Dick Pics and Cable Company Fuckery

John Oliver has become the most important voice in tech policy (and maybe policy in general).

His gift, his talent, his skill: turning wonky policy language that make people glaze over into messages that people connect to and care about it.

Last fall, he did took what may be the most boring, confusing term ever, Net Neutrality, and made it relatable as Cable Company Fuckery.  8mm people watched that video, and it was a big factor behind the over 4mm comments left at the FCC on an issue that even most tech people had a hard time explaining to each other.

Now, he has tackled another mind bending, but really very important topic: surveillance.  It’s amazing really.  Huge, complicated, important issue. Real-life spy stories, with real life hero/villains.  And no one gives a shit at all.  But when you say it the right way — in this case: should the government be able to see your dick pic? — people light up.

This is 30 minutes of truly instructive brilliance:

The best part – he hands Snowden a folder labeled top secret including a 8×10 photo of his own penis.  And asks Snowden to re-explain every NSA spy program in terms of “the dick pic test”.

On the one hand, you could argue that it’s sad that policy issues need to get boiled down to “dick pics” and “fuckery” for people to get them.

On the other hand, it’s even sadder that the people investing time, energy, and effort in working on these issues (myself included) don’t grasp that and use it to make sure ideas connect.  Thankfully we have John Oliver to help us with that.

This piece is brilliant — in particular the way he opens Snowden’s eyes to the extent to which people don’t get this issue, misunderstand who he is and what he did, and need it to be presented to them in a different, simpler way.

The major point here is that no matter your feelings on what Snowden did, it’s all for naught if it doesn’t trigger an actual conversation.  And while it’s easy for folks in the tech / policy community to feel like that conversation is happening, the truth is that on a broad popular level it’s not.

So once again John Oliver has shown us how to take a super important, super complicated, and basically ignored issue and put it on the table in a way people can chew on.  Bravo.

From here on out, I’m going to start looking at every policy issue through the lens of WWJD — what would john oliver do — and pick it up from the vegetable garden of policy talk and into the headspace of people on the street.

Failure is the tuition you pay for success

Failure is the tuition you pay for success.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and was up around 4am lurking on Twitter.  I came across an old friend, Elizabeth Green, who is an accomplished and awesome education writer — you’ve probably read some of her recent NYT mag cover stories, and it turns out she has a new book out, Building a Better Teacher.  I know Elizabeth because back in 2008 at OpenPlans, we worked with her to launch GothamSchools, which eventually spun-out and became Chalkbeat.

I said to myself: oh yeah, that was such a great project; I had totally forgotten about that. So awesome that it is still up and running and thriving.  And I dutifully headed over to update my Linkedin profile and add it to the section about my time at OpenPlans.

During my nearly 6 years at OpenPlans, we built a lot of great things and accomplished a lot, and I’m really proud of my time there.  But it’s also true that we made a ton of mistakes and invested time, money and energy in many projects that ranged from mild disappointment to total clusterfuck.

Looking at my LinkedIn profile, I started to feel bad that I was only listing the projects that worked – the ones that I’m proud of.  And that’s kind of lame.  The ones that didn’t work were equally important — perhaps more so, for all the hard lessons I learned through doing them and failing.  So rather than be ashamed of them (the natural and powerful response), I should try and celebrate them.

So I decided to add a new section to my LinkedIn profile — right under my work history: Self.Anti-Portfolio.  Projects that didn’t work.  I started with things we did at OpenPlans, but have since added to it beyond that. Here’s the list so far:

  • OpenCore (2005-8) – a platform for organizing/activism. Hugely complex, too much engineering, not enough product/customer focus, trying to be a web service and an open source project at the same time and basically failing at both. (now http://coactivate.org)
  • Homefry (2008) – platform for short-term apartment sharing.  Seemed like such a great idea. A few friends and I built a half-functional prototype, but didn’t see it through. Maybe a billion dollar mistake. (more here).
  • Community Almanac (2009) – platform for sharing stories about local places. Really beautiful, but no one used it (http://communityalmanac.org)
  • OpenBlock (2010) – open source fork of everyblock.com, intended for use by traditional news organizations.  Stack was too complicated, and in retrospect it would have been smarter to simply build new, similar tools, rather than directly keep alive that codebase (https://github.com/openplans/openblock)
  • Civic Commons Marketplace (2011) – a directory/marketplace of open source apps in use by government. Way overbuilt and never got traction.  Burned the whole budget on data model architecture and engineering.
  • Distributed (2014) – crowd funding for tech policy projects. Worked OK, but we discontinued it after brief private pilot.

Looking through this list — and there are certainly ones I’ve forgotten, and I will keep adding; trust me — what I noticed was: in pretty much every one of these cases, the root cause was Big Design Up Front – too much engineering/building, and not enough customer development.  Too much build, not enough hustle.  Another observation is that these were mostly all slow, drawn-out, painful failures, not “fast” failures.

I thought I learned these lessons way back in 2006!  That was when I first read Getting Real, which became my bible (pre-The Lean Startup) for running product teams and building an organization.  The ideas in Getting Real were the ones that helped make Streetsblog and Streetfilms such a big success. And they are what helped me understand what was going wrong with the OpenCore project, and ultimately led me to disassemble it and start what became OpenPlans Labs.

But it turns out the hard lessons can lurk, no matter how much you think you’ve taken them to heart.  Perhaps tracking the Anti-Portfolio in public will help.

Financial Planning for the 90%

A few weeks ago as I was walking down Beacon Street in Brookline, I happened upon something amazing: The Society of Grownups.

The Society of Grownups is a self-proclaimed “grad school for adulthood”, the idea is to give people the tools they need to manage their grown up lives.  The primary focus is on financial literacy and counseling, but it also includes other kinds of classes and programs.

This is something I’ve wanted for a long time.  I am dumbfounded that we don’t have more financial / grownup education early in our lives. I graduated high school without as much as a word about earning / saving money, what credit cards mean, etc.  I suppose, like sex ed, financial ed is one of those subjects that people are just supposed to figure out on their own, or maybe learn from their parents.  It’s just that it’s so important — if you think about it it is preposterous that this is not more of a focus at all levels of learning.

Of course, there is no shortage of financial services for people who are well off — and I’d argue that the prevailing mindset is that you need to have money to talk to someone about money.  Which makes sense, in a way, but is also fundamentally wrong, and a contributing factor to why it’s expensive to be poor.

Point is, I’ve been hoping to see services like this crop up. Not only is it an important social issue, but I suspect it can be a really good business in its own right.

The Society of Grownups is one attempt — at the moment, it’s not attempting to be a web-scale effort, but rather is small and personal.  In-person coaching, classes, and community.  Ranging from $20 for a 20 minute session with a financial coach, to $100 for a 90 minute session, to a range of pricing for classes and events.

