Nadia Eghbal

I often scribble half-baked ideas, reactions to things I’ve read, or something useful I’ve heard. Sometimes they turn into longer blog posts or projects, but most of them sit in my notes app, unused.

I’ve decided to start publishing some of these as a faster way to get ideas out there. They’re updated monthly below. Topics loosely cover governance, how people organize, research culture, ethics, online interactions, and all other sorts of randomness.

When quoting a private conversation, I’ve defaulted to anonymity for obvious reasons, but if you see something you said that you’d like attributed to you, just let me know and I’ll add your name.

To get monthly updates, subscribe here.

(Please note: you are crawling my brain. These are rough notes, which means ideas are experimental and conviction level is highly variable!)

2019 Notes

Browse by year: 2019 - 2018


A word to describe the conundrum when you want to text someone but you haven’t spoken in years and don’t want to draw attention to your last conversation in the thread


(from a convo with a friend) Rituals for yourself, vs. rituals you have that involve other ppl. I definitely seek out the former, but tend to avoid the latter, bc I think spontaneity/being naturally top of mind is a more meaningful sign of commitment to me (similar to faith/feeling spirituality vs. meaningless rituals in religion). But interesting to realize that others might feel differently!


Kinda wish all my friends had public Amazon wishlists, just to see what they’d put on there (like browsing other social feeds to get a sense of their interests)


Death-oriented vs life-oriented people: difference in personalities where you’re either barreling your way fearlessly towards death vs. trying to avoid death by squeezing every last hour of useful output from your life. (Maybe another way of saying it is high vs. low discount rate ppl)


Would like to see someone quantify the negative economic impact to Beyonce of Lemonade being locked up on Tidal for 3 years, hugely impactful album that missed out on its reach for the first 3 years of its release (Also, kinda semi-ironic that she made that sacrifice with Lemonade specifically to support Jay-Z’s platform. Subtle performance art?)


Cool thing about prompt Twitter (where you ask an open q to your followers, ex. “tell me about a time when…”) is you create a mini, hyper-ephemeral community. All these strangers gather around your q and interact with each other, and you can see some of them are playing certain characters/roles (responding to other ppl, liking everything, etc). The life of this “community” is short: like setting paper on fire, which produces a big flame but then dies out quickly. Maybe similar to the dynamics of a house party or a festival

The other thing I like about it are the non-zero sum rewards. Someone who provides a good response might get lots of likes (local currency/validation, valuable within the context of the prompt “ecosystem” itself) or also new followers (global currency/validation, valuable beyond the life of the prompt). But because anyone can read the prompt thread, it’s virtually boundless how many additional likes and follows your original prompt might “mint” for the entire network. And the rewards don’t just go to the original prompt creator, but potentially to anyone who jumps in

Would be cool to look at more of these ephemeral communities on a micro (e.g. house party) and nano (e.g. Twitter prompt) scale…


Is there a term for thirst traps, but for performatively stoking sympathy from strangers (ex. talking about something bad, but ultimately kinda trivial, that happened to you)? Crocodile traps?


If we separate out artifacts from organisms, it makes sense why ex. a popular YouTube video or random viral post or GitHub repo or whatever might not actually require additional money/support. If the artifact is “done”/stands alone, and the creator isn’t making more stuff like it (ex. viral tweet from someone who doesn’t have tons of followers) and there’s no additional temporal costs involved, then no further action is required, really

But it makes things confusing bc we can look at two popular GitHub repos and value them very differently. Need to measure value by looking at who’s behind this stuff (and their reputation/status/expected future behavior) instead of the actual content. Ex. having one random popular YouTube video, vs. being someone who makes popular YouTube videos. The videos could be the same but the people behind them are very different

This is also why I think information and infrastructure behave so similarly, even if calling popular YouTube videos “infrastructure” is a bit of a stretch. But, e.g. a road is valuable not based on its physical attributes (valued it as an artifact), but how it’s used (valued as an organism)


Restraint instead of excess as a symbol of wealth (ex intermittent fasting, dressing down, meditation, routines) - wonder if it’s just self-discipline to retain your sanity and/or find meaning in abundance. Either that, or it’s a means of establishing control when you’re under a lot of stress / sensory input (which I think is how these things are usually interpreted)


(from a convo with a friend)

Working “at”
Working “for”
Working “from”
Working “with” a company…

…choice of prepositions makes a difference / says something either about your relationship with your employer, or how you see yourself


Semi-joking q asked at dinner tonight that I actually think is a fun silly “if a tree falls in a forest” type icebreaker q: “Is Hogwarts real?”

Basically gets to: Hogwarts exists as an idea in our heads, so are ideas more real than reality? If it has impact on our real lies and we all buy into the idea, and we have “memories” of it, does that make it more real than if it were a physical place we’ve visited?


Still really on this pro-constraints kick. Am fascinated by the idea that creative work requires a certain degree of freedom to execute well, BUT creative work also requires constraints (time/capital) to produce anything interesting. And constraints can, in themselves, become inspiration for creative work, like a grain of sand in an oyster. I don’t think I’ve yet developed an intuition for how much to calibrate in either direction, but it’s delightfully torturous


Thinking about how “developer” is both an actual role in an OSS project, and also a personal identity. Not everyone’s role in an OSS project is that of a developer (as in, they might not write code for the project). But pretty much everyone in an OSS project probably personally identifies as a developer (otherwise, why would you get involved in a software project?)

