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    • Silicon Valley has a social problem.

      First, who am I to point this out and try to take it on?

      I was part of the problem.

      My first book, cowritten with Shel Israel, titled "Naked Conversations," hyped up the use of social tools, like blogs, before Facebook and Twitter got popular. I wrote that when I worked at Microsoft on an online community called Channel 9 where I interviewed hundreds of Microsoft employees and when I had one of the best-known tech blogs out there.

      I've spent the past year looking at my own behaviors, both pro and con when it comes to online communities, which I've been helping build and participate in since the early 1980s. I won't go into my history here, but I brought pain to my fans, friends, family, community through some of my behaviors, and spent the past year, fixing those, getting sober, and looking at social media with a fresh eye (you should see my Twitter lists, which are an amazing way to see the tech industry at ).

      I was among the first to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and LinkedIn, amongst many other social services and I often interviewed the founders of these services and helped hype them up.

      But when I was getting my readers to try these services I never saw the kinds of problems that they are bringing to bear today and which are tarnishing Silicon Valley's reputation and throwing our best-known companies through an important process which many believe will end with new kinds of regulations, building on Europe's GDPR regulations.

      Before we get into that, if you are reading this post you are seeing it on Cake, a new social/community publishing platform. Let's talk about it after we talk about the problems that social is currently seeing, but feel free to poke around and visit more. It was started by Chris MacAskill, who is one of the cofounders of SmugMug, a beautiful photo site that recently bought Flickr. You can see his team's work to make social beautiful here already.

      Back to the problems.

      What are they? (And homage to people like Tristan Harris, who have been pointing these problems out for years).

      1. Addiction. These systems were designed with growth and addiction at their core. Many who participate see the same consequences as drug users do.
      2. Surveillance, lack of privacy.
      3. Safety. Many see negative consequences for participating. My wife was threatened, for instance, and many friends have had to deal with stalkers and death threats. And many problems start with threats, but turn into worse problems. Even lesser problems is just the kind of lighter misogyny, racism, and hatred many experience, which keeps them from participating and, worse, being heard.
      4. Corrosive to community. Bad actors can convince people to do the wrong thing.
      5. Noise and outrage. As these communities got bigger they became less fun to participate in. No longer were you seeing your friend's baby photos, but you were seeing political posts, or, worse, always being pitched business ideas/products/companies. Many complain they look like a constant stream of advertising.
      6. Getting heard is controlled by algorithms, not people. I say the algorithmic feeds overindex on outrage, while feeds like Twitter, that show almost all overindex on noisy people. Neither of whom you probably want to have conversations with every day.
      7. By making it so everyone can participate we lost something: the role of experts and authorities. Think about the arguments about climate change, for instance. Can you quickly tell who is a scientist? Who works at National Park? Who lives near a glacier? Or who is paid by an oil company to disrupt real conversations?
      8. They made a world that doesn't have as much beauty because they were designed to run on small, low-resolution phones, which use a minimal of bandwidth and batteries. Today our smartphones have much better screens and longer-lasting batteries and our bandwidth and costs of delivering that are way up. But Twitter and Facebook still present low-resolution images and crappy text treatments that are horrid for reading longer, more thoughtful posts.

      So, can Cake clean this up?

      Yes. On some of the posts here, for instance, you'll see that only panels are able to comment. That keeps bad actors from disrupting conversations. Keeps spammers far away. And even makes it safe for experts to really chew on a topic like vaccinations, abortion, climate change, racism, sexual abuse, gun control or, really, any political topic. Wouldn't you like to hear a reasonable discussion on any of those topics by people who were hand picked?

      I would.

      Cake has a mechanism to do that. The others don't, and I don't believe they ever will.

      Think back to any conference, like SXSW. You sat in a few panel discussions. I've done that. And I've been on stage, too. When I'm in the audience I'm there to learn and support. Same here on Cake (although I've opened this post up to anyone to participate in, many threads here you will see are closed to comments where you can only watch a "panel" talk and they you can react to those comments, same as a real-world audience can by laughing, clapping, cheering, etc.