I signed up for a 20 minute financial coaching session (first one is free), just to get a feel for it.  My coach came in with a big “Don’t Panic” sticker on her notebook — this is one of their slogans.  We talked through our situation, concerns and goals.  It was really helpful and refreshing.  I wish I had done this 15 years ago when I was in college (and every month since).

Another player in this space that I’ve been curious about it LearnVest — they are going with the web-based approach; the yin to TSOG’s yang.  I got a little stuck in the LearnVest onboarding — there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just the standard email back-and-forth plus phone calls.  There is something nice about just being able to walk into a place and talk face-to-face.  But I suspect that I’ll like LearnVest as well.  They do direct integration with your bank accounts (a la mint), and use the coaching to help you come up with a strategy and a plan.

Anyway, this is all very encouraging, and I hope both of these efforts and others can get traction.  So much of the country, and the world, is so fucked and adrift in terms of money. And while there are clearly macro forces at play causing much of that, there’s also the potential for everyone to get smarter and better about how they manage on a month-to-month basis, and I hope we see more and more companies finding a business model that serves them.

The Light Inside, The Fire Inside

Last week, a friend passed away after a relatively brief but intense battle with lung cancer.  I didn’t know Paul well, but he was very close with a few of my very close friends, and I had spent enough time with him to understand that he was special: he had a light inside of him.   A curiosity and energy that opened his eyes, lit up his mind, and made him go.  I could feel it the first time I met him.

Later last week, I was traveling for work, first to the Bay Area and then to Austin.  In both cases, I spent time with old, great friends who I don’t get to see very often.  And in both cases, I stayed out way later than I should and usually do, and drank way more than I should or usually do.  But as with most things like that there is good along with the bad.

Not that surprisingly, I guess, I ended up having almost the same conversation in both places.  And that conversation was about how wonderful it is to find people in your life who have that light inside of them.  There are so many nasty people in the world, and being a kid (or a grownup, for that matter) can be hard, and compoundingly hard the fewer sources of light you have in your life.  You don’t always find people with that light — right away, or sometimes at all.  So when you do, it is so fantastic.

Thinking about Paul, and thinking about my friends, it made me so thankful for the people in my life who are generous, curious, thoughtful, creative, and full of light.  It has taken a long time to find them.  And it’s also so easy to take them for granted if you’re not careful.

It makes me think about how we find people who have this (specifically, on the internet), and also how we find and cultivate our own center of light, often in the face of doubt and difficulty.

Coincidentally, on the flight home, I started reading James Altschuler‘s book, Choose Yourself.  One idea he stresses is that the key to happiness (and success) is lighting and stoking the fire inside you, and letting everything else flow from that.  And that this can be hard to do, since there are plenty of ways for us to doubt ourselves, get distracted, and lose faith that our fire is real and valuable.

He calls it a fire, not a light, but it’s the same idea.  It’s getting over whatever bullshit may be in your way (approval of others, fitting in, etc), and focusing on the energy, the fire, at your core.  Being honest and accepting about what that is, and letting that guide your way to more and more.  It’s a simple idea, but has really stuck with me.

So, I’ll just end by thanking everyone who puts light out into the world, including many of those in my current orbit who I appreciate enormously.  And by encouraging myself and everyone else to keep stoking the fire, even when it’s hard to do.

Increasing trust, safety and security using a Regulation 2.0 approach

This is the latest post in a series on Regulation 2.0 that I’m developing into a white paper for the Program on Municipal Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported that an Uber driver kidnapped and raped a passenger.  First, my heart go out to the passenger, her friends and her family.  And second, I take this as yet another test of our fledgling ability to create scalable systems for trust, safety and security built on the web.

This example shows us that these systems are far from perfect. This is precisely the kind of worst-case scenario that anyone thinking about these trust, safety and security issues wants to prevent.  As I’ve written about previously, trust, safety and security are pillars of successful and healthy web platforms:

  • Safety is putting measures into place that prevent user abuse, hold members accountable, and provide assistance when a crisis occurs.
  • Trust, a bit more nuanced in how it’s created, is creating the explicit and implicit contracts between the company, customers and employees.
  • Security protects the company, customers, and employees from breach: digital or physical all while abiding by local, national and international law.

An event like this has compromised all three.  The question, then, is how to improve these systems, and then whether, over time, the level of trust, safety and security we can ultimately achieve is better than what we could do before.

The idea I’ve been presenting here is that social web platforms, dating back to eBay in the late 90s, have been in a continual process of inventing “regulatory” systems that make it possible and safe(r) to transact with strangers.

The working hypothesis is that these systems are not only scalable in a way that traditional regulatory systems aren’t — building on the “trust, then verify” model — but can actually be more effective than traditional “permission-based” licensing and permitting regimes.  In other words, they trade access to the market (relatively lenient) for hyper-accountability (extremely strict).  Compare that to traditional systems that don’t have access to vast and granular data, which can only rely on strict up-front vetting followed by limited, infrequent oversight.  You might describe it like this:

reg-2-0-matrix

This model has worked well in relatively low-risk for personal harm situations.  If I buy something on eBay and the seller never ships, I’ll live.  When we start connecting real people in the real world, things get riskier and more dangerous.  There are many important questions that we as entrepreneurs, investors and regulators should consider:

  • How much risk is acceptable in an “open access / high accountability” model and then how could regulators mitigate known risks by extending and building on regulation 2.0 techniques?
  • How can we increase the “lead time” for regulators to consider these questions, and come up with novel solutions, while at the same time incentivizing startups to “raise their hand” and participate in the process, without fear of getting preemptively shut down before their ideas are validated?
  • How could regulators adopt a 2.0 approach in the face of an increasing number of new models in additional sectors (food, health, education, finance, etc)?

Here are a few ideas to address these questions:

With all of this, the key is in the information.  Looking at the diagram above, “high accountability” is another way of saying “built on information”.  The key tradeoff being made by web platforms and their users is access to the market in exchange for high accountability through data.  One could imagine regulators taking a similar approach to startups in highly regulated sectors.

Building on this, we should think about safe harbors and incentives to register.  The idea of high-information regulation only works if there is an exchange of information!  So the question is: can we create an environment where startups feel comfortable self-identifying, knowing that they are trading freedom to operate for accountability through data.  Such a system, done right, could give regulators the needed lead time to understand a new approach, while also developing a relationship with entrepreneurs in the sector.  Entrepreneurs are largely skeptical of this approach, given how much the “build an audience, then ask for forgiveness” model has been played out.  But this model is risky and expensive, and now having seen that play out a few times, perhaps we can find a more moderate approach.

