on TV and make more phone calls. Money in this case can be directly turned into awareness, and into action. If you’ve got $5, it can make a difference, especially now, as your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. It’s up to you.

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Life online, Open source, Personal, Philosophy

So open it hurts

So open it hurts

Bernice Yeung’s character piece (“So Open it Hurts“) about my relationship with Tara is now available online (feels somewhat awkward using her full name, as she used mine in her post on the story, so I’ll take liberties and presume some familiarity on the part of you, my dear reader).

On the one hand, I feel a bit embarrassed and reluctant having had the entrails of our relationship splayed out over 15 digital pages or 13 print pages starting on page 57 of this month’s San Francisco Magazine (which I recommend, given modern reading habits).

On the other, it’s quite an honor that someone as talented as Bernice would take an interest in us and our work and spend over eight months gathering information, anecdotes and ideas through the tumult of our two-plus-year relationship. It is worth noting that the story began modestly about the germination of the coworking movement, but after several other media outlets beat her to the scoop, Bernice decided to bring the backstory of our relationship to the forefront. In other words, when Bernice started talking to us, our conversations were about coworking, not our relationship. I can’t even imagine how many times Bernice had to rewrite the piece, especially since, months into her research, as you know, Tara and I broke up. But in the end, that’s what Bernice decided to focus on and write about.

In trying to piece together what to make of this story and how to feel about it, in some ways I’ve been more interested in other people’s varied reactions to it — not quite in the same way that Tara described as “vulnerability” leading to defensiveness (though I recognize that effect in myself occasionally), but more from the perspective of a bystander witnessing other people thinking out loud about other people leading more public lives.

Some people seem to really support the choice (or ability) to live openly. Others question it, or even lambast the choice, calling it “egocentric” or “juvenile” or “self-important navel-gazing“. That’s cool. Some people are apparently able to devote more of their cognitive surplus ogling and critiquing the lives of others. Whatevs.

That our relationship was something of a spectacle is not beyond my grasp. I do see it — even if throughout the relationship I kind of held that idea in the abstract, like, “well, people know this internet concoction that is ‘The Tara & Chris Show’, but I’m still the same regular dude I’ve always been…” I don’t think it was ever the intention — or at least something that I put any conscious effort in to — to become known for being a publicish couple. It just kind of happened. I mean, hell, Tara says as much when she points out that it took her pushing me out a window to get me to show some gumption on the projects that I stoked and then ran away from leading! I guess to put this in perspective, the story is interesting, and it’s interesting to me, because as it is for most people who end up featured in articles, a lot of it is about being in the right place at the right time, surrounded by the right people. No amount of self-aggrandizement can do this for you. It happens to you. Oftentimes in spite of what you might have otherwise preferred.

I also think that we were something of an anomaly, especially in our pathetically male-dominated industry. Ayn Rand talks about it the Fountainhead. And in our case, you had it two-fold: two passionate and dedicated individuals coming together romantically, professionally and productively — even if only for a relatively short amount of time — able to produce results… And that we did it using new and unknown social tools, well, that’s kind of interesting. And says something about the period we’re living in. I mean, it is interesting to think that the design of Flickr and Twitter actually shaped the contours of our relationship: by facilitating openness as the default, our relationship was simply more open and exposed. And long after lonelygirl15 was proven to be a farce, the result was that we ended up with this amazing network of friends and contacts, made up of people who got to know us as individuals and as a couple, and to know that we are just your regular folks, and that we use the same internet as everyone else, and that we stumble humiliatingly and earnestly along just as everyone else, seeking the approval and attention of our peers, while giving away the source code to our ideas and our experiences all along the way.

Really, so what?

Really: so what?

. . .

Tara said to me that we’re at the end of an era. And that, in some ways, this story, now published, serves as a transition point. I was reluctant at first, but now I agree. I told Bernice that I felt like I’d aged six years in six months when she last interviewed me this spring, and that’s true; even though I’m still pretty naive and more ignorant than I care to admit, I’m older now than I was in my relationship with Tara. Tara forced me to grow up a lot and to take a lot more responsibility for my feelings, for my actions and for my thoughts. And so, as we (I) transition from the awkward adolescence of the social web, I take with me lessons about . . . the natural and effective constant exercise of free will.

