Tag Archives: internet

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.

A Trip List (and trip around the internet): Is travel good for you?

I am about to go on a trip to Honduras. I haven’t really travelled much the last few years, so this trip occasions reminders of my last trip cross-country, two years ago, that ushered me out of New York, an old job, and a relationship, and into the unknown. Why does the open road hold such wonders for us? In this I think I shall never grown up. Though when it comes down to it, a big trip, as magical and dreamy as it is, brings a whole lot of practical matters front and center.

Though it seemed silly later, the anxiety around leaving, moving, going “offline” and the preparations for it, mounted to a fever pitch. It was all mixed up with a breakup and a financial overhaul. And then, New York, sexy bitch that she is, decided to be all coy and inviting again just as I was leaving. Typical narcissist. I was warned it would be so, by the indomitable @bludog10003.

This list from that trip reminded me of the logistics in making dreams real. A nice corrective to my overly idealized visions. You cannot argue with artifacts. I love them, when they wash up from the past, randomly. It’s probably why I love writing.

I wrote a lot before that trip, and while on it, though less than I thought I would. Turns out that being on the road is not really conducive to writing. I need a fairly routine schedule to get a lot of creative work done.

Now, two years later, having finally outgrown my devotion to procrastination as a complete worldview, I think I’ll post a series on the move and the trip, including a visual essay I made–my first multimedia effort– that was originally going to be my ticket to artistic residency at Glacier National Park. I received a nice note with my rejection for it. I was going to send it out again to apply for Badlands, but I missed the deadline. My weak time awareness and turtle-y pace do wonders even when my procrastination is on the fritz. Sigh.

I see myself then as young and confused, gullible, but good instincts and a good heart. I guess I am, still, but less confused. I have engaged more, and become happier and more confident. Travelling alone helped. Thoreau said “the wildest are the most alive” and Whitman said “I am large, I contain multitudes” and then Frost said “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”

Gil Scott Heron said “Home is where the hatred is.” So…?

I had to get out and to render it as something other than escape.

Is travelling an avoidance of life? As with all things it’s the tenor of the thing that gives it meaning. So it depends what the point of it is. We all must decide for ourselves. Anything that fuels indecision and lack of commitment can be just avoidant, life in the waiting room. And we learn really nothing there, except we learn about dead-ends by going down them. “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.” William Blake, via Susan Sarandon. But every choice has a sacrificial element to it, its shadow side. Thinking of the other road going on in some parallel world, helps, takes the edge off deciding.

The mind begins to rally around the decision once it is made, neuroscience and  psychology (modern-day Confucius) say. Unhappiness is not making it, eroding our ability to be satisfied with our choice.

I was just looking for a quote from a TED talk by a sociologist talking about the paradox of choice (watch it, it’s great):

and instead I randomly remembered his name, and googled it. Another Barry Schwartz (nice sync!) studies collective memory. Though the collective remembers better than individuals, and is therefore a more stable unit of continuity in life and history, it is also a fount or foundation of groupthink. It is not a guidance counselor of decision, only a datamine of results. Deciding things for yourself can net you some pretty harsh criticism from others, both true and outlandish, especially if you refuse to settle down to a few basic truths, or if your and a cherished other person’s truths do not trip along merrily together. And especially if it starts to look increasingly like a dream world to said others.

So what to do? Travel is a pressure release on life, reminds us of our fundamental fragility and separateness, and moving occasionally just shakes things up, it gives change within a tactical advantage. Though it will not just happen by osmosis, just because you’re moving.

I forgot where I started. Anyway, enjoy this week, the beginning of the rest of summer! See you in a couple weeks.



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.