Consider where to implement targeted transparency.  One of the ways web platforms are able to convince users to participate in the “open access for accountability through data” trade is that many of the outputs of this data exchange are visible.  This is part of the trade.  I can see my eBay seller score; Uber drivers can see their driver score; etc.  A major concern that many companies and individuals have is that increased data-sharing with the government will be a one-way street; targeted transparency efforts can make that clearer.

Think about how to involve third-party stakeholders in the accountability process.  For example, impact on neighbors has been one of the complaints about the growth of the home-sharing sector.   Rather than make a blanket rule on the subject, how might it be possible to include these stakeholders in the data-driven accountability process?  One could imagine a neighbor hotline, or a feedback system, that could incentivize good behavior and allow for meaningful third-party input.

Consider endorsing a right to an API key for participants in these ecosystems.  Such a right would allow / require actors to make their reputation portable, which would increase accountability broadly. It also has implications for labor rights and organizing, as Albert describes in the above linked post.  Alternatively, or in addition, we could think about real-time disclosure requirements for data with trust and safety implications, such as driver ratings.  Such disclosures could be made as part of the trade for the freedom to operate.

Related, consider ways to use encryption and  aggregate data for analysis to avoid some of the privacy issues inherent in this approach.  While users trust web platforms with very specific data about their activities, how that data is shared with the government is not typically part of that agreement, and this needs to be handled carefully.  For example, even though Apple knows how fast I’m driving at any time, we would be surprised and upset if they reported us to the authorities for speeding.  Of course, this is completely different for emergent safety situations, such as the Uber example above, where platforms cooperate regularly and swiftly with law enforcement.

While it is not clear that any of these techniques would have prevented this incident, or that it might have been possible to prevent this at all, my idealistic viewpoint is that by working to collaborate on policy responses to the risks and opportunities inherent in all of these new systems, we can build stronger, safer and more scalable approaches.

// thanks to Brittany Laughlin and Aaron Wright for their input on this post

Regulation and the peer economy: a 2.0 framework

As part of my series on Regulation 2.0, which I’m putting together for the Project on Municipal Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School, today I am going to employ a bit of a cop-out tactic and rather than publish my next section (which I haven’t finished yet, largely because my whole family has the flu right now), I will publish a report written earlier this year by my friend Max Pomeranc.

Max is a former congressional chief of staff, who did his masters at the Kennedy School last year.  For his “policy analysis exercise” (essentially a thesis paper) Max looked at regulation and the peer economy, exploring the idea of a “2.0” approach.  I was Max’s advisor for the paper, and he has since gone on to a policy job at Airbnb.

Max did a great job of looking at two recent examples of peer economy meets regulation: the California ridesharing rules, and the JOBS act for equity crowdfunding, and exploring some concepts which could be part of a “2.0” approach to regulation.  His full report is here. Relatively quick read, a good starting place for thinking about these ideas.

I am off to meet Max for breakfast as we speak!

More tomorrow.

Web platforms as regulatory systems

This is part 3 in a series of posts I’m developing into a white paper on “Regulation 2.0″ for the Program on Municipal Innovation Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  For many tech industry readers of this blog, these ideas may seem obvious, but they are not intended for you!  They are meant to help bring a fresh perspective to public policy makers who may not be familiar with the trust and safety systems underpinning today’s social/collaborative web platforms.

Twice a year, a group of regulators and policymakers convenes to discuss their approaches to ensuring trust, safety and security in their large and diverse communities. Topics on the agenda range from financial fraud, to bullying, to free speech, to transportation, to child predation, to healthcare, to the relationship between the community and law enforcement.

Each is experimenting with new ways to address these community issues. As their communities grow (very quickly in some cases), and become more diverse, it’s increasingly important that whatever approaches they implement can both scale to accommodate large volumes and rapid growth, and adapt to new situations. There is a lot of discussion about how data and analytics are used to help guide decisionmaking and policy development. And of course, they are all working within the constraints of relatively tiny staffs and relatively tiny budgets.

As you may have guessed, this group of regulators and policymakers doesn’t represent cities, states or countries. Rather, they represent web and mobile platforms: social networks, e-commerce sites, crowdfunding platforms, education platforms, audio & video platforms, transportation networks, lending, banking and money-transfer platforms, security services, and more. Many of them are managing communities of tens or hundreds of millions of users, and are seeing growth rates upwards of 20% per month. The event is Union Square Ventures’ semiannual “Trust, Safety and Security” summit, where each company’s trust & safety, security and legal officers and teams convene to learn from one another.

In 2010, my colleague Brad Burnham wrote a post suggesting that web platforms are in many ways more like governments than traditional businesses. This is perhaps a controversial idea, but one thing is unequivocally true: like governments, each platform is in the business of developing policies which enable social and economic activity that is vibrant and safe.

The past 15 or so years has been a period of profound and rapid “regulatory” innovation on the internet. In 2000, most people were afraid to use a credit card on the internet, let alone send money to a complete stranger in exchange for some used item. Today, we’re comfortable getting into cars driven by strangers, inviting strangers to spend an evening in our apartments (and vice versa), giving direct financial support to individuals and projects of all kinds, sharing live video of ourselves, taking lessons from unaccredited strangers, etc. In other words, the new economy being built in the internet model is being regulated with a high degree of success.

Of course, that does not mean that everything is perfect and there are no risks. On the contrary, every new situation introduces new risks. And every platform addresses these risks differently, and with varying degrees of success. Indeed, it is precisely the threat of bad outcomes that motivates web platforms to invest so heavily in their “trust and safety” (i.e., regulatory) systems & teams. If they are not ultimately able to make their platforms safe and comfortable places to socialize & transact, the party is over.

As with the startup world in general, the internet approach to regulation is about trying new things, seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and making rapid (and sometimes profound) adjustments. And in fact, that approach: watch what’s happening and then correct for bad behavior, is the central idea.

So: what characterizes these “regulatory” systems? There are a few common characteristics that run through nearly all of them:

Built on information: The foundational characteristic of these “internet regulatory systems” is that they wouldn’t be possible without large volumes of real-time data describing nearly all activity on the platform (when we think about applying this model to the public sector this raises additional concerns, which we’ll discuss later). This characteristic is what enables everything that follows, and is the key distinguishing idea between these new regulatory systems from the “industrial model” regulatory systems of the 20th century.

Trust by default (but verify): Once we have real-time and relatively complete information about platform/community activity, we can radically shift our operating model. We can then, and only then, move from an “up front permission” model, to a “trust but verify” model. Following from this shift are two critical operating models: a) the ability to operate at a very large scale, at low cost, and b) the ability to explicitly promote “innovation” by not prescribing outcomes from the get go.

