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, organizational culture, reputation, research culture, online interactions, and all 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. And if you ever want to discuss something in here, drop me a line on Twitter or email nadia.eghbal@gmail.com.

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

Notes

9/1/18

Evaluation criteria for whether an emerging trend is interesting: it’s not enough to say “Can you find examples of people/companies/etc doing this untraditional thing?” but “Are the BEST people/companies/etc doing this untraditional thing?” (‘Best’ being a subjective assessment, not based on external success metrics)

8/30/18

Progress on a global civilization level is hampered by the fact that every individual (per-human) instance needs to progress through its own journey from scratch (starting from birth to death). I guess that’s sad, but I actually find it to be a sort of lovely, amusing, existential tragicomedy. For all the progress we make together, our limiting reagent will always be what we call “people problems”, which are really just problems experienced at the local (not global) level. People keep thinking we can cheat this somehow, but I think it’s very hard to accelerate. Bc that kind of wisdom is only stored “locally” and isn’t transferable between people after they die. You can’t read or be told something that changes you (it only changes you if you’re ready to see it!), you have to actually go through a set of experiences to obtain that wisdom. (Side note: if people were to live forever, or even for much longer, it would probably greatly accelerate human progress for this reason. Maybe it already has!)

8/27/18

Coworking spaces = centralized approach to remote work. Cafes = decentralized approach (Or maybe it’s that offices = centralized, coworking spaces = decentralized in a federated sense, and cafes = distributed)

8/27/18

I know we keep trying to save journalism, but is there a world where news itself just becomes obsolete, because demand for it has sufficiently decreased? People will always find ways of figuring out “the latest” that’s happened re: critical news (like a natural disaster), but will intense monitoring of global news die out, giving way to local knowledge + consumption of books? Maybe combined with a rising interest in history (increased value placed upon digesting the knowledge we’ve produced)? There would still be watchdogs on specific news topics, but seems like a natural adaptation to attention as a limited resource. It used to be that we ALL had to pay attention to the news. Now, only some of who care need to specialize on certain topics to keep the rest of us informed. Efficient allocation of global resources

8/25/18

Giving someone your phone number or last name IRL these days feels like giving someone your social security number. They can unlock so much about your online identity with that information. I kind of hate how de-anonymizing it is, but it’s also this reminder of how much the tables have turned in the last 20 years. My online behavior is both the most public thing about me (in a literal sense), but also the thing I want to keep most private in my one-off, in-person interactions.

8/24/18

People are talking about how manipulating video is the next frontier after photoshopping images, and how it’s going to seriously distort reality and cause pandemonium. Is that really true, though? Photoshopping meant we had to question the veracity of photos, but I feel like “the crowd” has been a pretty good distributed fact-check. Maybe there are more rumors floating around for individuals who can’t be bothered to dig more deeply, but I don’t think anyone is believing in fake photos or videos on a societal level

8/24/18

A possible success metric for microgrants: will it help keep them “active” in whatever it is they care about? Like yes, you want the project to be feasible etc, but it’s also about encouraging someone to keep experimenting. (Thinking about the “Big Science vs. Little Science” paper that suggested small grants help keep people “active” in research)

8/23/18

I don’t understand how people can be disdainful of Malthusian growth, but also believe in tragedy of the commons? Aren’t these similar models, with similar underlying assumptions? Maybe has to do with the “campaigns” associated with each model (Malthusian + overpopulation, environmental issues, etc seems easier to debunk, but tragedy of the commons is invoked in casual conversation and harder to clearly disprove)

8/20/18

A political party that only focuses on meta coordination problems (ex. fixing the voting system), with the belief that these are the highest-leverage ways to advance human civilization

8/20/18

Instead of looking to metaphors (biology, religion, foreign life) to understand how and why humans think as we do, we should look at output (laws, markets, languages, books, software!): the artifacts we’ve collectively produced, and try to reverse-engineer our origins. (Does AI count as metaphor or artifact?)

8/17/18

Erowid, but for our daily subjective reality. Ex. how do different people process audio or visual cues

8/17/18

There’s a paradox where advocating for a thing ultimately causes momentum towards change to stagnate (i.e. asymptotically approach inadequate equilibrium). Ex. “ban guns” advocacy has basically reached stasis at “thoughts and prayers”, so that we’ve become comfortable with the ban-guns position, while also simultaneously not feeling compelled to take action. The danger of scaling activism is that it just stagnates. If change is the goal, is activism only effective in short bursts, with a clear goal in mind (a la Alinksky)? What does it take to push advocacy to the next level and actually effect change?

8/16/18

Economics is like infosec. Your job is to imagine worst-case scenarios and design against them to reduce bad behavior (while also accepting that bad behavior is part of the game)

8/16/18

New social networks (like Mastodon) should use the auction property tax concept to encourage namespace squatters to post content. If you don’t post content regularly, you lose your namespace

8/14/18

Another way of thinking about the maintainer problem: usually I think of it in terms of a difference in intrinsic vs. extrinsic motives for contributing code vs. coordination work. Another way to frame it is that in an open source project, code skills are in excess supply but coordinator skills are in short supply. Lots of ppl want to write code, not as many ppl want to maintain it. So it makes sense you’d have to pay to bring in those skills

8/13/18

Satoshi is the Deep Throat of our generation

8/11/18

What are examples of games where there’s an official set of rules, but the actual game is a second-order level of social engineering? Ex. Blackjack is the game, but card counting is the game where you make money. StarCraft (or any sports betting) is the game, but skillfully throwing the game without detection can make you make money. (What are, uh, less illegal examples? Stock markets and shorts? Hidden role games are sort of like this, except the social engineering is still part of the official game, even if not in the actual rules)

8/11/18

Project idea: meta-analysis of mentorship program design and how they do/don’t succeed at attracting quality talent (I’m sure this already exists, I would like to read about it!). I think there are some interesting underlying mechanics here (ex. self-selection, “naming the thing” often attracts the wrong people: some social phenomena function better as dark matter) that would be fun to identify and explore

8/10/18

Is there a danger in relying so heavily on economic game theory when scale isn’t factored in? Meaning, we have different behavior/psychology when 3 people are involved vs. 3 million, so looking at “games” might oversimplify the outcome

Relatedly: it’s funny that a common critique of Ostrom is “but does it scale”, and yet I don’t hear that critique of Hardin? Ostrom used fisheries, Hardin used cattle herders. Kinda the same thing?

