Hello. My name is Jason Goldman.

This is my Tilde Club page. If you're looking for me elsewhere, mostly I'm here but my blog is still kicking it too (despite no updates since 2008.)

Some other bloglike tildes I read: ~ford, ~droob, ~choire, ~mathowie, ~megnut, ~_, ~sippey

October 27, 2014

I was hired as a part-time office manager for Blogger in 2002. But my previous job had been as a product manager and that's what I wanted to do again. When we were acquired by Google in February 2003, I felt there could be a path back to full-time PM work.

The trouble was that I was still doing all of the old parts of my job. I was able to transition away stuff like accounts payable because there was an actual finance department who could handle that. But there were many things — like email support — that were keeping me from doing exclusively PMish stuff.

So I started making a list of all the verbs associated with my work. I tried to make them as concrete and discrete as possible so it wasn't just catchall things like "Do Support Emails." This let me see the difference between some of the Support tasks I really cared about (like those related to Content Policy) from those I didn't (updating help articles.)

It was then pretty easy to draw circles around the verbs that corresponded to different roles on the team. The roles were different than job titles as they were more descriptive and helped separate things like project management from Q&A from release management (all of which could be parts of a Product Manager job.)

And I then took my circle drawing to my boss and said "This is where I want to concentrate and this is where we should hire to free me up to do these other things."

Now this all sounds pretty simple (as in -minded) but it works amazingly well. It's a mechanism I still recommend to people when they are in the middle of two jobs — the one they used to do and the one they want to do.

There are a couple reasons why it works. First, it takes job title out of the equation. Job titles get people focused on status and doesn't really illuminate the work being done (especially with notoriously ambiguous jobs like Product Manager.)

Second, it puts you in a position where you are bringing a framework for how to think about the problem. Even if your boss disagrees and just wants you to keep doing the same thing, she is going to be seeing it through your lens. And if she agrees, then you've done this immensely helpful thing by illuminating the path you desire. The core role of any good manager is to help their employees find a path so you've just made that job a lot easier.

Finally, drawing up the roles helps you get clear to yourself about what you want. Maybe you think you don't want to do Support. But once you start defining the roles you realize there are many aspects of that work that you do enjoy. Maybe you're attracted to Product Managemenet because it seems prestigious but you don't actually enjoy doing product design. Spending the time to write down the specific verbs and then circling them up helps provide that clarity.

One final note about this mechanism: it also works for resolving overlap in jobs on a given team. Oftentimes you'll find yourself in situation where two people are trying to do the same work on a project. In these situations, you can call a time out and start writing out the verbs of what actually needs to be done. Then, without assigning job titles, you can circle up the different roles called for by those verbs.

Again, it sounds stupid simple. But I've had the experience of having two folks who both thought they were PMing a given project and after this exercise each realized they were really interested in different specific aspects of the work. It's not a miracle method but it can be very revealing of what actually matters to people.

October 22, 2014

More laptop free travel this week so sparse tilde updates to come. I've been pondering this tweet by Isaac:

if you think in terms of "building trust" rather than "being trustworthy" then you're doing it wrong

— Isaac Hepworth (@isaach) October 21, 2014

I love Isaac and he is one of the most trustworthy PMs I've worked with. And I get the point he's making too — folks who see building trust as a means to an end are inherently untrustworthy.

That being said there's good in thinking about how you can build trust among a team as an explicit goal as opposed to just a by-product of being a good person. For the purpose of this brief post, what I've learned is that to build trust you must first be willing to be vulnerable. It's related to the idea of presenting yourself as more than this edgeless leader with blindingly clear vision. Just being willing to say "I don't have it all figured out and I'll need your help" is a huge first step.

October 20, 2014

I wrote about the problem of applying sports metaphors to business a couple days ago. And then I saw this article on Medium about why athletes praise God in post-game interviews.

