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An open-source, diversity-friendly social software platform ... coming soon!

twitter.com/tapestrymaker

 

Quirell: crowdfunding a social network for marginalized communities!

4 min read

Between FB's

 Quirell logoYeah 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.

Opt-in everything, privacy levels, connection approval, and multichannel contact request control? Yeah, we're there

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.Oh hey remember when I mentioned @CQT_Quirell displaying pronouns next to display name?

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!



* attitude and norms; community guidelines; privacy; pseudonymity; muting, blocking, and reporting; accessibility; optional, flexible self-identification; and user rights. 

** Sandstorm.io's recent successful crowdfunding, with the aid of articles in GigaOM, TechCrunch, WIRED, LWN, and Opensource.com, is a great example of how much this kind of visibility can help

 

“Startup matchmaking” and deploying Node.JS apps: Two vignettes from Seattle Startup Week

4 min read

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:

  • Brock Whitten's talk on "Moving beyond PaaS"*** was quite timely, distilling key points about what to keep in mind when self-hosting -- one of the next key tasks on my list. I really liked his focus on simple, portable, tools that do the job.  
  • Ryan Roemer of Formidable Labs (great name!) discussed how to Fail ... the right way. design software that can usually recover from failures on its own rather than you getting a text at 3 a.m.  
  • And Ken Perkins of Rackspace discussed an architecture of micro-service apps deployed via Docker containers on CoreOS using etcd as a key-value store.

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

 

Replied to a post on werd.io :

Trying to posting via Quill to a Known blog ... how Indieweb is that?

 

watching @caseorganic at Indiewebcamp cambridge!

 

@kylewm on my way to the SF HWC

 

Using Known to connect #ello and Twitter

4 min read

In Life after "peak Facebook", I mentioned that an advantage of the Indieweb approach is that it's easy to incorporate new silos like ello.  There's still a little manual work required; ello doesn't have an API to automate posting.  But if you don't mind cut-and-pasting, it's easy enough.  This post gives a couple of examples, and then briefly discusses my posting flow.

First of all, the landscape:

  • The Indieweb-enabled TapestryMaker blog (running Known) is at stream.tapestrymaker.net
  • The TapestryMaker Twitter profile is @TapestryMaker
  • On ello, I'm currently posting as jdp23 (instead of having a separate TapestryMaker account)
When I configured the TapestryMaker blog, I connected it to Twitter and Facebook.*  So whenever I post, I get the option to "syndicate" it to those other sites.  I also use brid.gy, a Google AppEngine-hosted application written by Ryan Barrett, to handle copying posts back from Twitter and Facebook.

Examples

Now on to the first example.  On ello, I saw a post by @womenwhotech I wanted to respond to.  So I created my response on the blog, and cut-and-paste it over to ello.  Known automatically syndicated it  to Twitter, where @womenwhotech replied; and brid.gy copied the reply back to the blog.  
 
The Indieweb blog is doing a couple of things for me here:
  • it's an archive of all my posts: to ello, to Twitter, replies to other Indieweb blog posts, and so on.
  • by syndicating to Twitter, it's sending it out to a broader audience and notifying @womenwhotech 
And here's a slightly more complex example.  Ben posted on his Known blog, and copied it to ello.  I saw it on ello, and drafted a reply there (so I could write it in context), posted the reply first on the TapestryMaker blog, and copied it to back to ello.  As well as syndicating it to Twitter, Known also sent a webmention to Ben so the comment showed up on his blog as well.  How cool is that?

Posting flow

Known lets you create posts, status messages,* bookmarks, photos, music, and other types of content.  It's easy to do; just click on the icon, type what you want to say, and hit Publish.

Then again some of us are old-school and more deliberate before posting in public (especially if it's going to Twitter).  

So here's my flow for making posts.

  1. Write a draft.  Like I said, I'm old-school :)   Known's visual editor is okay, but sometimes it's easier to create it in a more robust environment and just cut-and-paste the HTML; I also have a separate private Known site that I use for drafts so that I can see how they look before I share them with the world.  
  2. When it's ready I post it on the TapestryMaker blog, and rely on Known to syndicate it and send out webmentions.   If it's a reply to a post on ello, I include the ello link in the "reply to a site" field.
  3. Then I cut-and-paste to copy it to ello, potentially summarizing it in the process.  This sometimes involves editing the raw HTML or Markdown.***  
  4. If it's a new post (as opposed to a reply), I then go back and edit the blog entry to include the link to ello. 

There's enough manual work here that there are lots of opportunities to make mistakes, and I certainly have from time to time.  Still, at leat for me, the value outweighs the effort.  And it'll get easier over time!


* I could also have set up Soundcloud, Flickr, FourSquare, and LinkedIn; others options coming soon

** status messages are Twitter-like; you get a window, make it easy to put in the in-reply-to links; posts let you write a "headline", both for display onthe blog and on Twitter, and give you a wysiwig editor.

*** raw HTML and Markdown?  You kids are so lucky today!  I remember when all we had wa PDP-11 assembler and Lisp!

 
 

Very true, @benwerd -- and since it's all happening transparently, it's not just 's developers who can observe.

Edited to add: lots of fun, too!

 

Replied to a post on ello.co :

The Facebooks, emotions, neurons and science by @deanna on @theprospect (via ): http://prospect.org/article/social-contagion-and-facebooks-mea-culpa-interview-deanna-zandt

 

@womenwhotech great topic on #ello. Really sad to hear about Kathy. And @tracyviselli makes a great point ...

1 min read

Replied to a post on ello.co :

@womenwhotech great topic. Really sad to hear about Kathy -- and I think @tracyviselli makes a great point about getting fed up even in situations that don't constitute harassment. A environment that doesn't have any harassment but where the norm is confrontational, name-calling, etc. is still something that a lot of people won't want to deal with.

@kamichat Owen Fiss' book The Irony of Free Speech makes some similar points. From the blurb: "By examining the silencing effects of speech -- its power to overwhelm and intimidate the underfunded, underrepresentned, or disadvantaged voice -- Fiss sows how restrictions on hate speech can be defended in terms of the First Amendment, not despite it." Here's a summary I wrote up a few years ago on another social network that was having challenges balancing the right to free speech with creating an environment that people felt safe participating in..

Also on

 

@kegill's social network reading list for the weekend (via #ello)

1 min read

 Originally posted by Kathy Gill on ello.co 


-- Profile of Ello founder Paul Budnitz in Wired

-- The Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald on Ello,

-- Ello, Known, and life after peak Facebook (via @jdp23)

-- Kathy Sierra, @ SeriousPony, has closed down her Twitter account. Again. Details from @TimBray(twitter) and @TimBray (ello).

-- How to block followers on ello from @kirsten

Food for thought

-- @Quinn writes about blackness and whiteness on medium -- and the NYT examines Edward Baptist's new book, a look at money and slavery.

-- on a related subject, The Warmth of Other Suns

And I'm experimenting with Known for publishing.