Douglas and me

by Peter Rojas

After almost eleven years I finally got coffee with Douglas Rushkoff. Back in the summer of 2001 I was a broke, unemployed technology writer. I'd been recently laid-off from my job as an editor at Red Herring, a business of technology magazine, and with my life pretty much falling apart I'd decided to move to New York City from San Francisco, where I was living at the time. My best friend had moved there a few months earlier and a room had opened up in his apartment. I could barely afford the rent, but I figured I was better of being a broke writer in New York than in San Francisco.

Douglas was (and still is) one of my favorite writers about technology since I'd discovered one of his books when I was in college. I knew he lived in NYC,  and so after tracking down his email address I somehow guilted him into agreeing to meet with me the day after I got into town. He certainly didn't have any reason to agree to sit down with me, I was just a struggling kid who had basically zero prospects, and as I started to get ready for my move I was really excited about getting some time with him. I wasn't sure what we'd talk about, but I guess I just thought he'd think I was smart and maybe hire me as a research assistant or even help me get some freelance work. I honestly hadn't thought much beyond just getting to meet him.

I was all packed up and ready to go, but I never made it to our appointment, and that's because the day I was supposed to fly to New York and start my new life was September 11th, 2001. Obviously my flight was cancelled, and while I did finally get to New York a few weeks later, I never followed up with Douglas to try and reschedule our meeting. I guess I felt sort of sheepish at that point imposing on him after everything that had happened, and to be honest whatever it was I was going to talk with him about seemed trite in the aftermath of 9/11.

I remained a big fan of Douglas's work, but never reached out again until Rhizome (which I'm on the board of) invited him to keynote its recent Seven on Seven conference. Douglas expressed some interest in getting involved with the organization, and so we grabbed coffee so I could tell him more about it. Of course I was supergeeked to get to sit down with him, and he laughed after I told him this story about how we were originally supposed to meet almost eleven years ago.

Email and weekends

by Peter Rojas

Without really thinking about it I've developed a habit of not replying to emails on weekends (or at least not until Sunday night). It's not that I don't check email -- I do pretty much all the time via my phone -- or that I absolutely never respond to anything -- I will if it's of catastrophic importance or if I have five minutes I really need to kill -- just that I'm usually busy doing something with my family on the weekends and I find it much easier to let all of those messages pile up for a couple of days until I can deal with them all at once on Sunday night or Monday morning. There is rarely anything that requires an immediate response, especially on a Saturday or Sunday, so I don't feel any guilt about taking my time. So while this wasn't something I'd consciously decided to do, now that I'm aware of it I'm going to try and make it my new policy going forward.

No, I'm good

by Peter Rojas

I'd meant to post this video of the Ignite talk I gave at O'Reilly's Tools of Change conference this past February. It was tough adjusting to the pacing and format of an Ignite talk (you get 20 slides, with a new slide automatically advancing every 15 seconds), hopefully I'll have a chance to give this one again.

Would Facebook let me pay them $5?

by Peter Rojas

According to documents Facebook filed ahead of its IPO, their average revenue per global user works out to just under five bucks a year. That's a number that'll surely grow over time (and in fact it has to, if they're going to be worth the $100 billion or so they're expected to IPO at), but the very fact that there is a specific dollar amount I'm worth to them made me wonder: why can't I just pay Facebook that amount per year and opt out of them sharing my personal data? (Not to mention get out of having to look at ads or deal with any lame marketing.) I already spend a lot more than $5 per year on a lot of services, so it certainly wouldn't be a burden for me to do so, and I'd surely gain a lot from protecting my privacy. I know the answer, or at least I think I know the answer, which is that offering a premium membership like that would only make it glaringly for obvious for everyone the business Facebook is really in, and that tension between appearances and reality might undermine the whole operation.

Now I quit using Facebook a couple of years ago, and don't miss it at all, but I certainly see the value in having a platform for sharing stuff with family and friends and tracking my social relationships. The fundamental problem is that Facebook's business model is to leverage those relationships and the content and data that flow out of them in order to create a gigantic online advertising and marketing machine. It's a cliche to say it, and we've all probably read this a few times by now, but with Facebook the users are the products being sold.

So if Facebook won't take my $5 in exchange for protecting my privacy, maybe there's an opportunity for someone else to build an alternative. You'd have to do something really difficult, and that's require people to pay to use it, but you'd also be building a business where the users are your customers, and you'd be focused on protecting their privacy and data, rather than selling it, and at the end of the day you'd be answerable to them (or at least their pocketbooks). I'm not holding my breath, but ultimately we need to be aware of the trade-offs we're making and that sometimes you have to be the customer if you want to be treated like.

Open office hours on Thursday, January 26th

by Peter Rojas

I had a goal of hosting open office hours at least once a month. I didn't manage it last month -- the holidays made things a little too hectic -- but I am scheduling them for this month. If you're in or near New York and want to get thirty minutes with me, please sign up here.