It touches on another sports v. business dichotomy that's always interested me: the appreciation and recognition of the role of luck. As Jonathan Tjarks writes on Medium about Kevin Durant's post-game praise of God:

[T]here are probably hundreds of guys with skills comparable to Durant’s who aren’t in the NBA — simply because they aren’t 6’11 with the arms of a tarantula and the coordination and athleticism of guys who are a foot shorter than him. Durant, like every other professional athlete who won the genetic lottery, has been “blessed” with singular gifts, and he chooses to acknowledge that when he can.

(Disclosure(s): I am a Medium board member, Kevin Durant is my favorite NBA player.)

I am not a person of faith. But I like the notion that Kevin Durant truly believes there is another force at work besides his own skills and hard work. It is not through will alone that he achieves the things he does. There is something more than that.

I like that because as Tjarks writes: "Actively practicing humility allows ... them to keep their egos in check and for many, there’s no better way to do that than acknowledging that there exists something out there that is much greater than they are."

Ego suppression is not much valued in business and particularly not valued in the startup world. Instead, we love our narratives of heroic founders who believe in an idea when no one else did. Who dropped out of college or worked for years eating only ramen. Who turned down the big acquisition offer because they believed in themselves.

Yes we have our #blessed founder tweets praising the team for making it all possible. But we cling to the notion of the visionary founder if for no other reason that we desparately want to believe that surely someone must know where it is all headed.

In my experience this is mostly just a convenient story companies end up telling themselves and the world. Because the reality of "look we had a bunch of people breathing the same air for a good long while and we just went in everyday and tried to figure it out" is much less enjoyable.

Compounding the desire for narrative is the belief that entrepreneurship is about bending reality to your will. Very little acknowledgment is given to being in the right place at the right time.

Part of Twitter's narrative in this regard is that the company was the first mobile-first startup. That Twitter had mobile in its DNA. But remember that the iPhone didn't exist for the first year of the site. Mobile for Twitter really meant SMS—an interface that was never truly that important in terms of actual usage of the product. In reality, Twitter caught this amazing wave that was created when the mobile platform began displacing the web.

Like I said, I'm not a religious person but I do believe in luck. Partly because I think it helps recenter your worldview outside of yourself. And also because I know I've been lucky and if I'm going to fill a blog with musings on how things work I feel it's really important to acknowledge that.

October 19, 2014

I am without my laptop this weekend which makes tilding difficult. I put a link to my long unupdated blog in the header and was flipping through some old posts. Found this one from right before I started work at Obvious 1.0 in 2007.

The Warcraft review is pretty precious. Not revealed is that I almost went mad playing WoW 18 hours a day.

The point about monumentalizing small tasks still rings true. Taking out the garbage can easily seem to be the One Thing standing in the way of true happiness. I think I learned this feeling means "I'm not happy with what I'm doing generally so I'm just gonna pour all my hate into this one specific task (rather than face what's really wrong)."

October 17, 2014

Phew. Honestly I've been trying to get that debate post out for months. I have two Medium drafts that never got finished and I even called in two former debaters for help. It was a lot of pent up energy in that one set of posts.

One thing that I hit on at the end of yesterday's post was that there is no winning in product design. And yet, the most common metaphors for business are sports metaphors. Folks are always "hitting it out of the park" or "running up the scoreboard" or "driving for the goal line." It's pervasive.

These are all terrible analogies for business. Games have an end — even cricket. Eventually the game is over and there is a final score.

This never happens when you are building products. Yes there are launches but that's not the end. In fact, viewing a launch as an endpoint is really dangerous because then you'll be tempted to move on immediately to the next thing. You've just invested all this energy into building the thing and now you're going to completely shift focus?

You might say "ok fine but the sports analogies are just a convenient shorthand." But as a product designer you know that language and metaphor matter. The metaphors form the subconscious layer that underpins how you view the work itself.

