And you wonder why people in America are afraid of the Internet

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to present to you two exhibits.

Here is Exhibit A from today’s International Herald Tribune:

Will Google take the mobile world of Jaiku onto the Web? - International Herald Tribune

In contrast (Exhibit B) we have the same exact article, but with a completely different headline:

Google’s Purchase of Jaiku Raises New Privacy Issues - New York Times

Now, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how the latter is a more accurate or more appropriate title for the article, which is ostensibly about Google’ acquisition of Jaiku.

But, for some reason, the editor of the NY Times piece decided that it would — what? — sell more papers? — to use a more incendiary and moreover misleading headline for the story.

Here’s why I take issue: I’m quoted in the article. And here’s where the difference is made. This is how the how the article ends:

“To date, many people still maintain their illusion of privacy,” he said in an e-mail message.

Adapting will take time.

“For iPhone users who use the Google Maps application, it’s already a pain to have to type in your current location,” he said. “‘Why doesn’t my phone just tell Google where I am?’ you invariably ask.”

When the time is right and frustrations like this are unpalatable enough, Mr. Messina said, “Google will have a ready answer to the problem.”

Consider the effect of reading that passage after being lead with a headline like “Google’s Purchase of Jaiku Raises New Privacy Issues” versus “Will Google take the mobile world of Jaiku onto the Web?” The latter clearly raises the specter of Google-as-Big-Brother while ignoring the fallacy that privacy, as people seem to understand it, continues to exist. Let’s face it: if you’re using a cell phone, the cell phone company knows where you are. It’s just a matter of time before you get an interface to that data and the illusion that somehow you gave Google (or any other third party) access to your whereabouts.

I for one do not understand how this kind of headline elevates or adds to the discourse, or how it helps people to better understand and come to gripes with the changing role and utility of their presence online. While I do like the notion that any well-engineered system can preserve one’s privacy while still being effective, I contend that it’s going to take a radical reinterpretation of what we think is and isn’t private to feel secure in who can and can’t see data about us.

So, to put it simply, there are no “new” privacy issues raised by Google’s acquisition of Jaiku; it’s simply the same old ones over and over again that we seem unable to deal with in any kind of open dialogue in the mainstream press.

Leaving TechMeme


It may seem obvious to some wiser than me, but every now and then I realize that I need to disrupt my habits, force-inject some new behaviors and shift-reload the inputs into my thinking.

Above you can see what the top left corner of WebKit looks like to me everyday. In a nutshell, it depicts the places I visit the most. You’ll notice that TechMeme comes second after the Ma.gnolia bookmarklet. That’s a pretty prime spot to occupy in terms of shaping (or warping) my perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: TechMeme is a very well executed news service; above all else, its presentation and hierarchy of information is excellent and serves my goal of consuming a lot of information in aggregate in a very short amount of time. It’s as good a zeitgeist as any when it comes to what certain people are thinking about.

And therein lies the rub.

TechMeme provides an interesting and compelling overview of what’s hot in conventional tech news. It is, however, overly self-referential, and, insomuch as it gives greater weight to certain “types” of people and posts, it ends up becoming necessarily more often than not. And on top of that, the pundits who are featured prominently on its pages (and who like to argue amongst each other who’s popular and who’s not (n.b. I avoided reading any of those posts during that maelstrom; I provide the link merely for context)) have certain priorities that, well, just don’t overlap so well with mine.

I mean, it’s good to know what’s up with Google and Yahoo and Microsoft, and what the latest startups are up to and so on. It’s also fun to see what the latest controversies are over net discrimination and the what arcane nonsense is being attempted to fasten down the semantic web… But I think I’ve had my fill of that for now. Frankly, It’s time to turn off the firehose.

Maybe it’s because I’m leaving for a week Oaxaca and I need a reset; or maybe it’s realizing that I’ve so much to do and I have to stop measuring myself by what everyone else is doing (or has already done). Or maybe it’s because I can feel the sentiment and motivations of the tech community changing ever-so-gradually and becoming increasingly corrupt. Or who knows, maybe nothing has changed except that I need to rearrange some furniture just for the sake of change.

