Don’t let hate stop your thinking

I am a mass media hater as much as anyone. I hate how it manipulates people through fear and soundbites. I hate how it dumbs down issues requiring thought and analysis to the detriment of accuracy. I hate how it proliferates through the enhanced sharing capacities we have today. And I hate how it leaves victims in the dust with no recourse or accountability.

The good news is that I am not alone. People are tired of being played to generate more clicks and ad revenues for an Estate that absolved its responsibility to maintain a healthy Democracy through an informed populace.

The sad news is that because of its legacy of negligence, the media has created a real problem. We’re numb to real crises. And the consequences could be significant.

The latest chapter in this is Ebola. A shock-weary society is fighting back against the hype, saying that we are unduly concerned. “More people die from flu and cancer than Ebola. Focus there.”

I joined this chorus. “Stop the hype” I told my mother, who routinely forces me to consult My sister (a nurse) joined arms with me in trying to stem the tide of what was (certainly in my mother’s case) media-induced paranoia.

Then – ironically via clickbait outlet BusinessInsider – my sanity was restored by (my) new favorite author, Nassim Taleb. Best known for Black Swan, Taleb is known for establishing pragmatic (though perhaps not intuitive) ways to think around risk, unpredictability and uncertainty.

Here’s a rare moment of me appreciating the conciseness of an ad-driven pub, allowing me to call out the salient bit:

The argument that the US should be more worried about a disease like cancer — which has more stable rates of infection than Ebola does currently — is a logic that Taleb calls “the empiricism of the idiots.”

The basic idea: The growth of Ebola infection is nonlinear, so the number of people catching it doubles every 20 days. Because of this, you have to act quickly at the source of infections, he says. “The closer you are to the source, the more effective you are at slowing it down … it is much more rational to prevent it now than later.”

The problem Taleb sees is that if there is not more urgent action in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea — to the point of restricting travel and other measures that may now seem like an overreaction — then there will be consequences here.

Thankfully we are not limited to BusinessInsider and can get a bit more analysis from the likes of Zeynep Tufekci.

In short, it’s not unfounded paranoia, despite the media’s self-interested position to generate it. And it’s not an issue of looking at gross numbers. It’s an issue of risk. I’m ready to put my media hate away if it means we can think and – better yet – act rationally. There are high stakes.

D2D Is Coming Out

Over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Adam Benayoun and the Binpress team. Their mission to clarify the meaning and value of “free and open source” resonates well with what we were doing at WebFWD.

In Q1, I continued to support developers when I joined Mozilla’s Developer Relations group, and continue to support Binpress in its efforts to help open source developers build sustainable businesses.

The latest iteration of this support came this week, when the team asked me to participate in its first event, “Marketing to Developers.” Lest you think this sounds specious given the Developer DNA aversion to anything smelling of marketing (read Microserfs as classic reference point). While I thought I was novel in spontaneously describing many of our WebFWD startups as “D2D” in 2012, my friends at SFBeta industrialized the term earlier this year. The startup world is deciding that is ok to be explicit about something that has been happening for years: marketing and selling to developers. There’s even a D2D program in SF (and probably lots more popping up).

The team was able to attract 150 people to this event, along with some great speakers. Neeraj Gupta kicked things off with an overview of how Appcelerator has built their developer community over time. Next up was Kelly Shearon, who did a fantastic job sharing some basic tenets of marketing (e.g. if the product is bad, no amount of marketing lipstick will help; marketers must have empathy, etc.) – all shared with some fun edgy Github-esque slides.

Rounding out the evening (and hopefully a complement to Neeraj’s kickoff talk) was our panel featuring Amber Feng, Slava Akhmechet and Thomas Sarlandie. As the panelists represented Stripe, RethinkDB and Pebble respectively, my job as moderator was to tease out some of the good, the bad and the avoidables for building developer communities.

Some of the takeaways:

  • Building and supporting your community needs to be a company-wide ethos. It’s not something you just delegate to a community manager, because at heart your community cares about and contributes to your products. RethinkDB means this: in an era where tech talent is insanely difficult to find, they are willing to let a talented engineer go if they are not supportive of the community.
  • Community does not equal consensus. Many developer communities consist of members with very strong and often conflicting points of view. Navigating this without sacrificing your own brand voice is a challenge. Share how you will address what you’ve heard. But it is not feasible to let the community dictate every decision.
  • Diversity is hard but attainable. Clearly the developer community is not a diverse one at the moment, but healthy communities are built by intentional efforts to reach out to different populations, crafting documentation and messaging that is not exclusionary or tone deaf (last description is my paraphrase ;), and enforcing a sound code of conduct policy.
  • Community-building is a long-term play. While marketers to consumers and users establish clear funnels for acquisition and retention, these funnels can be trickier to track when you are working with developers, who tend to have longer time horizons to contribute. This makes “Developer Acquisition Cost” models tricky to realize ROI, but the models are still a worthy goal for which precedents exist.
  • Bonus Point: The Hacker News Heuristic. Hacker News was cited multiple times as sort of a filter or benchmark for communications. “Will it fly on HN?” is sort of a filter heuristic for dev communities.
  • Interested in keeping the learning up? Join Binpress’ newly-formed “Marketing to Developers” meetup group where the slides will be posted and future events will happen.

    Just in: Binpress’ recap of the event with decks and photos, and another recap from attendee Laura D’Ambrosio – great sanity checks!

    The Future of Mobile is the Web

    I had a fun chance to share my thoughts on mobile and the web with my friends at Metavallon.


    The world is going mobile. Of course, this shouldn’t be news to anyone remotely dialed in (to use an anachronistic term) to the developments of the Internet. In case you wanted to picture exactly how this is transpiring, here’s some big picture context:

  • Clear scenarios from developing countries using mobile far differently than we do in developed countries.
  • Very juicy global stats collected by Mozilla evangelist Robert Nyman.
  • And Robert drawing heavily from our market research partner VisionMobile – definitely check out their very handy reports (App Annie also rocks in this area).
  • As you start to immerse yourself in the world of mobile, you’ll notice a conflation between “web” and “apps.” Here’s a stark example:

    Note that this search is related to learning, so this likely represents either aspiring developers or – as the ensuing Twitter discussion elucidates – economic opportunists as opposed to technologists.

    If you are an economic opportunist, be sure to read the VisionMobile Q3 2014 Developer Economics report, and take two aspirins. Yet despite the bleak outlook for economic payoff from apps, many portend the death of the web on mobile.

    Now counter this with the fact that the pendulum from some (the?) significant players shows a swing back to becoming more “webby”:

  • Facebook introduced App Links (‘app-to-app linking’) this April.
  • Google is broadening the reach of its Android apps, supporting them running on Chrome.
  • Apple is making HTML5 friendlier than ever on the iPhone.
  • Why the shift?

    Among the strong voices is Benedict Evans, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz who has written extensively about the value of proprietary mobile ecosystems Evans concedes that apps are by necessity becoming more weblike. The reason is that the mobile app ecosystem lacks two things the web has:

  • You can link to any resource.
  • That resource will be there i.e. you don’t need to install anything.
  • Those two statements highlight that at its essence, the web is cross-platform and device-agnostic. That’s not true for mobile. Check out slide 8 of Robert’s deck. For mobile, device fragmentation has serious consequences for building, testing and deploying (let alone partnering) anything.

    At Mozilla we know the web wins on both merit and precedent, but it’s being threatened by mobile right now. So Mozilla is building the web in today’s world, and driving towards a future where we defend the web from threats of closed app stores and protocols and return it to the hands of developers who can link and publish to anything, anywhere.

    We’d love for you to join us!