October 2010

Happy Halloween!

18 years … wow … and they said it wouldn’t last …

Actually, nobody said it wouldn’t last.  But if they had, they’d have been wrong.

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“Tissue turgor” and pink elephants: about Y Combinator (DRAFT)

DRAFT! Work in progress! Feedback welcome

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One advantage startups have over established companies is that there are no discrimination laws about starting businesses. For example, I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon. But you’re not allowed to ask prospective employees if they plan to have kids soon. Whereas when you’re starting a company, you can discriminate on any basis you want about who you start it with.

— Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, in How to Start a Startup

Christopher Steiner’s The Disruptor in the Valley in Forbes discusses how this essay, along with Paul’s Harvard talk, eventually inspired red-hot technology incubator YC. He doesn’t include this quote, alas, and also doesn’t mention the reports in the Mercury News and Wall Street Journal of YCs #diversityfail or Tereza Nemessanyi’s XX Combinator.  I guess they didn’t fit  in with the article’s subtitle: “Paul Graham’s Y Combinator has stormed Silicon Valley and pioneered a better way to build a company.”

YC has indeed had a huge impact.   Christopher reports that YC typically puts about $15-$20K into the companies in return for a 5% equity stake; with over 400 companies in their portfolio they’re a powerful force in the tech startup world.  With the help of a lot of gushing coverage in the TechCrunch and their buddies in the tech press, 30 of their of the 36 startups in the most recent crop incubator have gotten funding since Demo Day in August, many of them over $1 million.   Collusion is soooo hot these days so it’s as good a time for a fluff piece as any.

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g0ddesses.net: org chart and cap table

My novel g0ddesses.net is set in the Silicon Valley startup scene and there is a some corporate drama behind it, so I want to make sure that the organization and ownership stakes make sense.  Here’s what I’m currently thinking … feedback welcome!

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g0ddesses.net

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Kallisti on Dreamwidth: Hiiiii! (waves)

dreamwidth logoEver since Skud’s 2009 OSCON talk I’ve been meaning to check out DreamWidth, and now I finally am.  My account there is kallistixf, and at least for the time being I’ll move some of my more personal posts there and keep Liminal States focused on social networks, diversity, innovation, software engineering, security, and politics. I think that’s enough topics, don’t you?

Here’s some excerpts from my Hiiii (waves)! post there:
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Notes from underground: Electro-convulsive therapy (Mad Maxx and Space Tribe at Geomagnetic.tv’s Phantasmagoria)

PhantasmagoriaOlli Wisdom was good, Mad Maxx was better, and Saturnia, Witchdokta, Michael Liu, Sausee and of course Spook all rocked. It wasn’t real crowded so the density on the dancefloor was perfect all night long. My glow-in-the-dark nails got rave reviews and my brand new pink Golas proved quite comfortable for dancing. Yay!

The first time we saw Olli was at the DNA Lounge in January 2004 and I’ve probably listened to that set 100 times since then. Last August’s Five years later reflects on my path since then … a lot’s happened in the last fifteen months and now my world is Tales from the Net and diversity and innovation, all a natural evolution of what I learned and experienced back then and the goddesses I’ve been hanging with ever since.

A conversation on Facebook reminded me of another psytrance party in 2004, Halloween weekend at Somarts, and the Dia de los Muertos exhibit there. When I went back and read my journal, I remembered that we had gone out three times that weekend: (((thump))) at Barnevald, Somarts, and then dinner at Ma Tante Sumi and hangin’ in the hood. Those were the days….
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WiseDame: Now *that’s* what I call disruptive (part 6 of TechCrunch, disrupted)

WiseDame: making safe living easier, one application release at a time

Is it just me, or does WiseDame seem far more disruptive than most of the startups pitching location-based ideas?

— Jon Pincus, on WiseDame’s just-relaunched site; originally from A celebration of disruptive women

J’aime Ohm won the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon as a solo hacker with a personal safety iPhone app.  WiseDame’s tag line is “making safe living easier, one application release at a time”. It takes basic safety practices – letting friends or family know what time you expect to be home,  leaving a note about your plans for the day – and makes them better, faster, and easier.  Brilliant.

And a great case study in agile software engineering, too. J’aime started with an idea for a product she wanted and a set of use cases based her own experience. Next she talked with a bunch of potential early adopters who were variants on a target persona (“women who go out”) and had enough information to build a prototype. Which she did, and iterated rapidly continuing to get feedback, all in less than 24 hours.

As Cindy Gallop of If We Ran The World highlighted in email:

this product came out of FEMALE USER NEED AND EXPERIENCE.  The number of tech ventures meant to deliver a gender-equal UX with all-male founding teams is ridiculous.  And equally, male geeks are going to miss a lot of concepts that can sell to vast numbers of women (the primary purchasers in many sectors and the primary influencers in many others).  Let the women in, for chrissakes!!

