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Doing it all

A family's hands

I’ve been struggling a little bit to re-find my creative rhythm and balance it with the needs of having and supporting a family.

My day — every day — looks like this:

  • Woken up by baby
  • Get baby ready for daycare (breakfast, clothes, etc)
  • Walk to daycare and back
  • Eat breakfast
  • Work
  • Walk back to daycare and back to retrieve baby
  • Play with baby
  • Make and have dinner
  • Put baby to bed
  • Post-baby exhaustion time / other household work

That last bullet point in my day is where I could be doing more to work on creative projects. By that time, though, I’m usually wiped out by the day: I’m not going to produce anything close to good work. It’s a great time to read and reflect, but less so to produce anything new, because by that time I’ve spent my entire day producing.

This is in contrast to my twenties, when I’d return from work and be able to spend at least a few hours working on creative projects. That’s how my startups were initially built, and really how I learned to do anything of value.

Now, obviously, my baby is incredibly important. Spending time with him is non-negotiable: anything that reduces that contact time is something I’ll regret later in life. Raising our child takes priority, by some distance, over any other work I’ll ever do.

But I’m also pretty sure other people have figured this out.

There are novelists, artists, creative coders, and startup entrepreneurs who have all found time for their other pursuits in the midst of having a family and doing it well. I feel, though, that I haven’t yet cracked the code.

It’s also occurred to me that if I was simply less exhausted, I’d be able to do more. That likely comes down to some combination of mental and physical fitness. The latter is easy to pinpoint: if I do more exercise, I’ll likely feel better and more energetic. (Baby’s first year of daycare has also meant that everybody gets sick every two weeks, which has not been helpful.) The former has been harder to come by; life has been a lot for the last few years at least, partially because of external factors, and partially because of bad decisions of my own making.

I’m hardly alone. One of the hidden aspects of privilege is access to time. Consider the act of taking him to daycare: we pay a little over $1,800 a month for our fifteen month old to be cared for as part of a small class during the day. In turn, that allows us to work during the day and make money. But imagine if we couldn’t afford an extra $1,800 a month to begin with. (Most people can’t.) Some extended families are able to provide care — the old “it takes a village” maxim — but that care has traditionally created a disproportionate burden for women, and it is more likely to be undertaken in lower income families.

The average age of a successful startup founder is older than you might think: 45 years old. But a lot of founders are younger, in part because they have more time and fewer commitments. When older founders do have time, it’s either because they’re paying for childcare, or their partner is taking the brunt of the childcare work (and probably housework, and so on), or both. This feels like an inclusion problem to solve! Stronger childcare support overall — perhaps like Canada’s new $10 a day childcare system — would free up lots more diverse entrepreneurs and artists to be able to build and create.

I’m comparatively lucky, and my issues are more prosaic. I’m just tired. But for absolutely everyone, more help would probably not go amiss.

If you have a young family and you are managing to spend time on creative work, I’d love to learn from you. Leave your strategies in the comments?

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Britons support rejoining the single market, even if it means free movement

Well, of course. Brexit was a massive own goal at the hands of regressive nationalism.

As a European citizen who grew up in the UK, I took the Brexit vote very personally. Not being able to legally live in the place you used to call home is very hard (although I'm fully aware that many people around the world have experienced a much harsher version of this story). I would very strongly welcome a reversal.

Britain's current Labour Party is next to useless, unfortunately, choosing centrist politics over offering a real alternative. I don't know that they'd be bold enough to make this correction under their current leadership. But maybe?

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Why We're Dropping Basecamp

Duke University Libraries says "no" to 37 Signals based on DHH's blog posts:

"When we enter into business with a company whose boss takes delight in the mass layoffs of tech workers because it disempowers those who might speak out against their company keeping a list of non-Anglophone names that some members of the team find hilarious, we have a decent sense of who we’re dealing with."

This move away from Basecamp on ideological grounds is, I think, something to be applauded. I'd love to see more of these kinds of public statements. Because the more of them there are, the less likely a company is to embrace the kind of racist libertarianism that 37 Signals has been so proud to broadcast.

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Newsonomics: Can startup Invisibly be the new revenue stream publishers dream of?

Spoiler alert: no. This concept been tried before, more than once, and will fail again. Jim McKelvey seems to understand why advertising is broken - but not necessarily how to align users and publishers.

