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Notes on Twitter, RSS and the future ahead


On Twitter


I've always thought there's something quite powerful and magical about communicating something on the Internet when a reply isn't expected. Blogging is obviously the first example that comes to mind.


You write something and put it out there on the Internet for public consumption. Some will find it and read it. If they agree or disagree they engage in a public discussion with either comments or their own blog post in reaction. 


As a blog guy, to me, the optional reply was, and to some extent still is, one of the most important elements of Twitter. Back when the product launched in 2006 it was a skeuomorphic Internet version of SMS and this aspect was relatively a new thing. It's what originally set the product apart from emails, forums, and instant messages where you had social norms and conventions around interactions and online conversations.


Even today that comments and reply functions are ubiquitous across all social media platforms, Twitter seems to be a form of communication that changes the expectations typically associated with other mediums, while still remaining fundamentally different than blogging.


Twitter encourages people to adapt and invent behavior to suit their needs. While blogging seems too static and the formal formatted web page lacks the banter that characterizes most forms of real-life conversation.


There's also one important aspect that made Twitter exponentially more effective than blogs: the feed.


RSS protocol


While Netscape was trying to win eyeballs in what became known as the “portal wars,” elsewhere on the web a new phenomenon known as “weblogging” was being pioneered.


Kevin Werbach, writing for Release 1.0, predicted that syndication “would evolve into the core model for the Internet economy, allowing businesses and individuals to retain control over their online personae while enjoying the benefits of massive scale and scope.” 


He invited his readers to imagine a future in which syndication on the web would allow businesses and publications to reach consumers through a multitude of intermediary sites. Just like in the television world, where big networks syndicate their shows to smaller local stations.


This would mean, as a corollary, that consumers would gain significant control over where and how they interacted with any given business or publication on the web.


RSS was one of the standards that promised to deliver this future. The original creators had a great vision for it, but the history and evolution of RSS were filled with confusion, challenges, and controversy that drove members of the original committee away from engaging with the community around the protocol.


And Twitter took over. 


RSS readers mostly vanished, and Twitter became the de facto feed for Internet content. Facebook quickly followed with the "news feed" when also Zuckerberg realized that content consolidation was indeed a good idea.


So when Twitter hired Dick Costolo (previously founder/CEO of FeedBurner), as COO it was already pretty clear that the entire executive team viewed Twitter as the evolution of RSS. This became even more evident when Costolo went on to replace Dorsey as CEO in the following year – from 2010 to 2015.


To be fair, the promise of Twitter as an evolution of RSS wasn't completely false. Twitter provided indeed another way to get access to everything that was published under the same unified timeline. But the premise of doing so under an open, decentralized protocol that would in turn power an ecosystem of communication products and services, turned out to be quite far from reality.


The beauty, and brilliance, of the web, started to become the walled garden of centralized media platforms.



The future ahead


Both Facebook and Twitter have been at the center of major political controversies over the last decade.


Some people started talking about decentralization and lock-in right around the time that the Facebook privacy stuff became front and center. The debate heated when Twitter announced policy restrictions around political advertising, and escalated into the de-platform of the former President of the United States in 2021.


But every single time, after the dust settled, there was nothing new, other than a continued schism between the effort to control (and monetize) users and the effort to create broadly democratized and decentralized information. 


So when I read the news a few weeks ago that Elon Musk had offered to buy Twitter, I was obviously excited by the possible implications.

I strongly believe that decentralization is the right long-term answer for a primary communication protocol of the Internet and having a platform that is maximally trusted and broader inclusive has never been more important for the future of humankind.


The opportunity for Twitter to fill that role is unprecedented. 


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The power of three

We are wired to tune into the power of three.

Great communication is built on it.

Consider many of the most durable marketing slogans: 

  • Just Do It 
  • Don't be evil
  • I'm Lovin' It
  • Work hard. Have fun. Make history.
In making presentations we are reminded to tell our audience what we are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what we told them. We are also advised to never leave anyone with more than three key messages. 

It amazes me how in personal relationships, we often forget this rule. We tend to give reductant explanations bloated with unnecessary words. When the simple and concise ones that everyone already knows tend to be the most powerful and memorable ones in almost any circumstance.

A series of events recently got me thinking about what three words might be the most useful in the context of any personal relationship. In no particular order here what I settled on:
  • I need help
  • I am sorry
  • I don't know
These have all in common one thing: they can be hard to say.

I need help requires the courage to surrender control to someone else.
I am sorry requires deep self-awareness and strong responsibility for your actions.
I don't know requires mind openness and vulnerability.