You might primarily identify as, e.g. an evangelist, or a designer, or community manager, but everyone still probably shares SOME identity overlap with the “developer” label


New term I just discovered and like: “Wanderjahre” (the years spent exploring yourself) / journeyman years


A metric for tracking how your ideas are being received by the outside world: seeing how your inbound changes over time (in terms of the types of cold emails you get - functions like an ink dye trail, tracking where your ideas are spreading)


Knowledge as object-oriented programming for information


Is there a term like freemium, but pay-what-you-want? You’re not paying for a different product, but some ppl are more willing to front the costs for ppl who don’t care enough (eg. “patrons” vs. casual consumers), so that the content is freely available for everyone

2019-04-12, but for dating inbound


Funny how the primal desire to feel “close to nature” manifests in good and bad ways…like, the desire to own houseplants stems from the same desire for physical violence (maybe?), both are oddly relaxing bc they’re an outlet for releasing our animal selves


Thinking about how blogs, podcasts, and other more permanent artifacts are better forms of “passive social capital building” than Twitter or IG, bc people will continue to discover them for longer (via search, links, etc). Whereas the trajectory for a viral social post is explosive, then dies off - it’s harder to stumble upon old tweets/posts. I wonder if one is actually better, though, or are they just different approaches? The latter just feels so frenetic to me, you have to constantly keep creating more short-lived content, instead of fewer, longer-living artifacts.

Also, regardless of which is better, it’d be cool to see social platforms help surface old-but-relevant content. Like if you search on the web for a topic, you find all these great old posts from years ago. You can always search on (some) social platforms, but given the volume, it’d be even better if they could, e.g. proactively surface old content from ppl you follow


Everyone seems to be trying to predict or build the next SF….what if the right move isn’t moving to a new city at all, but doubling down on divorcing physical from online reality? i.e. Move to a small town wherever, with your primary social/work interactions happening online. Remote workforces are a thing, so why not remote cities?

Like when I think about the biggest sources of serendipity for me today, they originated from online, not in-person relationships (ex. meeting someone at a party). Then again, maybe I’m underestimating the value of meeting in person, even if you first discovered each other online. The spark to connect might happen online, but the real bond is formed when you meet in person


More thoughts on “mobs as a force for good”: group level signaling as an advocate for individual achievements. Instead of mobs working against individuals, what are the ways in which they pave the path for individuals? (Ex. hero worship of prominent figures can get annoying, but also creates demand for individuals to do interesting things, i.e. you too can be the next Bezos or Jobs) - prompted by Samo’s post on “how Elon is making engineers cool again”


Do we read/enjoy/get less out of fiction as we grow older, possibly bc our mental models of the world are more fully formed?


Twitter is kind of like a virtualized library/librarian: ask for recommended reading on a topic, get a whole stack of interesting stuff back


(from a convo with a friend) “All the work we deeply pursue is basically therapy”


Board games: the ultimate zero latency gaming experience


Kinda amusing how the classic nerd stereotype is dudes who aren’t having sex bc they’re at home on computers all the time, and now apparently that’s what’s happening to the entire young male generation. Like in the end the “revenge of the nerds” narrative that I grew up with kinda slyly won out by turning the entire world into nerds. Meme-viruses infecting the world


The problem with A/B testing is a lot like the problem with voting: might help resolve the question when you’ve hit a stalemate re: what to do, but should be treated as a tiebreaker/last resort


Platforms as a hybrid of monopoly vs. decentralized production - “Anybody can become a creator…on Instagram”. Platform and creator co-share the costs of production

Kinda like the “libertarianism only exists in the bubble of democracy” thing (ok, slightly overreaching here, but still) - you can have this fantasy of decentralized production, that even has merit and brings joy, but it all necessarily happens within the bubble of a monopolistic platform (bc costs are too great for individuals to bear otherwise - need economies of scale)

Interesting to consider whether there are any stress points or fractures in the system that we can observe to predict future behavior. Ex. email still exists independently of these platforms. And maybe that’s the model we’re moving towards? Everyone uses platforms for initial discovery and building an audience, bc it’s like the “public sphere” of our digital lives. Like a common path is to start blogging on Medium, then switch to newsletter once you’re big enough. Or tweeting -> newsletter or whatever. But you couldn’t START with a newsletter, bc how would anyone ever find you?

So maybe platforms will become where reputations begin, where new talent is discovered, where brands are built, but longer-term, you build a more independent “stack”? Like what would that stack even look like? Does it live and die by email? What are other midding components (does portable identity matter)? Also, would that independent stack ever actually take over platforms, or only exist in mature stages of accrued social capital?


Mailing lists as a decent old school example of “one-way mirror” interactions (you can make them public, but read-only, and you have to be a member to post to it)


Hoping someone will poke holes in this, but I find something sort of elegant about the fact that Uber is inherently more resistant to bad actors bc of the nature of the transaction. Each person in the driver-rider transaction holds a “key” (name, destination, license plate) that allows them to verify the other’s identity. Also a solid example of how decentralization is a really fuzzy concept (identity verification is arbitrated by the Uber app, but still has decentralized elements)


Life is about figuring out which echo chambers you can actually stand to be in for awhile and making yourself a little home


Mario Kart as modern application of Aristotle’s peripatetic doctrine


IG/Twitter/FB/etc as externalized brains: “here’s everything you need to know about me”, so you don’t have to do as much of the upfront tedious small-talk work of getting to know someone new, and instead focus on more meaningful exchanges


If cafes are becoming the “public squares” of cities, if we were to redesign a city from scratch today, would we have fewer actual public squares?