8/10/18

“Prioritize interoperability over scale” is like looking at the negative space/connective tissue of governance, instead of governing the actual nodes themselves. If that makes sense. Everyone’s trying to control the nodes; instead, control the negative space between them, and let the nodes take care of themselves

8/9/18

Riffing on earlier thoughts…effective giving isn’t just about the redistribution of capital, but the redistribution of opportunity. The most effective philanthropists don’t just write checks, but use their influence to open doors (and they work hard on recipients’ behalf!).

I wonder if there’s a takeaway from this: like, if you’re just giving away money, you should spend as little time on it (as in figuring out where to give) as possible. Give to the person behind you. Whatever. Whereas if you’re giving away social capital, you should invest in a more rigorous process

8/9/18

How much are strangers you meet IRL entitled to know about your life? And are they entitled to know the truth? (Lying as opposed to omission)

8/9/18

A historical goal of tourism, I think, was context switching: to lose and find oneself in a different world. But bc we live so much of our lives online now, I kinda feel like you can have that tourism wherever you physically live. Ex. talking to a stranger without telling them your whole life story feels more normal now than it used to (we used to do that online instead). Tourism is decoupled from geographic location, it’s really just a state of mind…?

8/9/18

Are there optimal time frames for nostalgia? Ex. right out of school, I used to feel weird about being on a college campus, but now I love it. I used to think rewatching a Nickelodeon show was nostalgic, but now it just makes me feel kinda old. Nostalgia isn’t a static experience (Overton window for nostalgia?)

8/8/18

What if not relying on expertise were a constraint of governance design? Ex. You can’t have a system that requires ppl to be able to self-assess value, bc most ppl can’t do that well, so they’d end up hiring someone or using an app or whatever, which necessitates a middleman layer for assessing value, which eventually becomes problematic.

How could you design a system where we assume zero knowledge for each actor involved? How would they change or look different In other words: “I know nothing and I don’t need to in order to participate in this system and receive a fair outcome”

8/8/18

From a group convo: “sports are already decentralized”, bc people know the rules of the game in their head, and then they play mini games all over the world. Have heard similar points about language, dating norms, etc. They evolve naturally, without any formal decision making (any formal recognition is just codifying existing norms) There are already so many examples of decentralized governance systems at scale, we should look outside of official politics/gov’t to understand how people self-govern.

And really, I think formal governance should only ever exist to codify norms that we’ve already arrived at organically. But I feel like we usually talk about it the other way around: designing governance systems as a means of encouraging ppl to do certain things, instead of reflecting who we already are. (Maybe I’m being defeatist? Government designed to shape our processes can be a good thing, but government designed to shape our values is dangerous. Is there a difference?)

8/8/18

Interoperability matters more than scale re: global vs. local reputation systems, bc global systems get slow and inaccurate and stodgy. But are local systems actually transferrable to global ones? Ex. we’re worse judges of our friends vs strangers. Does vouching for a friend mean you’d want strangers to vouch for them?

8/8/18

Compersion, but for seeing other people iterate on your ideas

8/7/18

As a researcher, is it better to be indefinitely salaried or give yourself 2-3 years? Timeboxing could be a good forcing function, increase labor liquidity for more senior roles

8/1/18

Looking through my (or anyone else’s!) “following” list is like sorting through layers of geological sediment re: personal history and relationships

8/1/18

We lack an accountability system for our online world (nicer way of saying a corrective justice system, but that’s kind of what is missing). We have a few subpar approaches to taking corrective action right now: either mob rule or central platform rule. Who should decide who gets “digital punishment”, who enforces those decisions, and by what process? Who’s the judicial authority that we appeal to? I think it’d be particularly fun to figure out how to design a self-governing system here.

8/1/18

What’s the rationale for a wealthy person spending their time “arranging money” for projects vs. financing it themselves? I think a few reasons. One, if others are willing to fund it, it’s good social proof. Two, it leverages your dollars better. But mostly I think it points to the fact that true wealth is about influence, your ability to unlock doors for others. Money helps somewhat with this, but it’s not the best measure of wealth. This is actually a nice thought, I think: that “proof of wealth” is not zero-sum (as it’s often derided), but by definition, the extent to which you can move and amplify others

8/1/18

“Data as labor” is a concept that makes me vaguely uncomfortable, despite good intentions. Labor for whom? Why not labor for ourselves? Labor is a contract with someone else. I’d rather focus on enabling people to do more things for themselves, instead of for companies

7/27/18

Beauty as a property rights problem - seems to be assumed that consumers have ownership, but when rights are assigned to the ‘producer’, it drastically changes the power dynamics

7/26/18

From a friend: “Decentralization doesn’t have to be the answer or a panacea, but just a new ‘fabric’, or set of conditions, for operating in”

7/17/18

It seems that some midsized tech companies are going through a reverse innovator’s dilemma: they only pursue innovation/brand-new ideas and features, at the expense of keeping up with their core product. Ignoring the fundamentals to chase down new ideas that nobody really wants. Maybe startups are especially afraid of becoming stodgy old companies, so they overcompensate? Is this unique to tech, vs. other industries?

