Posts from Web/Tech

Twitter Moments

So the thing I blogged about last week launched yesterday. Twitter is calling it Moments.

I think this is a big deal for first time and casual users of Twitter. It’s an easier way to consume the content in Twitter for people who don’t have the time or inclination to customize Twitter to work for them the way many of us have.

Since the AVC community was fairly negative on this in concept, I’m wondering how all of you are thinking about it now that it is out. Let the conversation commence.

Trying Something New Today

A couple days ago Jay Rosen reached out to me on Twitter asking if he could do a guest post on AVC:

I really don’t like guest posts. I’ve done them, of course, mostly in my MBA Mondays series but also in times of crisis and confusion, like the time I asked JLM to explain TARP to us. So I suggested something else to Jay:

And he delivered on it yesterday:

So here’s how this adaptation of the guest post concept will work.

First, I’d like you all to read Jay’s post. It’s about Twitter building an editorial team and becoming an editorial company.

Now, I will respond here at AVC.


Twitter is a news company. It is where people go to make and break news.

That’s my line, not theirs. But I will gladly give it to them if they will use it. Because that is what Twitter is. It’s not a social network like Facebook. It’s not photo sharing app like Instagram. It’s not a messaging app like Kik. It is not a video sharing app like YouTube. It has elements of all of those things because people use Twitter in different ways. But at its core, Twitter is a news product. It reminds me more of The New York Times than Facebook and I use it more like The New York Times than Facebook. In fact, I use Twitter more than the New York Times for what I used to use the New York Times for.

But the issue with Twitter is that in order to get value out of it like I get value out of it you need to customize it. The reason I get value out of it is that I have configured Twitter to work for me. I have curated a list of just under 1000 people I follow. I like dozens of tweets a day which tells Twitter a lot about me. I reply to tweets which further tells Twitter about me. And then Twitter can recommend “who to follow” and “what I missed”. These products are fantastic and deliver for me bigtime every single day.

But imagine a new user who Twitter knows nothing about. How the hell are they going to get value out of Twitter? Or imagine the casual user who does not want to figure out who to follow and doesn’t want to engage in order to tell Twitter more about them. How the hell are they going to get value out of Twitter? The answer is Twitter the company is going to curate Twitter the news product for folks like that. And they are going to do that by hiring editors to curate various streams. This effort is called Project Lightning and that is what Jay was posting about.

So first and foremost, I am a huge fan of Twitter the company making Twitter the news product better for folks who are not power users of it. This is long overdue and badly needed. Not just for Twitter the company or Twitter the stock. It is badly needed for Twitter the product. Twitter is a network. The more people who are on it, the better it is for everyone who uses it. So addressing the new user and casual user segment of the market is something Twitter absolutely needs to do. And in full disclosure, I own a lot of Twitter the stock and I am “conflicted” in what I write here. Which is why you should pay more attention, not less, to this post.

Now on to Jay’s meta question. What editorial voice will Twitter assume? Who is the soul of Twitter’s editorial pulpit? We all know Rupert Murdoch detests Bill de Blasio so when we read negative stories about the Mayor in the NY Post, we expect it. We all know The New York Times is a “liberal rag” so when they decry Trump’s tax plan as regressive, we know where they are coming from. But where will we expect Twitter’s curation products to be coming from?

I hope Twitter doesn’t try to be “fair and balanced” also known as boring. I hope they have an agenda or ideally multiple agendas and I hope they are transparent about them. I loved Dick Costolo’s line that “Twitter is the free speech wing of the free speech party.” I hope they keep that stance. But does that conflict with bad people using Twitter to do bad things? Yes, of course it does. How will they walk that fine line? Telling us how they plan to do that would be a good first step. They can evolve it over time, but please tell us how they are thinking about it right now.

I also love Jay’s point about Jack’s obsession with raw and real-time news, like police scanners, which provided the formative idea for Twitter. I would love to see Twitter do a channel for that kind of stuff. The more real-time the better. A news product should be obsessed with the news and the more obsessive the better.