Theory: nostalgia is a biological encouragement mechanism for having children. You feel nostalgic for the past, so you have children, bc it’s the closest you can get to reliving your childhood


(from a convo with a friend) “social public” vs. “social private” as a way of distinguishing between e.g. FB/IG/etc vs. e.g. Messenger/WhatsApp/etc. I dunno if this is well-known terminology that I had just never heard of, but I like it


There’s something that bothers me about the critique that parents secretly paying off admissions officers means the system itself is corrupt (i.e. ppl saying that this is the beginning of the end for university degrees). Cheating at a game doesn’t make the game itself rigged, it just means you should remove the cheaters

I think something that sits weirdly with me is that bartering for favors is an expected part of any social system like unversities (or getting into YC, or raising investor $$, or getting a job, or whatever). Ex. asking for warm intros is a form of bartering for favors. Is the problem specifically that money is involved? Whereas reputation / networks need to be earned (I can ask for that warm intro, but I can’t transfer that value to you), if anyone can literally “buy” their way into a social system, it means the system is no longer special?

Bribery can certainly imply that a system itself is corrupt, ex. paying off police officers, but I think there’s something different being implied. Police officers, judges, etc are part of the justice system, which we explicitly want to be objective, whereas admissions officers / gatekeepers are expected to look at social signals. (And not just name-brand social signals, but even ex. if you see a candidate who’s on the robotics team, you associate that with a bunch of other aptitude/personality traits)

Obviously against the bribery, but trying to figure out where that line is crossed and why, given that we all seem tacitly fine with “soft bribes”. Also wondering: viewed through that lens, is meritocracy actually an obfuscated form of elitism? “Merit” = social signals that are only visible to the in-group, once they become too legible to the general population, the system becomes gameable, so we revise the rules to make them harder / less comprehensible again. Not saying this is even wrong (“meritocracy is the worst form of gov’t, except all other forms”), just trying to figure out whether meritocracy reconciles with democratic values, or whether it even should


Thinking about how pop music about love, happiness, etc is written and performed by people who probably have super dysfunctional relationships / aren’t that happy (not a judgment! but guessing based on the very fact of their success) and how that subtly shapes the rest of us.

So like…where does their inspiration come from for this stuff? At worst it’s totally fake, at best it’s aspirational/idealized but likely not something they’ve actually experienced. Which is weird bc we think of music as being creative output, but what if it doesn’t actually reflect anything inside their heads? Their music inspires us to want to love, but if they personally have no idea what love means, are they just empty carriers, spreading social norms like a virus? Are we all getting mimetic fantasy propaganda pumped into our brains?


I wonder if it’d be possible for the biggest newspaper brands (ex. NYT, WSJ) to pivot their business so they’re making money from something that’s not journalism entirely. The same way universities don’t make most of their money off of tuition, ex. Harvard, MIT, etc license their brand everywhere. (Maybe this is already what newspapers do, I don’t know)

Was thinking about this wrt NYT releasing software: like, could the biggest newspaper brands become an entirely different kind of business that becomes sustainable enough to fund their journalism at a loss, the same way Harvard is doing all this other stuff to ultimately fund their research at a loss? In both cases, their brand still depends upon the quality of the stuff they put out (i.e. they’re selling their brand, so they are incentivized to not do things that erode its value), so I don’t think it’d necessarily be a conflict


Kinda into the idea of “invisible” innovations that completely shifted the opportunity window for certain groups: ex. birth control for women, PrEP for gay men, tractor / mechanical farm equipment for rural communities

I’m not exactly sure how to phrase what I find interesting here…but just like, I don’t THINK day-to-day about how birth control changed my life trajectory, it’s one of those things you sorta take for granted now, but it did

If I broaden it far enough though, there’s probably too many examples to count…ex. clean drinking water, sewage systems, etc etc. Maybe this category is so generalizable that it’s meaningless, but I feel like there’s a class of interesting stories somewhere that could be all bundled together. (is this just technological determinism?)


Ok you know how we eradicate rats or pigeons by slowly introducing sterilization into the wild or whatever? I wonder if catcalling will slowly be eradicated by AirPods. They make it less satisfying to catcall (bc the person can’t hear you), and you also can’t always tell if someone’s wearing them, so ppl will do it less over time until it’s just not a thing anymore


Our brains are moving faster than our bodies, throwing our expected life-stage trajectories out of order. Ex. retiring before you’ve ever been in a relationship, etc, it makes all the standard life advice totally irrelevant


(from a convo with a friend) “Take a platform you love. Would you rather lose access to all the past content your connections have posted, or lose the connections themselves?”