Busier is better: It’s fascinating to think about systems that work better the busier they are. Subways, for instance, can run higher-frequency service during rush hour due to steady demand, thereby speeding up travel times when things are busiest. Contrast that to streets which perform the worst when they are needed most (rush hour). Internet regulatory systems — and eventually all regulatory systems that are built on software and data — work better the more people use them: they are not only able to scale to handle large volumes, but they learn more the more use they see.

Responsive policy development: Now, given that we have high quality, relatively comprehensive information, we’ve adopted a “trust but verify” model that allows for many actors to begin participating, and we’ve invited as much use as we can, we’re able to approach policy development from a very different perspective. Rather than looking at a situation and debating hypothetical “what-ifs”, we can see very concretely where good and bad activity is happening, and can begin experimenting with policies and procedures to encourage the good activity and limit the bad.

If you are thinking: wow, that’s a pretty different, and powerful but very scary approach, you are right! This model does a lot of things that our 20th century common sense should be wary of. It allows for widespread activity before risk has been fully assessed, and it provides massive amounts of real-time data, and massive amounts of power, to the “regulators” who decide the policies based on this information.

So, would it be possible to apply these ideas to public sector regulation? Can we do it in such a way that actually allows for new innovations to flourish, pushing back against our reflexive urge to de-risk all new activities before allowing them? Can & should the government be trusted with all of that personal data? These are all important questions, and ones that we’ll address in forthcoming sections. Stay tuned.

Technological revolutions and the search for trust

For the past several years, I have been an advisor to the Data-Smart City Solutions initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  This is a group tasked with helping cities consider how to govern in new ways using the volumes of new data that are now available.  An adjacent group at HKS is the Program on Municipal Innovation (PMI), which brings together a large group of city managers (deputy mayors and other operational leaders) twice a year to talk shop.  I’ve had the honor of attending this meeting a few times in the past, and I must say it’s inspiring and encouraging to see urban leaders from across the US come together to learn from one another.

One of the PMI’s latest projects is an initiative on regulatory reform — studying how, exactly, cities can go about assessing existing rules and regulations, and revising them as necessary.  As part of this initiative, I’ve been writing up a short white paper on “Regulation 2.0” — the idea that government can adopt some of the “regulatory” techniques pioneered by web platforms to achieve trust and safety at scale.  Over the course of this week, I’ll publish my latest drafts of the sections of the paper.

Here’s the outline I’m working on:

  1. Regulation 1.0 vs. Regulation 2.0: an example
  2. Context: technological revolutions and the search for trust
  3. Today’s conflict: some concrete examples
  4. Web platforms as regulatory systems
  5. Regulation 2.0: applying the lessons of web platform regulation to the real world

Section 1 will be an adaptation of this post from last year.  My latest draft of section 2 is below.  I’ll publish the remaining sections over the course of this week.

As always, any and all feedback is greatly appreciated!

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Technological revolutions and the search for trust

The search for trust amidst rapid change, as described in the Seattle ridesharing example, is not a new thing.  It is, in fact, a natural and predictable response to times when new technologies fundamentally change the rules of the game.

We are in the midst of a major technological revolution, the likes of which we experience only once or twice per century.  Economist Carlota Perez describes these waves of massive technological change as “great surges”, each of which involves “profound changes in people, organizations and skills in a sort of habit-breaking hurricane.”[1]

This sounds very big and scary, of course, and it is.  Perez’s study of technological revolutions over the past 250 years — five distinct great surges lasting roughly fifty years each — shows that as we develop and deploy new technologies, we repeatedly break and rebuild the foundations of society: economic structures, social norms, laws and regulations.  It’s a wild, turbulent and unpredictable process.

Despite the inherent unpredictability with new technologies, Perez found that each of these great surges does, in fact, follow a common pattern:

First: a new technology opens up a massive new opportunity for innovation and investment. Second, the wild rush to explore and implement this technology produces vast new wealth, while at the same time causing massive dislocation and angst, often resulting in a bubble bursting and a recession.  Finally, broader cultural adoption paired with regulatory reforms set the stage for a smoother and more broadly prosperous period of growth, resulting in the full deployment of the mature technology and all of its associated social and institutional changes.  And of course, by the time each fifty-year surge concluded, the seeds of the next one had been planted.

CSU929

image: The Economist

So essentially: wild growth, societal disruption, then readjustment and broad adoption.  Perez describes the “readjustment and broad adoption” phase (the “deployment period” in the diagram above), as the percolating of the “common sense” throughout other aspects of society:

“the new paradigm eventually becomes the new generalized ‘common sense’, which gradually finds itself embedded in social practice, legislation and other components of the institutional framework, facilitating compatible innovations and hindering incompatible ones.”[2]

In other words, once the established powers of the previous paradigm are done fighting off the new paradigm (typically after some sort of profound blow-up), we come around to adopting the techniques of the new paradigm to achieve the sense of trust and safety that we had come to know in the previous one.  Same goals, new methods.

As it happens, our current “1.0” regulatory model was actually the result of a previous technological revolution.  In The Search for Order: 1877-1920[2], Robert H. Wiebe describes the state of affairs that led to the progressive era reforms of the early 20th century:

Established wealth and power fought one battle after another against the great new fortunes and political kingdoms carved out of urban-industrial America, and the more they struggled, the more they scrambled the criteria of prestige. The concept of a middle class crumbled at the touch. Small business appeared and disappeared at a frightening rate. The so-called professions meant little as long as anyone with a bag of pills and a bottle of syrup could pass for a doctor, a few books and a corrupt judge made a man a lawyer, and an unemployed literate qualified as a teacher.

This sounds a lot like today, right?  A new techno-economic paradigm (in this case, urbanization and inter-city transportation) broke the previous model of trust (isolated, closely-knit rural communities), resulting in a re-thinking of how to find that trust.  During the “bureaucratic revolution” of the early 20th century progressive reforms, the answer to this problem was the establishment of institutions — on the private side, firms with trustworthy brands, and on the public side, regulatory bodies — that took on the burden of ensuring public safety and the necessary trust & security to underpin the economy and society.

Coming back to today, we are currently in the middle of one of these 50-year surges — the paradigm of networked information — and that we are roughly in the middle of the above graph — we’ve seen wild growth, intense investment, and profound conflicts between the new paradigm and the old.

What this paper is about, then, is how we might consider adopting the tools & techniques of the networked information paradigm to achieve the societal goals previously achieved through the 20th century’s “industrial” regulations and public policies.  A “2.0” approach, if you will, that adopts the “common sense” of the internet era to build a foundation of trust and safety.

Coming up: a look at some concrete examples of the tensions between the networked information era and the industrial era; a view into the world of web platforms’ “trust and safety” teams and the model of regulation they’re pioneering; and finally, some specific recommendations for how we might envision a new paradigm for regulation that embraces the networked information era.

