Category Archives: Media

The Magical World of Craigslist

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 3.48.56 PMI wrote this for my bro Matt Johnson’s online selling how-to site. We’ve had fascinating conversations about bookselling and general online sales, how the web is changing business, future needs and trends, and how to provide genuinely useful content. This business article is actually a lengthy diatribe against the “mania for the present” thinking that pervades the marketing philosophy engulfing the web.

How we use the web, how we’re supposed to use it, how we’re being guided to use it is changing fundamentally. As the whole field becomes more optimized and polished, we are being oriented more toward a passive experience online rather than one we create.

Craigslist, for the most part, has remained the same as it ever was. Its ultimate utility was in nimbly catering to whatever people used it for, as its audience expanded out of the tech community, and out of San Fran to other major cities, and then, out of the United States. Craigslist’s sticky user experience seems quaint in a world where stagnation equals death. And it’s possible to be too nostalgic, of course. But Craigslist’s continued existence and success questions the “inevitable” speeding up of technological progress, whether it’s necessary, and whom it serves.

So what, if anything, can a young entrepreneur in online selling, or business creation, learn from Craigslist?

Craigslist is one of the few for-profit online companies I can think of that seems to operate on the basis that, once it has a good user base and income stream, all a company needs to do is maintain an equilibrium and work out problems as they crop up. This is antithetical to the almost religious idea that everything must keep getting better, an ideation that conveniently supports a rat-race ethos, and keeps expensive software engineers busy.

Any company or website might be a fad, riding out a trend, and so successful websites start to do things almost immediately to diversify their income and to avoid stagnation. Update early and often, and figure out what you’re doing as you go.

This has led to a culture of updating. Many, many companies offer very little in the way of actual services, they’re really just platforms, but they get into the wealth-creation mindset, leaving users cold with incessant upgrades, tweaks, ominously vague terms of use changes, and unintelligible licensing agreements. Forcing users to relearn how to use something every few months that was only ever supposed to be a cool or useful tool is not a clever business strategy. At least, not outside of the small echo chamber of those for whom tech is the end, and not a means.

But the point is that a lot of tricks used by people to make money online are now eroding confidence and ease of use to such an extent that people are wrestling with them and their impact on all of our lives. Being a profitable company is not itself a winning strategy for a product. Our nativity online was in connecting people, and helping people do what they wanted to do, making things easier, rather than bleeding people dry. Many companies are missing the forest for the trees.

Read the rest on How to Be an Online Seller.

I can’t wait to write about eBay next! As the Paypal/eBay split attests, much is in play in that company right now. It’s unlikely to be a love letter.

Truth and Consequences

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In the March/April 2014 issue of Industry I look at some of the effects that social media has on our social lives. Truth and Consequences: How to find a balance between honing a productive social media identity, and attention-hungry cyber lurking

Social media does alter our experience of ourselves as social beings, especially when it replaces part or all of our social life. Sometimes I use it mostly logistically, i.e. to see what’s going on with friends in town. But occasionally it gets more distant, going into browsing, as when I check out the page of someone I just met, wondering if they’re doing the same. I feel sudden self-conscious doing this. Usually people aren’t up on the latest privacy snafu of facebook’s, and so even if you’re not friends you can just watch people as they live. Right there online. Or at least, get a flavor of their life, leaving room for doubt, obviously.

Self-consciousness is something I used to think I outgrew in my 20s, but its reemergence in the context of my online persona is fitting, as I’m literally allowing people to spectate at me, to know about, instead of know. Can we help creating a strange publicized hybrids of ourselves? One day maybe we’ll all know what celebrities must feel like, even down to having your (not to mention other people’s) livelihood depend solely on your online popularity.

From the article:

I’ve never really thought of myself as a private person. Ask me a question, the more personal the better. I’ve always erred on the side of too much information. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that many times people prefer to be lied to sweetly, to be let down gently than told the ugly truth. I’m more discerning now about what I share, not only to preserve my privacy but also, the mystery. This goes against the tide of social media and on-line dating–realms in which we are compelled to give more and more information and about ourselves to a more general audience.

