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I work and write at the intersection of technology, media, and society.

I've been a startup founder, mission-driven VC, engineer, and product lead. Right now I'm Chief Technology Officer at The 19th.

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benwerd

benwerd

werd.social/@ben

19thnews.org

 

Permission Slip

“It’s no secret that a huge number of companies are collecting, buying and selling data about us. Find out what information they collect, and take action to help protect yourself.” An app by Consumer Reports that checks to see which businesses hold data about you - and then helps you to remove it. Great stuff.

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What’s the last book you read and loved?

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Activity Streams graphical model

“So I did a bit of drawing just to make it clearer (for myself) what kind of data can be shipped around in the Fediverse. To be clear, this is only a small part of the overall stack, but an important one.” Useful work!

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Pain of police killings ripples outward to traumatize Black people and communities across US

“Evidence shows that many Black Americans across the U.S. experience police killings of other Black people as traumatic events, and that this trauma diminishes the ability of Black communities to thrive.” Sobering statistics.

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Tonight

I have two things on my mind tonight.

First: the brutal murder of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers, far from the first or even the fiftieth murder by police so far this year.

Second: active shooter drills in schools, which aren’t proven to save lives but do lead to anxiety and depression in children.

This country has violence burned into its bones. It’s in the air and visible in the holsters on the belts of police officers, in open carry, in the ongoing injustice of the death penalty. It’s in its stoic men, in its value of strength over intelligence and brute force over creativity, and in the militarization of everyday life. It’s in its failure to repair the gaping wounds of slavery and segregation, and in tribalism over solidarity. It’s in its failure to care for the poor, to put a roof over the head of the homeless, and to heal the sick. It’s in the value it places in wealth over kindness and fairness.

It’s reductive to suggest there’s an easy answer. The rot is ingrained; a simultaneous equation made of simultaneous equations. But I can make some observations.

A different question is this: what should we do about our son?

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Unionization increased by 200,000 in 2022: Tens of millions more wanted to join a union, but couldn’t

“One crucial way we can promote a more prosperous, equitable economy is to dismantle existing barriers to union organizing and collective bargaining. It is urgent that policymakers enact reforms at the federal and state levels to protect and support workers’ right to unionize.”

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U.S. Officials Announce Plans To Continue Pretending Brutal State-Sponsored Violence Not Supposed To Happen

““Today, as we deal with the fallout from the death of Tyre Nichols, myself and the highest officials in the American government pledge to keep acting like we don’t want our highly militarized police force to kill innocent civilians every day,” said President Joe Biden at a White House press conference, adding that he and his fellow elected officials would pretend to gasp, pray, and put on a big emotional show every time law enforcement carried out the exact murders against its own citizens they had both tacitly and publicly approved.”

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Three years of The 19th: 30 cities, 54 employees and news that represents

“In the last year alone, we’ve grown at an astronomical pace: from 32 employees to 54, from a news organization that pledged to be the most representative in the nation to one where 65 percent of our staff is non-White, 30 percent are LGBTQ+ and 19 percent are living with disabilities. We’re now on the ground in more than 30 U.S. cities.” I’m so proud to be a part of this team.

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Elon Musk’s Twitter hit with holocaust denial hate speech lawsuit in Germany

“Current studies prove that 84% of posts containing antisemitic hate speech were not reviewed by social media platforms, as shown in a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. Which means that Twitter knows Jews are being publicly attacked on the platform every day and that antisemitism is becoming a normality in our society. And that the platform’s response is by no means adequate.”

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It's only a podcast if it's open

A podcasting setup with a microphone and a laptop

Quick PSA:

A podcast is only a podcast if you can listen to it anywhere.

Just like a newsletter isn’t a newsletter if you can’t subscribe using any email address, the point of a podcast is that you can listen to it in any podcast app. It just works.

If your podcast only works in Spotify or Apple Podcasts or another proprietary app, perhaps because of an exclusivity arrangement, it’s just serial audio. The content may be wonderful, but you’re missing out on the complete set of potential listeners in order to focus on one app’s existing username.

In some ways that’s fine - after all, you can’t watch a Netflix show in any app but Netflix’s - but it’s not a podcast. It’s something else. It’s just a show on someone’s channel.

The way podcasts work is by releasing episodes as attachments on an RSS feed. You don’t need to know that this is how it happens - all you need to know is that it doesn’t matter which podcast app you prefer, just as it doesn’t matter which browser you use to access your favorite website. The point of these platforms is that you have the choice.

That’s important for listeners, but it’s also important for producers. Tech companies are notoriously fickle, and signing an exclusivity deal with one inexorably ties your future into their evolving business strategies.

It might make sense to make an exclusive deal with a streaming platform if they’re going to give you $200 million like Joe Rogan. (I tend to think this is win-win: Spotify thinks it has something unique, while the rest of us aren’t bothered with Rogan’s show.) But if you’re making a deal for a fraction of that money, know that you’re losing out on reaching out to a whole ecosystem in exchange for tying yourself to the business model of a startup that might change business model on a dime and leave your show - or even your whole production company - in the dirt.

The media industry is littered with the graves of companies that tied themselves to onerous distribution contracts. There’s no need. Podcasts are open, available everywhere, and easily monetizable once you’ve got a subscribed audience. You don’t need to prostrate yourself for a company that, ultimately, doesn’t care about your future.