Thinking about how social media can be viewed as “content over time” rather than just “content”. The strongest value being exchanged in social media is not the content itself (commodities), but the value of “person who curates content over time” (reputation). It’s not the likes you get on a tweet that ultimately matter (ex. someone’s one tweet can go massively viral, but they still don’t have many followers). It’s the follows that matter, because over time, those translate into leverage/audience for future posts

This also makes the reward structure of social media look fundamentally different than decentralized forums or many-to-many interactions. On forums, your reputation is only really visible / meaningful to other “regulars”, but on social media, it’s immediately visible / meaningful to everyone (i.e. follow counts)


It’s funny you can have this relationship with your work or your ideas that is very similar to romantic relationships, friendships, etc. It gets tiring, you question whether it still brings you passion, you explore other ideas, etc etc…some people break up with their ideas, while others come back with their faith renewed. Also, perhaps in the same way you shouldn’t mistake an affair for something serious, maybe don’t mistake your side passions/interests for your main thing (I know this is counter to common wisdom but I really think it can go either way)


I wonder if all subcultures can be defined as variance in response to trauma (diff coping mechanisms, responses to rejection, ways of seeking validation, etc)


(from our podcast interview with Timothy) Organized complexity as “the beauty-first approach to science”


Information is like water or perhaps sediment at the bottom, knowledge is the oil floating on top


(from a convo with a friend) “Serendipity engineering” as the process of combinining and recombining raw information inputs to synthesize and discover new knowledge


Knowledge as consensus protocol: society’s “active working knowledge” at any given point in time = our shared consensus as to which bits of information are most true/relevant (battled out daily in conversation)


(from a convo with a friend) “Even if you can’t put everything you’re thinking about into one piece right now, those are bits of raw material that will inevitably crop up again in future writing”

Trying to think about research less as “experiment -> result -> publish”, and more about tapping into ore deposits. I feel like I’ve unearthed plenty of interesting nuggets in the past 9-ish months, but I don’t have to refine them all at once. Instead of feeling sad that I can’t get everything out in one piece, better to think of it as great that I dug up all this raw material that I can work with for a long time


(from a convo with a friend) “Frustrating (for me at least) to realize that we only have finite ‘writing bandwidth’, and if I write for a living, welp, there it goes”

I think 2019 is more about finding meaning through constraints instead of freedom, which is basically the opposite of how I used to feel until v recently. I used to think freedom was simply a matter of removing all material barriers. It’s been hard to accept that my capacity for investing in meaningful friendships, relationships, producing good work, etc is actually finite, no matter how much you maximize your freedom

Hedonism is bounded asymptotically. Money, flexible hours, etc helps, but in the end it’s kinda up to you figure out what/who matters most and allocate your attention accordingly


Did horror movies ever go through the whole moral panic thing in the way that violent music and video games did?


Maybe it’s not that regulators don’t have a clue about tech specifically, but that regulators really don’t have a clue about any industry they’re charged with regulating


Songs are such little miracles to me. I really cannot imagine thinking on the wavelength that’s required to make music, and make beautiful music at that


(from convo with a friend) When you are explicitly trying to hire weird ppl, you will get some bad ones too. “Weirdness leads to more polarizing extremes in either direction”


“Small group effect” (the idea that interesting, generative people all hang out in the same group and support each others’ work) is really just another way of saying “teaching good taste”

In other words, I think the implication is often that “smart people tend to congregate with one another”, but I think it’s more like “getting exposed to the right people improves your taste” and thus increases your perceived talent. And there are tons of super interesting, smart, talented ppl who just haven’t yet been exposed to good taste


Twitter culture as another example of SSC’s “universal culture” theory. When I say I met someone through Twitter, I don’t always literally mean we interacted/got to know each other on the platform itself, but more that I have a certain social circle of Twitter-esque people that I’ve gotten to know. Similarly (to SSC’s original conception of universal culture), you don’t have to literally be from the United States to participate in the American ethos

To extend the metaphor even further: for both Twitter and the US, there are also users/citizens who are are active on the platform/live in the country, but don’t fit the idealized ethos we’re talking about when we say “Twitter/American culture”


Horseshoe theory for traditionalists


Jane Jacobs, but for elevator dynamics (optimizing how people use/manage/adapt our environment within buildings, not just between buildings, i.e. cities)

There should totally be a Brand-Jacobs mashup of this. “The city inside the city: death and life of how great American buildings learn”


Slight amendment to my “no bounties” stance: paying for one-off contributions can be useful when they are tasks that nobody (including the maintainers) want to do, but that the maintainers acknowledge are important/necessary


Sociology is basically mythology in terms of its purpose to society. Many ideas like tragedy of commons continue to persist, despite being repeatedly discredited. They last not bc they are true, but bc they reflect who we perhaps want to be / how we see each other


When the users of an open source project get upset about license terms changing, it suggests that maybe monetizing through licenses isn’t a great tactic; says nothing about whether community is upset about maintainers getting paid. Increasingly feel like “paying maintainers will piss off the community” is a misdirection. Maybe we’re just asking the wrong people to foot the bill


Creative careers (research, entertainment/media, writing, etc) are basically nomadic / gig-based. Very different from the linear career path. You still build reputation that you can take with you wherever you go, but you’re sort of more like a wandering gypsy or a renegade cowboy: finding a temporary place to rest your head, but always keeping one eye open and a shotgun on your lap, vaguely aware that you’ll need to pack up on a moment’s notice and find a new place to set up camp

It’s a weird feeling, bc even though one gig builds upon another, it can also cause this sensation of feeling like you’re not really moving “upwards” so much as laterally. Like structurally speaking, I actually don’t think my career path / job stability is much different from an artist whose work is gig-based


