kottke.org posts about Andy Baio
I attended the XOXO Festival in Portland, OR this past weekend. I don't have a great deal to say about it because -- and I'm not trying to be a dick here -- you had to be there. As in, physically in the room with the speakers and the attendees. But I did want to mention a few things.
- XOXO was put on by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan. They killed it. And they killed it because they really really (really!) cared about what they were doing, so much so that they were (at times unsuccessfully) holding back tears as they did their outro. Do Chris Anderson or Walt Mossberg cry at the end of TED and D? I don't think so.
- At no point during the weekend did anyone on the stage make a cynical or ironic remark. Everyone was so positive. It would be easy to mistake it for wide-eyed and naive idealism but that optimism is hard-won and tempered by experience. You can do it -- we can do it -- because we've done it before.
- XOXO attendees were generally not on their computers or phones. They listened to the talks and chatted with their nearby seatmates. It was amazingly refreshing. More conferences like this please.
- Though not specifically referenced, one of the themes of the weekend was what David Brooks referred to as "the power of the particular". From his piece in the NY Times a few months ago:
It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.
The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don't try to be everyman. Don't pretend you're a member of every community you visit. Don't try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.
Examples of this power abounded at XOXO. The indie gaming scene is insanely niche but, as documented in Indie Game: The Movie, some of the best and more unique games make millions of dollars. Emily Winfield Martin felt like a misfit in art school but gained a huge following for her illustrations on Etsy and is now living her dream of creating children's books. Julia Nunes started out playing cover songs on her ukelele in YouTube videos and now has albums and has played with Weezer and Ben Folds and appeared on Conan. Adam Savage told the story of The Adventurebilt Hat Company, which started making replicas of Indiana Jones' hat from Raiders of the Lost Ark because they were fans of the film and ended up supplying the actual hats for the fourth Indy movie. The PDX671 food cart that took home the judges' award in the 2012 Eat Mobile awards was parked outside of the festival both days serving cuisine from Guam. Another cart from the XOXO pod, Nong's Khao Man Gai, serves only a single Thai dish and boasts long lunch lines. Even the numerous craft beers available all over Portland are valued by aficionados for each beer's particular characteristics.
My pal Andy Baio is throwing a conference in Portland in September and funding the whole thing on Kickstarter.
XOXO is a celebration of disruptive creativity. We want to take all the independent artists using the Internet to make a living doing what they love -- the makers, craftspeople, musicians, filmmakers, comic book artists, game designers, hardware hackers -- and bring them together with the technologists building the platforms that make it possible. If you have an audience and a good idea, nothing's standing in your way.
It reminds me a bit of what SXSW used to be. I bought a ticket and am hoping to be there. Only 68 tickets remaining so if you want to go, you'd better pull the trigger on the ticket gun.
One of my favorite blogs in the whole wide world turned ten years old the other day...waxy.org is one of the handful of sites I visit manually every day. Creator Andy Baio talked about the milestone and shared some of his favorite posts from the past ten years.
Most of the interest in writing online's shifted to microblogging, but not everything belongs in 140 characters and it's all so impermanent. Twitter's great, but it's not a replacement for a permanent home that belongs to you.
And since there are fewer and fewer individuals doing long-form writing these days, relative to the growing potential audience, it's getting easier to get attention than ever if you actually have something original to say.
Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best possible investments you can make with your time. It's why, after ten years, my first response to anyone just getting started online is to start, and maintain, a blog.
My favorite part is how Andy casually mentions he has a complete archive of The WELL. Ten more years!
There seems to be something in the air. Within the last day or so, three ex-employees have written about why their feelings have changed about three formerly beloved companies. James Whittaker recently left Google:
The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus. [...] Suddenly, 20% meant half-assed. Google Labs was shut down. App Engine fees were raised. APIs that had been free for years were deprecated or provided for a fee. As the trappings of entrepreneurship were dismantled, derisive talk of the "old Google" and its feeble attempts at competing with Facebook surfaced to justify a "new Google" that promised "more wood behind fewer arrows."
The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again.
The whole thing is worth a read, what with damning phrases like "social isn't a product, social is people and the people are on Facebook" sprinkled liberally about.
In the NY Times this morning, Greg Smith writes that it's his last day at Goldman Sachs after almost 12 years at the firm.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world's largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.
