Yes: Looking forward to #indiewebcamp in Portland - and @benwerd, excited to hear about the latest from @withknown
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Yeah really. Lynn Cyrin of queer trans collective CollectQT was already tweeting about the idea of a social network in early September, but Quirell really caught fire later that month when Facebook's real names policy led to drag queens' accounts getting suspended and kicking off "Nymwars 2.0" . Since then, Quirell has gotten off to a great start, initially with public discussions on Gitlab, then working code, and now a crowdfunding project on Indiegogo.
The discussions on Gitlab are really excellent, covering a wide range of functionality and innovative ideas as well as all the key properties of diversity-friendly social networks that Deborah Pierce and I discussed in our Open Source Bridge presentation earlier this year* as well as things we overlooked like governance. And the screenshots of the early development are exciting too.
This kind of inclusive approach is hugely attractive to people who identify as queer, trans, gender-variant, asexual, and/or multiple. If it doesn't resonate with you, imagine that in most online environments you're constantly being told that you don't fit, you're not "normal", and nobody cares about your perspective. How excited would you be when a project like Quirell starts up?
And these aren't the only groups who will be attracted to a social network with Quirell's attitude and functionality -- see for example the Geek Feminism threads on feminist and womanist social network requirements [1, 2]. Since it's open-source, different groups can host their own sites as well. Depending on how the project evolves, it could lead to a bunch of social networks all based on Quirell's code.
Of course, it's early days yet. Right now, Quirell's facing the challenges every social network startup faces. Building secure software is tough; so is building usable software. Then there are the business aspects: If they can bring in enough money to start paying people, they make much faster progress.
Which is where the crowdfunding comes in. The classic startup approach to this situation is to bring in seed funding and then do a venture round -- like Ello, which raised $450,000 early this year to get to beta and now another $5,500,000 after similarly catalyzed by Nymwars2.0. But, that approach has downsides as well. For one thing, investors typically want to see a substantial return on their money, which typically comes form an "exit" (aka an acquisition). And diversity-focused startups have additional challenges: most VCs are straight cis white guys, who typically have a hard time understanding the priorities for a project like Quirell.
Fortunately, crowdfunding now provides another option -- as Diaspora dramatically showed back in 2010, when they set out to raise $10,000 for an open-source social network using Kickstarter campaign and wound up pulling in $400,000. Quirell's initial goal is $100,000 but .
It'll be interesting to see how much coverage this gets from the technology press.** Facebook's battle with the drag queens got a lot of attention, and so did Ello. With luck, this will be a natural follow-on story. We shall see.
As you can probably tell, I'm pretty darned enthusiastic about Quirell. Chatting with Lynn a few days ago was like a mind-meld ... after about 20 minutes I said "I vehemently agree with everything you've said so far!" So expect to hear more about it here as the project continues.
And, if you're enthusiastic as well, please join me in contributing to Quirell's crowdfunding campaign -- and in helping to get the word out!
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It's Seattle Startup Week! So I decided to take advantage of it by going to a couple of events, “Startup Matchmaking” and the Node.JS Meetup. Quite a contrast …
Monday night's "Startup Matchmaking” was aimed at startups looking for co-founders and business partners — and at co-founders looking for startups (although there weren’t as many of those). After pizza and networking, it featured an excellent panel discussion with Diane Najm, Gillian Muessig, and Josh Maher. The panelists, all experienced entrepreneurs and investors, did a great job talking about critical questions. Do you need a co-founder? How to split the equity? What should you look for?
Then after some Q&A from the audience, people lined up for 15 second mini-pitches to describe who they were and what they were looking for; after which, more networking!
Who's that guy in the purple shirt?
(Photo by Colin Christianson)
Some of the companies like Seattle Salads, Peach, and Illuminata Glass have revenue and are looking to grow; others are at a much earlier stage. One of the key points the panelists made is that you should look for a co-founder to complement your skills, so a lot of people followed Gillian’s vivid phrasing and described themselves as “wizards looking for executers.” Fifteen seconds isn't a lot of time, so I didn't have a chance to go into the TapestryMaker story and life after peak Facebook. Here’s what I said:
Hi, I’m Jon Pincus with TapestryMaker, that’s @TapestryMaker on Twitter, a social network platform. We’ve got a prototype and happy users, although I have to admit that right now it looks like it was mostly designed by a developer. In fact it was — me! I’m looking for a co-founder or partner with design skills, and also looking for product management, community, and another developer. If you’re interested, come find me — or, get in touch with @TapestryMaker on Twitter.*
I was quite pleased with the event from a networking perspective -- great conversations with interesting people, and some intriguing possibilities for synergy. Plus of course a chance to describe and quickly demo TapestryMaker. Which also went well: my suggestion that “people are tired of Facebook and are looking for a place where they can feel more in control, focused on quality more than quantity” seemed to resonate, and people liked what they saw. All in all, a good evening!
The Node.JS Meetup on Wednesday night at Moz was also a good evening, just in a much geekier way. Traffic coming over from the Eastside was horrible so I missed the up-front networking, but fortunately there was still plenty of pizza there as well as some very nice wine.** The place was packed, probably a couple hundred people there. Impressive. Alas, from the diversity perspective, there were only a handful of women -- low even by tech community standards. Sigh.
Still, the three presentations were crisp and to the point:
See, I told you it was geeky :) Useful, too!
Reflecting on the two events as I drove home, I came back to what the Startup Dating panelists said about the value of having co-founder -- and the different hats you wear when you don't have them. On Monday night I was the the TapestryMaker visionary and recruiter; Wednesday, I was the technical wizard focusing on execution. I enjoy both aspects; and one of the things I like about the Seattle-area startup community is that there are plenty of opportunities for both.
* If you’re wondering why I repeated this … Diane Najm had chided a couple of the people who went before me about not mentioning their Twitter profile (“you gotta be out there on social media!”), so I was being overly conscious of not making that same mistake
** Including Sharecropper's Red, yum!
*** "Platform as a Service", like Heroku, Nodejitsu, or Modulus
Kathy Sierra on "Why the Trolls will always win", discussing why she left Twitter.
An excerpt from the conclusion:
No idea. But I do think we need more options for online spaces, and I hope one of those spaces allows the kind of public conversations and learning we had on Twitter but where women — or anyone — does not feel an undercurrent of fear watching her follower count increase.... And I also know the worst possible approach would be more aggressive banning, or restricting speech (especially not that), or restricting anonymity. I don’t think Twitter needs to (or even can, at this point) do anything at all. I think we need to do something....
And when you all find a new space, that feels right, I know you will let me know.