Weird to feel like I’m rooting for Netflix wrt beating out “old guard” Hollywood studios, but also afraid of it wrt monopolies. Ditto Spotify. Doesn’t stop me from rooting for them now, though…maybe that cycle is just inevitable


Games are a great way to appreciate the potential impact of different human-computer interfaces. I experience the same game totally differently when it’s on console vs. PC vs. Switch vs. VR headset, etc


I wish some crazy patron would fund an indie game on the scale of Skyrim/GTA/WoW/RDR/etc. Like, “indie games” always have a certain look/style to them in large part bc of resource constraints, but imagine if someone was like “fuck it” and funded an army of like 1,000 people to create an amazing open world RPG. It would kinda be like the modern equivalent of building cathedrals/temples/monuments/etc as legacy. Build an entire fantasy WORLD as your legacy


Maybe “dead” information goods are information, and “live” information goods should be rebranded as knowledge. Knowledge = information that’s active/”in production”


The monoculture of celebrity, i.e. WhatsApp/Instagram/Msgr are part of the same FB conglomerate, the same way Kylie/Kim/Kanye/etc are part of the same conglomerate


The love language of giving and receiving links to “an article you might like”

(3/21: alternatively, link sharing as “violence”)


We’re subconsciously moving towards tapbacks, emoji, reactions, etc as an adaptative strategy to reduce the cost of microinteractions at today’s scale. We could take the time to respond with proper words and lengthy messages, back when we interacted with a smaller group of people at lower frequency. For high-frequency interactions, we need a simpler, slimmer way of communicating to reduce mental overhead. (Maybe an obvious point? But I like this as an explicit starting point for product design)


(from convo with a friend) “Social media as the gold standard”: nobody really believes in it, but enough ppl are bought into it that we all participate and make it ‘real’


The phantom urge for completion that lingers between Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V


Free access to content as a positive externality of “privately funded” (aka CPRs, patronage, etc) content creators

Aka they’re able to give away their content for free bc they’re making money elsewhere, from members. This can be true for journalism as well! Instead of charging everyone who lands on the article for access. Reminds me of the Practical Typography author, who only shows the “request to donate” popup to ppl from certain companies

Not so different from ex. Google (Google docs, gmail as a positive externality of their ad business). Also like conceptually how you might think of casual contributors, or casual attendees of a church congregation. We don’t expect much from them, bc they’re not part of the hardcore member community, but they’re welcome to enjoy/benefit from the members’ work, as long as they don’t impose significant additional cost

Another way of describing it: when it comes to content production, maybe the “free rider problem” is a misdirection - it’s not that they’re free riding, it’s that they are a non-relevant audience, who distract us from seeing the actual business model. Manage them in a way that they don’t impose additional cost of consumption, then focus on the people who do matter and are willing to pay


Editors are to writers as code review is to developers. I rarely show drafts of my writing to anyone bc I’m very particular about style, and I like the idea of writing in a “pure” space. But as my ideas have become more unwieldy (for whatever reason), I’m seeing the value of having someone review your work and make it better. Similarly, there’s some code that developers are happy to write all on their own, but in other cases they derive a lot of value from code review - I get it now!


Finding that it really helps when you stop trying to come up with reasons why you keep behaving in an undesirable way, and instead start from the position of accepting responsibility. Shifts focus from excuses to action / remediation


(from convo with a friend) Paintings as “containers of meaning that survive centuries…but sometimes meanings change”


“Make something people want” seems very clearly at odds with doing things ahead of the curve. And yes, I understand there’s an underlying assumption that your goal is to make something that addresses a desire that ppl even they didn’t know they had. But I still don’t think that holds - or rather, if it does hold, it generalizes the original statement so much as to be meaningless (When is it clear that people “wanted it”? At launch? After a month? A year? 10 years? Did you cause that to happen, or did you finally just hit good timing?)

I find it sort of more delightful to think of ourselves as vessels for ideas that float about, riding us around like chariots, until they find the right timing/audience. But whether people “want” your idea or not, you can’t help but be the vessel for that thing. Some people are doomed to be bonded to an idea that nobody likes, but they can’t help but evangelize it. Others are lucky to find themselves attached to an idea that takes off immediately. But you’re not really guiding the ideas, they’re guiding you, and your job is to listen and serve as an intermediary between idea <> rest of the world


Nobody minds Google as an overlord as long as they don’t fuck with our day-to-day. Medium is messing with their UI so much that it’s turning authors off. But Medium has to do this to survive. Google can only afford to do so bc they don’t need to make money off certain products in the same way.

Which maybe implies that having just a few, monopolistic tech platforms, and fewer “startups” etc, might actually be a perfectly fine, even optimal system, as long as they don’t provoke “political dissent”. Just like how monarchy/aristocracy could be theoretically work, as long as none of their subjects felt that the king interfered with their day-to-day. It was when kings started collecting taxes from peasants living in remote territories who’d never even heard of the king that conflicts started to arise. But if that “tax” can be collected passively, will anyone ever notice/care?


Replication research, but for books. We take the core arguments from certain books as canon, and they inform our cultural norms, but if someone redid the research behind it today, we might have come up with entirely different conclusions. Which isn’t to say that the original analysis was WRONG, but perhaps inextricably linked to the times in which it was written. (Ex. how much of The Power Broker was influenced by researching and writing in the 1970s?)