Whatever the case, it’s time to bid adieu to the link that’s been occupying second position on my browser’s bookmark bar for the last umpteen months. I’m going to have to go back to piecing things together one by one on my own; digging up my own dirt, assembling my own theories instead of the ones advanced by crowd economics, leaving the punditry to be consumed by other more capable pundits. Maybe I’ll come back someday — in fact, I probably will. But, as a sheer exercise of will (or perhaps as a mere act of intention), as of today, I’m leaving TechMeme.

Deleting Techmeme

Stop building social networks

I started writing this post August 8th. Now that Dave Recordon is at Six Apart and blogging about these things and Brad Fitzpatrick has moved on to Google, I thought I should finally finish this post.

I fortuitously ran into Tim O’Reilly, Brad Fitzpatrick and Dave Recordon in Philz yesterday as I was grabbing a cup of coffee. They were talking about some pretty heady ideas and strategies towards wrenching free one’s friends networks from the multiple social networks out there — and recombining them in such a way that it’d be very hard to launch a closed down social network again.

The idea isn’t new. It’s certainly been attempted numerous times, with few successful efforts to show for it to date. I think that Brad and Dave might be on to something with their approach, though, but it begs an important question: once you’ve got a portable social network, what do you do with it?

Fortunately, Brian Oberkirch has been doing a lot of thinking on this subject lately with his series on , starting with a post on designing portable social networks lead up to his most recent post offering some great tips on how to prepare your site for the day when your users come knocking for a list of their friends to populate their new favor hang.

In his kick-off post, Brian laid the problem of social network fatigue as stemming from the:

  • Creation of yet another login/password to manage
  • Need to re-enter profile information for new services
  • Need to search and re-add network contacts at each new service
  • Need to reset notification and privacy preferences for each new service
  • Inability to manage and add value to these networks from a central app/work flow

I think these are the fundamental drivers behind the current surge of progress in user-centric identity services, as opposed to the aging trend of network-centric web services. If Eric Schmidt thinks that Web 3.0 will be made up of small pieces loosely joined and “in the cloud”, my belief, going back to my time with Flock, is that having consistent identifiers for the same person across multiple networks, services or applications is going to be fundamental to getting the next evolution of the web right.

Tim made the point during our discussion that at one point in computing history, SQL databases embedded access permissions in the database itself. In modern times, access controls have been decoupled from the data and are managed, maintained and federated without regard to the data itself, affording a host of new functionality and stability simply by adjusting the architecture of the system.

If we decouple people and their identifiers from the networks that currently define them, we start moving towards greater granularity of privacy control through mechanisms like global social whitelists and buddy list blocklists. It also means that individuals can solicit services to be built that serve their unique social graph across any sites and domains (kind of like a fingerprint of your relationship connections), rather than being restrained to the limited freedom in locked down networks like Facebook. And ultimately, it enables cross-sharing content and media with anyone whom you choose, regardless of the network that they’re on (just like email today, where you can send someone on email from or even, and so on, but with finer contact controls). The result is that the crosscut of one’s social network could be as complete (or discreet) as one chose, and that rather than managing it in a social network-centric way, you’d manage it centrally, just as you do your IM buddy list, and it would follow you around on any site that you visit.

So it’s become something of a refrain in the advice that we’ve been giving out lately to our clients that they should think very critically about what social functionality they should (and shouldn’t) build directly into their sites. Rather than assuming that they should “build what Flickr has” or think about which features of Facebook they should absorb, the better question, I think, is to assume that in the next 6-8 months (for the early adopters at least) there’s going to be a shift to these portable networks. Where the basics will mostly be better covered by existing solutions and will not need to be rebuilt. Where each new site — especially those with specific functionality like TripIt (disclosure: we’ve consulted TripIt) — will need to focus less on building out its own social network and more on how social functionality can support their core competency.

We’re still in the early stages of recognizing and identifying the components of this problem. Thus far, the Microformats wiki says:

Why is it that every single social network community site makes you:

  • re-enter all your personal profile info (name, email, birthday, URL etc.)?
  • re-add all your friends?

In addition, why do you have to:

  • re-turn off notifications?
  • re-specify privacy preferences?
  • re-block negative people?