It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs's success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients' trust for 143 years. It wasn't just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
There's that saying: "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." Google's product has always been the people using their products and it sounds like Goldman has made a sizable shift in that direction.
Andy Baio hasn't worked for Yahoo for several years, but after the company announced they were filing a patent-infringement lawsuit against Facebook, Baio wrote of his displeasure about the move at Wired.
Yahoo's lawsuit against Facebook is an insult to the talented engineers who filed patents with the understanding they wouldn't be used for evil. Betraying that trust won't be forgotten, but I doubt it matters anymore. Nobody I know wants to work for a company like that.
I'm embarrassed by the patents I filed, but I've learned from my mistake. I'll never file a software patent again, and I urge you to do the same.
For years, Yahoo was mostly harmless. Management foibles and executive shuffles only hurt shareholders and employee morale. But in the last few years, the company's incompetence has begun to hurt the rest of us. First, with the wholesale destruction of internet history, and now by attacking younger, smarter companies.
Yahoo tried and failed, over and over again, to build a social network that people would love and use. Unable to innovate, Yahoo is falling back to the last resort of a desperate, dying company: litigation as a business model.
Yahoo seems to be in a different stage in its lifecycle than Google or Goldman. In the mid-to-late 2000s, they tried what Google is trying now and failed and now, as Baio notes, they are trying everything they can to survive, like the T-1000 writhing in the molten steel at the end of Terminator 2. Perhaps a harbinger of things to come for Google and Goldman?
A pair of fair use crusaders hired some "street art underground" friends to place several posters of the Kind of Bloop album cover on the building that Jay Maisel owns in Manhattan as payback for Maisel threatening to sue Andy Baio over using a representation of Maisel's photo of Miles Davis for Bloop's cover.
I hope that every time Jay leaves the house, he sees these posters -- and as he looks at them or tries to tear them down he thinks about how evil what he did was. Maybe he'll realize that at some level all art borrows from other art, and suing another artist for fair use appropriation undermines all artists. Maybe he'll feel guilty about being such a thief. And then maybe he'll think about giving that money back -- or donating it to charity or something. But probably not.
Something tells me this isn't going to end well. (via @jakedobkin)
Andy Baio got sued for using a pixel-art representation of Jay Maisel's iconic photo of Miles Davis on the chiptune album of Davis' music he commissioned in 2009. He settled with Maisel by paying him $32,500 and agreeing to stop using the artwork.
After seven months of legal wrangling, we reached a settlement. Last September, I paid Maisel a sum of $32,500 and I'm unable to use the artwork again. (On the plus side, if you have a copy, it's now a collector's item!) I'm not exactly thrilled with this outcome, but I'm relieved it's over.
But this is important: the fact that I settled is not an admission of guilt. My lawyers and I firmly believe that the pixel art is "fair use" and Maisel and his counsel firmly disagree. I settled for one reason: this was the least expensive option available.
At the heart of this settlement is a debate that's been going on for decades, playing out between artists and copyright holders in and out of the courts. In particular, I think this settlement raises some interesting issues about the state of copyright for anyone involved in digital reinterpretations of copyrighted works.
Unfortunately, Baio's post does nothing to dissuade me that Maisel is a joyless putz. Seeing this kind of behavior from large clueless companies is almost expected but from a a fellow creative artist? Inexcusable. Surely some reasonable arrangement could have been made without visiting enormous stress and a $30K+ bill onto a man with a young family. Disgusting.
Andy Baio has compiled a listing of metagames...video games that are about video games.
Over the last few years, I've been collecting examples of metagames -- not the strategy of metagaming, but playable games about videogames. Most of these, like Desert Bus or Quest for the Crown, are one-joke games for a quick laugh. Others, like Cow Clicker and Upgrade Complete, are playable critiques of game mechanics. Some are even (gasp!) fun.
Andy Baio presents his annual look at when the Oscar nominated films get leaked online.
Continuing the trend from the last couple years, fewer screeners are leaking online by nomination day than ever. Last year at this time, only 41% of screeners leaked online; this year, that number drops again slightly to 38%.
But if you include retail DVD releases along with screeners, 66% of this year's nominated films have already leaked online in high quality. This makes sense; if a retail DVD release is already available, there's no point in leaking the screener. But I think it's safe to say that industry efforts to watermark screeners and prosecute leaks by members have almost certainly contributed to the decline.