Also possible that this validation process already happens naturally - ideas have no intrinsic value, we discover/gravitate towards different ones depending on our current tastes, so maybe it doesn’t really matter?


Would love to see more awesome lists (as in, sindresorhus/awesome), but as curriculum for getting quickly up to speed on different research fields / areas of expertise in a self-guided way


If user data (i.e. populating the database) is what makes the narrative of each web app different from each other, despite similar underlying code (ex. Instagram and Twitter are arguably not very different types of products, but actual usage makes them completely different experiences), I think the equivalent would be lived experience for humans, which make each of our narratives very different, despite similar underlying genetic “code”


I wonder if one of the reasons creators (ignore consumer demand for a second) are trending toward podcasts/newsletters is because of the lack of intense feedback loop. Yes, you can see number of listens/opens/subscribes, but both forms of media do a better job of embodying this idea of the one-way mirror. Longform, deeper dive, you can say what you want in a less reactive, ‘like’-free environment


We’re so eager to escape mediocrity that we can’t see how absolutely mired we are in it. If you’re stubborn and try to muscle your way out of it, it’s like quicksand, it’ll suck you down even more firmly. Better to kinda bob around in the sea of mediocrity and quietly observe it, so you really understand what you’re dealing with, then figure out how to slide through it


Instead of asking how some ppl manage to make money at casinos, try to understand why so many ppl are happy to lose money. Understand the baseline instead of focusing on outliers, bc baseline contains patterns, whereas outliers are often unpredictable / random, despite us wanting to find patterns among them

Ex. Studying why most venture funds fail to beat the market seems more interesting to me than studying why Sequoia etc have done so well. Easier to beat a game if you really understand how most people are playing, instead of trying to crib “the greats”


(from convo with a friend) People who get energy from observing others / being immersed in interesting experiences, but don’t necessarily want to super actively engage with them

I like this angle of “I want to be around people, but in a passive sense”, also the idea that doing so actively recharges one’s “creative energy” by providing inspiration


Am I crazy, or are there fewer bands in popular music these days? Like it seems like most popular artists I can think of now are single artists, not groups


(from convo with a friend) If gold is a “battery” for money (i.e. a way to store it), reputation is a battery for social currency


There is a distinct version of nihilism that is uniquely feminine


Theory: monetizing creative content will work best on vertical-specific platforms, e.g. Spotify, GitHub, YouTube, Apple Store (do those last two count?), etc. Or perhaps: the underlying theme is these platforms can operate at a loss, but having the monetization layer helps lock creators and their audience onto their platform, which is the actual benefit of having it. Whereas Patreon can’t sustain the business model as a dedicated funding platform that’s decoupled from distribution

One that I’m not sure about however is Substack, which seems promising despite being more of a “boil the ocean” play like Patreon. Maybe bc there isn’t really another obvious discovery/distribution platform for email newsletters, the way there is for music, code, podcasts, etc? Also, just too early to tell


Diversity exposes you to new ideas, but homogeneity helps you execute. You want serendipity at the edges, but your core “tribe” needs to be fairly stable to maintain sanity, get anything done, and have a coherent worldview. The edges keep things fresh, but they need to sort of “trickle” into the center in a filtered way (like groundwater filtering through soil back into the aquifers)


Platforms as robo-advisors for creators: much like wealth moved from active to passive management for most ppl, we no longer need “active management” via agencies etc for content distribution


Asking open source projects to take on “interns” is like asking artists to donate work to charity auctions


Feels like research is particularly suited to not having primary collaborators remain within your org, bc inspiration can strike from anywhere. For most other types of roles, they HAVE to collaborate with their colleagues bc they have the most context for your work. Engineering can be a slight anomaly with open source, but I feel like it’s really extreme with research, bc you just want to work with / take inspiration from whomever has the best ideas, and sometimes you don’t know who that’ll come from, like it could literally be a random conversation with a stranger at a cafe


Ideas use humans as “steeds” / pawns to fight their battles. Every conversation you have is a small skirmish in the neverending war of language (and ideas more generally!). Whichever idea prevails in that conversation goes on, tournament style, to fight another battle in another conversation with someone else


Encryption doesn’t favor the defender, it just favors whomever is holding the keys, which is borderline tautological, bc the same is true for basically all programming (ex. consider any root/sudo/admin permissions, when placed in the wrong hands they become a weapon). If anything, I think this underscores the painfully inherent “dumbness” of technology, bc that statement can ONLY be interesting if you read it through an ideological lens (assume “the defender” is worth defending). What happens when an undesirable actor gains control of the keys? Is the defender still worth defending? Police use dead people’s fingerprints to unlock iPhones. If defender(D) is a variable that can stand for anything, who cares?

Implicit in the original statement is a belief that it is possible to ensure freedom / maintain control through better technology, which I think is a dangerous line of thinking


Permabear as null hypothesis


They’re not all quite facing the stage, though. If you look closely at an audience, there are always observable patterns and norms, smaller clusters of groups, etc. There is still localized context, little villages and neighborhoods, even among an audience that is then ostensibly oriented towards something “bigger” than all of them

Maybe another way of saying: even superfans have their own subcultures. You have one identity that’s tied to the “stage” and another that’s tied to a smaller group of people (who all share that same “national” identity with you)


(from Death and Life of Great American Cities) Coordinating WITHIN each level of hierarchy is actually the hard part. We tend to focus on coordinating between levels (i.e. vertical coordination), but that’s comparatively much easier than within


The customer is not the creator, it’s the patrons (maybe!) And/or, treat as a two-sided market?


