Burned Man

I had such a great time at Burning Man last year. It was my first time and my brother-in-law graciously gave up his ticket so that my sister to take me. Mie is a veteran and was the perfect guide in every way. She knew what to bring and where to go but also knew me enough to let me wander around, explore, and take it all in at my own pace, re-living the event through my eyes.

I am not nearly as invested in the burner community as she is but it makes me sad to read the latest headlines about how it’s collapsing under its own popularity. Burning Man Jumps the Shark is the cover story in this week’s Bay Guardian and the New York Times writes about tech elite hiring “sherpas” to set things up and clean up afterwards.


When I saw a Delorean at a Grateful Dead show I knew it was the beginning of the end.  The clean, aluminum lines of the gull-wing doors stood out in stark contrast to the ramshamble chaos of everything around it.

You can’t push out the grime and sweat. It’s an integral part of the experience. Through it you come together and are reborn as part of the tribe.

Eating sushi in an air conditioned yurt is doing it wrong.  Maybe it’s time for another funeral?


How to write a good set of Community Guidelines

Writing the Community Guidelines for an online social network is an art. Next to on-boarding and FAQs, the community guidelines are an important document that helps set the tone for the site and the people that use it. You need to be clear and firm but also treat those that use your site as humans that can think for themselves.

I can’t tell you how to write a good set of guidelines as each community is different and the voice that you choose to address the community needs to come from you as a unique reflection of your values. I can point you to some of my favorites and point out choice snippets.

Get Satisfaction

As a corporate service, Get Satisfaction needs to strike the right balance between fun and engaging but also covering all bases for those corporate buyers (more likely the corporate lawyers) that might not be comfortable with loose language. While the language is pretty straightforward, the titles of each section let slip a little personality. “Be your awesome self” and “No trolls!” have personality but for those that are not sure what they are getting at, the details are explained.

The Guardian Participation Guidelines

For a mainstream media site, The Guardian has a refreshingly crisp set of guidelines that are clear and easy to to understand.

We welcome debate and dissent, but personal attacks, persistent trolling and mindless abuse will not be tolerated.

I’m not a legal mind but I would say that such a phrase is open to interpretation but the guidelines make clear that the Guardian owns the platform and takes responsibility to curate the conversation and keep it civil for everyone.


As a photo sharing site, the flickr community managers have been inspirational for their balanced approach to weaving the line between one person’s form of expression and another’s sense of morals. Their community guidelines are as much an ice breaker as an appeal to all of us to be human. Included are such gems as:

Don’t be creepy. You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.


Who ever wrote these guidelines (you can see a working draft on github) sure was having a lot of fun. Sprinkled throughout are gems such as:

Harm to Minors. . .Being a teenager is complicated enough without the anxiety, sadness, and isolation caused by bullying.

Sexually Explicit Video. . .please don’t use Tumblr’s Upload Video feature to upload sexually explicit video. We’re not in the business of hosting adult-oriented videos (and it’s fucking expensive).

Username/URL Abuse or Squatting. . .Don’t squat, hoard, amass, accumulate, accrue, stockpile, rack up, buy, trade, sell, launder, invest in, ingest, get drunk on, cyber with, grope, or jealously guard Tumblr usernames/URLs.

Spam. . .don’t tag a photo of your cat with “doctor who” unless the name of your cat is actually Doctor Who, and don’t overload your posts with #barely #relevant #tags.

Confusion or Impersonation. . .Don’t impersonate anyone. While you’re free to ridicule, parody, or marvel at the alien beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch, you can’t pretend to actually be Benedict Cumberbatch.

Lastly? Check out the original TOS for Blogger. Most of it is what you expect but then you get to section 12E which helpfully states:


Howl 2.0

UC Berkeley professor Ken Goldberg and documentary filmmaker (and founder of the Webby Award) Tiffany Shlain put together a modern update to Allen Ginsberg’s famous Beat Generation poem, Howl (also purportedly written in Berkeley). Yelp exhorts us all to unplug from from our endless quest for the next info-fix and, “power-down and revisit the present tense.”