AKA “social network fatigue problem” and “social network update/maintenance problem”.

I’ve yet to be convinced that this is a problem that the “rest of the world” beyond social geeks is suffering, but I do think that the situation can be greatly improved, even for folks who are used to abandoning their profiles when they forget their passwords. For one thing, the world today is too network-centric, and not person-centric. While I do think people should be able to take on multiple personas online (professional, casual, hobby, family, and so on), I don’t think that that means that they should have those boundaries set for them by the networks they join. Instead, they should maintain their multiple personas as separate identifiers: email addresses, IM addresses and/or profile URLs (i.e. OpenIDs). This allows for handy separation based on the way people already materialize themselves online. Projects like NoseRub and even the smaller additions of offsite-identifiers on sites like Digg, Twitter and Pownce also acknowledge that members think of themselves as being more faceted than a single URL indicates.

This is a good thing. And this is where social computing needs to go.

We need to stop building independent spider webs of sticky siloed social activity. We need to stop fighting the nature of the web and embrace the design of uniform resource identifiers for people. We need to have a user agent that actually understands what it means to be a person online. A person with friends, with contacts, with enemies, with multiple personas and surfaces and ambitions and these user agents of the social web need to understand that, though we live in many distinct places on the web and interact with many different services, that we as people still have one unified viewport through which we understand the world.

Until social networks understand this reality and start to adapt to it, the problem that Dave is describing is only going to continue to get worse for more and more people until truly, the problem of social network fatigue will spread beyond social geeks and start cutting into the bottom lines of companies that rely on the regularity of “sticky eyeballs” showing up.

While I will always and continue to bet on the open web, we’re reaching an inflection point where some fundamental conceptions of the web (and social networks) need to change. Fortunately, if us geeks have our way, it’ll probably be for the general betterment of the whole thing.

On exporting the culture of Silicon Valley

It’s often said that America’s biggest export is its culture. And, for better or worse, this seems to be true. China and India certainly seem to envy aspects of our way of life and of doing business (or we’re just really good at making movies that suggest that we’re all happy and drive SUVs and live above the poverty line, so why wouldn’t you want to be like us?). But in the last couple years, I’ve noticed a microcosm of this phenomena around Silicon Valley — specifically that people elsewhere want to be like us or do things like us or make money like us. But there’s rarely been a case, at least that I’ve seen, where that envy has lead people to want to think like us. And, as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have the our culture unless you start to think about your everyday experiences and interactions like us.

Now, let me quickly point out that 1) I’m a New England boy and didn’t grow up in California (Live Free or Die, baby!) 2) I went to school in the midwest in an old steel town called Pittsburgh 3) I migrated out to San Francisco just over three and half years ago 4) and I’m not about to try to convince you to make over your local township in a rough effigy of Silicon Valley or the Bay Area.

…because the way that we “think” transcends geography; it just so happens that there’s a lot of folks out here who happen think alike. And, the weather doesn’t hurt much either.

Coworking - Working Alone SucksSo Tara and I traveled to the East coast this past week for two coworking openings. Proof, first of all, that not everything happens in Silicon Valley and second, that this kind of thinking and acting is not something that has to be — or is — unique to this area.

In fact, if you know where to look, you’ll realize that there’s probably a lot more going on right in your backyard than you think or are willing to admit. Ask just about anyone who’s thrown in a BarCamp in the last three years what kind of community they thought might exist after the fact, and I can guarantee you the majority will be shocked at just how many people in their own neighborhoods were into social media or, more importantly, wanted to connect to people like them locally but just didn’t know where or how to go about unearthing them.

And, now that so many of these nascent communities are beginning to emerge — and there’s an awareness — that people don’t have to be alone in their progressive thinking, the question seems to quickly become: “So what happens next? How do we create our own Silicon Valley here?”

Well, I’m here to tell you that the next thought should be, “Oh wait, what we want isn’t to become another Silicon Valley with all their disfunctions and navel-gazing — what we really want is a community that is self-sustaining and a culture of sharing, opportunity and hope…!” Of course, that’s a harder proposition and reality to accept and to create, but if you really want a slice of the Bay, you might as well take the one that’s not just covered with whipped cream.