Underrated: celebrity endorsements now happen by advertisers paying to reach the celebrity’s audience, instead paying celebrities to appear in front of the advertiser’s chosen audience (ex. appearing in a TV ad). Even if ideally these are demographically similar, celebrity has more control over one vs. the other


Zuck is Chipotle and Jack is Taco Bell


Crypto projects have many contributors right now bc it’s a hot new space, which leads to a lot of assumptions about how we think it works, but they should also observe mature OSS projects to see how that’ll play out over time. (Or, who knows. Maybe the economics are/will be so fundamentally different that it will follow an entirely different trajectory)


Moving from collaboration -> coordination in OSS


Maybe part of the reason why ppl get so riled up about “who can participate” in OSS is bc it’s a utility. OSS infrastructure is not a hobby, maybe it’s code you NEED or rely on, so if you can’t participate, or you feel ostracized, that has a much bigger impact than not being able to join another type of community. On the other hand, it’s no different from a company providing you with a product (for free!) that you may not get a say in. Especially bc you can fork, and bc developer tools are such high substitute/elastic goods


Three types of maintainer roles: creators, coordinators, and curators


Knowledge loop is in the cloud, that’s humanity’s shared progress. But personal wisdom is only stored locally, which means you can’t share it with others, it will die with you. You can upload it to somewhere visible, but if someone clones it to their brain, they need to set up their environment in order to run it. And it’s setting it up on their local machine that’s actually the hard part, which we’re each doomed to keep repeating. Others can make their “code” visible to you, but they can’t run it for you.

I keep coming back to this idea…wonder how to better articulate the difference between these two types of knowledge (and why is it that humanity’s “knowledge loop” doesn’t have the same problem? Why is some knowledge more universally executable than others?)


Why are there like no mergers in tech? Was there a point that became the “death of the merger”, or were tech companies never destined to have mergers in the first place? Are mergers a uniquely non-tech corporate thing? Should tech M&A just be A? Would love to find something on this topic


Diffing the behavioral patterns of small, localized communities vs. large-scale societies


Seems that journalism is optimizing for objectivity over relevance, maybe they should focus on the latter instead, as a way of adapting to modern consumer tastes (meaning: I care less about “objectivity” in the news, would actually prefer to follow a high-quality curated POV / “expert”). Maybe the idea of being objective/trustworthy to a national audience just doesn’t make sense anymore


The social power dance of getting others to use your preferred messaging platform


What would a narrative for “mobs as force for good” look like? They feel overwhelming in the moment, but maybe it’s just how we realistically induce change over time. As an explicit alternative to gov’t / legislative process, seems like it is actually more appropriate in certain situations.

Libertarians seem to hate “mob mentality”, but maybe mobs are the purest form of libertarian government?


There’s a big difference between “getting paid” and “capturing value”. Maintainers could get paid a basic subsistence income, but that doesn’t resolve the q of “how do they capture the actual value of their work”


Who would a horse girl vote for


Tension around idea of a rating system for OSS libraries is bc maintainers don’t want to be asked to do more work bc there’s no reward in doing so, at a greater cost to the public (developers who need it, and by extension, consumers - i.e. all of us - who use their software). Both are acting rationally in the absence of better rewards. Good example of how a subpar incentive-reward system is constraining innovation


Curious why we aren’t reframing the decline of journalism as the rise of content creators? Still messy, to be sure, but there’s a great “unbundling” narrative of people being free to research, write, and report on interesting stories independently of an institution. Similarly to music artists breaking free of agencies and record labels. We haven’t yet figured out all the mechanics (i.e. $$, platform), but it still feels like the right direction to move towards


Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”, frozen and expanded into 300 years. Can we fit our entire lives inside in the moment when a glass vase shatters into a thousand pieces? (Perhaps this is a form of the hauntological?)


(from a convo with a friend) Hierarchies of cults as waterfalls. You’re “blessed” by someone else with a bigger following than you, and then you start to form your own cult as a result, many of whom are followers of that original cult leader. Their followers gravitate towards you. But each of you are managing your own little cults at different “tiers” of a bigger system, with “water” (followers) flowing throughout


Labels and other metadata help you compress jumbled ideas/information (i.e. categorize memories), but not necessarily expand them again (i.e. retrieve memories)


Tropical islands are the supermodels of the global economy. Their destinies have been sort of pre-decided for them based on their appearance (i.e. tropical islands become tourist economies). (Not saying this is good in either case, just observing!)


Cults of personality are like the church sermon (audience gathers to listen to one person, even though they have shared identity/values, given that they all showed up to the same event)

“Online communities” are like the church group after (ppl come together more loosely, mill around with cookies and lemonade, nobody’s in charge)

As our online social systems continue to move towards the former, need to update our mental models of what a community is


The creator-curator dynamic = Jesus and his apostles


Amazing how receiving emails as a digest gives me license to skim in a way that I didn’t feel comfortable before (when they come in one-by-one), even if the content is the same in both cases. Wonder where else that mechanic applies / where it’s underutilized


Twitter as an unofficial, opt-in reality show - you agree to live your life in front of a public audience in exchange for some “compensation” (reputation). Hanging out in person is like hanging out off-camera


(from a convo with a friend) Reddit is more of a “forum” than “social media”…what’s the difference? I think a forum is where people gather to discuss a common interest, whereas social media is more of one-to-many broadcasting?

