February 23, 2007

Feeling lucky?

Here's an idea for a techno-thriller: A blogger starts receiving threatening messages via his referrer logs. For example he sees hits to his blog from search queries like [i'm watching you] or [it will happen soon]. I don't have it all mapped out but maybe evil trackbacks are involved.

I came up with the idea because my own referrer logs reveal that someone ended up looking at my blog by searching for [how does jason goldman die?].

Google doesn't seem to have the answer, but if you know please leave a comment.

February 21, 2007

Wanted: CoolMatcher

I just stared working again and all my Obvious co-workers share their iTunes libraries over the local network. I'd like a small plug-in that just does a simple comparison between my library and theirs.

The first thing I'd like to see is with whom I share the most common musical tastes. It's an easy context-builder for new relationships.

Then I'd like to see what artists are enjoyed by multiple of my co-workers but unknown to me.

I'd think some sort of shared library analyzer plug-ins would already exist, but I couldn't turn up anything. Maybe iTunes doesn't allow programmatic access to the right data.

February 19, 2007

Open questions

I was having the sort of existential conversation you can only have at your 3rd bar stop of the evening and right before closing time.

The subject was, generally, does working on the web truly matter. Like, really in the grand scheme of things where we're all gonna die, be flooded by melted glaciers or ultimately blinked out in the heat death of the universe.

My answer is a strong Yes. I believe this because I believe that the Web is the most important human achievement of our lifetime. Not because of its ability to quickly deliver stock quotes, horoscopes and news, but because of what we can create with it. The web allows us to see the world from previously obscured vantage points, listen to voices that were previously too remote to hear.

In a nutshell, the web is important because it allows people to more easily answer the question "How do you feel?"

While I believe that more content and more viewpoints are good in and of themselves, they also point to a more transcendent purpose. As the web makes accessible this flood of perception, we are able to more fully realize that our own individual view of things is essentially arbitrary. By this I mean that while the particular way I see the world can never be challenged for its primacy in my understanding of things, I can grow to understand that it is a biological quick that causes me to experience things this way.

By realizing this we are able to more completely understand one another, regardless of location or background. And this sort of understanding is the most important factor that will allow us, as humans, to tackle global problems and achieve unimaginable goals.

And then I threw in some stuff about how I had an hallucination that suggested to me that human beings have evolved to be the sense organs of a planet-wide organism. Like I said, it was late.

In any case, I was rather satisfied with this oratory and it seemed to resonate with my fellow webgeek companions. I was so satisfied that I repeated it a few nights later to a different group of friends. The context was slightly different on this second, later occasion. On one hand, I was trying to explain why I was excited about my new job. And on the other, I was trying to find out why this second group of friends (while technologically-inclined) weren't really into the web at all as a medium of self-expression.

In my experience as a part-time blog evangelist, I've frequently run into the comment from non-bloggers that "Well, that all seems interesting but it's not for me. I just don't have anything to say." In the past, this response has both saddened and angered me. Saddened because I interpreted it, in part, as a lack of creativity. And angered because it was often voiced to me by co-workers who I figured would share my view of the transcendent power of the web (seeing as how they worked at Google and all).

But on this occasion I heard a new variant of this response from my friend Emily. She asked "Why is it so important that everyone participate in the web (as a creator)?" While not necessarily included in my overview, this is a fundamental part of my belief.

Eventually, I believe, everyone will be using the web as a medium of self-expression. Just as ~everyone has an email address, so too will ~everyone have a place on the web that they can point to as being theirs (even if it's not fully public or shared with everyone). Those that won't are those who will be prevented through some lamentable combination of lack of access or willful rejection of technology. But both from a philosophical and professional standpoint, I want to see as many as people as possible use the web to express themselves. Moreover, I want to build the tools that enable them to do so.

Emily wasn't buying it. She was happy that a good chunk of people would be writing blogs, making web pages, and so on. But there's no reason to go nuts here. We shouldn't expect or even hope for it to be everyone.

Clearly that should be the goal, I responded, for our understanding is increased as more experiences are shared. The network becomes more valuable as the number of nodes increases.

Then Emily told me about how, as a recruiter, she spends her time looking for people online. She uses advanced search engine hoodoo to find the right kind of people for the right job. And in this age when so many people can be found online, it's a real treat to find someone who has left no mark. The same with restaurants, she argued. If you can find somewhere that hasn't been reviewed a thousand times on, it's like you're finding something special. Like a fresh snowfall before it gets all footprinted up. (OK - the snow metaphor is my own flowery nonsense, but I think it's in the spirit of her argument).