Here's a tangible consquence of viewing product design as a sport with a scoreboard. By far the most common question I am asked of first-time entrepreneurs is "When did you know that you had hit it out of the park with Twitter?" When did you know it had worked.

There's a lot underlying this question but one part is that working at a startup is to be constantly adrift in uncertainty. There are times when the way forward is very clear. But those times are fleeting.

So first time entrepreneurs are asking this question because they want to know that there's a way out. "Hey you've obviously made it through this mess, just tell me that it clears up at some point."

The bad news is that isn't really how it works. It always feels that you're one move away from really cracking it open and this is understandably anxiety-inducing. But if you view the process of building a company and a product as a sport you're making it much harder on yourself. Your defining metaphor leads you to believe at some point you will win or lose.

But therein lies the good news: if it's working, you can keep building it for as long as you want.

For this reason, I really encourage folks to use organic metaphors in how they describe the work itself. The product continues to grow and evolve as long as people keep using it and being delighted by it. There's always new things to learn about what the product really wants to be because you're continually gaining new insight from the people around you.

But you're going to be really frustrated if you wake up each day trying to hit a walk off homer.

October 16, 2014

The real reason the three point structure works is because it is a story. You start out on a journey. In the middle there are surprises (and—spoiler—the middle is where you put your weakest argument because your real focus is on maintaining momentum.) And then finally it is time to end, hopefully with a point that reflects the whole of the story you just told.

My final point about How to Debate is that you win debates by reframing the context of the argument. As we talked about yesterday, it's not a debate unless there is clash. Unfortunately, folks frequently try to create clash by going point by point through their opponent's arguments. This kind of trench warfare doesn't illuminate the fundamental issue being disussed. And it makes for a less entertaining product as it boils debate down to scoring points with silliness like "Well, he missed my third response to his second argument."

Debate often devolves into trench warfare because in an adversarial situation, it is very difficult for each side to view things in anything other than black and white terms. This is why listening is such a critical skill. It will help you see why your opponent's arguments aren't the opposite of what you believe, just on another part of a larger continuum.

Winning the debate through reframing is pulling yourself out of the trenches and viewing the argument from a higher level. It's this perspective that allows you to say: "I know we've been listening to 30 minutes of arguments but I want to take a step back and talk about what's really going on." You're subsuming your opponent's arguments into a context of your choosing and forcing them to debate you there.

You are pulling back the curtain.

And this is where we start to see how applicable debate skills are to the work environment. With one important distinction. In debate, the goal is to win the round.

One of the hardest things I had to learn as a debater-turned-product manager was that in product design there is no winning. There is no judge who assigns scores after the meeting and says who did the best job. There is no virtue in debating your peers just because you can.

But here's an example of how to constructively use the Reframing skill at work. A frequently occuring Bad Meeting is as follows: several weeks after kickoff, the team is meeting to review design mockups of a new feature. Design has spent a good amount of time refining the mocks ... and the Product Manager hates them. The meeting becomes a debate between the Product Manager and the Designer. The PM is going screen-by-screen explaining why the design is terrible and demanding alternatives. The Designer is explaining why those alternatives were tried and rejected. The Tech Lead is just being sad most likely.

There are a number of implicit process problems that could have caused the scenario above. But this meeting can occur in almost any organization. The way out of this Bad Meeting is to find the higher level:

Reframing the context of the argument in this way halts trench warfare and it pulls everyone into a different frame of mind. It's no longer just black v. white but a continuum of responses that we can explore.

Truly it's the same reframing skill you could use to win a debate round. But one of the important things to remember about building products is that there is no winning because there is no end.

Instead there's always another vantage point just around the corner.

October 15, 2014

The second (of three) lessons on How To Debate actually has very little to do with speaking in public. In a twist our second point is that to be a better public speaker you need to first be a better listener.

One of the ways in which you teach debate is to have folks listen to great speeches. Once you start digging into it, you see how so many great speakers rely on similar techniques: a very teachable example being the paralellism in the I Have a Dream speech.

