Posts from Weblogs

The Fifth Estate

Mark Zuckerberg, in his speech last week at Georgetown University, called social media “the Fifth Estate.”

The first three “estates” of society, classically, are the clergy, the nobility, and everyone else.

When the printing press arrived during the Renaissance/Enlightenment period and a mainstream press emerged, a fourth voice, The Fourth Estate, arrived on the scene and the mainstream press has had a long, strong, and lasting effect on society.

As far back as the counterculture years of the 60s, the term Fifth Estate emerged to describe underground newspapers. But it was the web, first with online communities, then blogging, and finally social media, that gave a voice to everyone.

And that is why Zuckerberg called social media “the Fifth Estate.”

As someone who has been blogging for most of the last two decades and who has enjoyed a voice that has been amplified by technology, I very much believe in the power of this Fifth Estate. I think it will have as strong and lasting effect on society as the Fourth Estate has had and will continue to have.

I also understand that the platforms that currently host the Fifth Estate have a tremendous amount of power to shape it, regulate it, and constrain it.

The reason this blog runs on open source software (WordPress) and is hosted on a server that I control is that I don’t want my voice hostage to one of these tech platforms.

I do use Twitter regularly and in doing so, I participate in a constrained platform. I don’t use Facebook regularly, partially because I don’t want to be exposed to or constrained by that platform.

But this post is not about Facebook vs Twitter. They are more similar than they are different. They are large and powerful tech platforms where the Fifth Estate materializes in our society.

They are not the only platforms that host the Fifth Estate. There are so many that matter. There is Reddit and the many other message boards like it. There are blogging platforms like Medium. And there are communities that exist to serve particular interests, including ones that cater to hateful and awful people.

The question that Zuckerberg posed for society last week is what power do we want to convey in these tech platforms to shape and constrain the Fifth Estate.

My vote is very little, if any.

I believe that the power that Facebook and Twitter and other platforms wield on society by virtue of their dominance is a fleeting power and that in time they will be replaced by something else that is better for society.

For now they have a lot of power and that is causing a lot of hand wringing in the halls of Washington and elsewhere.

But we should be careful not to hand them more power. Or worse require them to censor some voices and not others.

This tweetstorm by my friend Balaji says it very well.

Particularly this one:

The USV Blog Search Engine

It has always been possible to search AVC. You click on the search icon in a desktop browser or you click on the menu button in a mobile browser.

But there is another way to search my blog posts, both here at AVC, and also the ones I have written on USV.com.

With our recently launched refresh of USV.com, there is now at tab at the top called “Writing.” It looks like this on a mobile phone:

You can search by type (USV blog only, team member blogs only, or all), topic, author, and date.

This search engine includes writing by many USV alums on the USV blog and all of the current USV team members who blog regularly. It is quite a library of content, mostly on tech, venture capital, startups, and that sort of thing. But naturally it veers into many other topics from time to time.

If you want to read what USV team members (current and past) have to say about something, there is now a resource to do that. And we hope to make it even better over time by improving the metadata and search functionality around this large library of content.

You Can’t Please Everyone

I get a lot of feedback on this blog.

I appreciate all of it.

Even the harsh stuff (you are an idiot, etc).

One of the things I have learned from writing here is that the same words will generate very different reactions from people.

Last week I wrote about the value of bluffing.

It triggered a ton of inbound email.

I received two emails within seconds of each other.

One said “that is the best advice you have ever shared”

The other said “people will go to jail because of you”

I just shook my head and smiled.

That’s how it goes when you put your thoughts and ideas out there.

But there is also a lesson for leaders in here.

You will not be able to please everyone in your company and you can’t try to do that.

You must be true to yourself, you must be authentic. You can’t pander.

It is useful to get the feedback, to listen to it, to try to understand it.

But you can’t let it jerk you around.

You have to have the courage of your convictions and you need to be consistent with them.

AVC Stats

As I’ve been working on a new design and approach to this blog/newsletter, I have been diving into the analytics to understand what all of you are doing with it.

Here are some charts and tables:

1/ The web traffic (desktop and mobile) has risen and fallen over the years, driven by SEO and other factors. MAUs peaked in the 2012/2014 period in the 300k range. It has settled in more recently at 80-100k a month.

2/ The email “newsletter” subscriptions have risen a lot in recent years. For much of AVC’s history, email was not a particularly popular way to read this blog, but in the last four or five years, it has grown a lot, to about 30k active email readers.

The top 50 blog posts of all time are an interesting bunch. Most of them have been written in the last five years, but there are a few that go back to 2009 and 2010.

Clearly there is a lot of value in the archive and I want to flesh that (and search) a lot more in the redesign.

It also want to make the email subscription work better. I have heard from many who read via email that it could be improved. So I will work on that.

Time For A New Look

Five and a half years ago, I moved AVC from Typepad to WordPress and rolled out the design that we now have. It has worked incredibly well. It is low maintenance, easy on the eyes, and minimalist, all things I have come to appreciate in a blog.

But I am in the mood to change things up. Maybe it is the arrival of fall weather in the northeast, or watching my daughter and my colleagues at USV do redesigns and some envy as a result. Or maybe it is just time.