Dan Kaminsky's iPhone/Android app corrects for color blindness (in anomalous trichromats anyway)...just point your phone at what you want to see in color and make a few adjustments.
The vast majority of color blind people are in fact what are known as anomalous trichromats. They still have three photoreceptors, but the 'green' receptor is shifted a bit towards red. The effect is subtle: Certain reds might look like they were green, and certain greens might look like they were red.
Thus the question: Was it possible to convert all reds to a one true red, and all greens to a one true green?
The answer: Yes, given an appropriate colorspace.
Andy Baio, who is colorblind, says emphatically: "it works". (thx, derek)
Andy Baio is back with his annual report on how many Oscar nominated films have shown up online prior to the awards ceremony (ripped from screeners, DVDs, etc.). For some reason, fewer films have been leaked this year and they are taking longer to show up online.
Are studios doing a better job protecting screeners and intimidating Academy members? Or was this year's crop of films too boring for pirates to bother with? I can't tell if this is a scene-wide trend or localized to the Oscars only.
Andy Baio deleted the subjects from famous internet memes, leaving just the backgrounds. The results are hazy, ugly, and beautiful all at once, like last night's hookup after a night of hard drinking.
Andy Baio has published his annual report on how many Oscar nominated films are available online in pirated versions. A: Almost all of them.
Out of 26 nominated films, an incredible 23 films are already available in DVD quality on nomination day, ripped either from the screeners or the retail DVDs. This is the highest percentage since I started tracking.
Andy Baio interviews Alan Taylor, the fellow behind The Big Picture, the journalistic photo blog that's taken the web by storm.
Internally, externally, everywhere, people are being really thankful to me. I need to make sure (with some link-love in my upcoming blogroll) that the response gets directed to the photographers as well. I'm just a web developer with access to their photos and a blog - they're the ones out there working hard to get these amazing images. "Photographers" here is a loose term, encompassing photojournalists, stringers, amateurs, scientific imaging teams and more.
Andy redesigned waxy.org.
For the first time since I started blogging in 2002, I've redesigned Waxy.org. Over the last six years, I've grown pretty sick of the old design but never found the time to rework it. Mostly, the changes are cosmetic. Cleaner design, new logo, bigger type, headlines, better iPhone support, and more space devoted to Waxy Links.
Andy Baio tracked the airplane on a treadmill problem back to a July 2005 posting on the PhysOrg site.
Update: He's traced it further back now...to a Russian forum in 2003.
This morning I posted a comparison of the growth in messages with both Blogger and Twitter. The Twitter data was based on information collected by Andy Baio in a post that was widely read in the blogosphere. In the course of looking at the Twitter data, neither of us noticed that from Nov 21, 2006 to Feb 4, 2007 and March 9, 2007 to the present, the Twitter post IDs had the same last digit, indicating that the data is not strictly sequential. If you look at Twitter's public timeline, the Twitter post IDs skip around by multiples of 10.
Anil suggested via email that could be an artifact of database sharding and lo and behold, if you take off the last digit of the post ID, they seem to become sequential again, more or less. He's going to ask the Twitter gang about it.
For right now though, the parts of this morning's post that rely on Twitter data from the above dates is incorrect. Basically, all of it. Here it is in all caps: WRONG WRONG WRONG ERROR ERROR, F-----, WOULD NOT BUY DATA ANALYSIS FROM AGAIN. In hindsight, it seems obvious that the data was incorrect...that sort of growth seems impossible, especially when Twitter was having all sorts of scaling problems. Anyway, good thing this is just a blog and not a refereed journal, eh? Big thanks to the commenters in the other post for pointing me toward the error. More as I have it.
Update: Email from Biz Stone, who works for Twitter. He says:
There's truth in the essence of what you're talking about here -- Twitter updates *are* coming in faster and furiouser than Blogger updates. However, the way we number Twitter updates has switched back and forth a few times which pretty much screws up the exactness of your analysis.
We have been doubling the number of active users about every three weeks for a sustained period of months now which is definitely contributing significantly to more and more updates. Also, active users of Twitter a measured by how many times they update per day (at Blogger it was per month). So activity in general at Twitter is crazy by comparison.
We're going to start digging in to more data visualization, user patterns, etc in the coming weeks so if there's anything you think we should be looking at specifically please let us know!
