Monthly Archives: November 2011

It’s Just The Internet. It Doesn’t Matter.

It’s been reported that Diaspora co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy committed suicide this week at 22 years of age; while no one is sure of the cause, of course, there has been a lot of speculation that Diaspora’s lack of traction might have been a trigger.

I certainly hope not. I wish he hadn’t done it in the first place, of course; I wish I could have talked to the guy. I wish I could have told him that there’s very little you can do at the age of 22 that’s not undoable, short of killing someone or having a kid; no matter how bleak your situation seems, you can always change it. More than that, though, I wish I could have told him: dude, it’s just a fucking social network. It doesn’t matter.

I think a lot of us lose perspective working in this industry. There’s a lot of hyperbolic and impossibly hypocritical rhetoric thrown around by tech founders and venture capitalists. The words “world-changing” and “revolutionary” get thrown around a lot, and it’s mostly at projects and products that don’t deserve these adjectives.

Diaspora had and has absolutely no chance at “changing the world”. It’s another social network, just like the ones that came before it and have now vanished into the ether. By and large, social networks are not changing and will not change the world, any more than message boards did before them. They’ll be the default exciting way that people interact online for a few years, then somebody will come up with some permutation that’s different enough to warrant another generalized term — “social whiteboard” or some other such ill-fitting metaphor — and Facebook and Diaspora and all their predecessors will be just part of the early history of the global network. This new world of ours is nothing if not ephemeral.

Most of the “revolutions” we generate in this industry are really just incremental improvements on communications technology…and most of the worldchanging we want to do involves the part of the world that is our own bank balance.

What’s really sad though — assuming that Ilya killed himself because he believed his project was a failure — is that failure is not the end of the world. Hell, it’s not even failure, as long as you understand that every new technology or idea is just something you throw at the fucking wall to see if it sticks.

I’ve been involved with two failed startups so far. Both of them were excellent ideas — because, after all, that’s all a startup really is: an idea. One of them never even got publicly announced, because the logistics required to solve the problem it was attempting to solve were simply too expensive and complex to achieve. The other one was probably eight years ahead of its time.

It sucked when they tanked. But you know what you learn, when you don’t kill yourself at 22 because your idea isn’t getting enough attention and it looks like you might not be the visionary you thought you were? You learn that failure is inevitable. And you learn that you simply brush yourself off, go “Oh, okay, that didn’t work,” and look to see what collateral you can salvage out of the thing that didn’t work. Sometimes you’ll find you’ve invented a new technology that might be useful in totally different ways than you originally considered; sometimes you’ll find you learned a new skill; more often than not, you’ll simply walk away with more experience about how the world works, and how it doesn’t.

I’m building my own little sandbox on the Internet right now, and I’m old enough and wise enough not to have any illusions about its potential to change the world or make me a millionaire. I know the odds are against it…the way they are against any startup. If it fails? That sucks, and I’m going to do everything to keep it from happening, but if it does, I’ll just move on to the next idea. I’m never short of ideas.

And I struggle with depression every day. Every day that investors fail to materialize, every day that passes that nobody uses this cool thing I’ve built, I feel like the world is ending, like I should just fling myself under a bus and get it over with. But you know what? The world’s not ending. It’s just the Internet. It doesn’t matter.

It’s a tragedy when anyone who is not terminally ill commits suicide, and it’s even worse when they have their whole lives ahead of them; and maybe there was other stuff going on with Ilya Zhitomirskiy that is not public (and nobody’s business, of course). But if the guy really did it because his stupid fucking social network wasn’t becoming the coolest thing since Cheez-Whiz, that’s even worse, because it means he did it for really no reason at all. It was a meaningless act by someone who lacked the life perspective to understand how absolutely trivial the success or failure of his project was.

If you’re one of us — people like me and Ilya Zhitomirskiy, who make up ideas for a living — never forget that. Never forget that there’s always tomorrow, always another idea, always something new and great to do. Don’t believe the hype, yours or anyone else’s. Fight another day.



Putting Out The (Notional) Guitar Case

As many of you who are regular readers know, I was kind of an early innovator in the realm of crowdfunding. I also regularly record and release my own music, which doesn’t make me a lot of money, but enough to occasionally pay for groceries and that sort of thing. As you probably also know, I’m in the middle of starting what I think is an exciting new Web tool, Stikki. Things are moving along for Stikki, slowly but surely…but it’s the slowly part I wanted to talk to you about today.

Here’s the long and short of it: a couple of days ago, our car died. We haven’t had it towed to a mechanic, but I’m 90% certain that the problem is that the transmission is kaput — specifically, the torque converter. (The car won’t shift out of first gear. It’s not grinding, just chugging, and that’s basically a sign that the TC is cooked.)

This isn’t much of a problem for me, as I work out of my house or the local coffee shops…but it’s a very big problem for Rosalie, who just started a new job on the other side of town. Las Vegas is a southwestern city, which means it’s a sprawl city, so her bus ride would be an hour or more, and our public transportation is both unreliable and franklydangerous for a single young woman. (Almost every dodgy situation I’ve found myself in since I moved to Vegas has occurred while waiting for a bus, and I’m a big scary dude.)

So we need to buy a new car or replace the transmission in ours, which will basically be about the same amount — $2500 or so. (If we buy an older car, I can do the repair and upkeep myself; I’m not a motorhead, but I know what a Chilton’s manual is and I’ve done basic repair work on my own vehicles before.) But at the moment, it seems unlikely that we’ll have that kind of spare money any time soon. (I’ve got one possible project that would handle essentially all of our money problems, but that’s a whole other story. Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.)

Many of you have been willing, in the past, to pay actual cash money for my writing or my music. So here’s what I’d like to throw out here: what can I offer you that you’d be willing to pay a dollar or two for? More music? Fiction? Non-fiction? Some kind of web app? Something that, even if you yourself couldn’t afford to pay for, you’d be willing to share with the world.

I actually want to do something that’s crowdcommissioned, that’s what people want to see, rather than something I come up with myself. It’s an interesting challenge, and knowing you maniacs I’m curious as to what you’d come up with.

So what do you think? Tweet at me or write in the comments here.


Random Thought

This is from something else I’m writing, but it didn’t fit, so I’m throwing it out here: A sort of inverse version of Metcalfe’s Law is that any node that is not part of a network loses value proportionally as the network gains nodes. A computer without Internet access was no big deal when the Internet had a hundred computers on it; once that number swelled to hundreds of millions, any PC without a Net connection became an antiquated toy.

The same is true of humans. Ask your friend who refuses to have any social network profiles, and sits at home alone on Friday night wondering where the hell everybody went.