Here are the things I would like to achieve with the redesign:

  • Even lower maintenance
  • Much better archives (and better search too?)
  • A new look and feel

I am not sure how long it will take for me to roll this out. I could get it done in a month. Or it could take me many months.

But it is on my mind and on my to do list too.

Paid Posts, Guest Posts, Etc, Etc

I get five to ten emails a week from people, companies, agencies, brokers, etc asking to post content here at AVC.

If you are one of the folks who send me those emails from time to time, you can stop doing that because there has not been a guest post here at AVC for over five years and I don’t have any current plans to do them.

Beyond that, the only guest posts that I ever ran here were from friends, colleagues, and AVC community regulars. I may do that again, but have not felt the urge to in a long time.

I do post a crowdfunding project most Fridays and a video or audio embed on Saturdays. But those are chosen by me based on what I am interested in or what I think you all would be interested in.

I have never been compensated for a guest post and would never accept compensation for a guest post. All the content that is published here, since the start in 2003, has been created by me or by people I know that I thought you should hear from.

I am not opposed to paying for promotion and I understand that influencer marketing is a big marketing channel now. Some of USV’s portfolio companies spend real money doing that.

But this space is not for sale, to anyone or any message. And it never will be.

Reply Spam

The AVC comments has been experiencing a wave of comment spam that has largely been replies to legit comments. I appreciate the community for flagging it and our moderators for nuking it. Keeping the comments free from spam is important to me but not an easy chore.

One idea I have, which I don’t even know if is possible in Disqus, is the idea of limiting replies to longstanding community members who are registered with Disqus and have high reputation scores.

What this will do is eliminate the reply spam, but will also make it impossible for new commenters to reply. They will still be able to leave a comment.

I think the pros may outweigh the cons.

Thoughts?

Karma

A friend of mine sent me this the other day.

Two AVC posts were at or near the top of Hacker News.

But I did not go and read the comments as I have found the comments at Hacker News emotionally challenging for me.

As many of you know, I have also found the comments here at AVC emotionally challenging for me.

One of the suggestions I received when I blogged about that recently was to charge for comments.

I don’t want to charge for commenting because I want this to be an equal opportunity place for people to speak.

However, when something is free, it is abused. We have spam and trolls.

One mechanism that I like is Karma. You are given Karma when you join a system, and you may earn more Karma every month to replenish your supply. You spend Karma to make a comment. And if your comment is popular, you can earn more Karma. If your comment is deemed to be spam or against the community rules, you lose Karma.

Creating a native currency inside a social system is powerful. It allows you to start “charging” for things that should have a cost associated with them while still allowing the system to be “free to use.”

I am not planning on adding Karma to the AVC comments because Disqus doesn’t support this feature and I’m not eager to make any changes to the technology I use to put this blog out every day. I mean that. So if you email me or leave a comment suggesting I move to a new comment system, I am going to ignore it.

But this idea, combined with the ability to spin up a crypto-token simply and easily, is pretty powerful. A number of social platforms are doing this. Reddit is one that seems to be making a version of this work.

If I was starting over from scratch, I’d build on top of that idea. I think it would make things a lot better.

A Small Change To The Comments

David Steinberg, founder and CEO of Zeta Global, the owner of Disqus, saw my blog post last week expressing a desire to make this blog easier to manage. He reached out, asking how Zeta/Disqus could help.

I explained my frustration with the comments here at AVC and he asked the Disqus team to see if they could help.

And less than a week later, we have the first result of that assistance. AVC is running an experimental feature that Disqus is working on called “collapsed comments”.

One of the things that I find challenging with the comments is when a group of people decide to have a conversation with each other and it results in dozens of replies, one after another.

I don’t want to stop them from doing that, but I also don’t want that conversation to take up a ton of space on the page.

It is also the case that it is often in those rapid reply discussions where the flames come out.

So we are going to collapse the replies on multiple reply conversations here at AVC and it has been live since late yesterday.

It looks like this:

Behind that “Show More Replies” link are sixteen more comments, taking up four pages of screen real estate.

I am not saying that those conversations aren’t valuable. They are and people can still dive into them.

But they are not longer going to be the primary thing people see when they wade into the comments here at AVC.

I think that is a good thing and a small step to making it a bit easier to manage the comments here.

Feedback

Thanks for all of the feedback on yesterday’s post.

There have been about 250 comments to date and a similar number of email replies.

Not surprisingly the feedback from the email replies was overwhelmingly supportive of removing the comments. It seems that most of the people who read via email don’t wade into the comments. And they email me directly with comments which often leads to a one to one private conversation.

The feedback in the comments was overwhelmingly to keep them. And there were lots of strong arguments for that.

I did get one email from a reader who told me the ability to engage in the AVC comments helped him get through a difficult time in college. That got my attention.

I also got a ton of suggestions on how to modify the comments to make them more manageable (limiting the number and length of comments, limiting the time allowed to post one, charging people to comment, etc). I like that line of thinking a lot but I am limited in terms of what I can do by the Disqus feature set.

I will ponder all of this for a bit and let it all sink it. Thanks for taking the time to tell me what you all think.