Jan 12


Thanks to everyone for the thoughts on my 41st birthday yesterday! I really (& sincerely) enjoyed seeing the stream of notifications on my phone throughout the day — each one a small note, but reminding me of times we’ve worked & played together, all around the world, and in may different contexts.

As an event, 41 is not exactly a major milestone. But it was a very nice weekend & birthday, and caps off a pretty significant 41st year on the planet for me. It’s a funny sort of age — not really old or young at this point.

Last year a lot happened — we moved to Palo Alto, SPL started kindergarten, I started at Greylock (and as an investor, a very new discipline compared to the operating that I’ve done over the last 15 or 20 years), and a bunch of other stuff, big and small.

As I turn 41, I feel both old and young — somewhere in between, I suppose. But I’m looking forward to my 2nd year of investing at Greylock with partners I really, really enjoy and learn from every day. I’m looking forward to continuing to see SPL grow and develop every day, week, month. I’m looking forward to Kathy & my 12th year of marriage (and 27th year of being friends!) I’m looking forward to getting involved with more amazing entrepreneurs and companies of all stripes (commercial, non-profit, civic, and more). And to my extended family continuing to be amazing.

And then a huge thing, as Kathy & I are looking forward to the arrival of our 2nd child, which we’re expecting in June. It’s such a funny thing — new babies arrive in our world every second of every day — but each one that arrives in your own life is just such a massive thing that it’s a little hard to even get your head around.

Having a January birthday always feels great to me — it resets and renews above & beyond the end of the holidays and the New Year. And I find that I’m as excited about my 42nd trip around the sun as I’ve ever been. So much to do this year.

Thanks again to everyone!

Jan 12

Some followup thoughts on my SOPA post

The best thing about writing for me is that it helps me figure out what I really think about things. And one of the very best things about doing it on the web is that others can collaborate, disagree, tweak, suggest, and generally help think through things even better. So after a couple of days of Friday’s SOPA post rolling around in my head, I think I have a tighter point of view now that I wanted to write down. (There were some great tweets, mails, comments & posts in reaction to what I wrote. Super thoughtful & useful.

Here are a few specific starting points, then I’ll get to my main point, which is that we (a technologically-oriented US, at least) are not well set up for the future in terms of how we evolve tech policy. Not a new thought, but I think the SOPA situation may be putting us in a worse spot.

But first 3 starting points and a personal observation:

1. SOPA+PIPA are awful bills. No way around it. They over-reach, they circumscribe civil liberties, and they mostly will not work. They shouldn’t pass, and we should do whatever we can to keep that from happening. They’re the latest in a long line of legislation that looks like this: reducing freedoms in a misguided attempt to protect us from a different big bad. They’re so numerous in US history they hardly need listing here.

2. Existing industries are always oriented towards self-preservation. No exception here. But there’s a funny thing that happens: the most progressive companies of today who become successful and dominant will become reactionary in the future, oriented themselves towards self-preservation. Same as it ever was. And you can see it even in the current situation — the companies who are most outspoken are the modern Internet companies: LinkedIn, Mozilla, Zynga, Google, etc etc. Mostly on the sidelines are the most progressive technology companies of the past decades, even including Apple. So this is not, fundamentally, a techie v content type of issue at all, but more of a progressive v conservative technology issue.

3. We do have existing laws and norms. A number of folks argued that content owners just need to accept that pirated goods are a viable alternative and need to learn how to compete with them. I’m wholly unpersuaded by that point of view. Or, rather, I believe we do have existing laws that govern how we behave. It’s pretty clear (to me at least) that content businesses will need to evolve, and many interesting ones already have. But that’s something for a lawful market to decide, not for anyone to thrust onto content owners & creators.

And then a personal observation: I was actually a little nervous writing about SOPA last week because of the tone of the conversation to date. I felt like it might actually provoke harsh negative reaction and somehow brand me as “SOPA-friendly” or against the web. That’s a weird thing for me to feel, as I think my web & open culture bona fides are pretty well established at this point between my work with Mozilla, PCF, Code for America, and now Tumblr, etc etc. That by itself tells me that there’s something wrong about how things are going.

Okay, so given all that as a context, here’s my main point: no matter what outcome we get to with respect to SOPA+PIPA, we’re in a bad spot going forward. 

I think much of the legitimate frustration on the Silicon Valley side of the fence is that there seems to be no way to have a meaningful conversation about this stuff in ways that we know to be productive. It’s happening at this point with some guy who doesn’t seem to understand technology having his staff & a bunch of lobbyists prepare a non-sensical bill and then try to jam it through Congress, without any real effort to understand what might actually work. (And, worse, it’s being done in a way that seems deliberately designed to misinform.) So it’s a bunch of backroom, captured discussion that has massive impact on how we live our lives — and it’s all completely opaque (at best).