This quote from a publisher says it all for me: “Honestly, I’m not that invested in knowledge about what he’s doing. I’ve seen the pitch and most everyone says the same thing: ‘He’s a bit arrogant. He’s been very successful.’ It costs nothing to say ‘sure, go ahead,’ and if it works, we’ll most likely be in.'”

And this one: “To be honest, we do not know enough about the tech integration to know how it will work. At this time, we are signed up for the test and will participate.”

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Non-profits making a difference in news

A newsroom

As part of my roundup of Giving Tuesday suggestions the other day, I mentioned a few non-profit media organizations that I’ve recently donated to. Of course, as soon as I hit publish, I realized there were more that I wanted to highlight.

In particular, I think it’s worth talking about smaller ecosystem organizations rather than newsrooms. These are non-profits that help newsrooms to improve the way they work, their technology, experiment on revenue, or other activities that help make a stronger news ecosystem overall. If you’re not in the space, you probably haven’t heard of them — and they’re all doing notable work.

When I embarked upon building this list, I assumed there would be more entries. It turns out, there were: it’s just that many of them have disappeared. I’ve also chosen not to include for-profit ventures, large organizations like the Knight Foundation or the Press Forward coalition, or organizations that are initiatives of colleges and universities like the Brown Institute for Media Innovation’s Local News Lab.

Each of the following is a small US non-profit that helps makes a difference for journalism. If you think I missed an important organization, let me know and I’ll try to correct in a future post.

OpenNews creates spaces and communities for journalists who are changing the way their newsrooms operate (something that is a prerequisite for newsrooms to be successful in the internet era). Its SRCCON event is a legendary space for journalists to share more about how they work with each other. Its other programs include the DEI Coalition For Anti-Racist, Equitable, And Just Newsrooms.

News Revenue Hub helps news organizations to make their journalism freely available while raising funds through patronage. Its News Revenue Engine software simplifies revenue operations by integrating with other widely-used software, but perhaps its biggest contribution is consulting and sharing best practices for fundraising.

The Open Notebook helps science journalists improve their skills through training, mentorship, and community-building. At a time when most of our most consequential stories — the climate crisis, AI — are rooted in science and technology, conveying details accurately and accessibly is more important than ever before. The Open Notebook helps get us there.

Tiny News Collective helps underrepresented founders and journalists to build newsrooms that reflect and serve their communities. They provide resources, training, support, and technology to further that goal.

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Elon Musk tells advertisers: ‘Go fuck yourself’

If Elon Musk seems to be acting more like a politician than a businessman, then I think it has to be on purpose. This was an awkward exchange that played to an audience on X rather than the one that was in the room.

X is not a business in any real sense. He is losing revenue dollars hand over fist, seemingly in search for clout from a particular set of people.

And it goes without saying that the views he's spreading are noxious: right-wing, exclusionary, knee-jerk, and often at odds with inclusive causes. It's perfectly possible that he's just letting an unstable mental state play out in public. Or he's just become a right-wing wingnut in the Trumpian tradition. Regardless of the underlying cause, he's doing a lot of damage.

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ChatGPT Can Reveal Personal Information From Real People, Google Researchers Show

Here we go: proof that it's possible to extract real training data from LLMs. Unfortunately, some of this data includes personally identifiable information of real people (PII).

“In total, 16.9% of generations we tested contained memorized PII [Personally Identifying Information], and 85.8% of generations that contained potential PII were actual PII.”

“[...] OpenAI has said that a hundred million people use ChatGPT weekly. And so probably over a billion people-hours have interacted with the model. And, as far as we can tell, no one has ever noticed that ChatGPT emits training data with such high frequency until this paper. So it’s worrying that language models can have latent vulnerabilities like this.”

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Giving Tuesday

An arm wearing a wristband that says

It’s Giving Tuesday: a reaction to the consumer excess of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the whole winter holiday period. Here, you give to causes you believe in, and encourage others to do the same.

I’ve used Daffy to donate to non-profits for the last few years. It lets anyone create a donor-advised fund that they can then donate to. It’ll actually invest that money, so theoretically your fund size can be higher than the money you donated. But for me the killer app is that it allows me to keep track of all my non-profit donations in one place.