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Adam Schiff to run against Porter for Feinstein’s California Senate seat

“Lee is an old-school, anti-establishment liberal with widespread name recognition in the Bay Area. Khanna has built more of a name for himself as a technocrat and wonk in the tech, antitrust, and economic realm, and co-chaired Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign. Porter comes from the Elizabeth Warren lane of the party. But Schiff’s congressional identity has been shaped by his establishment ties.”

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Election workers could see expanded protections as threats continue

“While election workers mostly powered through a smooth process in November, the threat of political violence continues, according to election officials and voting rights advocates. Ramping up protections for election workers will be critical this year for legislatures.”

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Introducing WerdStore

I wanted to understand what’s involved in setting up an online store, so I’ve created an Etsy store to accompany my website. Everything is made and fulfilled by Printful, which seems to work pretty well.

Anyway, this is my favorite item in the store right now:

Holmes & Musk & Neumann & Bankman-Fried T-shirt

I’ll add new stuff from time to time. This is mostly for fun, but also, like I said, a bit for my own education.

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Americans are increasingly disgruntled at work

“Of note: Workers who were in jobs that could be done remotely, but were forced to work on-site saw an increase of 7 points in active disengagement.”

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Finding that the cognitive load of plugging into Mastodon is approaching the cognitive load of being plugged into Twitter. It's not the content of the conversations; it's the river of content itself. I'm going to give myself a break today and see how it feels.

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Layoff Brain

“Layoffs are the worst for the people who lose their job, but there’s a ripple effect on those who keep them — particularly if they keep them over the course of multiple layoffs. It’s a curious mix of guilt, relief, trepidation, and anger. Are you supposed to be grateful to the company whose primary leadership strategy seems to be keeping its workers trapped in fear? How do you trust your manager’s assurances of security further than the end of the next pay period?”

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Macroeconomic Changes Have Made It Impossible for Me to Want to Pay You

“There’s no easy way to say this: I have made the difficult decision to lay off over six thousand of you. In the past two years, we have achieved huge wins together. But unfortunately, the macroeconomic environment has shifted in ways none of us could have foreseen, from an economy in which I did feel like paying you, to one in which I’d rather not.”

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Why Elon Musk and the billionaire space bros want to put people in space cages forever

“That said, I disagree with Mr. Wanjek: it requires much more than libertarian naiveté to colonize space. Parking humans in containment shelters, on Mars or elsewhere, so as to breed them and select them like cattle — that requires malice.”

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U.S. sues Google for allegedly breaking antitrust laws with its ad business

“"For 15 years, Google has pursued a course of anticompetitive conduct that has allowed it to halt the rise of rival technologies, manipulate auction mechanics, to insulate itself from competition, and force advertisers and publishers to use its tools," said Attorney General Merrick Garland at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.”

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I think it's a fair question to ask why the Washington Post is laying off journalists right now. Other orgs have activist investors or fragile bottom lines; it has Jeff Bezos. Given that layoffs don't really work, what's the point beyond optics?

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Organizing my blog

I’ve been wondering about adding more organization to my site. As of right now, the homepage is a mix of long-form posts, short thoughts, and links I consider interesting, presented as a stream. It’s a genuine representation of what I’m reading and thinking about, and each post’s permalink page looks fine to me, but it doesn’t quite hold together as a whole. If you look at my homepage with fresh eyes, my stream is a hodgepodge. There’s no through line.

One way to get around this might be to split my homepage into columns: one big column for latest long-form pieces, and a smaller column for links. Andy Baio’s site does this pretty well, for example.

On the other hand, sites like The Verge present notes, links, and articles in one stream. I find it a little confusing to read, but there’s at least precedent for my approach. Of course, my site is more or less monochrome, while they clearly have a visual design team on-staff. One thing I really like is that (as befits a tech publication rather than a single-author blog) they don’t just display the latest long-form post on the homepage; you’ve got to click through. This is similar to the WordPress setup we use at my day job at The 19th.

I think I’m just sick of my design and need to try something else out. What do you think? Drop me a line if there’s a blog design you particularly like, or if you’d like to see me organize my stuff in a particular way.

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Warning: Do not “other” me because of my age

“But I hate this new attention lavished on aging. Why? Because it “others” me. It puts me in a separate category from the rest of the world, and that is not how I think, feel, act, or want to be seen. All of a sudden I am not smart, pretty, successful, talented, or part of the family. I am “old.” I am somebody’s responsibility. I have to be told when to stop driving, and my checkbook can be taken away. I am a candidate for Senior Living (banishment to a place full of other old people).”

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2023 'Doomsday Clock' moved 10 seconds closer to catastrophe

“Scientists revealed on Tuesday that the "Doomsday Clock" has been moved up to 90 seconds before midnight -- the closest humanity has ever been to armageddon.” But everything else is going so well.

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SEO Spammers Are Absolutely Thrilled Google Isn't Cracking Down on CNET's AI-Generated Articles

“The implication was clear: that tools like ChatGPT will now allow scofflaws to pollute the internet with near-infinite quantities of bot-generated garbage, and that CNET have now paved the way. In a way, it served as a perfect illustration of a recent warning by Stanford and Georgetown academics that AI tech could rapidly start to fill the internet with endless quantities of misinformation and profiteering.”

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