Fortunately, you don't need to aspire to MLK-level oratory. You can learn just as much by listening closely to how your peers put together arguments. And in fact this close listening is essential for good debate to occur.

A debate round falls apart if there is no clash between the sides. This happens when the two sides end up speaking past each other. The opposition side is so ready to put out their own arguments that they haven't bothered to truly absorb their oppponents' points. Instead they stand and bloviate for the length of their speech about why some general principle is bad but don't tie it back directly to any specific argument in the round. This lack of clash also occurs because many people are conflict avoidant and it's more comfortable to be fray adjacent.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the best way to listen to the other side — even in an adversarial context — is to practice empathy. You have to start with the perspective that your opponents are reasonable people who have a thoughtful perspective on the issue at hand. The more you can flesh out your own understanding of your oppponent's motivation the more ready you will be to anticipate the course of their argument.

Moreover, it will put you in the best position to win the round by reframing the context of the debate (our third and final point.)

October 14, 2014

Although my degree is in astronomy, my major was really college debate. Debate was easily the most valuable thing I learned at school. It teaches you how to create a well-structured argument, how to do so on the fly, and how to be comfortable in front of a crowd. It's a pretty kickass business skill.

I have three points I would teach anyone looking to learn about debate and I'll cover the first today: Embracing structure and constraints.

When I said "I have three points" I was embracing structure. It's forcing my argument to take a three point form. It is also providing a roadmap telling you where we are. And it's tagging the argument with a simple handle.

The obvious benefit of doing this is that your audience is more engaged and at ease because you're shouldering a lot of the cognitive load for them. You're reducing anxiety and giving the impression that you have a plan for how this is all going to work out.

The less obvious benefit is that you are also easing your own burden as speaker. You are giving yourself guardrails so that not everything is up for grabs over the course of this extemporaenous speech. Even if you flounder through the first point, you know where you're headed next.

The Rule of 3 is a very old rhetocial tool and I'm such a believer that I won't present unless I have three points. Honestly, all of my advice about public speaking could just as easily be summed up with "Start by saying, 'I have three points.'" As an example, I was once asked to advise on a best man spech and the draft was a total nightmare of meandering anecdotes. The speech was in 10 minutes and my only advice was "Tell them you're going to tell three stories and then tell three stories." It went great.

The Rule of 3 works because it creates a familiar narrative for the audience: begining, middle, end. And it frees you to flow into that structure.

On that point about flow, embracing contraints extends to the physical stuff you do when speaking as well. Things like: maintain good posture and remember to breathe. These things help you speak more clearly and slowly. But they also help with anxiety and public speaking is huge source of anxiety for most people. As with most anxiety, breathing your way through it is a good default response.

Finally, focusing on breathing (just thinking "breathe slower") helps ground you in the moment. At it's best, debate and public speaking isn't a purely rational, intellectual exercise. It's this experience of the next argument just coming to you unbidden. You find yourself transitioning from one point to the next without having to look at your notes. Something funny occurs to you and it just gets woven in. In many ways it feels like the part of your brain that thinks linearly is switched off and the words are just flowing out.

It's been 15 years since I did debate and I still miss that feeling.

October 13, 2014

I talked about the concept of enticement yesterday and wanted to go a bit further with it. It's the core product management philosophy I've come to believe in and I completely stole it from someone else.

A few years ago, I was working on a talk and I needed some help. I had never put together a deck for just talking about building products but there were a bunch of ideas I was trying to sort through. We had just restarted Obvious and the question of 'how do products get built' was pretty much a daily topic. So I reached out to James Buckhouse who had worked with us at Twitter and is amazing at putting together stories.

One of the core concepts I wanted to talk about was how the best social products got people to share things and embrace the Internet as a medium of self-expression. For me, this was the big lesson from working on Blogger: given the right text area people will find a voice they never knew they had. The way I was talking about this concept at the time was "The best social products benevolently trick people into sharing."