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If She Ran the Ward: Oni Joseph, the Haitian Sensation

If Oni The Haitian Sensation Ran The World, they would...GET ELECTED IN BAY WARD | OTTAWA, ONTARIO

“There are roughly 900,000 people living in Ottawa. A good five per cent are living in a marginalized way. It’s disgusting. It’s a shame. I love my city, I love Ottawa, but we can do better. We have to take care of that five per cent. And I would say three out of that five per cent live in my ward. I want to be Bay Ward’s voice at city hall.”

— Bay Ward Council Candidate Oni Joseph, profiled by Jen Lahey in Ottawa Magazine

Oni is Canada’s best-known slam poet, and her 2006 book Ghettosocracy was a The Globe and Mail Book of the Year.  Since then she’s worked on several political campaigns, advocated for Habitat for Humanity, and raised a huge amount of money for earthquake relief in Haiti.   Back in January, the incumbent council-member Alex Cullen decided to run for mayor, leaving the seat open.  With encouragement from Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada, Oni decided to throw her hat in the ring.

A lot of other candidates piled into the race as well — including Alex, who after supporting and mentoring her, dropped his mayoral bid to run against her.  Ouch.

So it’s a very crowded field: seven white guys and Oni.  Some of the other candidates have much bigger budgets.   Yeah, other candidates are passing out buttons that cost them $4 each and Oni’s giving out stickers that cost only nine cents.  In a time of tough budgets, who’s sending a better message to voters?  And one of the amazing things about politics today is how mobile phones and social network technologies give the underdogs a better chance.

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Starting the day out …

Morning MistAm I the only person out there who takes a step back every few months to observe how I’m starting my online and day decide what kind of changes I want to make?

If you haven’t ever done this, it can be very illuminating.  Back in 2008, for example, when I was doing a lot of political activism, I looked where I was getting my news, and quickly discovered substantially more interesting and diverse perspectives.   More recently I’ve been focusing on writing Tales from the Net, and also laying the groundwork for a new startup and/or consulting gigs, so have been thinking a lot about how to adapt.

So here’s how I’m currently starting my online days. The order varies, and sometimes I leave some of these out, but it gives the basic idea.  I’d love to hear what others think about this — or what you do. Continue Reading »

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What Diaspora can learn about security from Microsoft

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Back in April, four NYU students decided to raise money to spend the summer hacking on their project: a privacy-friendly open source social network. They put up a page on Kickstarter, a crowdsourced funding site. Talk about being in the right place at the right time: after a great article Four nerds and a cry to arms against Facebook came out in the New York Times, in a few weeks Diaspora* had raised $200,000.

At which point they moved to San Francisco, got free office space, spent the summer hacking, went to Burning Man … and on September 15, released their software to the community. Basic functionality is in place: status updates, photos, “aspects” to control who sees what. Kudos to them.

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What can Diaspora learn about security from Microsoft? (REVISED DRAFT)

See the final version here

Thanks to Adam, Jason, and Alem for the initial list; Sarah, tptacek, Locke1689, mahmud, Wayne, PeterH, Steve, and SonyaLynn for comments on the previous draft, and Damon for the wording on #7.

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Collective intelligence, diversity, and social networks

Originally published as “Hold that thought”
(Part 5 of “TechCrunch, disrupted”)

The day after TechCrunch Disrupt ended, a fascinating study on “collective intelligence” led by Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon University appeared in Science.   The researchers found that a group’s success in solving problems wasn’t correlated to the average intelligence of the group, or the IQ of the smartest person.  Instead, it was related to “social sensitivity”, whether everybody got to participate in the discussions, and the number of women in the group.

The article’s behind a paywall, but Malicia Rogue’s On savvy and groups discusses it in detail and provides a lot of background.  There’s an excellent discussion on GeekFeminism, a podcast on CBC, and good articles in National Geographic, NPR, Science Daily, and The Globe and Mail.

Nobody mentioned it in the press coverage, but these results also align with Scott Page’s underlying model of the value of cognitive diversity in problem solving. Diversity = Productivity summarizes Scott’s work showing why diverse teams perform better than individual experts or even teams of experts — if they can work together effectively, that is.*   So while there’s a lot more to discuss about this study, for now let’s just accept its results at face value and hypothesize that they apply to larger teams as well.

Now consider a group that we’ll call “TechCrunch and friends”.  How effective would we expect them to be at problem solving?
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What can Diaspora learn about security from Microsoft? (FIRST DRAFT)

It’s counter-intuitive to think of Microsoft as a poster child for security.  But the progress they’ve made since 2001 along with the challenges they continue to face have a lot of lessons for anybody in this space — including Diaspora, the “privacy-aware, personally-controlled, open-source, do-it-all social network”.

Several of the comments on my previous post Diaspora: what next? were from former colleagues at Microsoft, and they made excellent points.  Here’s my attempt to build on the list that Adam, Jason, and Alem started off.
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