. . .

. . .

Y’know, I didn’t say very much at all during the months following our breakup. Oftentimes I thought to myself, “you should write something about what’s going on… in case someone else is ever in this situation. Or to defend yourself.” But I always stopped myself.

Sometimes things are too personal to share, and sometimes experiences cannot, or should not, be generalized. Sometimes what’s there to be learned is in the going through, not in the seeing it done. I also think that it’s perfectly valid that each person make up their own mind about how open they want to be about their life, for better or for worse, to whatever extent fits their needs. I typically try to be as open as I’m comfortable with, and then a little more, but it doesn’t always work out that way. While I hope that I can provide one kind of example that might be useful in some cases, I certainly don’t imagine that my example is one that would work for everyone, or even necessarily anyone else.

Yes, we were open about our relationship to an extent that many people would probably prefer not to be; that was a choice we made, and that I think made sense at the time. I’m now in a new relationship, and a very different relationship, and I will treat it according to its own unique nature and internal logic. How “open” we will be, I can’t say. But that I am more open, in a much transformed, deeper, way, is unarguable. That much I know to be true.

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Open source, Personal, The Web Arts, What I do

The Community Ampflier

Twitter / O'Reilly OSCON: Chris Messina receiving "Be...

os-awardI am honored to be a recipient of this year’s Google O’Reilly Open Source Award for being the “best community amplifier” for my work with the microformats, Spread Firefox and BarCamp communities! (See the original call for nominations).

Inexplicably I was absent when they handed out the award, hanging out with folks at a Python/Django/jQuery drinkup down the street, but I’m humbled all the same… especially since I work on a day to day basis with such high caliber and incredible people without whom none of these projects would exist, would not have found success, and most importantly, would never have ever mattered in the first place.

Also thanks to @bmevans, @TheRazorBlade, @kveton, @anandiyer, @donpdonp, @dylanjfield, @bytebot, @mtrichardson, @galoppini for your tweets of congratulations!

And our work continues. So lucky we are, to have such good work, and such good people to work with.

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Personal

Transitions

It’s always felt a little weird for me to get personal on this blog. In the rare occasions when I do, I suppose it’s never quite as big a deal as I make it up to be in my head, and on top of that, you’d think that with the kind of public life I maintain with the work I do and my advocacy against old school conceptions of privacy, I’d be beyond separating my work life from my personal life.

And so it’s been for the past two and a half years that Tara and I have lead an intertwined existence, blending our personal affairs and our professional lives into one big jumble of sweat and energy and purpose and dedication to embracing the chaos and establishing a better, and more open, way to make business.

Citizen Agency, our company, is a labor of love. Citizen Space, our coworking office, where we host many an independent entrepreneur, is a result of constant collaboration and communication. The things we’ve started and accomplished in the past two years still floors me.

Yet while we’ve found great success in our professional endeavors, we’ve often struggled to find a balance between love life and work life. And even after working at it for some time, we finally decided today to end our romantic relationship.

Deep breath.

So, why are we making a public statement about this?

Well, for one thing, we’ve been the benefactors of countless friends, hosts, partners, family members, mentors and serendipitous encounters over the past two and a half years… telling everyone individually, or at the same time would have been impossible, so to avoid any confusion, we wanted to put out an official word from the source.

Second, Tara and I expect and plan to continue running Citizen Agency and operating Citizen Space. We will continue to serve our clients and continue to be involved in the projects that we’re already engaged in. Just because we’re transitioning our personal relationship doesn’t mean that our professional passions change. And we wholly expect to (and will) remain friends.

As incredible as this might sound, we both see this transition as being for the better, and continue to see great things ahead for us, and for the work we’ve already begun. We’re going to have to work through this change, and there’s no limit of uncertainty here for us, but we’re resolved to seeing this through.

Tara’s been the best partner I could have asked for and I respect her immensely; even if our romantic relationship is at an end, there are many more opportunities just beyond the horizon calling us forward.

And I probably can speak on both our behalves when I say thank you, from both of us, for all your continued support and encouragement.

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