James listened to that idea and kindly responded "you know the phrase 'benevolently tricked' is both awkward and creepy right?" In its place he proposed the word 'enticement.' Which is obviously way better.

And enticmement is what's going on in the best social products. They draw people in and make the trivial ('what are you doing') or difficult ('write an essay') tasks seem easy and even pleasurable. They do this by having the right constraints — the right guardrails on creativity. This means not just things like 140 characters but the design of the input form and the nature of the distrubution model. When talking about core product assumptions, the most important ones are your assumptions about what will pull people in.

So I gave the talk and it was pretty good (there's some weird stuff in the middle about wearables but whatever.) But the big benefit from having done it was that I started seeing this concept of enticement not just in how products are designed but how teams are managed.

Unsurprisingly, your approach to building products gets reflected in your approach to building companies. And here is one of the more useful paralells. Because you can ask the same question of a product as you do a product organization: how do we pull people in, what are the right constraints on the problem to inspire creativity.

October 12, 2014

One of the ideas implicit in yesterday's post was that any member of the team can speak up when product vision drift occurs. A big trap in product management is the belief that the ownership product vision must rest with one person. And that it is that one person's job to present a finely honed view on The State of the Product.

The common failure mode in this model is: Some product vision drift begins to creep into the organization. Maybe it's a sense that the type of things people are doing with the product don't quite match what we expected. Maybe it's just that the team itself isn't that stoked about the product as once they were. In any case, it is not named as such but is more just a vibe that permeates the day-to-day. "Anyway we have deadlines for previously agreed to work so let's just keep pushing. Maybe one of these things we're building will help."

As drift continues, a general anxiety of What Are We Building and Why Does it Matter begins to rise. The person responsible for defining product vision realizes this and is probably secretly terrified anyway because they aren't certain where it's headed either. So they start putting together a State of Union. The State of the Union is a framework that shows how all the parts fit together into a strategic whole. It answers the What and Why.

An all hands is called and the State of the Union is presented. It is elegant and compelling and maps out parts of the product that will take years to deliver. The presentation concludes and the presenter asks "Are there any questions?" There are none.

This is a failure mode. Even if the product vision presented is phenomenal and 100% correct it has failed to entice the team to participate in its construction.

Building products in a startup is about navigating uncertainty and responding fluidly to new information. That means you need the participation of every member of the team. You are in a fog and looking for a more favorable vantage point. Each person is a pair of eyes who can help find that path.

Generally it's about this point where product owners raise an objection to how this works. Because it's starting to sound like anarchy where everyone can wander in whatever direction they see fit. "I don't need more people wandering about aimlessly in the damn fog." But that's not what's going on.

What's going on is trying to find a way to present the core assumptions that guide the product work in a way that pulls people in. If you present the finely honed State of the Union and there are no questions, you have failed to create enticement. You've presented something edgeless that people can't grab on to.

The story telling technique we talked about yesterday has edges to hold on to. "These are the assumptions we had, this is what we learned and this is how we're tweaking those assumptions." The narrative pulls people in. Presenting them explicitly as assumptions makes people ask "wait do I share this assumption? I thought we started from a different place actually?"

Also, you create space to ask for help: "What do we think about the wording of this assumption?" You ask everyone to help choose the words carefully because those words are the story we're going to keep telling ourselves.

About now you get the second objection which is that this is all fancy footwork just to make people feel engaged in the product design process. It is not. It is the product design process. It is how you arrive at better assumptions because you are relying on input from the people who are closest to the work itself.

October 11, 2014

Continuing from yesterday's post, the process of figuring out what a product is or wants to be is something you experience both as user and product builder. In both cases, there is an unfolding as you learn more and more about the nature of the product. (Assuming the product has an inner nature worth exploring and is not just some superficial attention grabber.)

