Posts from Weblogs

Hyphenation

I have been hearing complaints/suggestions that I turn off hyphenation on AVC.

This twitter conversation is an example:

I am curious to hear more from readers on this topic.

  1. do you notice the hyphenation?
  2. do you think it is off putting?
  3. would you encourage me to remove it?

To be honest, I can’t figure out how to find the CSS code in my WordPress setup to do this, but if I get a resounding “please turn it off” I will do the work to find the code and remove it.

Toxic Comments

We are fortunate here at AVC. We have mostly civil and respectful conversations. People behave themselves here. That is sadly not the case everywhere.

I don’t know what the people who post comments like this are feeling and thinking. It is horrible. Awful. Hateful. Hurtful. Painful. Disgusting. Disturbing. And a lot more.

If you operate a large social media service like Twitter, Facebook, or Disqus, you get to see stuff like this every day, hundreds of times a day. It is a view of humanity that is deeply upsetting.

Disqus, which is a USV portfolio company, where I serve on the Board, and which operates the comment service here at AVC and at millions of other websites around the globe, has been working on scaleable solutions to this problem.

They posted an update yesterday on what they are doing to combat this problem.

Here are some excerpts from that post:

The Disqus Platform supports a diversity of websites and discussions; with such a large network of publishers and commenters, having a policy against hateful, toxic content is critical. While we do periodically remove toxic communities that consistently violate our Terms and Policies, we know that this alone is not a solution to toxicity. Oftentimes these communities simply shift to another platform. Ultimately, this does not result in higher quality discussions, and it does not stop the hate. In order to have a real, lasting impact, we need to make improvements to our product. Which is why, if at all possible, we work with publishers to encourage discourse (even unpopular or controversial discourse!) while helping to eliminate toxic language, harassment, and hate.

Over the past several months, many passionate folks have reached out to us about severe violations of our Terms of Service. With the help of our community, we’ve been able to review and enforce our policy on dozens of sites.

We appreciate all of the help and feedback we’ve received and we are excited to continue to partner productively with users and organizations that are passionate about fighting toxic content and hate speech. To improve our efforts, we’ve built a Terms of Service Violations Submissions form. This form is a way for users to explicitly share with us when they’ve found a community to be in violation of our terms. In addition to reporting individual users (which helps moderators know who in their community is perhaps exhibiting toxic behavior), you can now report directly to us when you think there’s a publisher/site we should take a look at. When we are made aware of potential violations, we review them internally and make a decision about whether or not to allow the site to remain on our platform.

This isn’t a small scale matter; we know that to have a meaningful impact across our network, we need to build solutions into the product. With that in mind, we’re committed to building tools to make the moderation experience easier and better for publishers (and commenters, too).

Here are some things that we’re working on:

  • More powerful moderation features. We’re working on two features right now, Shadow banning and Timeouts, that will give publishers more options for managing their communities. Shadow banning lets moderators ban users discreetly by making a troublesome user’s comments only visible to that user. Timeouts give moderators the ability to warn and temporarily ban a user who is exhibiting toxic behavior.

  • Toxic content detection through machine learning. We are working on a feature to help publishers identify hate speech and other toxic content and then handle this more effectively.

  • Commenting policy recommendations. While we already provide suggestions for how to create community guidelines, we’ve realized that we can be more proactive and more assistive to our publishers. We’re working on helping our publishers expose their custom commenting and community guidelines by making them more visible to their readers and commenters.

  • Advertiser tools: Just like publishers do not want toxic content on their sites, we know that advertisers do not want their content to display next to toxic comments. Leveraging our moderation technology, we will provide more protection for advertisers, giving them more control over where they display their content.

If you think this is a simple problem to solve, you are sadly wrong. And if you think that Disqus and USV and I don’t care about solving this problem, you are wrong about that too.

Fun Friday: The Story Of My Avatar

I got this tweet today:

The answer is yes I have but it was eight years ago. I thought it would be fun to re-run that post.

Here is is:


 I saw this tweet when I got up this morning:

hey @fredwilson – whats the story behind ur avatar?

While longtime readers know it, I figure many of you don’t. So here it goes.

Starting about four years ago, Howard Lindzon started commenting actively on this blog. He was funny, he was smart, and I enjoyed our banter in the comments.

One march vacation, our family made a short stop in Phoenix, where Howard used to live. He emailed me and offered my son and me two tickets to the Suns game. We took him up on that and that’s how we met for the first time.

It turned out Howard was hatching an idea for a web show for investors. Think Rocketboom meets Jim Cramer. I told him it was a good idea and encouraged him to do it. Howard would fire ideas at me and I would give him feedback on them.

Out of that came Wallstrip. Here’s a post I wrote a little over three years ago announcing the launch of Wallstrip.