7/15/18

Increasing importance of subscription models rather than paying for software once up front. Software can’t be a thing you pay for one time bc it needs continuous improvement, and that’s one reason why we see subscription and revshare models doing so well for digital content, software, etc now (see Microsoft, Netflix). Well- that and, obviously, companies needing to justify their ongoing existence (like lightbulbs and razors)

7/15/18

I wonder whether similarly to how women entering the workforce, having more agency, etc kinda messed with the institution of marriage, whether people working longer and doing more things they truly love will mess the institution of death. Where suddenly, we’re all so happy doing what we love that we now desperately don’t want to die, and the inevitable experience of quickly-approaching death makes us miserable

7/13/18

“Reverse tragedy of the commons”: where you know a commons is safe bc there are other ppl with a far greater stake than you who will be motivated to solve a problem first (ex. threat of regulation in a new space: smaller companies don’t need to worry as much bc bigger companies with more resources will fight it first)

What is this concept called? Pretty sure I’ve seen it somewhere…Would be cool to think about how to design systems that encourage this phenomenon (i.e. cooperative rather than zero-sum governance)

7/11/18

(from a convo with coworkers) How to align token holder interests so they don’t pull out too fast. Would vesting be useful for miners? My theory was that miners face a different kind of incentive problem, more like the investor in a startup, rather than the employee. The cost lies more in the activation energy. So their checks and balances should look more like partnerships and lock-in.

7/10/18

Crypto governance debate (on- vs. off-chain) feels similar to the “is technology a tool to augment or replace human capacity” (augmented vs. artificial intelligence) that dominated convos about early computer design

7/10/18

(from a convo with friends about BINA48) What would robots have nightmares about? Sci fi often portrays robots as aspiring to be human, but isn’t that really human-centric? What would a human-robot culture look like if we treated robots as a highly capable, but separate species, vs. assuming their aspirations are to be like humans (or that they even have any aspirations at all). (IIRC I think Embassytown might’ve been an example of this portrayal…)

7/10/18

Where people sit in a room at an event (front to back) is like chromatography for personality types

7/9/18

“Concept stores”, but for libraries and bookstores. Ex. a friend told me about a bookstore they went to in Japan that only sells one featured book at a time, and then sells other things related to the themes/characters/etc around the book. Why aren’t there more privately curated, but open-to-the-public libraries?

7/9/18

(From a convo with a friend) How she distinguishes between keeping a community welcoming without bending over backwards: “All people, but not all behavior is welcomed”

7/9/18

Advice from a friend: Solve the hardest problems first, which solves other problems for everyone else along the way. Example is the ADA (turns out other people needed accessible ramps, too)

7/7/18

Dual parenting as a failed coordination game: need to split duties between two ppl but not doing so deliberately leads to stress, failed outcomes

7/7/18

Reading about “recursive publics”. But what public isn’t recursive? Maybe it’s not that we need this concept of a recursive public, but rather I’d suggest that “a heathy public works recursively”. It’s not a different kind of public, but a way of describing how the public should work when it’s functioning well

7/7/2018

Theory: success is mostly figuring out the right people to spend your time with

7/6/18

Semantic relationship synesthesia (and hyperlinking as the visual of that?). One word cascades into a “directory” of associated meanings, some or all of which may be hyper-specific to the person who articulated it, so that any sentence can be constructed and re-constructed into a combination of meanings (regardless of the articulated one) which deviate from the original. Understanding others (and yourself) means uncovering the hidden associations

7/6/18

Q that a friend asks others to understand their creative process better: “How do you get inspired by stuff?”

7/3/18

Self-reinforcing reputation systems through the lens of sexual misconduct. Ppl often denounce the informal “whisper system” as having been ineffective at weeding out bad actors, because bad behavior becomes an open secret. But once these things were highly publicized, it seemed to start working. Why did the “reputation system” work well in the latter case, but not in the former? I guess bc there wasn’t any accountabilility to close the loop? Or is this just an example of a step change in cultural norms?

7/2/18

Whether we use contributors or activity as a measure of whether a project is doing well, either seems to prove de facto that software is not zero marginal cost (if it scaled costlessly, why would we use ongoing contributions as a measure of its health?)

7/2/18

I am intrinsically motivated to do research (I want to know the answer), but only extrinsically motivated to publish (I know that documenting my findings is how I grow reputation, and therefore justify my salary).

Maybe similar to OSS: developers are intrinsically motivated to write something they want, but only extrinsically motivated to publish/maintain (?)

7/1/18

Thinking: Researchers who become dismissive of newcomers’ ideas are suffering from cognitive overload. You receive so much inbound with people’s “groundbreaking” new ideas that you’re forced to pattern-match (“ah, it’s another XYZ approach”) and give them fairly generic advice. That pins them against your average/mediocrity bar that you’ve set for them. And they go run off and either take what you said to heart (yikes) or go off repeating your mediocre advice to everyone else.

Implication being that there’s a maximum amount of inbound/noise that a single high-signal node can handle before they start optimizing for their own time/needs instead, giving shitty feedback that eventually ripples throughout the entire field and makes everybody shitty and mediocre. In other words, there’s a maximum number of collaborators, both tightly and loosely networked, that you want before the high-signal node starts spewing out crap and making everyone around them dumb again. Too few, and you don’t get any collaborative benefits. Too many, and the field is spoiled. What’s the optimal number of collaborators? (and obviously this is true not just for research but any other field of experts)

7/1/18

Mind is blown that there is no Netflix/Spotify for research (journal subscriptions, etc). Only SciHub?!

If you take the very long view, are paywalled journal articles going to die out anyway? Would it be like building Blockbuster? But even if papers are open access moving forward, there’s plenty that will still be historically paywalled, right?

It just seems crazy in the meantime though. Is it that it’s that prohibitively expensive? How much does access cost a university, per user?