We all know how powerful, simple, and easy to decode for others they are, and yet we don't use them enough.
 

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Foreword of Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut could touch extremely difficult topics such as a son becoming schizophrenic and going totally crazy at the age of 23, with humor and a delicacy and a never obvious attitude, that I've never seen in anyone.

When Mark, son, wrote a book about his recovery from the illness, Kurt sent him a foreword.

I remember reading this in 2010 in a local bookshop in Cannes, France.

It was one of the best things I ever read.





I eventually read the book. It was okay.








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Picasso, Schoenberg, Moss: how humans unlock social capital

(See HN thread here.)

Once every while I read something that changes my perspective on things. Usually, not because it reveals a ground-breaking truth, but because it helps me connect the dots backward. Suddenly, things are now integral parts of a larger picture and everything makes more sense.

A year ago I read this piece from Eugene Wei: Status as a Service.

Eugene writes:
Why does proof of work matter for a social network? If people want to maximize social capital, why not make that as easy as possible? As with cryptocurrency, if it were so easy, it wouldn't be worth anything. Value is tied to scarcity, and scarcity on social networks derives from proof of work. Status isn't worth much if there's no skill and effort required to mine it. It's not that a social network that makes it easy for lots of users to perform well can't be a useful one, but competition for relative status still motivates humans. Recall our first tenet: humans are status-seeking monkeys. Status is a relative ladder. By definition, if everyone can achieve a certain type of status, it’s no status at all, it’s a participation trophy.
He continues:
Read Twitter today and hardly any of the tweets are the mundane life updates of its awkward pre-puberty years. We are now in late-stage performative Twitter, where nearly every tweet is hungry as hell for favorites and retweets, and everyone is a trained pundit or comedian. It's hot takes and cool proverbs all the way down. The harmless status update Twitter was a less thirsty scene but also not much of a business. Still, sometimes I miss the halcyon days when not every tweet was a thirst trap. I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye, the always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye, I miss the sweet Kanye, chop up the beats Kanye.
Then, goes:
So, to answer an earlier question about how a new social network takes hold, let’s add this: a new Status as a Service business must devise some proof of work that depends on some actual skill to differentiate among users. If it does, then it creates, like an ICO, some new form of social capital currency of value to those users.

This didn't just resonate with me. It helped me understand on a deeper level how and why visual arts, aesthetics, music, and human taste in general develop.

Let’s start from the ground up.

In a few words, the article states that:
  • Social Networks to thrive need a proof of concept
  • Prohibitions spark human creativity in a newly formed area
  • Humans, then, leverage that creativity to attract social capital and compete against each other in the newly formed arena
Over a long enough timeline, all the social capital available in a certain system gets allocated.

The more we understand a system, the more effective we are at allocating social capital in it. Hence, we need new restrictions to unlock new human creativity and feed new social capital back into the system.

This can explain on some levels how Social Networks develops, but I wondered what else? Are there are other fields where this theory applies just as well?

1. Painting: Cubism


For centuries, visual arts was one of the major arenas where human intellects competed. For centuries, humans challenged each other by representing reality through mere copies of the same instance.

And gradually, we were able to go from this..

La pinacoteca del deserto | Wall Street International Magazine

To this:

Frederic Edwin Church | Biography, Art, & Facts | Britannica

Connects the dots and see how linear was the progression in the aesthetic. Over time, humans became quite extraordinary at this exercise.

Renaissance, impressionism, pointillism, abstract expressionism, realism, etc, were all micro-steps part of the same bigger effort: representing the reality for what it is.

Social capital in that area was progressively getting allocated up to the point where there was no much left to. Over centuries of incremental progress, we got the point where we mastered the proof of work.

So, we needed a radically new thing. A new greenfield and new proofs of concept.

Introducing cubism.

Georges Braque 1882–1963 | Tate

Unlike any of the prior movements, cubisms challenged the fundamental rules, the basic assumptions upon which the system was constructed. Reality should be represented as it is.

This new proof of work emphasized a flat, two-dimensional surface. It rejected the traditional techniques of perspective, foreshortening, modeling, chiaroscuro, etc, and refuted time-honored theories of art as the imitation of nature.

For the first time in history, painters were not bound to copying form, texture, color, space, etc. That was too well understood. They were called to present reality in radically fragmented objects, whose several sides were seen simultaneously.

The movement was pioneered by Braque who made the original proof of concept but it was Picasso who really extracted much of the social capital that came out of it.

