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Apache/2.2.29 (Amazon) Server at Port 80


The Inescapability of Being Ernest

It's really heartwarming to see all the discussion on Github (and other places) about how this place should work, how it should be, how it can relate to other servers, etc. And I'm pleased to have added to it a bit.

But I'm chuckling a bit at the "no drama" guideline, like Google's "don't be evil". I'm all for design principles, and I'm all for goals and a vision and an anti-goal like "no drama". But. People are drama. If people care, they're going to talk. And if there are more than one of them, they will disagree. And if there are more than one, and they care, there will be disagreements, and you don't have to squint hard to see that turn into something that vaguely could be called drama. Especially when it gets multiplied times lots of people and lots of opinions.

The quote-unquote success of tilde is going to make people on the outside experience more FOMO or frustration or whatever. Not to mention the Think Pieces. And on the inside it's going to lead to all sorts of perfectly normal and human reactions. This is all Just The Way Humans Work and it's fun to watch in this new petri dish.

Yesterday someone emailed me off thread and said
"I suppose that this is a question to be asked [on github], but what’s your opinion?"

And I was so flattered! Wow. I'm just one person on this system but the person wants to know my opinion? That's ... kind of an honor! At least I took it that way. But I heard ~ford in my ear: "noooooo draaaaamaaaaaa" and I realized what a luxury it is to care, but also what a luxury it is to know when to stay silent.

I wrote back:
Oh, I don't know. Whatever :)

It wasn't partiuclarly eloquent, and I don't love how I turned a nice, empathetic question into a shrug, but that's where I am. My opinion starts and stops with ~ford. On his wife's birthday, with lots of stories to write for magazines and his own book, plus, plus being sick, he's debating about the perils of centralization versus decentralization. So my opinion is "I don't want to kill the poor guy."

You can't stop drama - it's anywhere people have opinions, and it's even healthy. But I think the key is sometimes taking a little topspin off the ball. And just sitting a few discussions out.


The shipwreck

It's like many of us were on a cruiseliner and all of the sudden the boat went down. We fell into the water and scattered. Some people were never heard from again. I remember when "Jack" meant "Jack Saturn". Not sure where he went.

I do remember wondering where everyone went. A bunch of people got rich and/or famous but there are hundreds, thousands more that just sort of left. I remember in 2002 many of us were saying the web was over.

Now it feels like we're washed back up on a remote beach somewhere. "Hey, you were on that boat too? Yeah. Remember when we used to play cards on the upper deck? Oh, you were part of that group too? Well hello again!"

I remember talking to a co-worker in 2005 about my original web heroes. He didn't recognize most, if any, of the names. He told me his heroes - the creators of somethingawful and woot and probably 4chan and so forth. Our web venn diagram barely overlapped, but we all agreed there were heroes. Just yours are different than mine.

Not that anyone's hero is better. Just because I knew person X one year doesn't make me more special than you knowing person Y ten years later. It's all the same feeling. We all find where we belong on the web. Not just left/right, or based on hobby or interest, but where we belong in time. The old folks look back to the people they used to know, and they say the youth don't know what it used to be like.

Maybe that's true. But they're just admitting they don't know what it's like now. And that seems like a sad place to be. May I always be blessed with a new community to explore. The spirit always exists, but it moves around. Sometimes you've gotta find a new boat.


So this is how collaboration works

I've never updated more than a few things on wikipedia. GitHub came after my time. So while I've heard a ton about collaboratively writing code, I never really got involved. I never knew what it entailed. So I'd like to record what's happened to me in the last week, for posterity's sake.

I started talking to people on the tilde wall about how to make sure the site doen't suck as it gets bigger. This is sort of in my wheelhouse - I've written a ton on exactly this topic so it was exciting to see a place to try out some ideas in person. People took my ideas, added to them, tweaked them, and it seemed like we had a bit of momentum. Neat.

Ok, so here's the magic part. You know how when you're at a conference and you see someone you want to talk to? Or a person at the bar you'd like to introduce yourself to? There's always that self-doubt where you wonder if you should really say something, or wait for someting to happen so you don't have to take a step, or whatever. Well, I had that feeling in a big way. ~ford was saying that he'd be happy to have help, and I had ideas, and had written things on my tilde account, so I got my courage and ...

It's anticlimactic, but I just said "I'd like to help". And then ~jessamyn reached out and said the faq needs help. So we talked over email, we banged out some changes, we posted a netiquette doc, and that was it.