Here’s a partial list of non-profits I’ve given to recently. If you have the means, I’d love it if you would consider joining me, and I’d love for you to share your favorite non-profit organizations, too.

One note: because I’m based in the US, these are American organizations. If you have links to great international organizations, please share them in the comments.


UNICEF COVAX: ensuring global, equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Sandy Hook Promise: preventing gun violence across the United States.

The Brigid Alliance: a referral-based service that provides people seeking abortions with travel, food, lodging, child care and other logistical support.

The Pink House Fund: a national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting women with abortion access and abortion care.


MADRE: builds solidarity-based partnerships with grassroots movements in more than 40 countries, working side-by-side with local leaders on policy solutions, grant-making, capacity bridging, and legal advocacy to achieve a shared vision for justice.

Rainbow Railroad: a global not-for-profit organization that helps at-risk LGTBQI+ people get to safety worldwide.

Trans Lifeline: connecting trans people to the community support and resources they need to survive and thrive.

Montgomery Pride: provides a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people and advocates for their rights in the Deep South.

Equality Texas: works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Texans through political action, education, community organizing, and collaboration.


The 19th: a women-led newsroom reporting on gender, politics, and policy.

ProPublica: Pulitzer-prize winning investigative journalism that is having a profound impact on national politics.

KALW: local public media in the San Francisco area.

First Look Institute: publisher of The Intercept, among others. Vital investigative journalism.


Fight for the Future: a group of artists, engineers, activists, and technologists who have been behind the largest online protests in human history, for free expression, net neutrality, and other goods.

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FCC Moves Slowly To Update Definition Of Broadband To Something Still Pathetic

Upgrading the broadband standard is good, although I agree that the new, improved speed benchmarks are still really substandard.

Almost all US households have broadband, although in reality, for many of them the internet is very slow. I wonder if this is one of the reasons that most internet traffic takes place over a phone, beyond the convenience of that form factor: a 4G connection, for many people, is faster than their home internet.

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‘Doctor Who’ Writer Residuals Shaken Up After Disney+ Boards BBC Show

The most frustrating thing about this is that it's some of the exact same stuff that writers were striking for in the US. While that industrial action seems to have come to a satisfactory conclusion, it looks like American companies are creating similarly exploitative arrangements in areas not covered by WGA agreements.

We live in a global world, connected to a global internet, and agreements need to cross borders and jurisdictions. Perhaps we need a Creative Commons style organization for streaming writers agreements?

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The legal framework for AI is being built in real time, and a ruling in the Sarah Silverman case should give publishers pause

"Silverman et al. have two weeks to attempt to refile most of the dismissed claims with any explicit evidence they have of LLM outputs “substantially similar” to The Bedwetter. But that’s a much higher bar than simply noting its inclusion in Books3."

This case looks like it's on shaky ground: it may not be enough to prove that AI models were trained on pirated material (the aforementioned Books3 collection of pirated titles). Plaintiffs will need to show that the models produce output that infringes those copyrights.

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How independent media outlets are covering the shootings in Vermont

An instructive look at what independent local news outlets are doing in the face of a tragedy that is part of a rapidly-rising trend. Upshot: their journalism is far more accessible than the local "big" paper.

Independent local news is undergoing a renaissance, but to do it well requires a thorough rethinking of what local news even is. First-class internet products are very different to old-school papers, and the former is what is generally needed to succeed. The prerequisites are a deep understanding of your community's needs, a product mindset, and truly great journalism.

The story itself is awful, of course. A disturbing part of the rising hate we're seeing everywhere. Real, in-depth coverage that isn't just there to feed advertising pageviews helps us to understand it - as well as how we might stand up to it.

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I made myself a home office when all I really needed was a cup of tea

I’ve been trying to create a productive home office that fulfills the following criteria:

  • I can concentrate and do great heads-down work
  • I can take video calls with impunity
  • It’s a relaxing space for me
  • The background when I take calls conveys some sense of professionalism

After some experimentation, I’ve gone back to using a desktop computer — actually a Mac Mini plugged into a single 33” gaming monitor — with a wireless keyboard and trackpad. It works perfectly fine for my purposes (although I wish I could split my big monitor screen into multiple virtual monitors).

But the computer isn’t the main thing. I’ve got plenty of desk space, which is great, and an Uplift standing desk that lets me get up and move around a little bit while I’m working. (I don’t use the balance board that came with it, which looks a bit like a wooden boogie board, but maybe I should?)