You learn more about What Is It by using it and by seeing what people do. So before very long the things you told yourself about What Is Product X are subtlely different than the reality you are living day-to-day with the product.

This article is illustrative of this point for Twitter. Look at the 2006-2007 description: "A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing?"

At one point in time this was the canonical definition of the product. And it was still on the homepage from some time after it stopped feeling true. The point is not that the homepage should have been updated sooner. It's that you can learn something important by paying attention to the drift between the last defintion and the way you experience it now.

In October 2007, the homepage was updated to: "Twitter asks, 'What are you doing?' Friends answer with short messages. Updates are sent everywhere — instantly!" While a short lived addition, the 'instantly' reveals the reconciliation in a drift of product vision. That is, the real-time nature of the product now felt essential.

What we don't see is how this reconciliation happened internally. But you can imagine that surprising use cases emerged where real-time started feeling important. Folks started saying "Hey I don't think it's just that folks are answering the question but that they are getting the answer in real-time." And gradually the idea of real-time crept its way into product discussions until it became part of the core understanding of the product.

This drift in product vision will always happen for growing, healthy products. The key is to name the drift once you become aware of it. Start by saying "Hey I know we said it was this but I'm feeling that it's actually more like that." Go back to the last set of core assumptions you wrote down and see which ones are in need of a tweak.

Referring back to where you started keeps you from trying to redefine the product vision from first principles. It keeps product managers from going off into the Cave of Ideas to emerge with some completely new definition of where it's all going. Building products is about builing a narrative that says "This is where we started, and here are some things we believed to be true and now we think it's a bit more like this."

Keep looking for ways to tell the whole story. The more everyone shares in the story telling the better choices each person will make about where to go next.

Addendum: Daaaaamn what the hell happened to the story here.

October 10, 2014

One thing that was not immediately obvious to me about tilde.club is that there are two halves. The part that is familiar to me is this part: writing text on the public web. And at first I thought that was pretty much the only purpose of tilde.club. As stated in /etc/motd "This is a place for making awesome web pages. If you want to do things that aren't about web pages, hit me up and we'll figure out how you can start your own tilde.club."

But in fact there is a whole other tilde.club beneath the surface that has nothing to do with making web pages. This ASCII cow is a liar!

The social aspect of tilde.club lives in the command line and is stitched together with wall posts and localhost irc. To be honest, this is an aspect of computing I've never really experienced: the social life of a unix box. And nowadays very few people will have either:

"I've never used a Unix system at the same time as another person" http://t.co/sLsH1fIHPu — HN discussion around @ftrain's ~.club

— Edd Dumbill (@edd) October 10, 2014

In fact there's another aspect of the CLI tilde.club that isn't even about socializing. It's people tweaking unix, partly to enable new things to be done on tilde.club and partly because people who are into unix really like tweaking it (Minecraft.)

My own interests are in the descending order presented above: making public web pages, making jokes in IRC, tweaking unix. I know a lot about the first, a fair amount about the second (tho in the traditional IRC context not this localhost variant), and just enough to be functional about the third.

Update: A fun thing about how the social aspect of tilde works. Happened to find ~austin from the recently updated page. And I love this dude's design. And then I see on 10/2 he had seen my page. It's like the feedback mechanism of tilde club is on a 1 week delay. It's like faves via snail mail.

October 9, 2014

Lots of fun was had with the big pull quote from ~ford's Medium piece:

@ftrain fair. I did highlight that line and shove in front of my gf over breakfast and say "it's true! We built a shit volcano!"

— Jason Goldman (@goldman) October 9, 2014

But the part that really turned me on was this:

Your typical “cloud” Unix server, designed in the 1970s to be a very social place, is today a ghost town with one or two factories still clanking in the town square—factories that receive our email, or accept our Instagram photos and store them, and manage our data. But there’s no one walking around and chatting downtown.