6/29/18

Protecting against malevolent miners by forming strategic partnerships with big players is like building up a project’s defensibility via military base. You’re basically starting a new country and you need a defense system to go with it

6/28/18

Theory: in open source projects, governance matters most when financial interests are involved (true for big corporate foundations, also true for crypto stuff, but not true for ex. tiny npm modules)

Without external influence of money, project communities can be trusted to self-organize (is that true, though? scale is prob another factor here, bc communities also need governance for efficiency/coordination purposes). Maybe not about money, but presence of divergent interests? I guess that was basically Ostrom’s theory

6/28/18

Maintainers should treat user-evangelists like they do developer-contributors. Give them the tools to make their contributions additive/free to you. Ex. creating a dedicated support channel and letting users run it themselves

6/28/18

Can researchers ever be openly political? They’re more like judges - need to be neutral and truth-seeking (although in reality, no one ever is)

6/26/18

I wonder if one reason researchers tend to cluster together within their discipline, instead of being more interdisciplinary, is bc you have such a deep knowledge of your own field that it’s hard to talk to others about it with the same level of nuance (maybe true for experts in general, ex. medical students tending to marry each other bc nobody else understands your crazy doctor life)

6/23/18

(from a friend) “We are different and we might disagree on stuff, but you’re still within my Goldilocks zone”

6/23/18

Communities can have heterogeneity and diversity, as long as they’re still high context and high trust (that often comes from ppl being similar to each other, but similar values and superficial differences works just fine too)

6/21/18

With Uber out of the picture, Tesla has taken its place as the new media whipping boy. We always need a tech villain in the media. (If Tesla were knocked out somehow, who would take its place? Not biggest tech cos which are on a different level of media scrutiny, but among companies that are oversized startups)

6/21/18

The act of dating is like reincarnation via multiple relationships until you reach enlightenment?

6/21/18

So, in open source, “users” are useful to an open source project bc they can also serve as evangelists, even if they never directly interact with the project. Any one user might not mean much, but in aggregate, they’re the engine of a project (bc they boost popularity and adoption)

Similar case for social amplification of the news. It’s easy to deride people who post about the news all the time bc they’re not engaging in meaningful civic participation, but in aggregate, they are actually the news “engine” that ensures headlines get paid attention to

But there’s a trade-off in incentives between my time as an individual vs. the cost of participating in this cycle. This makes it a sort of commons-type problem to resolve: it’s in the collective best interest that I participate in the news cycle, but it’s in my personal worst interest to do so, so I don’t

There’s no short-term danger in avoiding the news cycle bc there are plenty of ppl who will still do it for you, but in the long term, does this create a stratification/caste system where “low cognition” ppl mindlessly contribute their time to news cycle engine, and “high cognition” ppl opt out to focus their time elsewhere? Although, also, you don’t have to fully opt in or out to the news cycle. Maybe you lend your voice when it’s convenient/relevant and ignore the topics that aren’t, which ensures equitable distribution of the collective signal boosting burden

6/21/18

Onion model of an open source project isn’t quite right…more like a “spider” model, with maintainers as central hub, and each spoke following its own onion model

6/20/18

(from a convo with a friend) “He’s very good at resting” - Resting as something you’re actively good at (that means not playing on your phone or even meditating, but literally just sitting there and resting). Been trying to incorporate moments of resting throughout the day. I want to be good at resting!

6/17/18

Rewrite democratic principles according to software principles. NOT: using software to enforce existing principles. But using observations of software principles to rethink how we self-organize in government.

6/14/18

How do you know when your brain’s dependencies are outdated? We operate based on the values/tastes/preferences we assume we have, maybe they worked for years and years, and they inform the actions you take daily without thinking. You’ll even feel like you’re truly “being yourself” but they produce actions that don’t feel quite right. At some point they become outdated and you have to update your underlying system. By definition, can you only recognize your dependencies are outdated once it’s already happened, or can you anticipate beforehand? (Maybe this is an equivalent analogy to hitting a “local maximum”)

6/12/18

Part of the problem with measuring financial value based on contributions themselves is that whether a contribution gets accepted is often tied to social merit, not the intrinsic value of the contribution.

So basically, there might be an even “worthier”/more valuable contribution that doesn’t get accepted bc of preexisting social norms. If you only give $$ to the contributions that get accepted, isn’t this some version of “wealth begets more wealth”?

(Although, I don’t really know how you’d overcome that bias, either. And in some sense, maybe “usefulness to project” is the right way to evaluate. Maybe figuring out how to follow the social and technical norms of a project is part of the process of attaining value)

6/11/18

Idea for structuring foundation board elections: board seats are forever, but anyone can propose an election for the upcoming year. (Basically, if you’re doing a good job as a leader, and you’re well-respected, why not stay on for a very long time? Reduces switching/onboarding costs. But, there should be an easy process for turning you over if/when people start to feel differently, and you don’t step down on your own)

6/11/18

What are examples of companies who have gone through organizational trauma? Examples:

Who else?

“Organizational trauma” = a huge event that the company went through, which marked the end/beginning of a cultural period, and the memory (and fear) of which still impacts how they make decisions today

6/10/18

From Call to Commitment, on why the “new guard” eventually becomes the “old guard” (p.53):

“The young have not proved more pioneering than those who have gone before them until they have been tested. Strangely enough, we often find that those who protest change the most are those who were most attracted by the adventurousness of the group.”

“It is easy for one generation to overthrow the structures of another and to think itself bold and adventurous. But the test comes in whether we can part with the structure we ourselves have created, for new forms, like the old, can come to represent safeness and security.”

6/8/18

(from a conversation with fellow researchers)

Essential q: “Who are you trying to impress?”

I like this question better than the “average of the 5 ppl you spend the most time with” as a means of measuring your quality barometer. A person, or the idea of a person, can motivate you for years and years, even if you don’t talk to them anymore, even if you’ve never met them, even if they don’t know they’re influencing you.

Example of this: Stewart Brand asked three friends for their photos to keep by his desk while writing “How Buildings Learn”. Less about checking in with them, but thinking “what would impress them” was enough to motivate

6/7/18

Common approach to measuring social influence is based on who’s following you (a la PageRank/measuring links), but it’s actually your regular interactions that say more. Who follows you is a static measure, who you interact with is a dynamic measure.