The real thing that I’m worrying more and more about is not SOPA per se, although that’s a very large problem itself. The real problem that I see is that our government just isn’t set up to make meaningful technology policy decisions going forward. I think Larry Lessig would argue that that’s now true about all facets of modern life, but I think that with technology it’s significantly worse. We have massive interconnectedness of systems built on an extremely rapidly changing foundation of technology. But more than that, technology is now transforming our private and public lives so quickly that we can hardly make sense of any of it at a personal level, let alone a public policy level. And there seems to be no way for legislation to keep pace unless we change the discussion there from specific technologies instead to principles of how we want to build and evolve our society.

And I just don’t see how that kind of conversation can happen right now.

I see how to defeat SOPA, more or less. But it’s more lobbying, more rhetoric, more Capitol Hill influence. And I think that all of that stuff ultimately corrupts industries that use it. I know this is not a new objection, and I’m sure that there have been people in every industry forever who have made this point.

So I think most of what I wanted to write on Friday is this: I desperately hope we can (1) defeat SOPA and more importantly (2) figure out a way to have useful technology policy discussions that can inform both our legistatures and law enforcement agencies. This isn’t the last law that will be technically poor and will impinge on civil liberties. There will be more, and they’ll come up more and more frequently as increasing portions of our society get disoriented by and disrupted by new technology.

We shouldn’t rely on symmetric (and corrupting) lobbying efforts to make things better; we’ll just get more of the same crummy situation we’ve got.

What I think we really need to figure out is how to help our leadership in government act and think in a more agile way, informed by more of our citizenry. More like the web, in a lot of ways. (Ed Lee’s announcement of an SF partnership with Code for America is a start.)

Maybe impossible, a pipe dream. But that’s the target I think we should be setting for ourselves, not just defeating a crappy, misinformed bill.

Jan 12

What’s bothering me about the SOPA “discussion”

There are 3 things that have really been bothering me about how the SOPA/PIPA discussion has been going so far.

  1. it’s not a discussion at all — it’s people calling each other names.
  2. it’s highly likely to have a result that is unhelpful at best, and insanely destructive at worst
  3. we’re building a completely worthless/bad roadmap for how to deal with technology policy going forward, and it’s going to get worse

Let me be very clear: SOPA is a terrible law that should not be enacted under any circumstances. It’s broken technically and misguided from a policy point of view. It not only won’t accomplish what advocates want it to accomplish, but it also will create backbreaking burdens and barriers to entry for some of our most promising technology companies and cultural movements of the coming decade.

But also: content creators & owners have a legitimate beef with how their content can be appropriated and distributed so easily by rogue actors.

Here’s the conversation we should be having: content & technology should be very aligned. Hollywood and Silicon Valley (broadly speaking — I’m talking metaphorically here) both want the same things ultimately: easier and bigger ways to share and enjoy awesome content from all sources, in a way that’s economic for everyone involved.

What we should be talking about is how to get better alignment, how to build systems and content that is better for, you know, actual human beings to use and enjoy.

But that isn’t the conversation that’s happening (and I use the term “conversation” here very loosely, since it has characteristics more like a bunch of schoolyard name calling). The conversation that’s happening is going more like this:

– content: “you people are stealing our stuff. you’re thieves”

– techies: “we’re not stealing it. we’re just building great apps for users.”

– content: “you’re ignoring the problem and helping the thieves. you’re effectively pirates, so we’re going to shut everyone down.”

– techies: “you’re acting like jackbooted fascists, embracing censorship and your’e going to end everything that’s good about culture today.”

– content: “we’re trying to protect our content — you guys are pretending like there’s no problem, then getting rich off platforms that pillage our content.”

– techies: “you don’t understand how the Internet works — how do you even live life in the 21st century? dinosaurs.”

So that’s awesome. Then you throw Congress into the mix and hilarity ensues. Because if you’re looking for folks who really do not act like they want to understand the Internet, Capitol Hill is a pretty good place to start. And then this is all devolving into a fight of pirates versus creators. Of protectors-of-democracy versus fascists. Or whatever.

What we need to be talking about is where the actual infringement problem is happening (I’ve heard from folks that the vast majority of the problem is on the order of a few dozen syndicates overseas). And how we need to be thinking about copyright law — in an age where copies are the natural order of things, as opposed to previously, when it was harder to make copies. And what sorts of law enforcement resources we need to bring to bear to shut down the activity of these real malicious actors overseas. (At root, I’m persuaded that the current issues are really law enforcement issues – we need to figure out how to enforce the laws that are already on the books to protect IP, not create new ones.)