Where I’ve seen this work, people are collaborating, are open, are sharing, are working together and building something that is defined from within, rather than from without. It’s not about imitating what you think we have out here; it’s about creating and instituting an attitude and mentality that shares the same philosophical underpinnings that allow us to define success for ourselves and then go about achieving it, however we best can. It’s really about coopetition rather than competition; it’s really about helping each other other out than tearing one another down; it’s really about “yes and…” instead of “but but but…!” It’s wanting to give everything away and expecting nothing in return. It’s pushing through and discovering unseen opportunities where others saw only boundaries, risks or costs. It’s about a willingness to fail, but to fail quickly and get it out of the way so that the constant learning that keeps you sharp can get underway. It’s about constantly feeling overwhelmed and yet always doing more. And then a little more. And it’s about how our turn of mind keeps us on top of it all and inventing the future and determining for ourselves what we want from life and not accepting anything less than what we know, deep down, we’re capable of.

And I can tell you that, just as this kind of thinking has taken root in the culture of Silicon Valley and continues to define it, the seeds of this approach are on the wind and have permeated the network. They are finding new homes in your backyards and in your neighborhoods and starting to grow. If you nurture these ideas and provide them fertile ground, they will grow, and they will spread, and they will change the pH balance of the mentality of your friends, your neighbors and your townsfolk.

I have seen this happen, am witnessing it happen more and more everyday, am doing what I can to produce more culture, to consume more culture, and package it up and make it accessible and implementable and practical and worthwhile.

Just as Gary V and his cabal of wine drinkers are changing and opening up the wine world, we are doing the same for the future of work and the future of event organizing. But it’s not something that happens over night, and it’s not something that happens only in one place. If you look back over just the past three years, you’ll see been over 250 BarCamps and derivatives around the world, in communities that had no sense of what they were capable of and that have now come into blossoming hotbeds of activity. If you look back just one year, you’ll see over 110 local efforts to get coworking spaces set up around the world. This isn’t an accident and this isn’t just the work of Silicon Valley types. This is the work of turned on, smart and destiny-shaping independents.

So wherever you are and whatever you think you need to do to become more “like” Silicon Valley… STOP. You’d be wasting your time.

Instead, follow the lead of your friends in Philadelphia, New York City, , , , and elsewhere. These are the places that are defining their own culture; mashing up what they see from all over the place, embracing both chaos and diversity and taking a chance that maybe a culture that emerges naturally, and from the desires of the local citizens, will be more powerful, more popular and more sustaining than anything else that might come out of the Valley.

How do we take care of each other?

Strong: Kevin Burton reports that the fund raising drive has was a complete success. As a result, I’ve removed the PayPal links from this post. Thanks all who donated!

Kevin Burton IM’d me yesterday and asked if he could give me a call. “Y’know Greg Stein?” “Yeah,” I said, “I just finally met him at . What’s up?” “I just heard that he was mugged on his way home yesterday.” “Is he okay?” I asked. “No.”

Apparently two guys jumped Greg (who happened to be on crutches), gave him a black eye and serious laceration that was bleeding profusely when the ambulance arrived.

All for a hundred bucks and a credit card.

Greg Stein by Joi ItoNow, for those of you who don’t know, Greg is a great guy, and one who has done a tremendous amount of good for the open source world. He’s now at Google doing loads of good work open sourcing their innards while chairing and acting as director of the Apache Software Foundation, lead developer of Subversion, and all things WebDAV.

And it’s really too bad that terrible things happen to good people like Greg.

So Kevin decided he wanted to do something. And that’s why he IM’d and then called me. He’s collecting donations in order to buy flowers, buy dinner and generally prove that, even when shit like this happens, that there is still good people and humanity in the world. And that when you give so much of yourself away to others and expect nothing in return, you’re the best candidate to receive the support of the community you’ve helped for so long.

So as I talked to Kevin about what we could do for Greg, it become abundantly clear that in all the social networking and digital ephemera that we’ve wrapped ourselves in we’ve done a pretty shoddy job of creating simple or obvious ways to help each other out in meaningful and effective ways when we’re most in need. Our networks are self-healing; people are not. So what have we done to make it possible to immediately mobilize ourselves when things do go wrong in order to provide the most effective and helpful response? When it comes to taking care of one individual out of our hundreds of friends across these online networks, does the network confound or enhance our ability to pitch in and materially help out?