 

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Footnotes:

  1. Perez, p.4
  2. Perez, p. 16
  3. Weibe, p. 13.  Hat tip to Rit Aggarwala for this reference, and the idea of the “first bureaucratic revolution”

The magic of making hard things easy

I wrote earlier this week about how life is, generally, hard.  There’s no question about that.

One of my favorite things about the Internet, and probably the most exciting thing about working in venture capital, is being around people who are working to re-architect the world to make hard things easier.  And by easier, I mean: by designing clever social / technical / collaborative hacks that redesign the problem and the solution.

Yesterday, I was out in SF for USV’s semiannual Trust, Safety and Security summit — Brittany runs USV portfolio summits twice a month and one of the ones I don’t miss is this one.  It brings together folks working on Trust and Safety issues (everything from fraud, to bullying, to child safety, to privacy) and Security issues (securing offices & servers; defending against hacker attacks, etc.).  Everyone learns from everyone else about how to get better at all of these important activities.

Trust, Safety and Security teams are the unsung heroes of every web platform.  What they do is largely invisible to end users, and you usually only hear about them when something goes wrong.  They are the ones building the internal systems that make it possible to buy from a stranger online, to get into someone’s car, to let your kid use the internet.  If web platforms were governments, they would be the legislature, law enforcement, national security, and social services.

Often times at these summits, we bring in outside guests who have particular expertise in some area.  At yesterday’s summit, our guest was Alex Rice, formerly head of Product Security at Facebook, and now founder of HackerOne.  Side note: it was fascinating to hear about how Facebook bakes security into every product and engineering team — subject for a later post.  For today: HackerOne is a fascinating platform that takes something really hard — security testing — and architects it to be (relatively) easy, by incentivizing the identification and closing out of security holes in web applications and open source projects.

The magic of HackerOne is solving for incentives and awkwardness, on both sides (tech cos and security researchers).  Security researchers are infamous for finding flaws in web platforms, and then, if the platforms don’t respond and fix it, going public.  This is only a semi-effective system, and it’s very adversarial.  HackerOne solves for this by letting web platforms sign up (either in public or private) and attract hackers/researchers, and mediating the process of identifying, fixing, and publicizing bugs, and paying out “bug bounties” to the hackers.  Platforms get stronger, hackers get paid.  In the year that it’s been operating, HackerOne has solved over 5,000 bugs and paid out over $1.6mm in bug bounties.

Thinking about this, it strikes me that there are a few common traits of platforms that successfully re-architect something from hard –> easy:

Structure and incentives: The secret sauce here mediating the tasks in a new way, and cleverly building incentives for everyone to participate.  Companies don’t like to admit they might have security holes. They don’t like to engage with abrasive outside researchers.  Email isn’t a very accountable mode of communication for this.  But HackerOne is figuring out how to solve for that — if every company has a HackerOne page, there’s nothing to fear about having one.  Building a workflow around bug finding / solving / publicizing solves a lot of practical problems (like making payments and getting multi-party sign off on going public).  Money that’s small for a big company is big for an individual researcher — one hacker earned $20k in bug bounties in a single month, for a single company, recently  Essentially, HackerOne is doing to security bugs what StackOverflow has done for technical Q&A: take a messy, hard, unattractive problem with a not-very-effective solution and re-architect it to be easy, attractive and magical.

Vastly broadening the pool of participants:  After the summit, I asked Alex how old the youngest successful bug finder on the platform is.  Any guesses?  11.  Right: an 11 year old found a security hole in a website and got paid for it.  Every successful hard –> easy solution on the internet does this.  Another of my favorite examples is CrowdMed, where a community of solvers makes hard medical diagnoses that other specialists could not – 70% of the solvers are not doctors.  (They typically solve it with an “oh, my friend has those symptoms; maybe it’s ____” approach, which you can only do at web scale).

Deep personal experience: It takes a lot of subject matter expertise to get these nuances right.  It makes sense that Alex was a security specialist, that Joel at stack overflow has been building developer tools for nearly two decades, and that Jared at CrowdMed was inspired by his own sister’s experience with a rare, difficult-to-diagnose disease.  I would like to think that it’s also possible to do this without that deep expertise, but it seems clear that it helps a lot.

The fact that it’s not only possibly to make hard things easy, but that smart people everywhere are building things that do it right now, is what gets gets me going every day.

Everyone is broken and life is hard

That’s a pretty depressing and fatalistic post title, but I actually mean it in a positive and encouraging way.  Let me explain.

It’s easy to go about your life, every day, feeling like everyone else has their shit together and that the things you struggle with are unique to you.

But then, when you get down to it, it turns out that everyone — every single person I know — is dealing with profoundly difficult and stressful things.  Sometimes that’s money, sometimes it’s health, sometimes it’s work or family or relationships.

It’s worth remembering this so that we cultivate some empathy when dealing with people — in general and in particular in difficult situations.

For example, with all of the controversy and strife over police brutality and race relations in the US, it’s easy for both sides to look at the other and not understand.  My personal default stance on all of that is: of course police treat black males unfairly, and black people in the US are so structurally fucked over that it’s hard to really comprehend it.

I also have a police detective as a future brother-in-law, who sees it from a different perspective.  From his, and my sister-in-law’s point of view, he does something incredibly dangerous and scary, for the safety of all of us; and further, he’s a good person and so are his colleagues.  He also sent me this video (graphic) which grounds those sentiments in reality.  And of course, he’s right.

Or take congress.  It’s poisonous there.  I went down to DC last week, and met with two Republican senate staffers, two Democrats, and an independent.  Reasonable people, all of them, and I’m sure each with their own struggles.  Now, I’m not in the thick of the DC mess, but it seems to me that it’s easy to lose sight of that and just fucking hate everyone in the heat of the fight.

Or the torture report. Jesus.

Or look at celebrities, or the ultra rich.  I have an old friend who is very wealthy and just went through a really painful divorce that broke up his family.  The number of privileged kids with broken lives due to substance abuse is staggering.

The number of upper middle class, middle class, and poor people with broken lives due to substance abuse is staggering. A fabulous couple I know, with one of the best relationships I’ve ever seen, is on the brink of losing it because of stress and alcohol.

We’ve got two close friends dealing with life-threatening cancer right now.  Someone in their thirties and someone in their sixties.

Everyone has these things, either directly or adjacently.  And they all go to work every day (or don’t), and get on twitter, and blog, and talk on TV, and run companies, and etc.

I am not exactly sure what my point is here, except to say that thinking about it this way really makes me want to redouble my support for my friends and family, and to give everyone (including myself) a break now and then, because there are things in their life that are broken, and life is hard for everyone.