      Addiction is a real problem in my life. I'm an alcoholic, and have talked about that publicly, but I also am very addicted to social media. For one, it's been my job for more than a decade. For two, I've built the best Twitter account I've seen anyone have with literally most of what makes the tech industry run. My screen is far far more interesting than TV and, often, then hanging out with family or friends. And I'm not alone. This summer I took my kids across America on a 9,000-mile road trip. We saw so many people swiping through Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and others while standing in front of the most amazing things and having their loved ones with them. I'm addicted, so are you.

      But here you'll find fewer of the mechanisms that the big social companies used to addict you. Fewer notifications. More white space. Fewer video and audio streams begging for you to look and instantly share with huge networks of people. More long form conversations that require you to slow down and actually enjoy someone's writing rather than being yelled at every second or two to "look at this, read this, like this."

      On my Twitter screen, for instance, everything literally moves (I use Tweetdeck). That movement, alone, is addicting, but they take it further by sending you emails and notifications just in case you missed something. Try to delete Facebook, too, and you'll get really freaky emails showing you the friends you will miss. It's hard to say no to your friends.

      Here people are in charge, not algorithms. People have to pick the panels. Have to make the great content that will get you to engage. And I'm already noticing that this is a community that has a spiritual angle to it: one with values, ethics, and curated behaviors.

      I've seen both sides of when people behave corrosively. I've done it, destroying my own reputation because I brought pain. But I've witnessed many others do it too. Drama, fights, and nasty stalking or blocking behaviors. That kind of pain has already been planned for here, and in discussing Cake with the team it was made very clear to me that this community has a deep set of values, a strong ethical mission that rewards people for behaving well and isn't corrupted by the need to always grow and lock in users.

      Plus, unlike other tries to build new social communities and publishing platforms, this one is built on modern technology: Amazon's AWS, by a team that keeps millions of users happy every day. That is a prerequisite for what comes next. One competitor, who was seen as a Facebook killer, was built on a single database server that crashed when it started seeing an exponential growth in new users.

      The thing that got me to see Cake was Trey Ratcliff's panel about Google+'s wasted promise and its demise.

      Oh, and there'll be a new kind of business model here, one that is interest based, not surveillance based. If you haven't heard Facebook and Twitter are always watching who you are, your demographics, and all that, and selling access to you to advertisers based on that. Here Cake won't do that. Instead, when you do see advertisements in the future, they will be based on the communities you join.

      You'll see me here more in the next few weeks. I hope you join me and, even, forgive me for the negative behaviors I brought to communities in the past. This is a fresh start for me, and, I believe, for Silicon Valley as it enters a new social age. One that brings the advantages of social with fewer of the negatives.

      Now, let us eat Cake and clean up Silicon Valley's social problem.

      I can't wait to see what you do with it.

    • As usual you are the early adopter. I hope Cake finds traction and think it can potentially fill a very important void for community at present. New social platforms can be fun and exciting. I remember the early days of Flickr groups, FriendFeed, the early days of G+. Having a place where your friends hang out and community flourishes is missing right now. Looking forward to seeing how Cake evolves. :)

    • I agree. There's a separate panel here, started by Trey Ratcliff, about Google+ that got me to see the magic here. I am also dreaming of a world of augmented reality and think this will be an important community to build and place to have conversations as we head toward that, too. I am watching Reddit, YouTube, and other spaces, which are very interesting, but I sure see so much corrosive behavior in those spaces. It's to the place where it's not fun for me and I'm not usually the one getting the brunt of the bad behavior.

    • Thank you, Robert. This is my life and dream now from the moment my eyelids open 7 days a week. I'll be crushed if we can't make major progress on these problems because I believe they are some of the world's most important problems now.