When I was an admin of Spread Firefox, we were able to pull in a staggering $220,000 in 10 days to put a two page ad in the New York Times. The community saw a need (a grandiose one, I might add) and responded.

When the Dean campaign needed money, they put a call out and thousands upon thousands of campaign supporters would offer up microdonations and fill up the fundraising bat every time, accruing millions.

When one of us takes a hit, how do we respond? How does the network help us give the best that we’ve got?

I’m not saying I have the answers here — I’m really confounded. When Kevin asked me to pitch in, I was ready to hit the ground running — but what the hell do we do first? And in what proportion so that the multiplying aspects of the network doesn’t overwhelm the rather mundane and essential goal of lending Greg a helping hand now, when he needs it?

Well, for lack of anything we better, we kept it simple. For donations, I suggested Donorge, ChipIn and Network for Good but Kevin ultimately just used a couple PayPal links to receive donations on his blog. He set up a Google Group to organize folks, coordinate good acts and answer questions. For flowers I suggested Podesta Baldocchi here in the city. And while I think these efforts will ultimately prove successful and bring Greg a degree of relief and a smidgeon of hope, I think it also in some way serves to illustrate our need for what Stephanie Trimble has called Giving 2.0 (and that she has currently put into action offering people who work for Web 2.0 companies [a way to] get together to volunteer for charitable organizations).

If the government’s response to Katrina proved anything, it’s that our safety and well-being is in each others’ hands. And that we have to figure out how to put these new networks into our employ, and to figure out how design them to serve our human needs in the most vital times. It’s ideas like Brian Caldwell’s Emergency Social-Repeater System or the recent thread on the coworking mailing list for P2P health care that suggest that we’re beginning the work to figure this stuff out for ourselves.

In the meantime, Kevin is just about half way through raising $2000 to send Greg out to Big Sur where he can relax and recuperate. Even though no one deserves to experience the kind of thing that Greg did on Friday, I think he’s more than earned the support of the community here. The systems of supporting ourselves and keeping each other safe certainly have a long way to go and deserve our attention; however, in the meantime, there is a more pressing need. For the moment we’ll make due, and do the best that we can, for each other.

Why I’m involved in iPhoneDevCamp

iPhoneDevCampWhile I’m planning to write a lengthier piece about why I think the iPhone and its constraints are important to the future of the open web, I did want to take a moment and talk about my involvement in co-organizing this weekend’s iPhoneDevCamp with Raven Zachary, whurley, Blake Burris, Dominic Sagolla and Christopher Allen and touch on its relationship with BarCamp and other similar camp-style events.

In particular, I received questions about my involvement in the event and calling it a “camp” from Jay Fichialos and Evan Prodromou, two BarCamp community members. I think that their concerns are valid and are worth answering, especially in public, as it gets at the line between commercial interests and community interests — and to what degree its okay to mix “business and grassroots” especially when, to date, BarCamp and the majority of *camp-styled events have avoided most the trappings of commercial endorsement.

Here’s essentially what I told them:

  1. For me, iPhoneDevCamp isn’t really about the iPhone. Personally, I could care less about the iPhone. What I am interested in, however, is the opportunity that the iPhone affords to promote the development and building of open web technologies in the conspicuous absence of proprietary technologies like Flash, SilverLight et al.
  2. I see my involvement as primarily to “keep it real”, to provide contacts and facilitation and to weigh in on issues of commercialization of the event. I think I represent a conservative perspective in this regard whereas my fellow co-organizers are more open to various forms of sponsor involvement. My goal is to keep the vibe community-centric and make sure that the event remain true to the spirit of prior camps, putting the participants first above sponsors.
  3. I like the idea of a productive and educational DevCamp model and would like to see this meme spread further. While this event is product-driven in name, I feel that subsequent events can morph into more product-agnostic events, extracting the base components of a “DevCamp” (part DevHouse, part BarCamp, part Mash Pit, part Mac Hack) into something more general. As with other events that I’ve been involved with, the event itself is non-proprietary and is open for reinterpretation and remixing. I would love for this event to enculturate new thinking, new ideas and new appreciation for using open web standards, open web technologies like microformats and OpenID and other non-proprietary web design methodologies. I’m sure other similar learning possibilities will emerge, but what’s important to me here is that the model of the DevCamp persist as yet another way for independents to gather themselves and self-educate.