I also like Jay’s point that “it will be easy to argue with the choices Twitter makes in curating the news.” And argue they will. That’s what Twitter’s user do, right in the product. So Twitter ought to amplify that in some way or multiple ways. Having a voice, an agenda, and an attitude doesn’t mean silencing the naysayers about those things. The media outlets that amplify the naysayers seem to do better, not worse, on the Internet.

In summary, I am very bullish on a curated Twitter. I will use it and I am sure that hundreds of millions of others will too. But Jay is right that how Twitter the company curates Twitter the product will be important. It must have a voice, an agenda, an attitude, and a soul. There are many experienced people in the world of journalism who know how to deliver that. But of course, it all starts at the top. Which is why I hope they keep the team that is in place there right now. It is a good one and it is the right one.

Chris Poole

Back in 2011, USV invested in Chris Poole’s startup Canvas. I worked closely with Chris on that investment and they built something great called DrawQuest. But it did not turn into a sustainable business and eventually Chris shut it down. All through this time, Chris ran and managed 4chan, a service he built and launched when he was 15. Yesterday Chris announced that he had sold 4chan to Hiroyuki Nishimura, a pioneer of Japanese web culture and founder of 2Channel, the inspiration for 4chan.

I have watched Chris struggle with his creation. He felt enormous responsibility for it. Like a child who has issues and you know it but you love him or her anyway. He did the very best he could with 4chan and from where I sit, never really got any credit for that.

Communities are not like other websites and mobile apps. The people who hang out in them feel a sense of ownership of them. The regulars here at AVC feel that way to some degree I am sure. And so running a community on the web/mobile is probably a lot like running a community in real life.

I have sat on condo and coop boards. They are not like regular businesses. They are where people live. And so the debates and disputes are more personal and more emotional. Take that and multiply it by the millions and you get a web/mobile community like 4chan or reddit. Managing that sort of thing is not pleasant.

And yet Chris did it dutifully for over twelve years. Contrary to the beliefs of many in the 4chan community, Chris didn’t take a real salary from 4chan. It was truly a labor of love.

And so when I sat with Chris for lunch last week, a day or two after the sale had finally closed, he seemed more relieved than anything else. This was not a Internet entrepreneur after a big exit. This was something else entirely.

There aren’t many who understand the Internet like Chris. And I’m not talking about the technical architecture (although he understands that pretty well). I am talking about the social architecture of the Internet. I am talking about what people do on the Internet and why. He’s seen the belly of the beast. He’s lived in it. And he’s come out the other side with his soul and his spirit intact. That is a massive accomplishment that dwarfs whatever financial return he made on the sale.

I am not sure I’ve ever been prouder of someone I’ve worked with to be honest.

The Return Of The Command Line Interface

I learned to use computers in the era of the “command line interface”. It looked like this:

I started using computers in the era of mainframes and mini-computers and my first desktop ran MS-DOS which was a command line driven operating system. When Mac and Windows arrived, the command line more or less left my life, other than the occasional need to muck around in the internals of the computer and/or network.

But I feel the command line interface coming back, largely driven by text messaging and the increasing ability to leverage bots inside messengers. Check out this list of telegram bots that have been written since the Telegram bot platform launched a few weeks ago. I’m preparing myself for the moment when I can order coffee this way:

@bluebottle /cortado /tostay

You also see this in the 140 character constraint on Twitter. This tweet is closer to coding syntax than english language:

And I used this string of code on duckduckgo just now to get the photo I put at the start of this post:

commmand line interface !gi

We are relearning how to code and send instructions in short bursts of information that is most certainly not conversational in nature. But now this sort of thing is done as much by teenagers weeks after getting their first smartphone as it is by engineers who live in command line interfaces all day long.

That’s a shift, maybe temporary while we wait for AI and speech recognition to improve, but an important one for now.

CloudFlare and China

Our portfolio company CloudFlare operates one of the Internet’s largest networks. This blog is hosted on the CloudFlare network so all of you are passing through CloudFlare on your way to AVC.