The biggest innovations have been three small things:

  • I’ve got three lights: two from Uplift and a third Elgato Key Light Air that hangs over my monitor and prevents me from looking like I’m in witness protection on video calls.
  • A decent speaker setup that supports Airplay so I can play music to help me concentrate.
  • A teapot, which I constantly refill through the day, and sencha tea.

The tea is probably the most important.

Everything else aside, I’ve learned that coffee doesn’t help me concentrate in the way I need to in order to do my work. I do still enjoy my first cup of the day, but then I move to something that doesn’t ramp me up on caffeine (it’s still caffeinated, but not to the same level) and doesn’t spike my already inflated cortisol. A cup of tea is where it’s at.

Maybe I could have dispensed with everything else I did to my office in order to figure it out. But, hey, I easily spend eight hours of my day in here. It’s nice to have an environment that I can truly call my own.

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Secretive White House Surveillance Program Gives Cops Access to Trillions of US Phone Records

"A surveillance program now known as Data Analytical Services (DAS) has for more than a decade allowed federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to mine the details of Americans’ calls, analyzing the phone records of countless people who are not suspected of any crime, including victims."

No surprise that this is run in conjunction with AT&T, which previously was found to have built onramps to the NSA.

Obama halted funding; Trump reinstated it; Biden removed it again. But it didn't matter: it could operate privately because individual law enforcement agencies could contract directly with AT&T.

Ban it all.

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"We pulled off an SEO heist that stole 3.6M total traffic from a competitor."

"We pulled off an SEO heist that stole 3.6M total traffic from a competitor. Here's how we did it."

What this single spammer pulled off - 1800 articles written by technology in order to scrape traffic from a competitor's legitimate site - is what AI will do to the web at scale.

Yes, it's immoral. Yes, it's creepy. But there are also hundreds if not thousands of marketers looking at this thread and thinking, "ooh, we could do that too".

The question then becomes: how can we, as readers, avoid this automated nonsense? And how can search engines systemically discourage (or punish) it?

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Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World, by Naomi Klein

A riveting analysis of our moment in history, using the parallel paths of Naomis Klein and Wolf as a device to examine the multiple realities we've constructed for ourselves. Incisive and pointed, I particularly agree with a conclusion that pulls no punches about how to correct our paths and potentially save ourselves. I couldn't recommend it more highly.

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Effective obfuscation

Molly White explores why effective altruism and effective accelerationism are such dangerous ideologies - selfishness disguised as higher-minded philosophies.

"Both ideologies embrace as a given the idea of a super-powerful artificial general intelligence being just around the corner, an assumption that leaves little room for discussion of the many ways that AI is harming real people today. This is no coincidence: when you can convince everyone that AI might turn everyone into paperclips tomorrow, or on the flip side might cure every disease on earth, it’s easy to distract people from today’s issues of ghost labor, algorithmic bias, and erosion of the rights of artists and others."

I strongly agree with the conclusion: let's dispense with these regressive ideologies, and the (wealthy, privileged) people who lead them, and put our weight behind the people who are doing good work actually helping people with real human problems today.

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Support Indigenous People This Weekend

"Every year I invite people who are celebrating the colonial holiday to do something in support of Native people. Amid an overdose crisis and high rates of poverty, illness, and unemployment, Indigenous organizers are doing incredible work to reduce harm and help our peoples thrive. Through mutual aid, cultural work, protest, advocacy, and the sharing of Indigenous lifeways, these organizers are making a profound difference in the lives of Indigenous people in the U.S. If you can and would like to, please join me in supporting one of the following organizations this weekend."

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Nations must go further than current Paris pledges or face global warming of 2.5-2.9°C

"“We know it is still possible to make the 1.5 degree limit a reality. It requires tearing out the poisoned root of the climate crisis: fossil fuels. And it demands a just, equitable renewables transition,” said Antònio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations."

How realistic is that in a world where fossil fuels are so deeply baked into our economies and business models? I'm not saying this in a defensive way: it's hard to not believe we're completely hosed.

It would be one thing if we were all aligned as people, but there are enough powerful interests out there who want to stop what needs to be done in its tracks. Is there any reason to even hold out a glimmer of hope?