      Each of us on Cake's team came to this in different ways, but for me it was the collision of several ideas.

      1. Hearing Jeff Bezos say, when Amazon was just a bookstore, that people want to work for noble purpose. Amazon's was to observe that we've all read 5 books that really moved us. But we all have the feeling there are 100 more like that; the problem is finding them. If Amazon could help us discover them, Jeff said at the time, they would have accomplished something great.

      I thought he was on his way when I discovered Touching the Void on Amazon because it knew I loved Into Thin Air.

      We've all had some great conversations online, the problem is finding them.

      2. Hearing Stewart Butterflied, who cofounded Flickr and Slack say the Internet's most powerful feature is finding people who share your interests. He grew up on a commune in British Columbia and his interest was philosophy. No one in his town was interested in it, but on the Internet he found people who were and it changed his world.

      3. Hearing Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of TED, say on 60 Minutes that the greatest thing in life is a conversation between people. I got to talk to him about panel conversations wrt Cake for 2 hours and I will never forget it.

      4. All of us seeing how incredibly great panel conversations can be when the audience expectation is it benefits us all to let the panel speak. We simply haven't had this format on the Internet (except video and audio, but not text) and it's a shame. Richard wrote in his latest book that he thought this was the greatest panel conversation ever:

    • I'll be honest, if almost any other entrepreneur had pitched me this I would have ignored them. I have had enough social in my life.

      When I heard you were involved I took this effort a lot more seriously. Why?

      1. You've always been nice. Not just to me.
      2. I like your customer service centricity at SmugMug.
      3. I like your philosophy of how you build things and like that you didn't take venture capital, which pushes companies to focus so much on growth and being addictive.
      4. I liked your technology choices. When I worked at Rackspace we had lots of conversations about them. I was always bummed that I couldn't win you away from Amazon, but I liked that you pushed hard earlier than most on AWS and that you aggressively used new cloud-based technology and saw the promise in it.

      I will look for ways to support this community, I really like what you've built and where you are going.

    • Here's the panel you refer to. I think the panelists are having a great time and it's drawing great people who have interesting things to say, but they'd probably get trolled on other networks that don't have the panel format, no?

    • Chris, I think your enthusiasm and participation as a founder of Cake are really admirable. I remember in the early days of Flickr when Caterina used to personally welcome people and when Stewart was very active in the forums participating in the community. I think this sort of community involvement by founders sets the tone. I am glad you are committed to cake both as a business but also that you are emotionally invested in its success as well every waking hour. It is good seeing Robert here as well. I think he was a big part of the early success of a lot of social networks. I know he is the one who first introduced me to Twitter and then Friendfeed. Looking forward to trying to contribute more myself as well.

    • Trying to have your cake and eat it too, eh?

      If that pun wasn't intended by the product name...I'd be surprised ;)

      Actually so far it looks clean and neat and, in a very old-school way, immersive. I remember the text-based days very well, when the only way to internet was by reading. This is a welcome throwback and the lack of noise is palpable.

      I've been known to submit long-form material to my facebook feed where it immediately drowns among kitten videos and rabid memes. Maybe I'll have better luck getting someone to read a thousand words here. I'm certainly game to find out.

      Thank you Robert for the chain of events that led me here.

    • It seems like in any successful social network (and by successful, I mean "gains any reasonable multimillion person audience"), there's an arc. I saw it on MySpace, on Reddit, on Facebook, on G+. It happens over and over again. There are great organic conversations early on. Influencers arise and begin to create organic clusters. Marketers see the traction and step in, and begin commercializing conversations. The quality of the network goes downhill, and then it becomes a place you post to if you continue to pay attention to it in spite of the network as opposed to because of it.

      See: Facebook.

      I've followed you on Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and like Guy Kawasaki, you've always walked a fine line between fostering organic conversations and presenting marketing conversations. I know, I know, "Evangelism", but let's call it what it is.