CloudFlare wanted to operate its network in China but obviously that created some challenges. So for the past four years CloudFlare has been working with various partners in China to come up with a model that would work. About a year ago, they entered into a partnership with Baidu and now CloudFlare and Baidu’s joint venture is operating one of the largest networks in China.

The New York Times has a good post today on the partnership, how it works, and why it works.

This is a good example of how US companies can do business in China. It requires a lot of work but given the size of the chinese market, it is worth it for many companies to undertake such a thing, particularly if having a global network is strategic to your business.

Signing My Name

I sign my name a lot. When we close deals, I sign the documents. When things change in our companies and they need consents, I sign them. I sign tax returns, filings, permits, and a host of other documents all the time.

As I have written here before, I have a hard time with what they used to call “penmanship” in school. It’s something about my dexterity (or lack thereof) in my hands. My hands get tired quickly and my handwriting gets illegible just as quickly.

Technology has been a godsend for me in this regard. Computers (and word processors before them) saved me from having to write by hand before I got out of high school. Phew.

The same has been true over the past few years when it comes to signing documents. I still do it by hand way more than I’d like but services like Docusign are being adopted by more and more companies and it seems like I Docusign now as much or possibly more than I physically sign.

My colleague Nick needed me to sign something last week. I said “please docusign it.” He did and within a few minutes the documents were signed. I sent him an email saying “that was so great, i wish everyone did it that way.” So this is a plea to everyone out there to skip the paper and go electronic when signatures are needed.

But as good as Docusign is, and it is really good, my all time favorite signing experience is on the Square checkout app. I’m not sure what it is, maybe its the angle (vertical but with a slight slope), or maybe it is the size of the signature box, or maybe it is the iPad’s screen, but whatever it is, I absolutely love signing my name on a Square checkout. If every signing experience was like that, I’d be a very happy man.

Feature Friday: While You Were Away

I love the “while you were away” feature on Twitter. It’s full of great stuff every time they show it to me.

My sister in law said to me last weekend “I hope they never get rid of the classic timeline on Twitter.”

I replied “I wish they would have gotten rid of it years ago.”

Different strokes for different folks I guess.

I use gmail’s priority inbox because I don’t want to see every email that comes into my inbox.

I wish there was a curated version of my Twitter timeline so I would only see the best tweets that come in.

Of course, I’d like to be able to see all the tweets if for some reason I wanted to do that. I think Twitter should maintain that view for the hardcore users like my sister in law who want that.

But I doubt most people want to see everything. Facebook got rid of “see everything” as the default view many years ago and they massively improved the user experience in doing so.

So I’m eagerly awaiting a curated version of my timeline from Twitter.

Until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with “while you are away.” And I am.

The Follower Hockey Stick

A week or so ago, I happened to notice that my Twitter follower count had gone up by 75,000 in the span of several weeks. Since then, it’s gone up by another 15,000.

Here’s the chart from Twitter’s analytics service:

twitter follower count twitter follower count

I’ve learned over the years to be highly suspect of anything that looks like a hockey stick and so I looked at the list of recent followers to see if anything was awry.

I was expecting to see a bunch of spam accounts and maybe that’s what is going on. But a lot of the recent followers look reasonably legit.

It’s not clear to me what is going on. It’s like once I crossed 400k followers my “who to follow” score went way up.

In any case, I’m happy to have so many new followers. Sadly I’ve not been tweeting much lately since I stopped tweeting out the AVC posts every day.

Maybe this will be an impetus to tweet more often. We will see.

Feature Friday: Document Sharing In Slack

We use a lot of document sharing applications at USV. We use Google Docs, Hackpad (which was bought by Dropbox), Quip, Dropbox’ new Notes service, and a number of other document sharing apps.

But as we have moved most of our internal and USV network communications to Slack, we wanted a document sharing app that people in a Slack channel could use.

So the hackers at USV, mostly Nick and Brittany, built one.

We call it Quackpad, although we’d prefer to call it Slackpad, and you can use it here.

Just sign in with your Slack credentials and you are good to go.

If you, like us, use a lot of Slack for internal and external communications, I think you will find Quackpad really useful.

Nick blogged a bit about the history of Quackpad and how they built it here.