Meaning: it’s not enough if someone influential on Twitter simply follows you. It’s more interesting to look at whether you two regularly interact. And similarly, it’s not enough if someone is, say, listed a contributor to an open source project. Maybe they got a patch merged once, but they’re not known/influential in the project. You want to see who’s regularly talking to each other.

IMO this is another data point in favor of an “open production” model being different from digital goods in closed production settings. You can’t really look at these things in terms of fixed-state activity

6/4/18

Research suggests high context matters in open source:

So using that as a basis, how do we design online products and platforms to retain high-context situations?

Ex. in a social media context, emphasize small group interactions and filtering out unwanted interactions. In fundraising context, raise $$ from people/companies who already use and know you

6/1/18

Digital goods with open production models:

Both factor into open source software (and other forms of knowledge curation) not being perfectly scalable vs. other digital goods

6/1/18

Without a verifiable “proof of personhood” (meaning both identity and reputation), online voting is worthless. Without knowing what the total population looks like, we don’t know who matters more/less. I guess the point of democratic voting is that everyone’s vote matters equally, IMO not as true for decentralized communities. As we try to rethink voting from the ground up today, it seems like we’d want to weight some people’s votes more heavily than others, especially depending on the topic

6/1/18

Ongoing list of open questions about how reputation is measured. Some of these are notes from conversations, others are just musings…

Does reputation degrade over time? What would an inflation schedule for reputation look like?

In open source, some ppl perceived as “high reputation” aren’t the most active maintainers today, bc they did a bunch of work in the past and then kinda cash in and sit on their reputations. So if “work done” is the input for measuring reputation, you’re not gonna see the ppl on top that you expect. And maybe that’s a good thing! Ex. a project author who still weighs in on the project but doesn’t actively work on it anymore, should they be able to do that, or should they cede control?

Is reputation transferrable, or tied inextricably to your identity?

Why do we value reputation? As a promise of how we expect you to act on the future. Reputation is speculation. Another way of asking this is, what is the difference between identity and reputation? Identity is a snapshot of who you are today. Reputation is who we expect you to be in the future. But both are based on past behavior? Reputation isn’t inherently interesting if we don’t think that past behavior transfers to your future behavior. Maybe it’s: “history”=past (training data), “identity”=today (present state), “reputation”=tomorrow (future state)

Quality of your reputation depends not just on the size of your following, but its quality. “Inbound links” from a few high-signal people is worth more than many “links” from low-signal people

Is reputation (and by extension, power) a zero sum game? Is there a finite number of high-reputation people who can occupy the same problem space? Seems like it is zero-sum within a specific niche, but not generally? (This is why academic researchers get more and more niche, to remain a big fish in a small pond, and thus attract funding. Also ditto nonprofits, targeting specialized funders)

Reputation begets reputation, much like wealth: if you already have a huge following, anything you share out will have higher “returns” on your reputation than if you don’t have a following

Do you “spend” your reputation to vouch for others, and if so, does this also work like wealth? (If you have a lot of reputation amassed, you can spend a bit to gain more, if it goes poorly, you haven’t lost much. If you don’t have a lot of reputation, you vouching for someone is a riskier stake)

What are the best universal reputation systems we have today? Most reputation systems don’t transfer (ex. GitHub or Stack Overflow). Twitter, and maybe also reddit, feel more universal. (And maybe Instagram?) Meaning, yes, there are clearly distinct crowds on the same platform, but if you have a strong reputation among “entertainment Twitter”, it still transfers somewhat if you’re trying to interact with someone from “tech Twitter”. Or whatever. It also seems to be an identity that follows you around on the internet more. Whereas, ex. your GitHub social currency doesn’t mean much on Instagram. Is Twitter the closest thing we have to a universal reputation system? Why is it so different? (Maybe bc, like reddit, there are so many use cases within the same platform, and unlike reddit, identity matters more?)

6/1/18

(notes from a dinner with other non-academia researchers)

Measuring progress in research:

“I want to generate insights for this field that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Did I have thoughts that wouldn’t have gotten thought if I weren’t in this field?”

(this reminds me of success metrics in VC!)

Start with a question, then figure out how you’re going to approach the question. Have a “toolset” of research methods (ex. literature review, quantitative analysis, expert interviews), and pick the right one for the problem

Use a portfolio approach for methods: ex. Running pilots with a completion goal

How much should you cater to your direct research community/beneficiaries vs. the broader general public?

“Psychological safety” is important to being able to do good research: mobility, steady income, being able to switch tracks in case you lose funding, what would you do next. Yet a lot of us find ourselves in “lucky” situations. Are there ways to systematize these norms?

“Essential questions”: core questions to a field that are very important but broad enough to be accessible (ex. “What is the role of government”). Good questions to rally around for more generalized discussions

6/1/18

Quote from UX research presentation: “Some of this might be new, other parts will not be a surprise to you, but that’s often the point of research, to help validate the things we were noticing”

5/24/18

Three iterations of reputation systems:

External certifying authorities- ex. Universities or expert boards. Problematic bc control is centralized

Meritocracy - also problematic bc it’s still easily gameable. If your reputation is determined by your actions, you can always game those actions.

Networks (emerging)- reputation based on network consensus (which also requires an immutable identity! I think?). If enough people agree you are who you say you are, and that you did what you say you did, and you’re the right person for whatever’s required, you’re verified. Downside: Reputation networks are gameable too, in that, if you captivate an audience, you’re hard to topple (networks = easy long-term gains, meritocracy = easy short-term gains?)