One of the original ideas for the show that never really worked out was that there would be a dozen well known bloggers who would write short posts about each daily show. Howard asked me to do that and I agree to do it at least once a week.

So that’s how the avatar came to be. Howard asked his friend Jenny Ignaszewski to draw up avatars for all dozen of the stock bloggers using photos of them that were available on the web. The first time I saw my avatar was when Wallstrip launched and there it was along with Howard’s and a bunch of others.

Fredwilson

From the minute I saw it, I liked it. It uses my favorite color (green) as the backdrop and the eye color (my eyes are sometimes blue and sometimes green and sometimes something else). It looks like me, but not too much.

So I began to use it a bit here and there around the web as I set up new profiles. But by no means was it the only profile picture I used. For corporate oriented services like LinkedIn, I’d use my Union Square Ventures headshot. For social nets like Facebook, I’d use a regular headshot. I used a photo of me taking a photo on Flickr for a long time.

But then I started to realize that the Wallstrip avatar was becoming my online identity. People would comment about it all the time. Around the time we sold Wallstrip, Howard asked Jenny to do a real painting of it which I now have in my office at Union Square Ventures. It’s a real conversation starter.

Sometime in early 2008, I just decided to go with it everywhere. It’s at the top of this blog and everywhere else I have an online identity. It’s my online brand now.

Like this blog, this was not planned. It just happened. That’s the way most of the important things in my life have come to be.

Grammarly

I have never had anyone edit my blog posts here at AVC. I write the posts, hit publish, and go off on my day and let the conversation follow. Often readers will send to me copy edits; typos, misspellings, grammar errors, etc. I am always very thankful for these reader-generated edits and almost always go make the changes and fix the post. This is how AVC gets copy edited. It works but there are issues. The emails that go out are based on the initial post and so they often have the errors in them.

Yesterday, I took a step in the direction of better-written posts by adding the Grammarly chrome extension to my browser. Grammarly works just like a spell checker but it is focused on making me (and all of their users) a better writer.

Grammarly works in any writing application that runs in my browser, so I benefit from it in WordPress, Gmail, Google Docs, Twitter, and anywhere else I write on the web.

So far, I like it quite a bit. I plan to keep using it. And I hope that you will all see the improvement in my writing as a result.

Online Publishing Should Look At Steem, Not Spotify, For Inspiration

Yesterday Medium announced that they are moving away from ads and thinking about a different kind of business model for their online publishing network.

I saw this tweet suggesting they are looking at Spotify for inspiration:

I don’t have any inside information here. USV is not an investor in Medium and I am not privy to any of the strategic thinking at Medium. So they may not be looking at Spotify for inspiration. But they are certainly looking around to figure out where to go from here.

I don’t think Spotify (music), or Netflix (video), or Amazon (books), should be the inspiration for online publishers in search of a new business model. The sad truth is most people are not going to pay a monthly subscription for online publishing content. Certainly not for blog posts by people they have never heard of.

The new online publications that have a paywall have built nice small businesses that pay the bills and maybe make some money for the founders. That’s a great way to go if you want to be small. But if you want to be a large network with millions of readers and publishers, as Medium already is (2 billion words written on Medium in the last year. 7.5 million posts during that time. 60 million monthly readers), a paywall is not going to work.

I think the blockchain based social network Steem would be a more interesting place for the Medium team to poke around at. Here’s the Steem white paper. That’s a good place to start.

To be clear, I don’t think Steem has this all figured out. I don’t own any Steem (or at least I don’t think I do). And I think they have made things a bit too complicated with their tokens and incentives. To their credit, they have taken steps to simplify things and they are headed in the right direction.

The thing about token based business models is that the token captures the value of the network as it grows and it is the only business model that exists for the network. You can buy tokens if you want to speculate on the value of the network (or invest in the online publication business, as it were). You can earn tokens by participating in the network (or by publishing content on the online publishing network, as it were). You can spend tokens to participate in the network (or by engaging in or curating the online publishing network, as it were).

Twitter could also go this route but clearly it would be harder for them to move away from an ad-based business model than it was for Medium. And believe me, it was not easy for Medium to do this.

The most likely companies that are going to figure out this token based business model are startups. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It would be stunning, bold, and brilliant for Medium to do this. I hope they do.

AVC Community Code Of Conduct

I received a few suggestions yesterday that I outline the “rules” for participating in the AVC Community (the comments section).

So here they are:

1) We do not tolerate racism, sexism, and hate speech of any kind

2) We seek to encourage a wide diversity of opinions

3) Debate and discussion is expected

4) We respect each other and are careful to use polite and civil language

5) We avoid aggressive “in your face” language and trolling

6) We do not ban, mute, or delete comments unless they are spam, porn, or hate speech.