I love to collaborate. And I think a lot about leadership in that context. No one wants a know-it-all, no one wants a jerk. But sometimes just standing up and *doing something* instead of talking about it is highly valued. If you do it right (respectfully, as a proposal rather than a drama-filled ultimatum) it's funny how often the "leaders" are just the people who politely raised their hands and offered to do some work for the community.


FOMO and you.

I missed SXSW a few years back, and I was tied in knots all weekend as I saw my friends having fun on social media while I stayed home. I still remember how intensely I felt the FOMO even though now it seems sort of silly.

Jealousy is built into us. We want the things that other people have. When we see someone having fun, we think "that could be me!" But sometimes it ends up being a bluff. You get access to that hip new club, or secret beta, or whatever, and it's not as good as you thought.

I've never been to Burning Man but I've heard of the "no spectators" principle, which I like a lot. I remember seeing @waxpancake say at XOXO last year (and this year) that the conference gets better the more you engage and talk to people. It was a simple idea, but it made all the difference for me.

Tourist versus builder. It makes all the difference in a community. I don't know what the ratio is on Tilde right now - is it 10 to 1? 5 to 1? 1 to 1? Whever the ratio, there are more than enough people trying new things and really getting engaged that the community feels fun. These builders are leading by example and inspiring others to catch up. It's pretty cool.

But it'd be a shame if 1000 more people showed up, edited their homepage to say "coming soon" with a marquee tag, and then waited for the fireworks. We say it so often that it's easy to overlook, but you are the community. You make it better in your own small way. So what are you going to do? What's your addition? What do you have for us? Make us smile.


I love reading all the commentary that's been kicking around. What's the goal of tilde? How can it scale? Can it survive? It's all great and fun discussion.

I read somewhere (I forget where! Whee!) that someone made a joke about adding permalinks, and someone else responded "we're not there yet!" It's a giant inside joke, how we're basically reliving everything, like a command line version of Groundhog Day. Give it enough time, the joke goes, and we'll eventually build Medium.

But actually, I have a lot more hope for tilde than just half-ironically replaying history. I'm not using the server ironically. Nothing against tongue-in-cheek "under construction" signs or references to the season 2 premiere of X-Files, or any of that. It's awesome and fun, but I'm finding myself loving this experience for what it is today. In 2014.

When you're designing something, sometimes you find yourself back to an idea you had at the beginning. Some people call this "starting over" but I super disagree. No, the fact that you spent 3 months trying other things and returning to something doesn't mean starting over at all. It means your idea now has 3 months of research behind it. And those three months changes the idea. It's never exactly the same.

I ssh onto the server and people are helping other people out in real time. People are finding crazy new things all by themselves by randomly clicking around on the linklists on blogs. I've been working with people on github to debate and iron out the culture of how this site should handle growth, or spin off other tilde-style servers, or install games, or whatever. My email is blowing up with creativity and excitement and offers to help and a sense of building something new and strange and hard to explain.

And here's the thing: THOSE are the killer features. I feel like many of us are somewhat warily casting our eyes forward, like "Oh, I guess next we need a geocities, ok soon I guess we need trackbacks, hey who's going to build the tilde version of blogger". But no. This, right here, this feeling we have right now where no one has any idea what's going on, but we're honestly and earnestly trying to construct something. This is it.

This is it. And it has nothing to with unix, or any one person, or this package or that, or how closely we're reinacting what it was like in 1994, or if this is your first time or if you're an old school sysop. None of that matters. What matters is we've found play, and play feels good.

I miss it, and it's clear I'm not alone.


Not unlike @ftrain, I also have a book I'm writing. I rigged up a little script so I can see how many words I'm averaging a day, and at this rate when I'll be done. It's really motivating to see "You'll be done in May 2015" and then banging out a bunch of words and watching it say "You'll be done April 7, 2015". Gah! Then you write a bunch more and break into March. Etc.

I've been doing this for months and progress has been good. Sure, the quality of the writing is awful, but I'm doing it. I'm really doing it. I have a million other things to do, but I'm really doing it. Along with all the other stuff. And that's important.

New things have a way of sneaking in. Like falling in love, sometimes something appears when you weren't necessarily looking for it. People say the fact that you're *not* looking is the difference. Well ... the book had slowed down in the last few days. No big deal, just didn't have the energy for it. Then I became a Tilder.