5/22/18

Ze Frank has this video about how when people have ideas, they’re afraid it’ll be their last really good idea, so they tend to hold on to them in their head, and not share them (it’s like “brain crack” - “I know I’m smart bc I thought of this cool thing, I can hold on to this idea that I’m smarter/awesome bc it’s still in my head, I haven’t put it out there to have anyone argue with me, or customers react to it, etc”)

5/17/18

Reputation as enforcement mechanism for enabling recursive governance? If you can somehow make reputation immutable, then people wouldn’t want to risk their reputation on stupid things. Laws enforce themselves bc you don’t want to permanently damage your reputation. The system doesn’t need to monitor you; you monitor yourself and your own behavior based on social norms. The law theoretically should reflect social norms today, but even better to remove one step and make the law == social norms (Goal is to trigger self-regulation instead of relying on external mechanisms)

5/17/18

One of the best things about Twitter is that your social circles can evolve with your interests. You can follow/unfollow people whose feeds you might not resonate with anymore. Whereas FB is like a mausoleum of people you used to know that are constantly being shoved in your face like “remember this? look at it”

Conversely, it’s also really nice to see little social peer “clusters” pop up among the people you follow on Twitter. You might follow all of them, but you can see diff peer groups naturally cluster around different tweets.

5/17/18

(from a convo with a friend)

What is the difference between being a hobbyist vs. a scholar? IMO, that one gets paid full-time and the other doesn’t. Not necessarily about a difference in quality or rigor (although there often is - but there are also hobbyist bloggers who take their research really seriously and apply lots of rigor, and professional researchers who don’t). It’s like a hobbyist software developer vs. professional developer. One is paid and the other isn’t, but an arbitrary title says nothing of the quality of their work.

Therefore: you shouldn’t feel bad being a non-professionally trained anything. A self-taught software developer doesn’t feel bad for not taking CS courses. Why would a researcher feel bad not having a PhD? Does it actually matter whether you’re a “hobbyist” or not? A professional researcher gets paid FT to do what they love, that’s the most important part.

5/14/18

There’s an unspoken rule that you can’t be a self-aware contrarian, or else it invites mocking and derision for being “better” than everyone else. Ex. nobody else WANTS to call themselves a hipster, they’ll only do so if mocking themselves or others, even if they actually are. I dunno exactly how this applies to neoliberalism but I suspect it’s why the “brand” is so intertwined with being a harmless, optimistic, somewhat awkward but cheerful nerd

5/13/18

Dunno how to phrase this, but: I wonder whether the historical focus on “make great ideas happen by building startups” was influenced by a masculine-dominant industry (“making things is the way you express your good ideas”).

Either way, I feel like the longer historical narrative/arc is that startups were this one crude tool we had for making good ideas happen, and now slowly we’re seeing a much richer ecosystem form, where you can capitalize on having good ideas, and reap the reputational rewards, in faster and more agile ways. Over time, we’re increasing the speed at which good ideas can come to life, and which we can quickly learn/discern who does/doesn’t have good ideas.

When you look at it that way, building a company is this extremely risky, slow, sluggish, difficult way of doing it, that requires you to be locked up in a long timeline. (Although the rewards can be correspondingly higher than smaller, more iterative ways)

5/11/18

Cities and their neighborhoods are a good physical model for scalable online communities. Each neighborhood is its own “pod” with its own shops, services, etc but you can easily get to another neighborhood if needed, and everyone has a broader interest in city-level needs. Also, preserving mobility between neighborhoods is important!

5/11/18

Reputation is that which cannot be bought or sold.

Follow-up thought: This is also true for reputation networks. The highest quality networks are those which are earned and non-transferable. The lowest quality are ones that are completely open, second order are those which you pay for (money as a crude metric for success/ability), and best are those that are organically formed based on demonstrated merit (and/or, to enter that network, you have to be referred in and prove yourself). That doesn’t mean all the other networks are bad - just that this principle plays itself out on a network level, not just individually.

5/7/18

App that just scrolls endless boring Lorem ipsum with occasional puppy images. Like prayer beads, fidget spinner, or nicotine patch to replace your social media addiction

5/4/18

Maintainers continue to maintain bc of obligation to community which is also another way of saying high-context incentives

5/3/18

Naming things is hard, not just figuring out the name itself, but bc of the timing. Sometimes it’s the wrong time to propose a new name, it won’t stick

5/3/18

Creative process is mostly miserable bc you have ideas that are insanely important to you but no one else cares about. But over time you come to realize this is a blessing and a sign that you’re into something good. (Or you don’t and you get depressed)

5/2/18

It seems that with any extremely close relationship, we’re constantly navigating this struggle, and perhaps experiencing grief, each time as we learn that no person can possibly live up to the standard we’ve created. Sometimes people deal with this by only playing in the shallows: casual acquaintances, superficial connections. Other people dive too deep: expecting the impossible from those around them, demanding that they change. Ultimately, we have to learn to respect the other person’s agency, allow them to breathe and be the person they truly are, not the identity we insist on imposing onto them. We are all actually alone on this journey, after all.

4/30/18

How does our behavior change when we presume an environment of abundance instead of scarcity? (SV tech is a good example of this vs. other professional cities/industries)

4/30/18

Existential fiction featuring a trophy wife protagonist as Gregor Samsa

4/30/18

What’s the right balance between giving ppl opportunity, vs. handouts? Serious question. If you focus on removing barriers to entry so, e.g. a developer can “just code” or a founder can focus on “just building their product”, the counterargument seems to use the same logic, which is “a really good developer/founder/etc will find ways around those obstacles on their own”. How much do we expect people to specialize vs. generalize?

For the record, I gravitate towards the former, but I can’t decide why it feels intuitively different from handouts or preferential treatment or quotas or whatever else. I guess bc you’re not giving them the reward, just reducing their obstacles? Is that the dividing line?

4/28/18

(from a friend) Being a server is fun for him, bc your job is just to care. It’s so easy to go slightly beyond the average and make other people ridiculously happy. “Your product is your personality”

4/26/18

How crypto companies might look different from traditional startups:

4/25/18

Context collapse is just another term for high discount rate. When you think your actions don’t matter long term, you’re more willing to act in ways that are reckless and damaging

4/16/18

Distributed programming languages as an analogy for running societies at scale?

