Values, Values, Values!
16 January 2019 | 7:28 pm

We all know what we stand for. The trick is to state our values clearly - and to stand by them.

That goes both for individuals and businesses. When I was preparing to join the Matter team, the first workshop I gave was about determining a company's values, which are different to its mission or vision. Whereas a mission and vision are a company's north star, its values dictate how it conducts itself.

For example, Google has "ten things we know to be true". Most companies have between five and ten core values that reflect their ethics and the facets of their culture that will lead them to be successful. They're signals about how people should behave inside a company, and they're also signals to the kinds of people who they hope will join them. For example, in 2019, it's a clear and unfortunate signal if diversity and inclusion isn't one of a tech company's core values.

It would be easy to misunderstand this as being about marketing. It's about shared culture, which is the most important thing every organization has to build.

The intersection with personal values lies in the decisions we make about joining or leaving an organization. I won't join a company that doesn't care about diversity and inclusion. And I've turned down very lucrative jobs on high profile teams because it was clear they wanted their employees to spend their lives at work.

We've all got red lines. They're ours alone to draw.

Just as I think it makes sense to pick the company you work for in part based on their declared values, it makes sense to define your personal space in the same way. If your values lean towards community and shared prosperity, it perhaps makes sense that you might not want to spend your time with people who lean towards libertarianism and individualistic success. If you believe in a global world, you might not spend much time with nationalists. If you're an atheist, you might not spend much time with people who believe you have to be religious to be a moral person. And so on.

Perhaps those are extreme examples, but because our values dictate how we behave as we live out our lives and achieve our goals, differences in strongly-held values lead to incompatibilities. If you believe in a very traditional salary-earning lifestyle or traditional gender roles, you might not do well in a relationship with someone who is less motivated by that lifestyle or who actively rejects those roles. Neither side is inherently bad (although one could certainly argue that widespread adherence to traditional gender roles is broadly harmful), but they're incompatible with each other - not necessarily as friends, but certainly as partners in life.

And that's okay. We all get to decide what's important to us. One aspect of contentment is finding the values that work for you personally (regardless of whether they're "the norm"), the values that work for you professionally (ditto), and building a community and a life that will support both things.


Turning 40 (Belatedly)
15 January 2019 | 6:17 pm

I'm not sure who started it (Matt Mullenweg?), but a common in-joke in tech circles is to refer to a birthday as a version number increase. You don't turn 30; you hit version 3.0. And then you add release notes about what changes and improvements have been made since the last version.

I guess I use more of an open source versioning system, because after 40 years, I think I might have just about hit version 1.0. My experiences as a child, growing up, in my early career and through the rollercoaster of my thirties have inched me towards becoming a well-rounded, self-actualized human.

Howdy. There are bugs

I'm not always happy, and not always assertive, and not always near the mark of how I want to show up in the world. But at the same time, I'm a little bit proud of where I've wound up, and I'm proud of what I've done.

I was pretty sick during the week of the 7th, my actual birthday, and I'm only now feeling like I've regained full use of my brain. I owe emails and documents to various people, and I'm beginning to get back on top of things. Still, if you're one of those people, I'm really sorry.


Indie Communities and Making Your Audience Known
14 January 2019 | 4:49 pm

It sounds ludicrous now, but back in 2014, when I cofounded Known as a startup, a lot of people were questioning whether a business even needed a website. Pockets of people - for example in the indieweb community, which I enthusiastically joined - were pointing out how short-sighted this was, but it was a minority opinion. There was Facebook and Twitter! Why would you want to have any kind of property that you fully controlled on the internet?

Fast forward to today, and most companies have seen the flaws in that argument. If your digital presence is how most of your customers find and interact with you, giving it over to some third party company with its own agenda is not going to serve you well. This morning, CNN's digital chief Meredith Artley says as much in an interview with Kara Swisher: going where your users are was a counterproductive startegy. You have to reach out to them and make spaces that they want to visit.

But my hypothesis with Known wasn't just that people would want to own their own websites again, and that we should make it as easy to publish on their own site as it is to publish on social media. It was part of it, but I had something bigger in mind.

Anyone who's building any kind of business - whether it's a media property, a brick and mortar store, a startup, or a food truck - knows that you have to understand your customers and meet their needs if you want to be successful. For most people, that means talking to them, again and again. When the New York Times first went online as part of AOL - before it even launched a website - the team took the opportunity to sit in the chat rooms and talk to people. The internet is a conversation, not a one-way broadcast medium, which the Cluetrain Manifesto tried to tell us 20 years ago. And businesses all over the world are doing their best to talk to people on social media.

But the same ownership principle applies. Just as companies realized that they need to own their online presence, they will begin realizing that the conversations they're having on third party social media platforms are templated for the benefit of those platforms. If they want to have deeper conversations, build trust and loyalty, and have a greater influence over the form of the discussion, then they need to own the conversation spaces, too. (And there's a lot to be said for not giving companies like Facebook all that insight data.)

Tools that allow companies to build their own social spaces as easily as they can build their own websites are important. It's something I learned when I built Elgg, although that platform is very bound in the desktop-based MySpace era. Anyone should be able to start a space to have a social conversation in 5 minutes, in a way that they own the data and can customize it for their needs. But while existing tools like Mighty Networks (and Slack) or forum tools like Discourse are great for what they do, there aren't any great platforms that let people actually build a site that directly fits the community they want to build. All online communities tend to look the same. If we know that the form of a converation influences its content - and it does - then it becomes clear how counter-productive a one size fits all approach really is.

And then the bigger picture is that if this idea is successful, moving from one monopolistic social network to lots of smaller communities loosely joined will make for a healthier internet.

That was the vision for Known: to let anyone build easy to use social spaces that they control, and liberate online conversation in the process. First as a startup, and now as an open source project. We were a little early, and made some (recoverable) mistakes. But it's still a mission I believe in.



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