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There's no money in free software

An abstract image that's meant to represent open source somehow

Thomas Stringer on compensation in open source:

And then finally, there’s my uninteresting (to me) OSS project. What once resembled passion project is now unrecognizable from a motivation perspective. But the demand is high. There are lots of users, many in a corporate sense using my software to further progress their organization. And the bad news is, I get no money at all from it. So motivation is essentially nonexistent at this point. Where passion is falling short, money could motivate me to routinely work on this product.

I’ve spent over a decade of my life working on open source software as a full-time profession. Like a lot of people who get into open source, it was originally an ideological decision: I wanted the work I was doing to be available to the widest number of people.

(An aside: I use the terms interchangeably, but open source and free software are not the same thing. Open source software is made available in such a way that anyone can use, which often includes as part of a commercial application. Free or libre software is explicitly licensed in such a way to promote software freedom, which is more of an ideological stance that centers on the freedom to use, modify, and re-distribute software while resisting licensing terms that might lock users in to a particular vendor. The open source term was originally coined because some folks thought the free software movement was a little too socialist for their tastes. I have no such qualms, but open source has become the more widely-understood term, so that’s what I use.)

Elgg, my first open source product, was founded for entirely ideological reasons. I’d found myself working in a learning technology department, shoehorned into a converted broom closet with a window that didn’t shut properly in the Edinburgh winter, with an angry PhD candidate who was upset he now had to share the space. I’d been blogging for years at that point, and he was working on learning technology.

What I learned about the learning technology ecosystem shocked me. Predatory companies like Blackboard were charging institutions six or seven-figure sums to run learning management software that everybody hated, from the administrators and educators down to the learners. Lock-in was rife: once an institution had been sold on a product, there was almost no momentum to move. There were open source equivalents for learning management — in particular, something called Moodle — but while they solved the financial problem, they didn’t solve the core usability issues with learning management systems.

And at the same time, people were connecting and learning from each other freely on the web. Inevitably, that angry PhD candidate and I started talking as we did our respective work, and I showed him how powerful blogging could be (at the time, there were no really powerful social networks; blogging wassocial media). We both built prototypes, but mine was the one we decided to go with; more of a social networking stack than a learning management system. I stuck it on a spare domain I didn’t have a website provisioned for (part of my family comes from Elgg, a town in Switzerland outside of Zurich), and we decided to build it out.

We could have run it as a fully software-as-a-service business, and I sometimes still wonder if we should have. Instead, after a year of development, we released it under the GNU Public License v3. We were incensed that taxpayer money was being spent in vast numbers for learning software that didn’t even help people learn. Anyone would be able to pick Elgg up to build a learning network with — we called it a learning landscape, which in retrospect was an ambiguous, near-meaningless term — and they would only have to pay if they wanted us to help them do it.

And it took off. Elgg changed some minds about how software should work in higher education, although it didn’t exactly dent Blackboard’s business. It was translated into a few languages, starting with the Northern European ones. But because it was open source, other organizations began to pick it up. Non-profits in South America started to use it to share resources internally; then global non-profits like Oxfam started using it to train their aid workers. People used it to build social networks for their businesses, their hobbies, their communities. And it continued to take off in education, too.

But it didn’t make us any money. I ended up taking a job as the web administrator at the Saïd Business School in Oxford to keep a roof over my head. I’d walk home from work, make dinner, and then sometimes work on Elgg until 1am. There were people here, and they were doing good work, so it felt like something to keep going with.

Of course, if it had been a SaaS platform, I would have been able to dedicate my full-time self to it far earlier. Thousands of miles away, in Palo Alto, Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini founded Ning — another social network builder — with millions of dollars in their war chest. In those early days, far more networks were built with Elgg than Ning: they had Silicon Valley money, while we had two developer-founders and a packet of crisps, but we were “winning”.

We weren’t winning. While we’d built an open source community, the continued development of the platform depended on our time and effort — and there was no way to be paid for our work. We did it for the love of it, and traded in huge chunks of our free time to do that. If we’d had children, or less tolerant partners, it wouldn’t have been possible.

A K-12 school district in upstate New York and MIT called us in the same month about helping them with their various projects, which was when I felt able to quit my job and get to work. We consulted with the school district and helped MIT to develop the platform behind OpenCourseWare, although we parted ways with the latter before launch because the work would have radically changed our platform in ways we weren’t comfortable with. The University of Brighton got in touch wanting to build the world’s first social network to roll out at a university campus, and we got to work with them. We were bankrolled.