      I'm curious how Cake will solve THAT particular problem. I'm very much ready for a new network.

    • Thank you, Walt. Great to see you here. 😁

      I have written a few long-form posts and surprisingly a few like this one got picked up and went to the top of Hacker News. I wrote it in kind of episode form:

    • [Robert]

      Cake has a mechanism to do that. The others don't, and I don't believe they ever will.


      I had to stop reading right there. I'll get back to it later, I think.

      Do you realize you just said you don't think this platform will ever be successful enough to get copied?

    • Trying her out. Like the clean look, so far. One concern I have, though, is reading that Cake is designed primarily for people to follow topics, not people. That's great, in theory, but I'm not sure I understand why both models aren't supported. I read the NYTimes because I trust it - and know it. I ready your (Robert's) comments because I know you, and trust your opinion. Seems like it's asking a lot of me to read content from complete strangers without some association with trusted or known sources - be them people or entities (papers, organizations, etc.).

      So, if I like drone photography (which I do) and I start reading and following content in that area - how do I filter out the content from people that I don't like or aren't delivering what I consider to be credible content?

      People certainly complain that Facebook sort of creates a siloed content environment where one tends to follow people who have similar likes, political beliefs, etc. and see those same filters applied to news feeds - a sort of content and idea homogenization. But, that's not always a bad thing.

      So, I'll give this a ride and peek around a bit.

    • I think I showed how. Assholes won't get invited into panel discussions. :-)

      If I behave like an asshole, whether that be bringing outrage, hate, troll behaviors, or, even, simple overly commercial or annoying pushing of my agenda, er, the future, well, then I won't get invited into many panel discussions. Which means the worst I could do is shake an emoji at you. :-)

    • Yeah, I would like more of a social network here too. I think the team is still building that and thinking it through and doesn't want to immediately look like Facebook or Twitter and wants to see what kinds of things evolve here first. I get that and think they focused first efforts on where they could differentiate then will fill in other stuff as people show up.

    • I don't think that means what you think that means.

      If you, as a tech influencer, are being paid to create panels based on "influencers" in your space all provided by the marketing agency behind whatever product you're shilling, the panel concept has the opposite effect: it keeps people from calling you out for being a paid shill.

    • I may not have as loud a voice as the other people in this conversation, but I too am excited about the future of Cake. For similar reasons as @Scobleizer, Chris as long as I have known you in my partnerships with SmugMug you have been a kind and thoughtful visionary. You have always taken the time to ask the little guy for their input, and taken the time to create a meaningful experience for everyone. Not all of the great ideas you've had got the chance to be realized, but I'm fortunate enough to have seen behind the curtain a bit to know the kind of company and community you want to build.

      What brought me to the Internet at a young age were the communities. It was being able to log into a forum in CompuServe on a topic knowing that's where my people were. Every single social media platform today has forced us to engage too much in the bigger, louder world. It's insisted that every person has an equally qualified voice on every subject, and as much as it's important to give people a platform to express themselves, sometimes we need to be a bit more deliberate in how we start a conversation. Panel conversations are exactly what we need right now.

      I've been on a bit of a hiatus from things for a while, but I am excited to be back and am ready to invest my time in Cake and see it grow and thrive. I know it will.

    • Thank you for a great insight about following topics and people, David!

      Fundamentally we built Cake to be all about following topics, but as the platform grows there'll be many people talking about the same topic at various levels of credibility. This will create a lot of noise. There are a few ways to solve this problem:

      1. Prioritize showing content from people you care about in a specific topic. This solves the problem of following people and seeing everything from them, rather than what you both share interest in.

      2. Panel conversations is another solution. These are public conversations that can be read and reacted to by any one, but only panelists can post. This cuts down the noise, prevents trolls and creates a safe space for the panelists to talk.

      Here is an example of a recent Panel:

      Hope to see more insights from you here on Cake.