Anti-workflow apps

“Workflow” apps hold so much promise.  Whether it’s a CRM, project management tool, to-do list, or some other tool, the promise in each case is to clean up our messy lives and help us be more organized and effective.

The problem, though, is that getting people to adopt a workflow is really really hard.  That’s why there are so many to-do apps out there, each one with a slightly different user experience, and none of them “just quite right” for everyone.  Workflow apps are like Goldilocks’ porridge.  Everyone is a little different, and it’s hard to get people to change.

A solution, then, is to take the “anti-workflow” approach.  Make me more productive without shoehorning me into a new workflow.

For example, Zander has been building a side project called Ansatz, which is the “anti-CRM”.  All you do is auth it into your email, and it builds intelligence your whole team can use, about who you know and how well.  It’s a CRM with out the CRM.

And yesterday, I found out about Taco, which is the “anti-ToDo” app — gives you a handle on all of the things you need to do (as defined by starred emails, github tasks, zendesk tickets, etc), and puts it right where you want it: on the Chrome new tab screen (side note: Taco should merge with Momentum, which I love).  So now, I can track and prioritize what I need to work on, without having to adopt a to-do routine that I’m guaranteed not to stick to.  Already, using this has helped me manage my inbox, as I know that I can archive starred emails knowing they’ll show up in my todo list, where I can prioritize them and work on them later when I have time.

Both of these examples build on perhaps the biggest productivity treasure trove: the inbox.  For a long time, I’ve wondered why we don’t see more and better email analytics tools (Rapportive was one of my favorites).  My inbox knows pretty much everything about me, and it’s really poorly organized.   Maybe it’s because entrepreneurs are afraid of Google Inbox (I suppose I would be).

Regardless, it seems to me that there are countless ways to help me make my inbox more meaningful to me, and nearly all of them can accomplish that with an anti-workflow approach, which is a winning one IMHO.

Finding Flow: writing vs. coding

When I first started to learn programming, about 15 years ago, I remember being surprised at how easy it was for me to get focused and stay focused.  I loved (and still love) the feeling of getting lost in a project, and could easily spend hours upon hours “in the zone”. No procrastination, no resistance, only focus and enjoyment.  It was easy for me to find Flow.

Part of why this surprised me so much is that I had always struggled to achieve (and still do) a similar state when writing.  Dating back to the first paper I ever wrote (maybe 4th grade? Certainly 6th grade), the feeling I most associated with writing a paper was terror, dread, resistance, and avoidance.  Procrastination station.

Programming and writing are pretty similar activities, so I often think about what makes programming such a joy and writing such a chore (for me at least).

Recently, the answer has been revealing itself to me, as I’ve been seeing a mindfulness therapist. Mindfulness centers around the practice of noticing your thoughts — developing a kind of “meta awareness” — so that you can then develop more control over how you react to your thoughts.  In other words, often times, the thing that troubles us isn’t our direct experience, but rather our reaction to that experience.  Mindfulness (at least at the stage I’m at) helps you distinguish between the two.

So, as I’ve been working on the mindfulness practice, and at the same time working on a few long-form writing projects, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to that moment when I find myself resisting the task.  When that feeling rises up in my belly that pushes me to turn away, break focus, check my email, snap out of whatever Flow I may have achieved.

And each time that happens, I’ve been trying to take a second and examine that feeling, try and figure out why I’m pulling away — trying to notice what, exactly, is going on.  It’s a really odd thing to do, and is pretty illuminating.

As far as I can tell so far, the difference between writing (where I feel the constant pull of avoidance) and coding (where I easily melt into Flow) is a certain form of terror, of not knowing “the answer” — whether that’s a certain wording, and idea, a structure, etc.  Whereas with coding, I don’t expect to know the answer, and bring wrong (try, break, repeat, repeat) is just part of the process.

Also, I often get intimidated by the scope of a writing project, whereas it’s easier for me to tackle programming work in pieces, so no one piece feels looming and huge.  Recently, I’ve been trying to focus my time on smaller pieces (now I’m going to focus on the outline, now I’m going to flesh out the second section, etc), and have had some success.

I am curious if others see this the same way, and/have techniques that work for them?

The thing is: writing is powerful, exciting and fun, if I can just get over the hump, and then stay in the zone.  So this is something I’m going to keep working on.

P.S.: other places I’ve found flow: skiing, cooking, doing carpentry/construction work, singing, playing drums, building powerpoint decks, talking on panels at conferences.  It sure is a good feeling.

Crowdsourcing patent examinations

Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon at a US Patent & Trademark Office roundtable discussion on using crowdsourcing to improve the patent examination process.  Thanks to Chris Wong for looping me in and helping to organize the event.  If you’re interested, you can watch the whole video here.

I was there not as an expert in patents, but as someone who represents lots of small startup internet companies facing patent issues, and as someone who spends a lot of time on the problem of how to solve challenges through collaborative processes (basically everything USV invests in).

Here are my slides:

And I’ll just highlight two important points:

First: why do we care about this?  Because (generally speaking) small internet companies typically see more harm than benefit from the patent system:

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And second, there are many ways to contemplate “crowdsourcing” with regard to patent examinations.

In the most straightforward sense, the PTO could construct a way for outsiders to submit prior art on pending patent applications — this is the model pioneered by Peer to Patent, and built upon by Stack Exchange’s Ask Patents community.

The challenge with this approach is that while structured crowdsourcing around complex problems is proven to work, it’s really hard to get right.  A big risk facing the PTO is investing a lot in a web interface for this, in a “big bang” sort of way (a la healthcare.gov), not getting it right, and then seeing the whole thing as a failure.

To that end, I posed the ideas that getting “crowdsourcing” right is really a cultural issue, not a technical issue.  In other words, making it work is not just about building the right website and hoping people will come.  Getting it right will mean changing the way you connect with and engage with “the crowd”.  As Micah Siegel from Ask Patents put it, “you can’t do crowdsourcing without a crowd”.

We also talked about the importance of APIs and open data in all of this, so that people can build applications (simple ones, like notifications or tweets, or complex ones involving workflow) around the exam process.

Tying those three ideas together (changing culture, going where “the crowd” already is, and taking an API-first approach), it seems like there is a super clear path to getting started:

  1. Set up a simple, public “uspto-developers” google group and invite interested developers to join the discussion there.
  2. Stand up a basic API for patent search that sites like Ask Patents and others could use (they specifically asked for this, and already have an active community).

That would be a really simple way to start, would be guaranteed to bear fruit in the near term, and would also help guide subsequent steps

Or, to put it in more buzzwordy terms:

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It felt like a productive discussion — I appreciate how hard it is to approach an old problem in a new way, and get the sense that the PTO is taking a real stab at it.