But we were also working contract to contract and were often weeks or days away from being broke. The open source software had been picked up and used by huge names — Fortune 500 companies, Ivy League universities, global NGOs, even national governments, years later Jimmy Wales told me he’d picked it up and used it — but because it was open source, its own existence was under threat. We communicated as openly as we could in order to spread our message, through blogging, videos, podcasts; whatever we could. But it didn’t always work.

Around this time, Matt Mullenweg was having similar trouble with WordPress. For a while he even sold embedded links — essentially SEO spam — on his website in order to support his work. He was called out for it and the practice stopped. He went back to the drawing board.

One Friday afternoon we were fed up, felt stuck, and didn’t know where to go. There weren’t any contracts coming in. So we decided to go to the gym, run it out, and work on something else for the rest of the day. I had a weird idea that I wanted to play with: a social network where a profile could be anywebsite. (We’d implemented OpenID and FOAF and all of these up-and-coming decentralized social networking protocols, but none were enough to make this a reality.) Because the Elgg framework was flexible and designed for all kinds of social networks, I spent about two hours turning its components into JavaScript widgets you could post anywhere. I drew a stupid logo in MS Paint and called it Explode. A genuinely centralized, non-open-source social network, rough as hell, but in a form factor that nobody hadn’t really seen at that point.

It was on TechCrunch by the following Tuesday.

There had been an article or two in the Guardian, but by and large, nobody really cared about the open source social networking platform being used by organizations around the world. They did care about the centralized network. We were approached by investors very quickly, and ultimately took around half a million dollars from Thematic Capital, run by a pair of ex-HSBC executives in London.

They were well-connected, and found us consulting gigs with surprising people. We built a rugby social network with Will Carling (who got us all into carrot juice); I found myself explaining APIs to the English rock star Mike Rutherford from Genesis and Mike and the Mechanics.

The trick was this: while we’d founded the platform using open source as an ideology for good reasons (no lock-in, no abusive pricing), those same things affected our ability to build value into the company. We’d given away the thing that held our core value for free, and were trying to make money on tertiary services that didn’t scale. Every consulting gig involved writing new work-for-hire code — which we were usually then allowed to open source, meaning there were fewer opportunities to make money over time as the open source codebase grew. The more human value the open source codebase had, the lower its financial value was. While most companies become more valuable as more people use their product — as it should be — our company did the opposite. Ultimately, the product wildly succeeded (the platform continues to exist today), but the company behind it did not. We would have made a lot more money if we’d doubled down on Explode instead of continuing to build the open source product.

Make no mistake: there are ways to make open source development pay. Joseph Jacks’ OSS Capital invests in “open core” startups: ones that make their engines open source but then sell the features and services that make these technologies particularly useful to businesses. This usually but not always means developer-centric components that can be used as part of the software development process for other, commercial products. Open Core Ventures is a startup studio for the same idea: whereas OSS Capital funds existing startups, Open Core Ventures finds promising open source projects and founds companies around them.

Matt Mullenweg bounced back from his link ad days by creating a centralized service around catching spammy comments on blogs. Akismet was the first commercial service from his company Automattic, which is now worth billions of dollars. The client library is open source but the engine that makes it work is proprietary; for anything more than personal use, you have to pay.

The idea that people will pay to support a free product is very nice, but largely unrealistic. Most simply won’t. Even if someone in a company is like, “we’re relying on this and if someone doesn’t pay for them to do it, it might go away”, they’re one bloody-minded financial audit away from having to shut it down. There needs to be a defined return on investment that you can only get for paying the money: hosting, extra resources, or more capabilities that the company would otherwise have to spend more money to build themselves. Technical support is frequently cited but also unrealistic: it’s a nice-to-have service, not a painkiller. Even creating new software licenses that are free for personal use but paid for corporations is dicey: who does the enforcement for that licensing?

Not everything has to be a business. It’s obviously totally fine for anyone to create something as a hobby project and give it away. The disconnect comes from wanting to be paid for something you’re giving away without tying in any inherent commercial value.