This feels poignant and relevant on the heels of my trip to St. Louis. My last day there and right before heading to the airport I went downtown. And it was a relief to actually be in a cityish city again. Even tho' St. Louis has been on a steady population decline forever it still has the bones of a great city (and of course people are still walking around and chatting downtown just not as many.)


That's the facade of the St. Louis City Hall — a building that is neither hidden nor hideable but that I had no idea even existed because I grew up in the suburbs.


The interior — also quite beautiful.

October 8, 2014

I need to update my LinkedIn page because it's been a couple years and it bugs me that it's out of date. I like using LinkedIn as a way of telling a story about how you've grown through working on things as opposed to a recitation of job titles and bullet-pointed competencies. Basically this is what you end up doing in an interview anyway. Or just when you meet someone for professional coffee. You sit down and the first thing is "So, how'd you end up here."

Post-Twitter I was doing a lot of coffees and then as a pseudo-investor you end up doing coffee as your full time job. So I'd developed my own version of "Here's how I ended up in this coffee shop" and got pretty good at sizing that story for the conversation at hand. I mean I can go on about myself forever so having the 3 sentence version is pretty important.

It's also a useful process — the self story-telling — because I ended up figuring out the things that I really enjoyed doing. (This is pretty much the major trap that I see with how people pursue work. They end up going after the things that satisfy some notion of status or what's expected. But haven't answered the question, 'What do I want.')

For example, despite having no other career but product manager, I don't actually like doing product brainstorming and design. I'm not really the best person to sit around and think through "how should this feature work." From a pure product standpoint, I'm good as a user test subject in that I can describe my experience of using a product in decent terms. But I don't really like the "maybe it could be this..." product conversations.

When I was going through my work stuff, I found that the things I really liked doing were all on the team and company building side of things. How to think about the work itself or what Greg Pass always referred to at Twitter as the meta-work.

Product management was a reasonable platform from which to do that because you end up being in the right conversations.

Update:Updated! I thank tilde for helping to unblock me in this task. Writing about it helped get things going.

October 7, 2014

Was thinking more about flatness and why the early tilde web didn't feel flat. Because architecturally it was pretty flat, just a bunch of static pages like little huts in a vast desert.

But the feeling I got was one of deepness. That this was looking at the surface of something that had no bottom. Not just because you could continue to follow the rabbit hole of links as far down as you wanted. But more that it was a well into which you could pour everything.

Again Minecraft is kind of a beautiful metaphor. It looks really really simple on the surface but you can keep digging for days. And the thing you dig becomes this real place that to you has been imbued with all this meaning because of the labor you invested.

Thinking about flatness or deepness in the current Internet: I mean, I'm a hater so FB feels like the Midwest. Just flat with kinda shitty restaurants in identical strip malls. But what are you gonna do because you have to make time to eat with your family. So here you are. (I said I was a hater.)

Twitter feels like it has gradually become more and more about height. There are a bunch of tweets that flitter on by, skimming the surface and then some giant skyscrapers that just tower. I think this feeling — that Twitter at some point became about winning — is one of the things that really turned off the early crowd who were around when it didn't feel like there were as many big buildings in the neighborhood.

October 6, 2014

St. Louis was the 4th largest US city in 1900. The 20th Century melted St. Louis down and spread it out over a massive flat space, just molten city parts scraped thin to the edges.

So living here in St. Louis County means driving through these semi independent towns where little bits of citystuff coalesced. And it's easy to shit on strip malls and big box stores and freeways that are continually expanding. (This last thing is very real as whole neighborhoods where I grew up, full of middle class homes, have been demolished for freeways to take people further out to a newer neighborhood of middle class homes.)

But the thing I'd forgotten is how squished all the flatness makes me feel. Just pressed down and filled with an anxious quiet. I wasn't a shy kid but I had a near constant fear that I was one misstep away from ruining everything.

And that's the context that for me made the early web amazing. It was this entirely new landscape that was messy and difficult. But it was also the first time where getting lost didn't feel scary. And it definitely didn't feel flat.