4/12/18

Theory: Work is for doubling down on your very best skills. Hobbies are for doing things you’re naturally bad at (but enjoy the process of getting better at), it’s like cross-training for your brain, so you get better at your weakest skills

4/6/18

I think the busiest people make a point not to overschedule their lives bc it’s the only control they have left. Being constantly overscheduled makes you feel out of control, being spontaneous and refusing to overly schedule social stuff gives you control again.

4/5/18

I wonder if college campuses are a metaphor for what happened on the internet. Too many people smooshed into the same room, becoming aware of each other, then provokes outrage, but maybe we’ll actually just all settle down and be fine as we “grow up” together and learn to accept differences (or filter out into our own tribes). Maybe this current stage is just our collective adolescence, the internet’s “Culture Wars”. Maybe we don’t actually need to worry about outrage culture in the long run.

3/29/18

(from a convo with an HKS student) “Zuckerberg is the George Washington of Facebook”

Tech problems are the same as policy problems. It’s about governance, community, people. False dichotomy between “bringing tech to policy” or “bringing policy to tech”, though they have different norms/cultures. Belief for awhile within tech that they could do better than gov’t and avoid bureaucracy, but it turns out at a certain scale, all institutions have problems. There was nothing special about tech. (This is really scary and also true, I think! Tech isn’t actually immune to bureaucracy, it just managed to avoid these problems for 10-20 years bc it was so new). Zuck, as the “George Washington of Facebook”, has to figure this stuff out now just like anyone else.

3/29/18

Theory: black swan startup founders do best when they’re younger (need the wide-eyed optimism, bull-headedness and stamina to believe they can do anything), but black swan writers/researchers/academics do better when they’re older (need more life experience to articulate the world and form coherent theories)

3/26/18

Two kinds of leaders: those who work to become heroes, and those who work to become obsolete

3/17/18

If ancient Greece and Rome serve as the foundation of modern democracy, then software is the foundation of modern technocracy (government by experts, which is more feasible/democratic today than how the term has historically been used)

Software design principles also describe optimal paths for how people self-organize (which one is natural order: gov’t or software? Neither?)

3/13/18

Theory: you only need 1 or 2 competitors to keep an otherwise-monopoly in check. (Ex. Gitlab for GitHub, Lyft for Uber, Google Cloud and Azure for AWS). “Minimum viable competition”? Is that a thing?

3/12/18

Are we always looking for music no one’s ever heard of bc music is so personal and we don’t want to feel that emotional connection towards something that lots of other people also feel? “My emotions are unique”

3/11/18

Infinite use but finite production explains cognitive overload among creators in general (not just OSS devs but even people on a daily basis). Kinda parallels the dynamics of “there are only so many apps you want to own/use regularly”. Information overload

3/10/18

Strive for smaller populations of governance. Not reducing government itself, but the size of populations that can be governed

Membership between populations should be more fluid. Would market dynamics incentivize everyone to do better? Imagine if governments were on a marketplace and had to compete for citizens via their offerings, how would they perform? This is already theoretically somewhat true today, except it’s way/easier harder to leave/enter certain countries. Also, what would it look like to have a fully digital gov’t that competed in an open market along with physical ones? Could it do better?

I assume common critique would be that price goes up for the best governments. If we were able to keep cost of services low, could they compete on price? Would it converge into one monopolistic uber-government?

Curators create “spikes” of new governed populations by virtue of their leadership. They tell us what to pay attention to

3/3/18

Theory: JavaScript might have more staying power than other languages, despite its complexity, bc of the community, willingness to talk and share knowledge and educate. Proliferation of workshops, blog posts, videos, etc. Thesis is that human skills increasingly win over technical advantages in choosing what you want to learn.

3/2/18

Pet peeve: when people cite Linux as a sustainable model for open source. Linux is to open source what Facebook is to startups: fascinating stories, but extreme black swan events. Yet I’m surprised by how often Linux is cited in mainstream conversation. Maybe bc it’s the last big cultural signpost that open source has.

Who is today’s version of Linux/Linus Torvalds? What characteristics will they have? (Or has the game changed entirely, so that this question is irrelevant?)

2/28/18

Social media decentralized the concept of friendships (I guess this is true for dating, too) You used to only be able to make friends based on physical location/connections. And in the early days, internet friends were people you liked but didn’t really meet up with, they were their own separate world. But now you can actually make new, real friends that are location-agnostic. You don’t need updates from your purely physical friend world now. You want updates from your virtualized internet friend world that you hand-picked based on shared interests.

2/25/18

You don’t want to be a “values-driven” company to the point where it distracts from your company’s purpose. You should just be a company with basic standards of decency, excellence, professionalism.

Also, theory: you can only afford to be a mission-driven company in a space that doesn’t have monopolistic competitors. Mission-driven companies with network effects can also last forever…until they get out-innovated. So a friendly organic cosmetics company can theoretically exist in a world with P&G, bc consumers have choices, but couldn’t in a world where there’s only one main choice (ex. Facebook is an imminent threat). Also bc there’s nothing to really acquire in this case, vs. ex. Coca-Cola acquiring Honest Tea for its brand. But Uber wouldn’t acquire Lyft for its brand.

2/23/18

Manic pixie dream girl is the equivalent brand counterpart to fortune cookie pseudo-intellectual on Twitter

2/21/18

Why do wealth and interest in the environment seem to be correlated? John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, etc. (Part of this is just NIMBYism, though, i.e. protecting environment for its aesthetic value) And also developing countries that don’t prioritize the environment at all. Does that make the issue frivolous, or is it just a Maslow hierarchy thing?