These days, another open source social networking platform has captured much of the internet’s imagination. Mastodon is deployed across many thousands of communities and has formed the basis of a formidable social media network. It has a very small team that makes its money through crowdfunding: some users choose to support the project for a monthly fee, while other businesses pay to place their logos on its front page like a NASCAR car. It also sells mugs and T-shirts. This allows them to book mostly-recurring revenue, but at rates that are far lower than you’d expect from software with its prominence. It’s a non-profit based in Germany, with a much lower cost of living than Silicon Valley, so hopefully these economics work out. In the US, organizations that build software are often refused non-profit status, so it’s not clear that this would even be possible here anymore. (The Mozilla Foundation pre-dates this rule.) Regardless of non-profit status, crowdfunding enough money to pay for the time taken to build a software library would require it to be wildly popular.

My take is this: if you want to make money building something, sell it. If you want to release your software as open source, release the bit (or a bit) that doesn’t have intrinsic business value. Use that value to pay for the rest. If you need money to eat and put a roof over your head, do what you need to get money. And then if you want to be altruistic, be altruistic with what you can afford to distribute.

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Paternity leave alters the brain — suggesting daddies are made, not born

"The more access dads have to paternity leave, [...] the better able they are to adjust to parenthood, helping also make them more effective co-parents as their children get older."

All the more reason to ensure that everywhere has fantastic parental leave for all parents. The US is one of only seven nations to not have a national paid parental leave policy - something we should all be ashamed of.

I feel privileged and happy that I got to take time off when my little one was younger, and that I get to spend the walk to and from daycare with him almost every day. It's a pleasure and I'm certain it's helped create a stronger bond between us. Why would I want to forgo it?

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Give OpenAI's Board Some Time. The Future of AI Could Hinge on It

Written before the news broke about Sam Altman moving to Microsoft, this remains a nuanced, intelligent take.

"My understanding is that some members of the board genuinely felt Altman was dishonest and unreliable in his communications with them, sources tell me. Some members of the board believe that they couldn’t oversee the company because they couldn’t believe what Altman was saying."

I think a lot of people have been quick to judge the board's actions as stupid this weekend, but we still don't know what the driving factors were. There's no doubt that their PR was bad and the way they carried out their actions were unstrategic. But there was something more at play.

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I love the movies, but I think I'm done with blockbusters

We saw the latest Mission Impossible last night - one of the most expensive movies ever made, with a leading man who famously still does at least most of his own stunts, which promised amazing set piece after set piece after set piece.

Halfway through, I realized I was really bored. It's not that the visuals weren't amazing - they were immaculate - but there was nothing else to it. An empty shell of a movie that barely had a coherent plot and couldn't bring itself to make me feel much of anything at all. I'm really glad I didn't brave the theater for it, even though it was clearly designed to be watched on a big screen.

On the other hand, a few weeks ago we saw Talk to Me, the low-budget horror. It was superb: well-acted and tightly-written, with similarly immaculate visuals but produced for orders of magnitude less money. The cast and crew were relative unknowns, but it was perfect. No need to brave a theater to watch; it was just as good (maybe better) at home.

The former was considered a box office disappointment; the latter was considered to be a big success. I hope we get to see more well-crafted films by emerging filmmakers that don't ask us to risk getting coronavirus in some sticky-floored, overpriced box. Movies are amazing, but the way we watch them has lots of room to evolve, and with it, the economics of which films get made.

Franchises, retreads, and soulless popcorn fests are exhausting. Give me something new, in a place where I feel comfortable.

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Is My Toddler a Stochastic Parrot?

A beautifully written and executed visual essay about AI, parenting, what it means to be intelligent, and the fundamental essence of being human.

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The average AI criticism has gotten lazy, and that's dangerous

This is a good critique of some of the less analytical AI criticism, some of which I've undoubtedly been guilty of myself.

"The fork in the road is this: we can dismiss “AI.” We can call it useless, we can dismiss its output as nonsense, we can continue murmuring all the catechisms of the least informed critique of the technology. While we do that, we risk allowing OpenAI to make Microsoft, AT&T and Standard Oil look like lemonade stands."

The point is not that AI as a technology is a genie that needs to be put back into the bottle. It can't be. The point is that it can be made more ethically, equity can be more distributed, and we can mitigate the societal harms that will absolutely be committed at the hands of people using existing models.

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