October 5, 2014

My first ever modem was a USR 2400 but here's the manual from the second one.


For context, 14.4kbps means that you can transfer 1Mb in about 10 minutes.

I once carried around this PCMCIA PDA. the fact that you could use it portably and then dock it with your laptop was pretty mindblowing.

Didn't find that but did find this sweet PCMCIA modem.


October 4, 2014

Bad news on The Great Homepage Hunt front: both computers that may have housed it have been recycled. But I'm headed to my parents to see if maybe there are some floppy backups. I'm doubtful but there may be other treasures.

Update: Found a couple promising floppies and have a usb floppy drive on its way to SF. Some good early artifacts of my adolescent nerdom I'll post here tomorrow.

October 3, 2014

Updating via SSH Term on my iPhone in the sky on my flight to St. Louis!


Update:ServerAuditor may be a better client. Better shortcuts.

October 2, 2014

Been thinking about my favorite product design topic: how the design of the input form influences behavior. Tilde is a fun extreme because the input form is hand-written HTML into emacs.

I've always been a big believer in how much you can influence user behavior through seemingly small choices. But an interesting thing with Tilde is how much users are being influenced by what other people are doing.

I stole and slightly modified the CSS for this page from ~ford. But even more surprisingly, I hadn't really intended to write blog style entries at all. I was just going to leave this with one post talking about my original homepage and then maybe update that if I found the source later.

But then I saw people posting updates and was all "Oh, that looks nice, let's do it."

Tonally, since I have no idea who is seeing this and I'm not putting it out on Twitter ("New Tilde blast! Get on it!") it feels super consequence-free. Casual and somewhat confessional.

That being said, some of my favorite examples are people going way more blank canvas and even less structured than a hand-coded blog. When I saw this page I had this fanstasy of the author just sitting down in front of emacs and being like "OK. Let's do this." And then coding the whole thing from scratch. Like it was an idea that had always been there but now could finally be born.

October 1, 2014

So there are two emotional drives I've felt with respect to my tilde page. The first is the pleasure of tinkering with something. Just wanting to make it a bit better.

This is basically the Minecraft Instinct. Once I get the next room finished it will be good ... oh wait, some lava would look really nice here.

The other thing that's going on though is that I keep expecting to get feedback from my page. As in, comments or faves which is obviously crazy because it's just static HTML (and bad HTML at that.)

This, I fear, is the conditioned dopamine response of Twitter (obviously other things for other people, but Twitter for me.) I'm kinda wondering if maybe it's good to have a feedback free space that is still public. But I also fear that I'm so conditioned at this point that I'll just give up.

September 30, 2014

Tilde Club comes at a good time for me and for the universe. Because it's nice to be reminded of a time when working with the Internet involved barriers to entry (emacs, ssh) but not App Store approval.

Also: I'm traveling to my hometown on Friday and I think there's a pretty decent chance my first ever webpage resides on a harddrive in the basement. It's either on the Mac SE or the 486 DX.


In case I can't retrieve it, here is a complete description of that page. (I don't even remember the URL to Wayback it.)

The whole thing is an image map, one that I made myself in photoshop. The image is a piece of word art with like lens flares and lots of filters applied.

The words are a quote from Godot, specifically:

Astride of a grave and a difficult birth.
Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps.
We have time to grow old.
The air is full of our cries.
But habit is a great deadener.


Each individual line links to a different part of the site. Like, the first line is some biographical information, I dunno what the forceps would link to and maybe the habit part talks about my hobbies.

I never actually wrote any parts of the site except for the homepage so none of the sections had any content.

The best part that actually worked was that the site would load with the text in French. And then you could click to get the translated image map.

It may be the most pretentious thing I've ever done. I'm just lucky I've always been too middle aged to get a tattoo or I would definitely have that whole French quote running across my back.

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