I may add to this list if anyone comes up with additional good ones but this covers the basics.

I acknowledge that I have violated rule number five at times. I am not perfect but I believe the totality of my comments over the 13+ years is a pretty good record and is one of the reasons this community is a model of civility in an increasingly challenged medium.

Headlines

One of the issues in all of the concerns about “fake news” is the way headlines are used on the Internet. Newspapers and magazines certainly took the construction of headlines into account to drive readers into the stories. But on the Internet, headlines have become that and more. They are the links themselves that fly around the Internet and “convert” someone into coming to your site and reading a story. They are “clickbait.” If we want to address the veracity and authenticity of content on the Internet, we might want to start with headlines.

I’ve had my issues with headlines for years. Many years ago, I allowed a number of publications to repost content I write here at AVC on their online publications. The publication that does that most frequently with my content is Business Insider. You can see the hundreds of posts that BI has republished on my author page at Business Insider. When they started doing this maybe seven or eight years ago, I would notice that they would leave my post intact, verbatim, but rewrite the headline. It would drive me crazy because I view the headline as an integral part of my post. I think about the words I use to title my posts. So I would send them angry emails and most of the time they would change it back. But it was a lesson in the difference between a headline that I liked and a headline that would drive clicks.

I also have seen hundreds of stories written about me, USV, and our portfolio companies that have sensational and often inaccurate headlines followed by stories that are essentially correct and well reported. It drives me nuts but I don’t often do much about it.

It makes me think that someone, or some company, or some open source community ought to build software that parses headlines and the stories that follow and rate them for how well the headline represents the article. That “headline veracity ranking” could then be offered to anyone who presents headlines to readers. That would be social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. That would be email applications and browsers. That would be search engines. Etc, etc, etc.

It would be nice to see some competition in this sector so that one company doesn’t become the arbiter of what is an accurate headline and what is not. That doesn’t sound like a good outcome. But if this is done via open source, or is community powered in some way, this could be a very helpful tool in getting publishers to behave and represent their stories accurately.

And that would be a wonderful thing for the Internet.

Some Thoughts On The AVC Community

The community here at AVC is possibly it’s greatest strength. But like most things, it is also it’s greatest weakness.

Over the past five years I’ve gone from the most active community member, to a regular participant, to an observer, to an avoider.

I wrote yesterday’s post for an entrepreneur (and every entrepreneur) who wanted to know what the Trump election means for startups.

As I wrapped up the post, I thought very seriously about closing the comments because I knew what they would become. But I didn’t do it. Because that’s a slippery slope. What is the bright line test for when I should open comments and when I should close them? Frankly I’d rather just shut them down rather than turn them on and off whenever I randomly feel like I should.

But I cannot accept the behavior that goes on in the AVC community whenever politics, or gender, or race, or taxes, some other hot button issue is raised, either by me or by the community when a thread gets hijacked and goes astray.

There is a lack of respect. There is a lack of civility. It makes me crazy. So I just skip the whole damn thing.

But I am enabling this behavior because I choose to make AVC a community instead of just a blog. So it is on me that AVC turns into a cesspool some days

As you can tell I am struggling what to do. I’ve thought about banning certain long standing members of the community. But I also don’t want to censor people. They should censor themselves though.  That’s the problem. They can’t

So that’s where I am. Fed up to my eyeballs and pissed off and struggling with what to do.

If nothing else, consider this a warning. If you don’t police yourself, the community here will be history. There is a very big piece of me that wants that to happen.

AVC Down Time?

Yet another post about something I supposedly don’t actually care about 🙂

I am pursuing a theory that the cause of the AVC down time that I posted about last week has to do with a burst of traffic from social media (mostly Twitter) that happens right after I publish a post on AVC.

I almost always experience this downtime in the 5-10 minute period right after I post. That is also frankly the time when I pay most attention to AVC each day. After that I tend to move on to other things.

So I am curious. For those of you who have experienced this downtime (I realize many of you have not), do you recall when it typically happens to you?

Follow Up To Yesterday’s Post

I really had no agenda with yesterday’s post other than to let all of you know that I am well aware of the reliability issues but don’t have any plans to address them at this time.

But when I walked out of our weekly team meeting yesterday afternoon I had three unanswered phone calls to my cell phone from the same number in Utah. I returned the call and got Bluehost, the web hosting company for AVC.

I have not talked to Bluehost yet, but I will.

It seems that they are more eager to fix this issue than I am.

It would be even more awesome if they could just fix it instead of calling me. But I understand that I may need to do something on my end.

So I will talk to them and maybe these reliability issues will get fixed after all.

Stay tuned.