2. Music: Dodecaphony (or Twelve-tonic technique, or Chromaticism)

First, Bach, the real explorer of Classic composition.

Then Mozart, and Beethoven.

Then Chopin, Debussy, and Ravel.

Different styles emerged across centuries (from Baroque to Late Romantic) but the ground rules in the classical composition didn’t really change.

Let me explain.

In traditional Western music, tonality is a means of organizing pitch in accordance with the physics of sound. A fundamental tone — say, C in a C major scale — is central; the other pitches relate to it in a hierarchy of importance based on natural overtone relationships. So, whatever happens, the music keeps returning to that fundamental tonal mooring.

This is such a key aspect in music because it provides a sense of arrival and rest.

All Western classical and pop music relies on the idea that, no matter what, we'll eventually get to "home base".

Leveraging this musical axiom, musical composition techniques that had been prepared over centuries made it possible in the 18th century to write music that was original and immediately appealing but also sophisticated under the surface.

And by the end of the 18th century, a lot of low-hanging fruit was picked and much of the social capital in the system was already allocated in the hands of few. There wasn't much left to discover.

In 19th-century composers, Wagner, Mahler, Debussy, originality frequently came at the cost of greater surface complexity, and a less direct, cheerful tone.

It was clear that humans needed new ground-up rules to compete.

Schoenberg was one of the first to realize that new innovation could only be unlocked by re-thinking the ground-rules. So he invented a new compositional technique: twelve-tonic.

Arnold Schoenberg : Quartetto per Archi - Analisi Musicale

Shoenberg's twelve tonic technique comes with no musical tonality. All 12 pitches of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as one another in a piece of music without emphasis on any specific note. In other words, all 12 notes are thus given more or less equal importance, and the music avoids being in a key. Consequentially, there can't home base.

It was a radically new game.

Shoenberg's new musical arena unlocked new social capital and many of the composers of the 20th century competed on those new rules.

Several giants explored the 12-tone technique as well: not only Stravinsky, whose move into the enemy camp shook up the world of modern music but also Messiaen and Copland.

Looking backward, we can say the invention of the 12-tone system was arguably the most audacious and influential development in 20th-century music.

3. Fashion: Kate Moss


The world of the 19th century was a world in which the canons of beauty were sculptured.

Up to the point where the whole fashion scene was dominated by the same characters: Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Sharon Stone, etc.

That was a solved game.

It was in that world, that Corinne Day discovered a new way to represent beauty.

Not through the canonical blonde/long hair, nor the perfect-looking skin or the mesmerizing white of the teeth.

C. Day used the cheeky expression of a 16yo suburban skinny girl named Kate Moss to show the world an entirely new idea of aesthetics.

Way far from what were the conventions of the time.

Not colorful, but black and white photos.
Not sinuous, but skinny body forms.
Not perfect-looking, but seemingly sloppy dresses.
Not cheerful, but melancholic tones.

calvin klein kate moss Tiziano Magni kate-jam-and-diamonds •

It was a totally different game with totally different rules.

The effects were immediate. Existing players were outplayed, new social capital was unlocked, and new icons emerged.

Moss did to Campbell, what Braque did to Manet, and what Shoenberg did to centuries of Mozart.

Centuries of slow but incremental linear development lost in a matter of a few years.

Visual arts, philosophy, music, and many realms get periodically rearranged according to the same principles: when there’s no more Social Capital left on the table either because it eroded over centuries or because it was consolidated in the hands of just a few winners.

After all, we're all are status-seeking monkeys seek out the most efficient path to maximizing social capital.


Others essays to further explore this topic:
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Caesar’s system thinking abilities

If you want to learn from the best, you have to decompose how their brain works, what's their logic and reconstruct backward their decision processes.

If you studied Roman history, you know that if there was a Hall of Fame for generals, Gaius Julius Caesar would probably be somewhere between the first and fifth positions.

There are many proofs of this, but I think there’s one episode above all.

Put yourself in this situation:
  • You are the commander of an army
  • You are up against somebody with superior technology but you have them slightly outnumbered
  • You are better supplied but they are better disciplined
  • You have allies, but they are very far away fighting battles of their own
What would you do? Think about it.

This was Vercingetorix's situation. His opponent was Julius Caesar and it was the battle of Alesia (53 B.C.E.)