 

Support services for the Indie Economy

Over the course of the past year, I’ve been interviewed a bunch of times about the “peer economy” or the “sharing economy” (Fastco, Wired, NY Times, PBS Newshour), with most of the focus on the public policy considerations of all this, specifically public safety regulations and the impact on labor.

A question that comes up every time is: “aren’t all of these new independent workers missing out on the stability provided by full-time employment?”  (e.g., healthcare, steady work, etc).

My answer has been: yes, for the moment. BUT, there is an emerging wave of networked services which will provide this stability to independent workers, albeit in a different form than we’re used to seeing.

My colleague Albert describes this as the “unbundling of a job” — the idea that many of the things that have traditionally been part of a job (not just steady money and healthcare, but also sense of purpose, camaraderie, etc.), will in the future be offered by a combination of other organizations, services and communities.  Albert takes the idea a lot farther than I will here, where I just want to focus on some of the more immediately practical developments.

Thus far, this idea hasn’t gotten a lot of press attention, as the number of visible services providing this kind of support has been small.  But it is growing, and I expect we’ll see at least a small handful of these kinds of services gain traction in the next year.

The oldest and most venerable organization doing this is the Freelancers Union.  New Yorkers will recognize their subway ads that have run for decades, advertising their programs and member benefits.  Freelancers Union’s roots are in the pre-networked era, focusing largely on independent creative types in NYC, and their scope has grown dramatically over time, growing nationwide and adding services like insurance and medical plans.

What we expect to see a lot more of are services that are tailor-made to support independent workers who reach customers and deliver their work through web and mobile platforms.  For example, Peers, which is essentially Freelancers Union for the peer economy.

So, what kinds of services are we talking about exactly?  Here are a few of the kinds of services we’ve been noticing and think we’ll see more of:

  • Insurance: One of the biggest challenges in this space has been how to insure it.  We’re seeing established firms consider how to address the space, as well as brand new insurers that are tailor-made for it.
  • Job discovery & optimization: Many networked, independent workers make real-time decisions about what kind of work to do (e.g., driving vs. assembling furniture), as well as which platforms to use (uber vs lyft).  This is currently a manual, non-optimized process.  Increasing discoverability and lowering switching costs will also be an important competitive vector to ensure workers’ interests are being met by platforms. (e.g., sherpashare)
  • “Back office” – taxes, accounting, analytics:  Dealing with paperwork is a huge headache for busy independent workers, and we’re seeing a bunch of saas-type offerings to help people manage it all (e.g., 1099.isZen99, Benny)
  • Healthcare: Gotta have it.  This is a topic in its own right, and not expressly specific to the indie economy, but we are seeing massive experimentation and innovation in how independent actors can buy healthcare (e.g., teladoc, medigo to name 2 of many)

I suspect that by the end of 2015 we will not only have a much longer list of example issues and services, we’ll see that some of these have gotten traction and started to make a difference for independent workers.

So, if you’re a reporter covering this beat, I think this is an interesting angle to pursue.  If you’re a lawmaker or policymaker, I’d think about this as an important and growing part of the ecosystem.  And if you’re an entrepreneur working in this space, we’d love to meet you :-)

The Professional Amateur

One way I have described myself is as a “professional amateur”.  I am both deeply proud and deeply ashamed of that.  Let me explain.

For basically my whole career, I’ve been learning new fields and professions from the outside-in.  While I have an undergrad degree in Urban Studies, which ostensibly prepared me for interdisciplinary work regarding cities (and you could argue that’s exactly how my career has turned out), in practice I’ve spent the past 15 years learning other stuff and basically pretending to be a professional at it.  Design, programming, running a startup, tech policy, law, activism, “internet architecture”, market structure, venture finance.  In every case I’ve ended up diving in despite not really knowing anything, and figured it out as I went along.

(An aside: it’s pretty hard to do this without the internet.  Curious about history?  Start reading some Wikipedia articles.  Want to learn to code?  Head over to Codecademy, then make best friends with StackOverflow.  Confused by a legal term?  Google it.  Need to install shingles on your roof?  There are YouTubes for that.  So, it’s easier than ever to be kind of good at something.  Which is so fun.)

I also enjoy lots of different things, and feel like I’m better than average at most of them, (though I’m sure that’s a fallacy): baseball, singing, carpentry, ice skating, writing, cooking, water skiing, juggling, tennis, playing drums, playing piano, rock climbing, etc.  I am not the best at any of them, but I take a lot of pleasure from all of them.

The good way of looking at this is that I can confidently call myself a curious person.  And generally think of myself as capable,  Curious and capable.  I like that.  I can get behind that.

The bad way of looking at this is that it lacks focus.  And probably dedication & determination.  Feeling stuck on that music thing?  Fuck it, go build a shed.

And, it’s in tension with the idea of a “Half, not half-assed” approach.  Do less, but do it really well.   Then move on to the next thing.  I admire that approach, and really do believe it’s central to building a successful product. But it’s hard to pull off — as Eddie Wharton put it on Twitter yesterday: “the best ideas are easy to articulate, but hard to master.”

So, that’s the context.  I’m not looking for any answers, but just putting that out there in an effort to understand my real self.  But reflecting on this, perhaps there are a few rays of hope:

1) “Half, not half-assed” can apply to a lot of different things, and you could argue it’s more about tight execution and shipping than it is about a more broadly restricted agenda (37 signals, who coined that term, built lots of small, successful apps — though they ultimately shed them all and re-focused on Basecamp).  Maybe it’s fine to have lots of interests, and to invest time in different things, but make sure you actually ship.  And when you do, make sure it’s tight, focused, and not half-assed. (For example, USV has a relatively narrow investment thesis that constrains our outlook, but still ends up applying very broadly across sectors)

2) Perhaps having a “beginners mind” is a “deep” skill unto itself.  It certainly fits with the VC business, where one hour you’re talking healthcare and the next, video distribution.  As Andy points out, there are plenty of times when that’s not enough, but perhaps it’s something.

So, there you have it. For better and worse, here I am: a semi-pro, semi-proud, professional amateur.

Half, not half-assed

My favorite book on product development and startups is Getting Real, published in 2006 by the folks at 37signals (now Basecamp).  If you haven’t read it (it’s freely available online), it’s essentially a precursor to The Lean Startup (2011). Back when I was leading a team and running product and OpenPlans, it was like my bible. The copy we had at the office was tattered and torn.

One of my favorite ideas / chapters from the book is: “Half, Not Half-Assed”.  It’s short, so I’ll just include the whole thing here:

Build half a product, not a half-ass product
Beware of the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to web app development. Throw in every decent idea that comes along and you’ll just wind up with a half-assed version of your product. What you really want to do is build half a product that kicks ass.

Stick to what’s truly essential. Good ideas can be tabled. Take whatever you think your product should be and cut it in half. Pare features down until you’re left with only the most essential ones. Then do it again.