2/21/18

Fears around privacy are actually fear of the consequences that come from others knowing your private information. (In other words, we don’t really value privacy for itself, only its implications, i.e. fear of negative repercussions)

2/18/18

For a long time, we assumed FB would just get out-innovated by the next platform, like Friendster or Myspace before it. (Or with GitHub, it’s the threat of SourceForge) But really, the platforms that were created in the last wave are here to stay. And if they’re here to stay, then instead we’re putting down roots. We were ok with it before when we felt like we could “exit” (switch to another platform). Once we realized we couldn’t anymore, now everyone’s freaking out. And in that sense, maybe regulation is the wrong answer to this question bc it legitimizes their power. Technically, we have the “right to fork” and build new platforms (much like revolting and starting a new country), but the energy required to change the system is much higher than it was previously. But still possible.

2/17/18

Problem with UBI: there seems to be this utopian assumption that UBI will give people the power to negotiate, walk away from bad opportunities, etc. UBI might prevent you from starving, but you’re still poor. People still want to save money. They still want to have extra cash. People will still want extra paid work over top of UBI bc most ppl want more $$, status and power. They will still want purpose in life. UBI provides basic services that a society should afford to all its citizens, and it gives opportunity to some ppl who will want to use it to take risks on new ideas. But lots of underestimated cultural externalities, including that it will highlight and exacerbate differences in aptitude. (Much like how the internet connected us a little too much by making us aware of the existence of ppl we don’t like)

2/17/18

Common wisdom is to list the things you’re grateful for (i.e. things others have done for you), but I suspect it also feels good to reflect upon the things you’ve done to cause gratitude in others (i.e. things you’ve done for others)

2/15/18

Why has interest in sensational media stories declined? (ex. cultural touchpoint stories about serial killers, kidnappings, etc) Maybe violence itself declined? But also, I guess sensationalized social media replaced it?

2/13/18

Closing of public spaces = this is something that government and digital platforms are both capable of

2/9/18

Thought experiment: what if monopolies aren’t bad? And the actual question is more “how does everyone get fairly heard” and other adaptations, but not actually breaking up monopolies entirely? Much like conservationism and the belief that we’re supposed to return back to some former state of nature that doesn’t actually exist. What if we’ve assumed this is all bad under classic economic conditions, but under post-capitalism it’s actually the new natural order of things?

2/4/18

Diets as correlated to politics. Vegetarianism (far left) is all about sacrificing bc you’re thinking of others. Paleo (libertarian) is about doing what’s right for you. Individual-centric

2/4/18

We pick different types of media to be obsessed with, ex. movies, TV, music, or books (and relatedly: knowledge). But people are rarely good at keeping up with all of these together, and people who are obsessed with one form vs. another tend to have their own set of behaviors and subculture. Maybe an obsession with ideas/reading is simply yet another form of media, not better or worse than TV (except it does feel more generative?)

2/4/18

“Free speech is not an value in itself, but a critical enabler of critical inquiry” (World After Capital)

2/2/18

Thinking about how many government services could be made digital. There are obvious tasks like registering a business, but other interesting services like emergency response or protection.

1/27/18

Scarcity and how it plays into funding behavior for creators. Patreon hasn’t really changed fundamental dynamics of how creators ask for money or get paid. There are an infinite number of people that you could donate to, that’s why it’s impossible to pick. Patreon, GoFundMe all have this problem.

What would a “reverse Patreon” look like, where patrons, rather than creators, to advertise that they’re funding XYZ opportunities? Patron-centric platform (more like AngelList) Companies don’t usually post on their websites that they’re looking for funding, it’s investors who make themselves known, so why do we expect creators to?

It’s on the source of limited capital - patrons - to hang a sign on the door and advertise that they’re spending. Bc they’re the source of scarcity. There are endless funding opportunities and that makes it stressful/impossible for a funder to distinguish (this is like Nick Szabo’s micropayments and mental transaction costs)

1/23/18

FB doesn’t want to be seen as a utility anymore, even though they are, bc it invites scrutiny. They’d rather be a media company etc. We’re treating lions like mice

1/23/18

Belief that “as long as you have basic infrastructure allowed, you can always set up a website and it won’t be that hard to get your ideas out” seems naive/short-sighted. If a website is up and nobody will index or link do it, does it really exist? Distribution is obviously what matters most. If that site were banned by all social media companies they wouldn’t be able to share their ideas, it’s just as bad as if you could only whisper about it at home.

1/23/18

Although it’s not being framed as such, this is maybe the first time we’re witnessing “libertarianism at scale” as an experiment (via private tech companies as platforms). Bc they’re private companies, but also, essential to the fabric of everyday lives, serving a purpose that gov’t normally would’ve, and also resisting regulation. Parallels with other large-scale historical attempts at new forms of gov’t? Also, for the first time, “the people” being governed is borderless, not tied to any one geography. FB’s constituency is not the United States, even if US regulators come after it, it’s the world.

1/5/18

(from a convo with a friend) “Culture as liturgy”. Why get rid of liturgy in religion? We embrace it everywhere else. It’s not outdated or old-fashioned, it what keeps us closer to God. The mall as an example of cultural liturgy. We’re all chasing novelty, but novelty doesn’t bring us closer to each other. We’re creatures of habit, we’re always remembering and trying to remember.

(Side note: maybe this explains the wave of 90s nostalgia and remakes. It’s not that we ran out of ideas, it that we’re looking for a cultural touchpoint for remembering together)

1/2/18

Mechanics of synesthesia: thinking about how it’s 2018, and remarking that the color of 2018 isn’t going to change much from 2017, because 7 and 8 are such similar colors (8 is just more purplish, but both are very dark).

However. In the number 2000, 2’s color is most prominent, so that the overall number takes on that color. But in 2017, the color of 7 is most prominent, and the overall number takes on that color. That suggests that perhaps the color of a number is intertwined with which aspect of that number I find most significant

So in 2000, the 2 is most important bc it’s telling you how many thousands you have. But in 2017, the 7 is most important bc it tells you which year it is.

To use another example, in the word Nadia, it’s purple overall, but that’s bc N is purple. But A is red (like 2), D is cyan (like 3), I is pale yellow (like 1). None of those colors are visible when we string them together into Nadia, except for N, which is purple. That makes sense bc your first initial is often used to signify your name.