They practice what they preach and encourage everyone to take a “technology shabbat” from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I love Berkeley!

They are working on a feature film which was featured at Sundance this year. Connected, An Autobiography about Love, Death & Technology.


I was just cleaning up some old blog posts and noticed that the link to a Honda viral video made over seven years ago is not only still live, but still generating comments. The video is hosted at albinoblacksheep.com, not affiliated with Honda in any way. Is it a wasted opportunity not to have this video archived over on honda.com?

While working at Yahoo, I recall many sites that built up huge, actively engaged communities around specific advertising campaigns only to be shut down and 404’d when the campaign is over. Sometimes they are redirected (i.e. yahoo.com/starwars redirects to starwars.com) but often times the community is forced to disband and all momentum is lost.

Which brand-supported communities do you think should have been maintained?

Fact-checking your consumption with the cloud

One of the benefits of pulling all your data together is that you can overlay data sets on top of one another for further insight. I only noticed this today but Pacific Gas & Electric’s Usage History section is great example. Here’s my gas bill over the past 24 months available to me when I login to the pge.com. The bars represent the total monthly gas usage and the shaded area is the average temperature for the month.

Laid out this way, it makes total sense that I would see a spike for January two years ago and a lower peak that extended for two months last year. The “degree days” (calculated as a varience from 65 F) map almost perfectly. If it were out of whack, I’d wonder but a quick check here and it looks like I’m on target.

Imagine the power of shared data sets like these. Mint, the online money management service, also provides a shared view of aggregate spending so you can compare what you spend to others around you. Using Mint’s Spending Trends feature, you can see how much (or little) I spend on Hair Care compared to my fellow San Francisco Mint users.

I had no idea someone could spend $419 on Hair in a month but there you have it (and that’s the average). Just for giggles I checked some of the other cities and it looks like someone in the Bay Area is throwing things out of whack – NYC only spends $152 and even LA is a mere $297. Either hair dressers are really ripping off people here or someone has a really expensive hair habit.

What other examples are there of such shared data sets. I’ve heard of sites that compare salary levels and another that lets you put in the MPG you get on your make and model of car. 23andMe is doing this across personal genetics. Any others?

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Trouble Tickets for City Hall – SeeClickFix

SeeClickFix lets people assign Help Tickets to their local neighborhood. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, it’s nice to see that there’s an easy way for citizens to get involved and if we all keep our eyes open for things like burnt out street lamps and broken potholes, then we’ll have more complete coverage. On the other, if your involvement goes no further than whipping out your iPhone and pecking off missives, that’s not exactly in the spirit of JFK’s “ask what you can do for your country.”

Dig a little deeper though and you’ll find that the site’s creator wants SCF to be a gateway drug to civic involvement. Once you submit an ticket, you’re inevitably going  to be attached to it. You took the time to report something so forwarding it on to the appropriate authorities is the next logical step. Before you know it, you’re the goto guy for your neighborhood, something they call a SideClick.

Who knew? IT support tools applied to city maintenance- I sure wouldn’t mind the accountability & transparency.

Community 2.0 with Twitter

MyBlogLog just launched an experiment and a shared account at twitter.com/mybloglog. All of us on the team have twitter accounts and have been tripping over each other using our accounts to respond to people and get the word out to our various, over-lapping pools of followers.

The twittersphere is so noisy anyway that when we sat back and thought about it, having a central voice for MyBlogLog the product just made more sense. There are thousands of MyBlogLog users that have added their twitter accounts to their profile and rather than reaching out to them piecemeal, it just seemed to make more sense to have a single account to handle the outgoing communications.

So a single account to broadcast the occasional shout out or service update is a no-brainer. The harder, experimental part is the listening part. We set up a script that automatically follows anyone that has added their twitter account to their MyBlogLog profile. It’s impossible to keep up with the thousands of conversations going on amongst our members so we’re taking the advice of our very own twitter ninja, Todd and are limiting our listening to just the @mybloglog replies and direct messages.