Read more here: Truth and Consequences


the fucking mystery, right?

After writing this I realized that now, when I share something with someone in person, or even on the phone in a one-on-one conversation, it feels very intimate. It’s only in contrast to social media, where everything feels flatter and less risky in a real way. But that’s kind of cool as an unexpected outcome.

Games Worth Playing

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My latest column for Industry is up! Games Worth Playing: How a ritual based upon the I Ching can change the way we think about life and love


Perhaps readers are aware of the concept of the filter bubble: that with more and more tools to personalize online offerings, we are more in danger of seeing only the news we want to see. The term, while a nice coinage for the internet and indebted age, is not new. In relationships, too, we see what we want to see.

The bubble first grows in our heads, a fact I learned from a 3,000-year-old book
of divination called the I Ching, or the “Book of Changes.”

I’ll risk my reputation as a serious individual here to admit that, when it comes to relationship deciphering, I’m addicted to what could be considered a tool for magical thinking.

Read more here.

Feed Like Me

I have a theoretical bent of mind that turns basic things into thought experiments. I believe that almost anything in your life reflects everything in your life. So if that’s true, I like to look at more trivial aspects of my life to find balance. It’s easier to see the truth when you’re less invested.

The variety of blogs, for instance, that I subscribe to is a measure of my interests. It can also be a gigantic time suck. Since it will be technically feeding me information every day, I take seriously what I choose to put on there. (I got rid of Perez Hilton somewhere along the way, ‘m just sayin’.)

For one thing I know is true: to make yourself more well-rounded, read widely and variedly. That is as true online as off. So here I’ll share a few guiding principles and great examples of different genres of blogs.

Subscribe to at least one art/design blog, but not too many. Beware of  product-heavy blogs, they encourage endless consumption. Many design blogs just repeat each other, so find a fairly original and varied one. Swiss Miss is a Swiss designer based in NYC. A lot of other design blogs get ideas from her.

Colossal is a great art blog that has risen quickly—the cream rises to the top. Put one art blog in your feed, it will take you out of your everyday goal-oriented concerns for one well-earned minute.

If you’re going to subscribe to a fashion blog, choose carefully. The Sartorialist is solid, it’s the most consistent fashion blog I’ve found, but I lean toward sites that emphasize personal style and a less-is-more aesthetic, and haven’t found a good one lately.

Letters of Note posts various letters scanned from memorabilia collections from  famous, and notorious, people, and ends up reading a general purpose blog, a literary blog, a history blog, and a pop culture blog in one.

Maud Newton is a bonafied, Mark Twain lovin’ lit blog, but I have to admit that this slot is itching for an upheaval. Her posts are good, but sporadic. Any good lit blogs you would recommend?

Political blogs should help you get above the situation, see a perspective outside your own narrow knowledge. I like Fabius Maximus because it defies attempts to label it left- or right-wing. That is its genius. I have a theory that the silent middle would mostly agree with each other, and has the same interests, if we didn’t always talk in the abstract “capitalism vs. socialism,” and if we could avoid wedge issues like abortion that don’t actually effect us all as much as say, economic policy. This site is a bit of a downer, but has done much to grow up my thinking on politics (with just enough sociology to be enlightening about how things work).

Open Culture is my new go-to site for all things high culture. From Hitchcock interviews to full-length documentaries available on YouTube, and listing free courses and lectures available online, it is my desert island site, possibly my favorite site ever.

I periodically add and subtract blogs from my roll as my interests change. And, as I know I can only read so much per day before I am overwhelmed, when something new goes in, something old goes out. (If only my wardrobe additions were so non-negotiable.) But there’s always room for more: certain blogs act as spaceholders—not quite right but the best I’ve found. So what is missing? Any gaping holes? Do you have any hifalutin’ theories to back up your media consumption?

I’ll try do a follow-up post at some point with a run-down of natural living, yoga, and counterculture blogs.