Vercingetorix responded with a couple of things:
  1. He pulled his army back to a highly defensible hilltop fort
  2. He sent out messengers to all his allies in Gaul asking for reinforcements
His logic was this:
  • If Caesar was foolish enough to attack the fort, Vercingetorix still held the high ground with superior number == good chance of success
  • If Caesar was foolish enough to wait around the fort, Vercingetorix reinforcements would arrive on time and Caesar would up against, not one, but two armies == even higher chance of success
This is an impossible tactical situation.

Let’s see how Caesar could have potentially evaluated this scenario:

First, evaluate Vercingetorix strengths:
  • Better supply
  • Larger army
  • Very defensible position
  • His reinforcements will be here soon
Vercingetorix weaknesses:
  • He is isolated, it means that he doesn’t know when the reinforcements will be here
  • Because he is isolated in a fort, eventually he will run out of supplies
Second, Caesar's strengths:

They are intimidated by the Roman infantry and want to postpone the battle until the second army is here

Caesar's weaknesses:
  • If they reconcile the two armies I have no chances
  • Time is my enemy, I have little or no time to work something out before the second army is here
  • I have shaky supply lines
What would you do in this situation now? Consider this question for a while.

This is how Caesar responds to the situation:

He decides to construct a wall around Vercingetorix’s fort. This is already a counter-intuitive maneuver because he is making his opponent's fort even more defensible in the hope they would run out of supplies.

Wait, but there's still a second Gauls army who is marching to Alesia. They’ll be here to charge long before the Vercingetorix army has scarce supply.

That’s why he decides to build a second outer wall.

The two walls would act simultaneously as his own fort to defend from Vercingetorix's reinforcements and as a way to keep isolated and siege Vercingetorix army.

He is an attacker using the inner wall and as a defender using the outer wall.

Caesar realizes that if he manages to stay in the middle of the two armies, they will never be able to unite under a single force (his #1 weakness)

Also, despite the two Gallic armies being close, they can not see each outer, so they can not coordinate their attacks to weaken the walls in the same spots.

This makes the situation a whole lot more manageable by his legions. 

alesia-walls

During the battle, the Vercingetorix allies found a weak point in the outer wall, so they broke into the Roman camp.

Caesar used all his legions to stop the assailants and pushed the cavalry out of the outer walls to counter the Gauls behind them.

The reinforcements army was suddenly surrounded. No one was spared.

Now Caesar can focus on Vercingetorix and the inner army.

Vercingetorix realized that the reinforcements have all been defeated and he surrendered the day after.

Now you see what Caesar was able to accomplish when he was put in an impossible tactical situation.

Smaller army, fewer supplies, short in time, and against all the odds. You can get a hint of how his brain worked.

Unlike others (Varus, Crassus, Brutus) he wasn’t obsessed with fancy formations, complicated maneuvers, or set-piece battles.

He focused on key issues:
  1. Find your strengths and your strengths strengths
  2. Find your opponent’s weaknesses and his strengths
  3. Do everything is in your control to maximize the former and minimize the latter.
Caesar’s military talent lied with opportunism. He would take a situation and squeeze every conceivable advantage out of it until there was nothing left.

He rigorously applied this mindset also to Rome's political scene.

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Why Nadal is unbeatable on clay

Common wisdom in Tennis sees Roger Federer as the greatest of all time. While this might actually be true, I always believed there is something more interesting and profound and very underappreciated about Rafael Nadal’s game.

Nike News - Rafael Nadal News

Nadal is a player of unique talent, but he has an extraordinary ability no one has ever managed to replicate. He is the greatest of all time on clay.

I've been thinking a lot about why this happens.

Most people will articulate as follows:
  • Nadal grew up on clay courts, it’s his second nature
  • Nadal uses topspin and clay courts aids topspin – the ball kicks higher and makes it harder for the opponent to attack
  • Because of his knee injury, he has physically a better fit on soft rather than hard courts
  • Players’ speed matters more on clay than other courts, and Nadal is the fastest on tour
While all these points are true, none of them is the major reason.

The one reason why he is the greater player on clay the world has ever seen, it’s because he learned to master the “controllable area”.

In every tennis match, like in life, or business, you can control only a certain percentage of things.

In any tennis match, you can control roughly 50% of the game: when the ball is in your half of the court.

You can’t control the ball when it’s outside your area, that’s your opponent’s 50%.

The player who better capitalizes his/her controllable 50% has more chances to win the match. In tennis, players capitalize (aka make points) in only two ways: 1) by hitting winners, or 2) by opponent’s mistakes.

Clay is a slow court. When the ball travels slower, hitting a winner is more difficult and accordingly, points earned from opponents' mistakes are more important.

Nadal is extraordinarily good at not committing mistakes: he never gives opponents cheap points.