So we'll have to wait a few weeks for an accurate look at this stuff. (thx, biz)
Important update: I've re-evaluated the Twitter data and came up with what I think is a much more accurate representation of what's going on.
Important update: I've re-evaluated the Twitter data and came up with what I think is a much more accurate representation of what's going on.
Further update: The Twitter data is bad, bad, bad, rendering Andy's post and most of this here post useless. Both jumps in Twitter activity in Nov 2006 and March 2007 are artificial in nature. See here for an update.
Update: A commenter noted that sometime in mid-March, Twitter stopped using sequential IDs. So that big upswing that the below graphs currently show is partially artificial. I'm attempting to correct now. This is the danger of doing this type of analysis with "data" instead of data.
In mid-March, Andy Baio noted that Twitter uses publicly available sequential message IDs and employed Twitter co-founder Evan Williams' messages to graph the growth of the service over the first year of its existence. Williams co-founded Blogger back in 1999, a service that, as it happens, also exposed its sequential post IDs to the public. Itching to compare the growth of the two services from their inception, I emailed Matt Webb about a script he'd written a few years ago that tracked the daily growth of Blogger. His stats didn't go back far enough so I borrowed Andy's idea and used Williams' own blog to get his Blogger post IDs and corresponding dates. Here are the resulting graphs of that data.1
The first one covers the first 253 days of each service. The second graph shows the Twitter data through May 7, 2007 and the Blogger data through March 7, 2002. [Some notes about the data are contained in this footnote.]
As you can see, the two services grew at a similar pace until around 240 days in, with Blogger posts increasing faster than Twitter messages. Then around November 21, 2006, Twitter took off and never looked back. At last count, Twitter has amassed five times the number of messages than Blogger did in just under half the time period. But Blogger was not the slouch that the graph makes it out to be. Plotting the service by itself reveals a healthy growth curve:
From late 2001 to early 2002, Blogger doubled the number of messages in its database from 5M to 10M in under 200 days. Of course, it took Twitter just over 40 days to do the same and under 20 days to double again to 20M. The curious thing about Blogger's message growth is that large events like 9/11, SXSW 2000 & 2001, new versions of Blogger, and the launch of blog*spot didn't affect the growth at all. I expected to see a huge message spike on 9/11/01 but there was barely a blip.
The second graph also shows that Twitter's post-SXSW 2007 growth is real and not just a temporary bump...a bunch of people came to check it out, stayed on, and everyone messaged like crazy. However, it does look like growth is slowing just a bit if you look at the data on a logarithmic scale:
Actually, as the graph shows, the biggest rate of growth for Twitter didn't occur following SXSW 2007 but after November 21.
As for why Twitter took off so much faster than Blogger, I came up with five possible reasons (there are likely more):
1. Twitter is easier to use than Blogger was. All you need is a web browser or mobile phone. Before blog*spot came along in August 2000, you needed web space with FTP access to set up a Blogger blog, not something that everyone had.
2. Twitter has more ways to create a new message than Blogger did at that point. With Blogger, you needed to use the form on the web site to create a post. To post to Twitter, you can use the web, your phone, an IM client, Twitterrific, etc. It's also far easier to send data to Twitter programatically...the NY Times account alone sends a couple dozen new messages into the Twitter database every day without anyone having to sit there and type them in.
3. Blogger was more strapped for cash and resources than Twitter is. The company that built Blogger ran out of money in early 2001 and nearly out of employees shortly after that. Hard to say how Blogger might have grown if the dot com crash and other factors hadn't led to the severe limitation of its resources for several key months.
4. Twitter has a much larger pool of available users than Blogger did. Blogger launched in August 1999 and Twitter almost 7 years later in March 2006. In the intervening time, hundreds of millions of people, the media, and technology & media companies have become familiar and comfortable with services like YouTube, Friendster, MySpace, Typepad, Blogger, Facebook, and GMail. Hundreds of millions more now have internet access and mobile phones. The potential user base for the two probably differed by an order of magnitude or two, if not more.