Now, to be clear, I certainly do not care to hype the iPhone any more than it already is. I don’t own and iPhone and I haven’t decided whether I will buy one or not. Still, I feel like its release provides a grand opportunity to shift the thinking on developing for the iPhone towards open web technologies. Given the work I’ve been involved with from Spread Firefox to microformats to OpenID, this seems to be an opportunity not worth missing, regardless of the commercial implications. The web will survive the iPhone and will be made better by it. To what extent that is true, however, is entirely in our hands.

Why I screenshot

sh pops the question

Three months ago, Sarah Hatter asked me a question that I had intended on answering then and there. In fact I did, but I had intended to expand upon these thoughts in a longer post:

Actually, I take shot primarily for my own purposes — research, learning and as a repository of interfaces that I can dig up later and imitate.

If I had to go out an search for a specific UI everytime I needed inspiration, I’d be a *much* slower designer than I already am! This way I can capture the best of the web *as* I come upon it, when the moment of inspiration hits.

I think this hints at what I said the other day about cleverness: she is the most clever who is the sum of everyone else’s cleverness (Ok, I didn’t say that exactly, but that’s kind of what I was getting at). On top of that, it’s rather inefficient to try to “innovate” your way to the next big thing when most “inventions” are actually evolutionary improvements to what’s come before. As if social networking and Web 2.0 was new! I mean, the version got ticked up from one-point-oh right?

But that’s not really what I’m saying. What I am saying is that I screenshot for history, for posterity, for education and erudition, for communication, to show off and, heck, for my own enjoyment. Call me twisted, but I really get off on novel approaches to old interfaces, clever disk images or fancy visualizations. Jacob Patton once called me the pornographer of Web 2.0. Nuff said.

Still, there is more to be said. For one thing, I don’t screenshot everything that I see or come across. Just like my blog posts, I tend to like to write about things that are interesting to me, but that, if I’m going to share to the wider world, will probably be of some interest to other folks, one way or another. I never assume interest, but, y’know, I do try to make this stuff look good in the off chance that someone takes inspiration from something I’ve uploaded… as in the case of Andy Baio‘s work on the redesign of Upcoming. According to his own recollection of his design process, he relied more heavily on my shots of the Flickr-Yahoo Account merge than on any other online resource for figuring out how to implement the same for Upcoming. So yay? Go team!

This is the perfect example of why my screenshotting of design patterns can be really useful for clever people. When other smarter people have already solved problems, and start repeating the solutions or interface in consistent ways, it becomes a design cow path. These are most interesting to me because, as the patterns emerge, we start to develop a visual language for web applications that can be used in the place of verbal descriptors like “adding friends” or “upload interfaces“. Rather than speak in the abstract, we can pull from an existing assortment of solutions from the wild that have already been proven in place, that you can interact with, and that you can evaluate on a case by case basis as to whether any given pattern is worth emulating in a new design.

I also screenshot as a way of in-between blogging, I guess. Y’know, like Twitter, Tumblr, Ma.gnolia, Plazes and (among others) are all forms of in-between blogging. They’re where I am in the absences between longer posts (such as this one) where I record what I’m up to, what I’m seeing and what’s interesting to me. My Flickr screenshots are probably more often than not more interesting than what I have to say over here, and certainly less verbose. And, most significantly, the screenshot is the new photograph, allowing me to connect through images of what I see with other people who are able to see things the way I see them. Imagine life before the original camera, where everyone’s depiction of one another was captured on canvas in oil paint; before screenshotting became a first class citizen on Flickr, we were living in a similarly blind world, cut off from these representations of our daily experience. But fortunately, as of a few months ago, that’s no longer the case:

Flickr: Content Filters

And, following off that last observation, I screenshot for posterity. Now that this internet thing has caught on and it’s been around a bit, it’s fun every now and then to reflect and go back to the days of the first bubble and take a look at what the “it” shine was back then (now it’s the “floor” effect — formerly known as the “wet floor” effect — but back then maybe it was the java lake applet?). Which is all fine and well, but once you start poking around, you’ll notice very quickly that the Wayback Machine is way incomplete. And while Google’s cache is useful, it certainly tends care more about the textual content of a page rather than how it originally looked. And that’s where screenshots could make up the difference, just as photographs of real life offer us a way to record the way things were, screenshots provide a mirror in time into the things we see on screen, into the interfaces that we interact with and the digital communications that we consume (check out this old view of the QuickSilver catalog compared with its current look or how about the Backpack preview or when Gmail stored less than 2GB of email?).

I don’t tend to think about the historic value of things when I shoot them; I do tend to evaluate their interestingness or contribution to a certain series along a theme. And yet, I’m curious to see, over time, just what these screenshots will reveal about us, and about the path we took to get to where end up. For one thing, web application development has changed drastically from where it was just a few years ago and now, with the iPhone, we’re embarking into wholly undiscovered territory (where it’s unclear if screenshots will be possible). But these screenshots help us learn about ourselves, and help us see the pieces-parts of our everyday experience. If I screenshot for any reason, perhaps it is to collect these scraps of evidence to help me better understand and put order into the world around me, to tie things together visually, and to explore solutions that work and others that fail. Anyway, it’s something I enjoy and will probably keep doing for the foreseeable future.

We found women in tech, so why are you still not reporting about them?

A Guide to the UnconventionalThere’s a good article on unconferences by Scott Kirsner in next week’s BusinessWeek. He talks about what an unconference is, discusses the rise of the wider community and the potential threat to the traditional conference model.

All in all, he does a pretty good job capturing an accurate picture of the “unconference scene” and it was great getting to talk to Scott about his piece.

I did want to take issue with his singling me out of “two fellow Web2Open organizers”, and bring some attention to gender blindness in media stories such as this one.

As with many stories in the popular press, it’s fairly typical to rest the foundation of a story on one or two key individuals; it keeps complexity low and avoids getting bogged down in details that are only of import to the characters of the story. And I’m sure that Scott didn’t intend any malice, but that Ross and Tara, who both stood on those chairs with me went unnamed strikes me as a missed opportunity to highlight not only the hard work that lots of folks have put into building this community, but in particular undermines the credit that Tara deserves for the incredible amount of work that she did to make Web2Open happen. If anyone, she’s the one that really deserves to be called out in the article.

But there’s a second and more insidious issue that I want to raise now, while the issue is relevant… If you read over the article, with the inside knowledge that I have of the background that went into the article, it’s doubly unfortunate that Tara wasn’t given more credit as a female organizer when she did far more than I did to pull off the conference; on top of that, the mention of Web2Open attendee Sudha Jamthe (a previous BarCamp organizer, no less) and Tara Dunion, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, seem to paint them as bit players when compared to white guys like me, Dave Winer and Doug Gold.

Now, maybe I’m just over-sensitive to this kind of stuff, building mountains out of molehills and all that, but I suppose that’s the price of vigilance. And it’s also something that I can’t ignore when BarCamp is not and has never been solely about individuals, but about what we can do together, when serving each our own’s best interests. And this is especially relevant if you read Aaron Swartz’s thoughts on mysogny in the tech community:

If you talk to any woman in the tech community, it won’t be long before they start telling you stories about disgusting, sexist things guys have said to them. It freaks them out; and rightly so. As a result, the only women you see in tech are those who are willing to put up with all the abuse.

I really noticed this when I was at foo camp once, Tim O’Reilly’s exclusive gathering for the elite of the tech community. The executive guys there, when they thought nobody else was around, talked about how they always held important business meetings at strip clubs and the deficiencies of programmers from various countries.

Meanwhile, foo camp itself had a session on discrimination in which it was explained to us that the real problem was not racism or sexism, but simply the fact that people like to hang out with others who are like themselves.

The denial about this in the tech community is so great that sometimes I despair of it ever getting fixed. And I should be clear, it’s not that there are just some bad people out there who are being prejudiced and offensive. Many of these people that I’m thinking of are some of my best friends in the community. It’s an institutional problem, not a personal one.