Nadal can hit on and on, play on and on.

On clay, Nadal's control of his 50% tends to perfection.

Perseverance, temperament, patience, and stamina are the keys here.

On other courts (grass or hard) his special abilities are still important, but they are an order of magnitude less effective because opponents can hit the ball stronger and capitalize with more winners.

The only way to down Nadal on clay is to either hit through him incredibly hard (like very few players can do) and be as clinical and efficient (error-free) as possible or beat him in his own game by relentlessly wearing him out.

No one has ever really managed the former, and only very few successfully attempted the latter. ATP players know it well.

The effectiveness of your skills depends on the territory. Nadal's extraordinary abilities are not as effective on grass or hard as they are on clay courts.

When you’ve found your strengths, take your time to find out in which "territories" those abilities have a unique strategic advantage. Assessing talent is about discovering someone’s great abilities as much as it is about finding the “territory” where those abilities can be grafted and maximized.

Nadal’s uniqueness on clay allowed him to won 10 Roland Garros in the last 13 editions and reach 81 clay court win streak in 2005–07 (the longest on a single surface in the Open Era in men's singles).

Prediction: Nadal could surpass Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam by continuing to win Roland Garros until he’s 36.
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Hire unproven people

Hiring is broken on so many different levels, and it starts right there, at the job offer description. It then continues all the way down to the actual interview process.

I'd like to unfold here some prescriptions about how I think startups should hire.

Most jobs positions out there regarding the job role go like this "10 years experience in job role, proven experience in whatever the responsibilities are, high proficiency in infinite technology set, already built successful whatever, ability to work well in a team, exceptional references from previous companies"

When I read such things, here's what I read instead: "We're looking for a candidate who is: at least a one time World Cup Champion, two times FIFA World Cup awards winner, the best scorer of the season, proven ability to work well in a team, exceptional references from previous teams".

A Look Back At The Beatles' First Concert | Society Of Rock
Feb 9th, 1961. Beatles at the first concert appearance at The Cavern Club. They were paid £5.

How many people are really a good fit for this position? Two, maybe three on Earth. The reality is that you're not going to get them.

If your company's job position looks like you're looking for unicorn you're doing it wrong and you'll never get what you're after.

If there's anyone else in the world that can come up with your same conclusions with the same degree of confidence, it means that there are enough data points to objectively say this is a great player. If that's the case, you and your startup won't be able to hire the player. Someone will steal him from you.

You have to go after people that aren't proven and you need to be really good at evaluating them with much less data points. In short, you need to be extremely good at forecasting.

Don't hire like FAANG companies, don't use their best practices, don't use their super oiled processes, don't play their same games with the same rules.

Google, Amazon, Netflix, Apple have thousands of candidates and might need an object baseline to judge them. You don't.

Google's interview best practices strictly focused on algorithms and data structure questions won't help you in your interview process. Amazon's bar-raiser won't help you either.

If you play their games when hiring people, you're going to lose every single battle.

Instead of relying on easy observable data points and measurable metrics (coding challenges, rankings, pedigrees and riddles) look for answers in non-measurable realms, in domains where there are fewer, if not none, data points, looks for areas that are not easy measurable, where there's no yet predefined scripts or manuals, and where new simple heuristics can win overpowered standardized common wisdom.

Here's what instead you should do in your hiring process, try to find an answer to these four questions:


  • Can this candidate do the job?
  • Will this candidate be motivated?
  • Will this candidate get along with coworkers?
  • What this candidate will be in three, six, twelve months from now?

Everything you ask and everything you do during the interview should have the ultimate object of augmenting the details of each one of those four questions.

Discover how do they deal with complexity? Don't do whiteboard coding on riddles or puzzles. (This is partially the reason why I decided to start Type12)

Learn how do they respond to real-world problems? Don't ask "Why are manhole covers round?" Who gives a shit to why are manhole covers round. Pair-program with them instead and learn how well they break through blocks.

Don't ask questions that if you just happen to know the answer to, you're golden, and if you get stuck in a situation where you have to work something out on the fly, you can easily get stuck in a mental wedgie that makes you look like a complete moron.

Cut luck out of your system.

Ultimately, look for very-high-dimensional vectors, such as smartness, attitudes, motivation, dynamic learning, courage, that can't be easily tested or represented by a basis vector or on a scale.

While on the surface these may sound just contrarian, what most of these do is to optimize for something long term/less measurable where the incumbents are constrained by time and what can be measured.

That's where you discover talents, that's when you hire great people.