With Basecamp, we started with just the messages section. We knew that was the heart of the app so we ignored milestones, to-do lists, and other items for the time being. That let us base future decisions on real world usage instead of hunches.

Start off with a lean, smart app and let it gain traction. Then you can start to add to the solid foundation you’ve built.

This is so important and also so hard to do.  Despite having appreciated this idea since 2006, and having told it to others countless times, I still have not mastered it, and still find myself falling in love with features and ideas that really just end up diluting my efforts.

I’ve been thinking about this because last week I had this exact advice delivered to me on two separate occasions, regarding two things we’re building at USV; once from Brittany and once from Fred.  In both cases they were right, and the advice was important and helpful.

So, there it is. Nearly 9 years later, still important and still helpful, still cleverly-titled :-)

I agree with Ted Cruz: let’s supercharge the Internet marketplace

There has been a lot of debate about how to protect Internet Freedom.

Today, Senator Ted Cruz has an op-ed in the Washington Post on the subject, which starts out with an eloquent and spot-on assessment of what we are trying to protect:

Never before has it been so easy to take an idea and turn it into a business. With a simple Internet connection, some ingenuity and a lot of hard work, anyone today can create a new service or app or start selling products nationwide.

In the past, such a person would have to know the right people and be able to raise substantial start-up capital to get a brick-and-mortar store running. Not anymore. The Internet is the great equalizer when it comes to jobs and opportunity. We should make a commitment, right now, to keep it that way.

This is absolutely what this is about. The ability for any person — a teenager in Des Moines, a grandmother in Brazil, or a shop owner in Norway — to get online and start writing, selling, streaming, performing, and transacting — with pretty much anyone in the world (outside of China).

This is the magic of the internet.  Right there.

By essentially a happy accident, we have created the single most open and vibrant marketplace in the history of the world.  The most democratizing, power-generating, market-making thing ever.  And the core reason behind this: on the internet you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to get started.

And that “anyone” is not just the government — as we’re used to asking the government for permission for lots of things, like drivers licenses, business licenses, etc.

In fact, more importantly — “anyone” means the carriers whose lines you need to cross to reach an audience on the internet.  A blogger doesn’t have to ask Comcast’s or Verizon’s permission to reach its subscribers.  Neither does a small merchant, or an indie musician or filmmaker.

Contrast that with how cable TV works — in order to reach an audience, you need to cut a deal with a channel, who in turn needs to cut a deal with a carrier, before you can reach anyone.  It is completely out of the realm of possibility for me to create my own TV station in the Cable model.  In the Internet model, I can do that in 5 minutes without asking anyone’s permission.

What we don’t want is an internet that works like Cable TV.

So I agree with Ted Cruz — his description of the internet is exactly the one I believe in and want to fight for.

But where I think he and many others miss the point is that Internet Freedom is not just about freedom from government intervention, it’s freedom from powerful gatekeepers, who would prefer to make the internet look like Cable TV, controlling and restricting the mega marketplace we’ve been so lucky to take part in.

Let’s not let that happen.

p.s., I would encourage any conservatives pondering this issue to read James J. Heaney’s powerful and in-depth case for “Why Free Marketeers Want to Regulate the Internet

This is what an Internet Candidate looks like

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I just donated to Christina Gagnier‘s campaign for congress.

I’ve gotten to know Christina recently, and I really hope she’s able to pull through this race and make it.  We need smart people in DC who understand technology, tech issues, and tech policy. She is without a doubt one of those people.  She’s an entrepreneur and tech lawyer who knows these issues cold and has lived with them for a long time.

Smart DC consultants have told me that Christina is too far behind to win.  I’m not sure if that’s true or not.  But what I know is that she “gets” technology and tech policy.  And she’s not coming at it from a Silicon Valley perspective — she’s representing California’s 35th District, in the eastern part of LA county, where big technology companies are not the center of the economy, but technology is what is going to connect and power the local economy. Further, Christina has been out in the community nonstop for the last few months, including her Bold Ideas RV Tour over the last month, and I suspect the race will be closer than people think.

Christina gets that privacy and trust are central issues, that we need open networks and broadband infrastructure, and that issues like patent trolls (and software patents more generally) are hurting the tech-driven economy.

So, for those of you looking to make some last minute noise / contributions, I think Christina’s campaign is a great place to do it.

 

 

 

Disgusting

I got this in the mail:

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It’s an ad for an extended warranty, disguised as an urgent extension of existing coverage.

This makes we want to throw up.  A business blatantly based on tricking people.

“Immediate response to this notice required…. Our records indicate that you have not contacted us to have your vehicle service contract updated.”

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Implying that I have an existing service contract with them.

My wife saw this and thought it was something we neglected and needed to pay right away.  Imagine if you were 80 years old.

“immediate response to this notice required”:

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In the tiniest print on the page: “this is an advertisement to obtain coverage”:

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The disgusting company behind this is Endurance Warranty Services:

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Remind me and anyone I ever come in contact with never to do business with them.

Becoming a leader of men

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In terms of leadership, I’ve done some hard things.  Building teams, reorganizing a company, dealing with failure (and success), letting people go, navigating competition, etc.

But I suspect all of that will pale in comparison to what’s up next: this weekend I begin my career as a little league coach.  Starting Sunday, I’ll be leading a troupe of 5, 6 and 7 year-olds (including my son) on a journey to understand and enjoy the game of baseball.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the coaches I had growing up, especially when I was really little. (I didn’t start playing baseball until I was 8, which is pretty different than 5, so I don’t have any direct comparisons to go on for this).  The more I think about it, the more I respect the coaches I had as a kid.  In particular the volunteer dad coaches (including my own) who had never done it before, and probably had no idea what they were doing either.

I’m really excited and also nervous.  As much as I played baseball as a kid, I honestly never really thought about it from the coach’s perspective.  From fundamental things like “hmm, what actually happens in a baseball practice” and “what are you actually supposed to teach 6-year-olds about baseball” to more subtle things like “how do build a good ‘bench culture’ that is lively and supportive”.  So there is a lot to figure out.

Not to beat a dead horse about the Internet being awesome, but already I’ve started to find some help online.  For instance, as Theo and I have been watching more baseball recently I’m realizing how actually complicated it is, and one question in particular has been tough to explain: force outs.  So I googled “how to teach kids force outs vs tag outs” and lo and behold I came across an excellent post on teaching the difference between a force out and a tag out, from a blog on teaching baseball to kids (with the tagline “Read how I fail so you don’t have to”).  Thank you Internet!

So, off I go.  If anyone has any tips on being a good coach and building a good/fun team — in general or for tiny person baseball in particular — I would love to hear them.