Promoting women when they’re doing great things in the tech community has to become a top priority. Providing and seeking out the women who are serving in backbone roles within our community and bringing the spotlight to them and supporting them must become a shared priority. Working with women’s groups to create both inviting events and interesting opportunities to draw out and inspire the reluctant or hidden female talent is something that conference and *camp organizers alike must attend to.

I think I’m extra sensitive about this particular case for two reasons. The first is that we tried really hard and went out of our way to encourage and both in and in the Web2Expo. It was certainly a challenge, but I’m proud of the progress we made. I personally had the privilege to work with three incredible women on the designer track (Kelly Goto, Jen Pahlka and Emily Chang) and I think that made all the difference. The second issue probably stems from the Schwartz interview where Philipp Lenssen (the interviewer) reports:

The last barcamp I was at, in Nuremberg, had a men/ women ratio of about 80/ 2. It was quite sad, and I was wondering what the cause of this was. Is it partly also a problem of the hacker culture, to behave anti-social, and that this puts off more social people? Many good programmers I know, for instance, aren’t too social.

To which Aaron astutely replies:

I think that’s probably part of it; many people don’t have the social skills to notice how offensive they’re being. But even the people who are quite social and competent misbehave and, furthermore, they support a culture where this misbehavior is acceptable. I don’t exclude myself from this criticism.

Now, for a BarCamp to have an 80-2 male-female ratio is unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. And I would hope and challenge the BarCamp community, in particular, to do whatever it takes to work to remedy a condition like this. There are simply no excuses, only constant improvements to be made. And if any community were up to the challenge of taking head on and reversing this long term, systemic trend of making women effectively invisible, I should hope, and moreover expect, that it would be the BarCamp community to take the first worldwide steps towards addressing this critical matter and setting some baseline priorities for how we’re going to improve this situation.

Coworking survey and vote on the Net Squared Innovation Fund

I don’t normally cross-post, but seeing as how my blogs are starting to converge a bit, I don’t mind throwing this one in there…

First, Tara’s been collecting survey data on coworking trends — as well as what common experiences, expectations and desires are. We’ve received about 50 responses so far and would love to have more — especially from the LifeHacker and WebWorkerDaily communities.

If you’re interested, come fill out the survey, shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, and we’ll be sharing the data with everyone at the end.

Vote for my Project on NetSquaredSecond, I just blogged over on Citizen Agency about getting your vote out for the Net Squared Innovation Fund. We’re donating a good chunk of consulting time to the effort to help equip non-profits with the skills, technology and “2.0 know-how” that they need to stay competitive and be even more effective in their advocacy using modern tools.

I invite you to read through and familiarize yourself with the slate of proposals that are all in the running for a chunk of the $100,000 that’s been set aside specifically for 20 community-selected projects and then go vote!

Oh, and if you’re in the area tomorrow night, we’re hosting Gina Bianchini, the co-founder and CEO of Ning and Benjamin Rattray the CEO of at Net Tuesday on the topic of “How Nonprofits Can Use and Build Online Social Networks: and Ning at Net Tuesday”, starting at 6pm at Citizen Space. Should be an excellent event.

Vertigo offers up classic first issues for free download

Simple Comic

I’ve been getting back into comics lately thanks to James Sime over at Isotope Comics in Hayes Valley (who, by the way, is going to be speaking at the upcoming Web2Open).

Presently, I’m really digging New Universal, , and , so when James told me about the Vertigo classic first issue downloads, I had to go check’em out.

Notable from the list are The Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution, Death: the High Cost of Living, Transmetropolitan Vol. 1: Back on the Street, Preacher Vol 1: Gone to Texas, though the whole list is really quite good.

I also checked out some desktop comic viewers — basically alternatives to Preview (on the Mac). I like (pictured above and free and open source) but is also worth a look (though pricier at $24.95).

Though the idea of reading comics on the desktop is appealing, like most physical media trying to go digital, I agree with James that something is definitely lost in the translation. Still, think of these downloads as the equivalent of 30-second iTunes previews and then go patronize your local comic store!