Who knows what will happen, we’ll have to just go with it a bit and see how it goes. It’s just a few hours since we’ve announced this and the replies are already rolling in at a pretty rapid clip. I’m a little worried because we all have a product to run as well and the interruptive nature of twitter brings out my worst ADD tendencies.

One thing is for certain, this channel is an excellent source of real-time feedback. MyBlogLog releases early and often and we thrive on input to tap us in the right direction or smack us upside the head if we’re dead wrong. The early responses to the follow script range from positive to “what took you so long?” so I think we did the right thing.

Some of the followers have let us know about other companies that are playing around with branded twitter accounts. Here’s a running list so far:

Ironically, it doesn’t seem like @twitter is really used in the same way. Curious.

Update: looks like we’re headed in the right direction. Overnight reactions are almost all positive and the Stop Twitter Spam makes me realize we dodged a bullet by posting about why we were auto-following all 14,000+ that have added their twitter ID to their MyBlogLog profile.

Netsquared Mashup Challenge

The Netsquared Mashup Challenge applications are in and now it’s time to vote on your favorite of the 122 that have been submitted. It’s all for a good cause and the projects listed here are good inspiration for those attending Mashup University where I’ll be doing a brief presentation tomorrow morning on the MyBlogLog API.

For more on the Netsquared Mashup Challenge, see the video below:

MyBlogLog: DNS for People

Many moons ago I took a job managing the Sun Sparc workstations on the Fixed Income trading floor at the Tokyo branch of Lehman Brothers. TIt was a time when a 486 Compaq computer cost $5,000 (just the CPU!) and a 28.8 Supra modem would run you a couple hundred bucks. With these economics in mind, you’ll understand why a job with an investment bank that gave me access to dual T1 lines was attractive. When things were quiet on the help desk I would spend time browsing through newsgroups and playing around with first generation browsers like Mosaic and Navigator. The web was a small place back then. Yahoo lived on akebono.stanford.edu and my little guide to Tokyo was awarded the “Cool Site of the Day” sunglasses.

The excitement around social networks today reminds me of the early web. Closed networks such as Facebook carve out a small slice of the internet and make it familiar. Bumping into names we recognize, the wilds of the internet take on the feel of a small town or village. We mediate our experience through the lens of these virtual hamlets, relying on our friends to point out things to see, our “mini-feed” tells us who is doing what, we can trust their judgement.

In the past, broadcast models were sufficient. The portals were the first phase. Crafted by editors, they delighted us by shining a spotlight on items of interest (those sunglasses again). Search engines took over as our interests splintered and we each sought out something unique, outside of the generic categories of the portals. Social bookmarks and blogs took over from email as a way to share knowledge but each blog had to rely on it’s ability to draw an audience to get a point across. RSS feeds were a way to channel influence but the flow has since grown weaker as more a more blogs compete for attention, watering down the signal to what is now a broad river of random chatter.

Social Networks entered the scene as a way to channel the signal back into a strong and meaningful flow. The latest updates from our friends and contacts are a way to filter what we read and where we focus our attention. If we pick our friends carefully, we can again surface something of value. There are now social networks for Anglers, Bakers, and even Dead People.

So where do we go from here? I predict (as others) there will be another swing of the pendulum. As we splinter into smaller and smaller communities we’ll come to the realization that we’re missing something. Joining multiple networks will not help. Managing multiple identities across multiple social networks creates confusion and stress. How many networks can you manage? How many accounts and friends lists can you keep in your head. Want to share a link? Post a thought? Which network is appropriate? Do you post an update to Vox, Twitter, Facebook, Pownce, or all four? The demand to consolidate will poke holes into the walls of social networks. Right now you can push things into Facebook but into that black hole there is no escape. Where’s the RSS out? Consumers will force the walls to come down.