And I realized I didn't have a great response to that. It's possible that as more people have online presences, there will be a natural backlash from a subsequent generation of folks who don't want to share in that way. Maybe there will be folks who consider it a virtue to have as thin an online presence as possible, analogous to the pride some webgeeks feel when they manage to be completely unplugged for a week or weekend.

I hope this isn't the case. I hope we can create the right mix of technology that allows everyone to share parts of themselves online in a way that is natural. For those of us involved in creating social software, I feel it should be our goal. As a result of these two conversations, however, I feel both more driven to achieve it and less assured in the inevitability of our transcendental connectedness.

How do you feel?

February 11, 2007

The 170-day Weekend

Today marks the end of my long weekend. As I'd skipped the post-high school and post-college trips to wherever, this was the longest stretch of time I'd ever had off.

I explicitly decided not to set a lot of concrete goals for myself ... I wanted to be pretty goal-free for the first time. That being said, there were some things I wanted to get done. Herewith my Lack-of-Progess Report and observations of being a slack bastard:

  • Travel: I went to Las Vegas, Big Sur, Chicago, Paris, London, Southwest England, Normandy France, Kauai, Palm Springs, Aruba, and Las Vegas (again). I learned that it's better to spend more time in fewer places and that I don't really go in for the whole luxury resort scene (unless it's in Vegas). I also learned that I love San Francisco enough to settle here and that I want to visit more places soon.

  • Poker: I made the leap from limit to cash game no-limit. I'm happy to have ended up in the black, but also learned I'm not good enough to make any real money playing cards. I also learned that Colma can be a bit of downer place to trek out to by yourself. But fun with friends ... especially if you end up sucking out to win a $300 pot against them (as happened last night).

  • Games: By far my area of biggest accomplishment. I tore the heck out of the World of Warcraft expansion pack and was the 7th person in my guild to reach level 70. I also was the 2nd to buy the epic flying mount; in my view the best reward in the game. Burning Crusade is an amazingly well done expansion for WoW. With the number of new environments, encounters, character models and environmental details packed into the release, Blizzard completely delivered. In other gaming areas, I definitely under-performed especially with console gaming. But I hope to get a Wii soon.

  • Books: I read a bunch. Of particular note are Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Jonathan Lethem's Gun with Occassional Music and Ian Mcewan's Saturday. Nassim Taleb - while a bit of a douche - writes a great book and Fooled by Randomness confirmed a lot of suspicions I'd had about the markets.

I was exceedingly fortunate in that I was able to take this time off without having to worry about how I was going to support myself or a family or a mortgage. However, before I went to work for Blogger I was planning on doing the same thing. Unless you're already in the whole family/mortgage part of life, I found it's relatively easy to save enough money to buy yourself some time off if you make that a priority. Do it!

After a couple years of working it may occur to you "Wow. I'm never going to get another summer vacation. It's pretty much going to be work, work, work forever." Not true! I think this is a particular American deception but the truth is you can quit your job without starting another one a week later. This seemed impossible to me but it's true.

A caveat, however. When you have fewer responsibilities, those you do have take on a disproportionately larger weight. I found that no matter how little I actually had to worry about, I'd find some task or obligation that would become the "one big thing" nagging at me from void. Sometimes this one big thing would be laundry. The point is that you can always identify one obstacle in your life that, if removed, would make everything better (an annoying co-worker, a bad debt, a rash). Turns out this probably isn't true at all.

Taking time off isn't a path to enlightened bliss. But it is a great way to get a new perspective. For me, it meant learning that I want to live and work in San Fransisco for the next long while. And that I definitely will want to take time off again one day.

February 05, 2007

Just like it sounds

When I left the Googs almost 6 months ago, I pretty much knew the sort of thing I wanted to do next: A product management role at small startup in San Francisco working on personal content web products where I could help with the tactical decisions for an individual product but also work on bigger picture bidness.

Also, I wanted to work with people who, en route to taking over the world, could enjoy a good 5 hour riff on a punchline-free joke about a baked potato.

I'm happy to say I've found my dream job - next Monday I'm going to work at Obvious as Director of Product Strategy and I'm very excited.

I've got some thoughts I'd like to share later about what I've learned in taking time off ... the short version is: it's highly recommended. But I'm stoked to be able to go work on concrete things again with a bunch of folks I dig. Should be good times.