Acting like there’s no problem isn’t the answer — there is a legitimate IP issue here. But pressuring a behind-the-times and contributions-captive legislative body to enact overly intrusive and abusable laws is even worse, both economically and civically.

What’s extremely discouraging to me right now is that I don’t really see how we can have a nuanced, technically-informed, respectful discussion/debate/conversation/working relationship. I’m not convinced that Congress is at all the right body to be taking up these issues, and am 100% convinced that they don’t currently have the technical wherewithal to make informed decisions, in any event.

So what we’re left with is one group pushing their captive legislators for new, over-reaching laws and calling technologists names. And a group reacting to that by calling names back.

I think the best that we can hope for in this scenario is that the current bill will grind to a halt and nothing will change. But I think that can’t be where we aim for the future.

Because technology policy issues are going to come up again and again and again as time goes on. (Next up, undoubtedly, is another round of privacy legislation, and I would predict the name calling will be even more intense and even less productive.)

We’re mediating more of our lives than ever through new technologies that we barely understand as technologists, let alone consumers or civic leaders. We need to figure out ways to have meaningful discussions, to try out policies that may or may not work at first and iterate quickly on them, like we do with products themselves.

I don’t have any answers here, but wanted to write down what’s been bugging me, as I think we all need to think more about what we want our lives to look like in the future.

Jan 12

Being Ned Flanders: On Mustaches


Wearing a mustache is a tough gig. Also hilarious, although I think people may not always totally get the joke…

A few years back, some of the Mozilla folks started doing NSID (no shaving in December) — it was a funny thing to do, especially for all hands meetings where you’d see a bunch of guys who had never really let their facial hair grow out — and the results were definitely not always pretty. Lots of scraggly beards, a few who were essentially indistinguishable from werewolves (“there, there wolf!”), and just generally lots of randomness. Was a fun thing to do, especially as more and more of us did it.

Last year, I did NSID until about Christmas, then went to Goatee Week for a bit, and finally on a lark, did Mustache Day, when I actually went out in public with a mustache. Here’s what I looked like:


Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: that’s a pretty righteous mustache! Not going to win any fashion contests, but not too shabby.

Or, perhaps, maybe you’re thinking what we were: surprisingly, I discovered that I look a little like Ned Flanders.

Unexpected. And obviously super unsettling. Although not as unsettling as this pic, where I seem to look like Mario’s brother Luigi:



And an obvious signal that I should never, ever wear a mustache again. But I’m not really one to pay attention to signals, so in the spirit of blowing right through the stop sign, this year I decided to do it again. The theme of our New Year’s Eve party happened to be Comic Con, so it really just played right into my hands, and I went as Ned Flanders.

Some observations:

First, it’s really hard to keep a straight face when you’ve got a mustache and are trying to talk with someone. Partly because you can’t actually believe it yourself, and partly because every 90 seconds or so they furrow their eyebrows, squint at you, then frown/grimace/laugh out loud. Pretty tough to take it seriously.

Second, Ned Flanders turns out to be a little too subtle of a costume, strangely. Maybe I wasn’t yellow enough. Maybe it was because I had 8 fingers instead of 10. And, you know, maybe it’s because the Simpsons was cool about 15 years ago. (It was cool then, right?) Anyway, all the people I’m close to thought it was either right on the nose or hysterical. People who I’d recently met said all night long, and I’m not joking, “I didn’t know you had a mustache!” People at the party who didn’t know me assumed, I think, I was some sort of interloper with a weird vibe.

Who knows.

But pretty strange reactions all around. I really had a good time doing it — I’m not usually a costume guy, so was fun to be someone else, even a nerd-diddly-erd, for a while.

So I think we’ll retire “the Flanders” for a while. Good times. 🙂

Jan 12

Up Update

A couple of weeks ago, my second Jawbone UP failed. I’m bummed about it for a couple of reasons (and will go through the process to get a replacement for sure). The first reason I’m bummed is theoretical – I miss the data it collects, mostly because I think I’m going to want it some day, but also because it makes me a little more mindful of my activity throughout the day. The second reason is that I really, really love the vibrating alarm – it makes a huge difference in quality of life for me & Kathy not to have an alarm blaring on the days I need to get up early.

The Lark has a vibrating alarm, but bugs me at night. The Fitbit, by contrast, I think doesn’t have the alarm, and I forget to wear it pretty often.

The UP solves that set of problems for me, even though it’s got other deficiencies (reliability, obviously, but also no wireless data sync, weird software UI, no open data, etc). So I’m looking forward to getting a working model again soon…