When these walls crumble, we’re going to be back out in the wild again. All of us are going to be holding onto our various masks. Which one to use? My LinkedIn profile? My ClaimID? My Yahoo Answers profile? Shards of our identity will exist across multiple systems and without a service to bring it all together, it will be impossible to interact with people in any meaningful way.

History serves us well here. Attempts to centralize have failed in the past. Remember Microsoft Passport? No one wanted to throw their lot in with a single vendor, especially when it was Microsoft. I predict the same will happen should anyone else try to solve this problem with brute force, not Yahoo, not Google, not even the iPhone. No one wants to put all their eggs into one basket. What we need is a pointer to all the pages that make up your collective, virtual, self.

The solution is in a distributed service. The distributed model the internet uses to locate nodes is instructive. When you type “yahoo.com” into your browser, your computer translates that into and IP address. Somewhere along the way that IP address, say,, is sent to a Domain Name Server (DNS) which has a lookup table that will determine the best way to route your packet to that IP address which is also known as yahoo.com. You don’t need to know the IP address or the best way to get there, the DNS servers and routing tables handle that. They exist at a level below the hostnames that we use.

Some companies recognize this opportuntiy and are building solutions to meet the need. Spock is a people search engine but it’s approach to brute force indexing is no different than the Yahoo Directory of old – a top down, editorial approach that will ultimately not scale. Freebase is slightly better as it can accept updates but again, this is not much different from a modern search engine, an index of dynamic content with a single, shared view for everyone.

The trick of DNS is that it adapts itself and can be edited to meet the needs of the community it serves. Routing tables are updated dynamically to seek out the most efficient route from point A to point B. The combination of a dynamic routing table and an “editorialized” DNS table can build a view of the world that is optimized for the individuals that use it. In this same way, a modern solution for locating people, discovering what they are about, and tracking their interests is through a loose combination of lookup tables and community-based profiles. People are not fixed objects, their interests change from day-to-day, they have schedules, they produce metadata that has a half-life.

On to the shameless plug portion of this post; a vision for what we’re trying to build at MyBlogLog. What you see today are the beginnings of a service that not only helps you learn about people reading a site and learn more about them, it also directs you to sites these people publish and communiites that they belong to. The recent addition of tags to MyBlogLog, which can be applied by any MyBlogLog member on any person or site profile, further defines what you’re looking at. It’s a little messy but there is structure underneath it all which ties it together. The community is helping build out the structure, tag clusters are giving form to communities and relationships where before none existed.

One of the most interesting (and undiscussed gems) of the service is the “Hot in My Communities” module which surfaces the posts that are most interesting to readers of sites that you follow. Imagine it as a virtual version of Amazon’s Best Sellers in your zip code. It’s likely that you’ll recognize some of the links there but if there’s something in there that you don’t, chances are good that you’ll find it of value because others like you also found it compelling.

The web is a collection of digital artifacts. Text, photos, sound files are by-products that are digitized and indexed. We use search engines to locate these artifacts but no one has built a way to tie all these artifacts back to their owner. Until you tie the collective digital artifacts of a person together in a unified way and follow it over time, you don’t really know that person. We want to build a platform which allows you to get to know someone through what they produce and share, collectively, across all networks and the internet. Only then can connections made online approach the fidelity and meaning of a face-to-face meeting. That is what we hope to accomplish with MyBlogLog, that is what keeps us thinking of better ways of doing things.

Further Reading:

It’s time to open up networking, again : Dave Winer on the coming explosion of social networks

Beyond Silos : Doc Searls outlines the shortcomings of categories of organization

Dave on open social networking : Dave Weinberger suggests the need for metadata miscellany

Open Labeling of Social Network Relationships : Marc Canter riffs on elements of Winer’s post

BBC, The Tech Lab : Bradley Horowitz talks about DNS for objects

MyBlogLog Personal Gestalt : Lord Matt, a MyBlogLog member, ponders the concept of a collection of personal actions as a definition of self