No, “Your Content Here” Did Not Break the Internet

I feel like it’s time for a bit of a rant. There’s a new phrase that I’ve begun noticing more frequently over the past year: that “____ Broke the Internet”. Fill in the blanks with whatever thing you deem important enough to command the intention of millions of people, and it is quite literally smashing the internet to pieces as we speak. When you have formerly reputable journalism organizations reduced to listicles to get readers , you have Time making a Top 10 Things that Broke the Internet retrospective.

When you search for the phrase, the event that popularized and encouraged comparison of the term was Paper magazine publishing nude photos of Kim Kardashian last year. Paul Ford did a good, non-tech overview of how Paper worked in the week leading up to the release of the photos to scale their servers to handle the load. He spends a good amount of time talking about how their team wanted to ensure a high load of potentially hundreds of millions of viewers. They ended up being overly optimistic by a full order of magnitude, but did still have a highly discussed topic.

Other events have come up that people claim “broke the internet”. Last week, a photo of a dress was posted to Tumblr, which became s viral phenomenon, being shared and discussed by millions of people.

tweet from Taylor Swift about dress
Even T-Swift had to weigh in

Why is it that we’re so quick to describe something on the internet in such bombastic terms? If you think of certain websites and applications that are used by tens or hundreds of millions of people per day, you don’t hear people talking like that. Google and Facebook don’t “break” the internet every day while serving up content (including most of the content that is discussed).

I think that it’s a shared cultural moment. There’s much talk about the media landscape becoming more fractured, with niches existing to please every individual taste. Up until the 2010 Super Bowl, the most watched television event was the M.A.S.H. series finale, barely missing maintaining it’s 1983 record of 105.9 million live viewers. A list of the highest attended movies of all time shows that you have to jump down to 2009’s ‘Avatar’ at #24 just to find a movie released in the past 15 years.

Anything that can get a few million people simultaneously discussing it gives us a taste of that collective culture that we’ve lost. It’s a way to connect with other people reliably outside of standard small talk. The excitement of shared experiences with all levels of social circles is harder and harder to come by with the echo chambers that we live in, and having them is a point of elation.

But please, don’t tell me that you broke the internet. We’re all fine here, thanks.

Realigning Goals

I’ve spent several years working on building my WordPress development business, which has taken up most of my working time after hours while at other jobs, and for the past two years as it’s been my full-time focus. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve been moving non-stop, without pause to determine what I’m devoting my time to and if it’s what I want to be doing.

Making Time and Getting Started

I recently realized that I wasn’t making time for all of the plans that I continually make, with promises going unfulfilled to myself and others. After a few months of longer term projects, I was ready for a change. I came across this article about doing a Life Audit on Medium last week, and the idea intrigued me enough to undertake it myself.

Similar to the author, I spent my Saturday afternoon facing a blank wall (or set of retracting doors in my case), with a sharpie and stack of post-it notes in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. On a side note, I finally gave the Bulletproof Coffee concept a try, mixing coconut oil and butter into my hot coffee instead of milk or creamer. I can’t say it invigorated me as much as their sales hyperbole would claim, but it’s something that I’ll keep trying for a while.

My goal was to get to 100 cards, each with a different goal on it. About every twenty cards or so I paused to refocus and think of what else I wanted to accomplish. I ended up making it to 88 cards in just over an hour, calling it there to reflect on what I’d come up with and to organize.

Next: Organization

I waited a few hours before organizing, glancing over the long list of my desires and wishes laid bare on my bedroom wall, put out of my mind and onto paper for the first time in my life. While the list is surely incomplete and a reflection only of current desires, it still looked imposing and monumental. At the same time, it brought a lightness to make them more manageable, short scribbles on small colored squares.

I finally settled on ten categories that almost all of the cards could easily fit into: Teach, Learn, Create, Develop, Experience, Manage, Business, Public Life, Finance and Health. Grouping in this way made it a bit easier to see which concerns felt most pressing, and to find a common chain between related goals, such as recommitting myself to jogging and preparing to do half-marathons again. A lot of the learning related to creation or development, so those cards could naturally overlap as well.

The final steps for me were to divide the cards even further into near-term goals (within the next six months), long-term goals, and ongoing goals. I then took the cards and uploaded them to a Trello board, ensuring that they wouldn’t get lost or lose their stick. Plus, I let my boyfriend read over them, but I’d probably be a bit overwhelmed if he and I saw them every day.

My takeaway

I’m attempting not to treat this activity as a once and over deal. I’m slowly moving through this list, making notes as to how I’d go about achieving these goals, and setting some plans into motion. Some of the areas that I identified as pressing was working on my delegation and streamlining of work, so I’ve put the call out for a managerial assistant, am searching for another virtual research assistant, and I’m setting up more general automation tasks.

The point of all of this for me (and writing about it to you), is that I’m trying to consciously change and improve upon some behavior. I’ve often felt I’m working to no end in sight, and I imagine you have as well. Conscious self-reflection is prized in business – take stock in where you’ve been and where you’re going to make better choices. The way that the “personal brand” has taken center stage, we’re all businesses now. Why not pause to reflect on how we can improve the business of us?

Do you take any time to self-reflect, or do you have plans to do so in the near future? Let me know below and maybe we can help one another!

Sharing This Link is a Crime

I’m not generally a political person, though I do have an interest in the process and outcome of politics from time to time. This is especially the case when it comes to technology, and the future of the web. As the revolving source of my life and livelihood, I care deeply about the usability of the open internet, and how that changes based on the opinions of others.

Tonight, the president will be giving the 2015 State of the Union Address. I won’t be watching it live. I will instead be at Orlando Soup, looking at some upcoming projects to benefit Orlando, and trying to do a small part to help out. I do know that one topic that he is going to discuss is changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and will tacitly if not openly be offering support for CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which is being reintroduced for a third congress, ready to get terror support after the recent Sony hack.