5. But the biggest factor is that the social aspect of Twitter is built in and that's where the super-fast growth comes from. With Blogger, reading, writing, and creating social ties were decoupled from each other but they're all integrated into Twitter. Essentially, the top graph shows the difference between a site with social networking and one largely without. Those steep parts of the Twitter trend on Nov 21 and mid-March? That's crazy insane viral growth2, very contagious, users attracting more users, messages resulting in more messages, multiplying rapidly. With the way Blogger worked, it just didn't have the capability for that kind of growth.
A few miscellaneous thoughts:
It's important to keep in mind that these graphs depict the growth in messages, not users or web traffic. It would be great to have user growth data, but that's not publicly available in either case (I don't think). It's tempting to look at the growth and think of it in terms of new users because the two are obviously related. More users = more messages. But that's not a static relationship...perhaps Twitter's userbase is not increasing all that much and the message growth is due to the existing users increasing their messaging output. So, grain of salt and all that.
What impact does Twitter's API have on its message growth? As I said above, the NY Times is pumping dozens of messages into Twitter daily and hundreds of other sites do the same. This is where it would be nice to have data for the number of active users and/or readers. The usual caveats apply, but if you look at the Alexa trends for Twitter, pageviews and traffic seem to leveling out. Compete, which only offers data as recently as March 2007, still shows traffic growing quickly for Twitter.
Just for comparison, here's a graph showing the adoption of various technologies ranging from the automobile to the internet. Here's another graph showing the adoption of four internet-based applications: Skype, Hotmail, ICQ, and Kazaa (source: a Tim Draper presentation from April 2006).
[Thanks to Andy, Matt, Anil, Meg, and Jonah for their data and thoughts.]
 Some notes and caveats about the data. The Blogger post IDs were taken from archived versions of Evhead and Anil Dash's site stored at the Internet Archive and from a short-lived early collaborative blog called Mezzazine. For posts prior to the introduction of the permalink in March 2000, most pages output by Blogger didn't publish the post IDs. Luckily, both Ev and Anil republished their old archives with permalinks at a later time, which allowed me to record the IDs.
The earliest Blogger post ID I could find was 9871 on November 23, 1999. Posts from before that date had higher post IDs because they were re-imported into the database at a later time so an accurate trend from before 11/23/99 is impossible. According to an archived version of the Blogger site, Blogger was released to the public on August 23, 1999, so for the purposes of the graph, I assumed that post #1 happened on that day. (As you can see, Anil was one of the first 2-3 users of Blogger who didn't work at Pyra. That's some old school flavor right there.)
Regarding the re-importing of the early posts, that happened right around mid-December 1999...the post ID numbers jumped from ~13,000 to ~25,000 in one day. In addition to the early posts, I imagine some other posts were imported from various Pyra weblogs that weren't published with Blogger at the time. I adjusted the numbers subsequent to this discontinuity and the resulting numbers are not precise but are within 100-200 of the actual values, an error of less than 1% at that point and becoming significantly smaller as the number of posts grows large. The last usable Blogger post ID is from March 7, 2002. After that, the database numbering scheme changed and I was unable to correct for it. A few months later, Blogger switched to a post numbering system that wasn't strictly sequential.
The data for Twitter from March 21, 2006 to March 15, 2007 is from Andy Baio. Twitter data subsequent to 3/15/07 was collected by me. ↩
 "Crazy insane viral growth" is a very technical epidemiological term. I don't expect you to understand its precise meaning. ↩
Andy Baio has a report on Oscar nominated films showing up online. Out of the 34 films nominated in one form or another, 31 have been released online. "The average length of time between a film's USA release and its first appearance online is 12 days."
Andy on some recent baiting of people looking for sex on Craigslist. "In a staggering move, he then published every single response, unedited and uncensored, with all photos and personal information to [the web]."
Andy got a cease and desist from Bill Cosby's legal team for hosting the satirical House of Cosbys videos, and he's going to fight it. "More than anything, this strikes me as a special kind of discrimination against amateur creators on the Internet. Mad Magazine, Saturday Night Live, South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and countless other mainstream media sources have parodied Bill Cosby over the years."
Andy unearths an old video game by Penn and Teller called Smoke and Mirrors, which famously features a game in which you drive a bus for 16 straight hours to score a single point. See also Takeshi no Chousenjou, a similarly challenging Japanese game.
Andy Baio sells Upcoming.org to Yahoo! Congrats! I can't wait to see what he, Leonard, and Gordon do with the site on a full-time basis. And Yahoo! keeps swallowing my friends...