Whoosh, all this energy I was lacking for the book because I was burned out suddenly came back, just aimed at a new thing. I'm watching my little novel word counter go down, down, down, but I don't care because I'm having fun here. I'm meeting interesting people, I volunteered to help with the faq, today I just did my first pull request. This is all really good stuff. I'm just glad I can see it as that, and not just procrastination.

Years ago, a friend and co-worker was told by his boss that he shouldn't have gone to see a lecture because it was taking time away from his core duties. He responded "energy is not zero-sum. by going to the lecture, I was inspired and I will get to my work, and do it well. better than if I hadn't." It's a good point.

(and sure, you can misuse this for everything you don't want to do, but in his case it was true. He did his work. It was fine. But the break let him be more effective)

I was in a relationship, and it was amazing, and I said "I'm just afraid it'll end". She could never understand why I was so gun-shy. Then she watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favorite movies, and quoted it back to me. At the end of the movie, there's a storm on the beach, and the memories are all disappearing. The guy says "what do we do??!"

She smiles and says "Enjoy it"

And of course I'm not in a relationship with this person anymore. Just like I won't always be on tilde. But the same rule applies. Energy, inspiration, joy, and enthusiam are special. They're additive. They're not zero-sum. Just enjoy them as they happen, and then let go.


I started a cafe for discussion. You can go here and edit the files you see there:

I've been speaking with a few folks like cortex about trying to beat the Peter Principle of communities - they grow until they get lame.

So I wrote this little proposal:

And Cortex responded that it's not just about capping users, it's also about knowing that people will leave and handling that. I totally agree. I think the key is determining how many active users there are, and when the number gets low, you can add some new people. That keeps new blood without the site getting Peter Principled. I also like the idea that the new folks are let in once a week. It'd be part of the community culture - "N00B Sundays!" or whatever.

So. Then I was trying to figure out how to get different people on the server talking. There's IRC, there's wall, there's writing posts and emailing each other about them. But I wanted something a little more public and with more of a memory than a wall message. So the_rad_cafe was born.

Please stop by, add your name to the guestbook, and let's chat. Let's introduce ourselves, let's figure out how we want this place to work, let's keep it weird and awesome.

Because we've seen it a million times - without /some/ kind of moderation and community standards, this place will probably get super lame super quick. And that'd be a shame.


I don't think people realize how much we lost.

Mr Owie* made an offhand mention about how is like a civil war reinactment society, which is funny. But it got me thinking.

We don't realize how much we lost. Not really. Sure, has a lot of nostalgia, and that's awesome. But there's a whole generation of people that probably don't even know what to ask for, what to build, what to agitate for, because they have always been presented a pretty narrow view of what's possible online.

Old folks always want to look back. That's just A Thing They Do. But sometimes there's an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants a bit. To say "actually there was this cool thing 10-15 years ago, and I bet if we tried for that again it could be pretty great, especially with all the new things that technology affords us.

Should we all go back to bad photoshop and the command line? Well, no.

But was there something special about the way we used to interact online? Something creative and wacky and fun? No doubt about it. And while the tools today have all the same possibility (in fact, way more) I think many of them lack a sense of wonder, of whimsy, and of fun.

Many in tech/design are accelrating this problem, I think. We're so ready to analyze VC success that we try an app, shrug, uninstall, and snark about it. But I think largely it's because we're looking through the lens of the next snapchat, twitter, google, instagram, whatever.

What if we looked for the next human thing. Imperfect, not profitable, but friendly.

What if we had "fun incubators"? Where we didn't aim everything at cashing out and selling out, but we tried to encourage better ways to be human and enjoyable online? Not everything has to make money.

In fact, when you ignore money, some interesting new ideas appear that you'd never get to with a money lens.

danah boyd wrote a post about how "Selling out" is a very "white male in the early 90s" concept.

I don't agree. Just because we have a whole society of people trying to sell out doesn't mean there isn't value to doing things for the joy of it. But I think many of us forgot that we have that option. Or have never been taught.

*I kid, I kid. Matt Haughey.


I wrote a long post at work today about privacy and authenticity.

I called myself an old person for remembering the web that was more punk and less business.

And this isn't about "it was better than", because it wasn't. I have a better thing to say. The past didn't go anywhere.

You can always make the new community that people enjoy. Even in 2014.

So it was fun seeing Paul's post on He touches on a lot of the same topics.