Part of the updates to the CFAA involve changing hacking crimes to racketeering crimes. The CEO of Errata Security has posted a bit of what this means, but the short of it that is important to me is that sharing publicly available information (or in some cases viewing it) can be seen as a crime almost as bad as making that information public in the first place.

I answer questions on Quora. I share knowledge at in person events and lectures, share thoughts via Meetup and Facebook groups, link to new information on Twitter, and post some of that same information here, on my own blog. Will I be liable for links that I share to warn people of new hacks and vulnerabilities on their sites? If I give out some information on the WordPress support forums relating to security issues, how am I certain that I won’t be running afoul of the law? By the way, of the many companies that aren’t 14 year old tweeters in basements, even though they aren’t blindly supporting Rep Mike Rogers, Automattic is one of the companies standing up to prove him wrong.

Next weekend I’ll be helping out at Code for Orlando. We’ll be working on tools to showcase what locals can do with open city data, with the goal of producing economic output for the city and the creation of new companies. The ability to view and interact with data that is created by us and on our behalf is important. The control of that data has become more valuable than the control of physical assets, and there’s no doubt that limiting access is an attempt to consolidate that control.

They may say that they want us to share, but what they really mean is that they want a one way street. We’re free share our information with the government, whether we choose to or not, but we get arrested, fined and jailed if we choose to share with anyone else.

CISPA image by Paul Swansen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I Don’t Do NDA’s

Last week I mentioned that I don’t respond to cold partner offers, and some of the reasons why. I’ve been wanting to write this specific post for a long time, but haven’t done so mainly because I had a hard time verbalizing my rationale. I was working on a gut feeling, with the end still serving my belief, but without any support for why that belief was valid. I think that I’ve thought it through enough now that I can give a more concrete answer.

Originally, my argument was that ideas are a dime a dozen, and that I’m too busy to take time stealing your ideas, since I have plenty of my own that I’ve not acted on. As I mentioned in that prior post, I won’t show nearly as much enthusiasm for someone else’s idea, so the chance that I’d implement it would be slim to none.

Note that I’m specifically talking about cold NDA’s, where I’m requested to sign one before even talking to someone about their company. That is a sign of backwards priorities for me. I mentally see someone who has an idea (most likely not even half unique) who envisions themselves as a paragon of business, using their (again, not unique) talents as a business person to marshal others together toward a common goal: making that founder boatloads of “internet money”.

There’s a way to protect your idea: make the value proposition not about the idea (which it already isn’t anyway). Tell me that you have a B2B marketing idea, and you are the exact person to implement it because of your 20 year experience in B2B marketing. Show me that I would be wasting time trying to develop a warehouse logistics tool without your guidance, since your tenure as a VP at a Fortune 500 shipping company gives you insight that I could never have.

If you can’t explain this in your pitch then it doesn’t matter. No matter how good your idea is, if you cannot prove yourself indispensable, then there’s no reason that you can’t be dispensed with.

Protecting an idea is generally an exercise in futility. No one is contacting me who has a wholly unique, patentable process that has not been thought up before. Not only that, but it weakens the state of that idea. I would much rather allow market competition, or the fitness of the executor of any new product or service to determine success, not simply a document gagging others from discussing it. If you share your idea with someone who is in a much better position to make it into a reality, then I’m probably going to buy from them anyway, as will the general market.

In the end, the market does not care about who thought up what first. It cares about who did it best, cheapest, most effectively and efficiently, and most used. Popularity and breaking free of the long tail validates and pushes even more people to use a product or service, and the network effect is one of the few things that cannot be bought.

If the first thing separating you and me from having a conversation is a negatively charged legal document, it may as well be an ocean.

Using Film to Understand our Digital Lives

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of enjoying afternoon tea time at Infusion Tea (it’s tasty, whether it sounds snooty or not :D), followed by a screening of ‘Citizenfour’, Laura Poitras’ documentary on her interactions with Edward Snowden and the NSA file leak that he has become famous for.

Last weekend I watched ‘The Imitation Game’, a stylized biopic of the life of Alan Turing, considered to be the father of modern computing.

Yesterday, marking the two year anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death, I watched ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’, a documentary about his life and work. The documentary is creative commons licensed, so in addition to supporting the filmmakers by buying or renting it, you can also freely and legally torrent it or watch it on Youtube and other sources.

There are always movies, large and small, that chronicle the lives and exploits of famous people, and many computer industry professionals are becoming famous in their own right. The dot-com bubble may have cast a long shadow over the industry of web entrepreneurs, but the successes of wunderkinds in shaping our digital lives (and filling their physical bank accounts) over the past decade has been a strong factor in making geek and nerd positive, rather than negative terms.

I have a lot that I could say about each of these three men profiled in these movies. I’ve spoken in the past about my love of ‘The Social Network’ and Mark Zuckerberg and ‘The Transcendent Man’ as a biography of Ray Kurzweil, among others. I could talk about how I can identify with Alan Turing, both in inability to connect oftentimes, as well as the outsider status of being homosexual. I could talk about how both Edward Snowden and Aaron Swartz made key decisions informed on their digital prowess, something that I try to do even if nowhere near as monumental as their decisions.

What I think I can say is that films like these – stylized or straightforward, spectacles or small-takes – give us insight into the inner workings of people who are potentially just like us, harnessing the power of computers to affect many others. Increasingly, we’re living in communities that transcend physical borders, but that are still constricted by cultural ones. Watch them, digest whatever lessons that you choose from them, and use that information to develop your own ideas and companies. Just let me know when a film is made of your life, so I can buy my ticket. :)

Photo of Aaron Swartz by gillyyouner is licensed under CC BY 2.0