A forum is all these people congregating onto one spot in sort of a decentralized fashion, whereas social media is the muezzin’s call to prayer, drawing everyone to the mosque


All power can be boiled down to information asymmetry (confidence low on this one, need to think about it more, but I think that’s a thing). Or perhaps: asymmetry of access to that information?


Do women report having massive life/philosophy shifts on hallucinogens as often as men do? I have zero data for this besides anecdotal, but although I know a roughly equal number of men/women who’ve tried hallucinogens, I can’t think of any women I know who’ve said it completely changed their reality and showed them “The Truth”, even if they enjoyed the experience. Wonder if it has anything to do with men not generally being given space (slash not being inclined to, however you think about it) for emotional vulnerability/introspection


Reality distorts at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum


Dubstep as Tibetan singing bowl -> “mental cleansing” activities


If you’re stranded in a desert, and your only source of input is a tin can, your life becomes about that tin can. If you’re stuck on an island, and all you have is a volleyball, that volleyball becomes your best friend. This is why the story of the Little Prince and the flower is so illustrative. And why maybe, in the end, it doesn’t really matter who you partner with, bc whomever you thrust into that position will become your world. You will find meaning in them, whomever they are

(And yet, some partners seem obviously better than others…why? Something to do with how they influence your experience of your environment, I think…we’re still all playing the game of life, even if the game has no inherent value, so you’d want a partner that helps enhance the experience, or at least doesn’t impede you?)


Writing-as-masochism: I think I weirdly enjoy baking layers into my writing, then feeling the pain when people miss the hidden meanings. Logically speaking, it’d make more sense to express the idea more blatantly, but it’s more fun to find just the right edge of nuance, fine-tuning as closely as you can without spilling the beans.

In other words: writing is usually seen as the process of finding clarity, but if you look at it from the other direction, what if the joy comes from the process of obfuscation?


What if the biggest existential threat is that ideas become more important than people. Tyrannical rule of ideas (i.e. memes-as-viruses) over their human hosts?

Feels like we focus on AI bc it’s more “humanlike” (not to mention something we seem to have more control over), but the runaway power of ideas seems much more dangerous!


Seems strange that co-parenting is bundled up with dating, when it could just as easily be separated out and reframed as an economic partnership. I guess dating is the biological collateral you put down on that contract?


Keeping a changelog of your identity: if journaling contains the raw data, would love to summarize and track the actual changes made, i.e. versioning my identities


Private thoughts are like raw steak, putting it out there is like ground meat. Once you start cutting into raw steak, you’ve exposed it to the air and pathogens around it, which starts to change its composition

Not always bad if/when you’re ready to expose private thought to others, but it is different from keeping it in a “sterile” state

Slightly separate angle: I think some kinds of thoughts (like self-reflection and personal philosophy) get corrupted when exposed to air, bc they are so easily exploitable, despite not really being teachable

Goes back to hypothesis that only some ideas (i.e. anything added to public knowledge loop) can propagate over generations, personal wisdom is always localized: can only be learned by you, and will die with you


Maybe instead of producers vs. consumers, should frame as cities (producers) producing content (goods) as an externality


Instead of thinking, “My old ideas were amazing, now I have to figure out how to do that again”, it weirdly helps to think “My old ideas weren’t that great anyways, you have nothing to lose”. Devalue the past to fear the future less


Decided I am pro-23andme bc I realized in most cases, the risk of not knowing what’s in my body is probably worse than the risk of my personal data falling into the wrong hands

Privacy fears go both ways: maybe with ads and social data we were too lax, but being too strict with your privacy can be just as bad. I’d rather be able to make informed decisions about my health. Think data privacy will be resolved in time on a macro level, but not by any singlehanded stance taken against it. You don’t want to literally die on this hill over an ideological position


“Big in Japan” phenomenon is growing: celebrities with sizeable tribes of devoted fans, but who aren’t known outside of their audience. Whereas previously I think it was more based on geography, or generational. Now it’s just that there are enough potential audiences to build your own sizeable fiefdom without being known outside of that. Memes/celebrity are no longer universally known, but relegated to internet “kingdoms”


The very rich and very poor can be quite similar in their political views, given that both feel dissatisfaction over the social norms being imposed on them. They want to be able to do things differently; they feel misunderstood by, and a general distaste for, the general population and “the way things are done”


How to think about a modern justice system that gradually escalates, instead of one mode (“leak all information to the public”)? Should start as a “local” matter for the people involved and that person’s immediate community. Escalating to public can be useful if and only if local routes have been exhausted without resolution. It’s like taking something to the Supreme Court when local courts fail. It’s an escalation tactic, but it’s not the first resort.


Limited attention for the number of books you read in a lifetime -> ditto for the people you spend time with. Much like choosing the best books to read, why spend time with people who are anything less than bespoke in your view (whatever that means to you)


If time/exclusivity/experience are the new luxury goods, then it seems attention allocation (more than $$!) is the most important socioeconomic dividing line worth examining today


Therapists are the boy in Omelas (we dump our emotions onto them so we can have happy healthy productive relationships elsewhere)