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Anil Dash



A Blog About Making Culture



Updated: 2017-03-29T02:59:12Z

 



Tech and the Fake Market tactic

2017-03-29T02:59:12Z

In one generation, the Internet went from opening up new free markets to creating a series of Fake Markets that exploit society, without most media... In one generation, the Internet went from opening up new free markets to creating a series of Fake Markets that exploit society, without most media or politicians even noticing. 1. The open internet markets American culture loves to use the ideal of competitive free markets as the solution to all kinds of social problems. Though the vaunted Free Market has no incentives to, say, take care of babies with cancer, a well-functioning market can definitely be a great way to see which provider offers the cheapest price for a roll of toilet paper or a bushel of apples. Given that cultural predilection, some of the first things people made in the early days of the web were new markets. Perhaps the canonical example was eBay; anybody (well, almost anybody) could list their ceramic figurines for sale on eBay and participate in a relatively fair market. On one side, a gaggle of figurine aficionados, enthusiastically searching for the best deals. On the other, a bunch of figurine vendors, competing on price, quality and service. In the middle, a neutral market that just helps connect buyers and sellers through instantly updated information. Everybody’s happy! Later, a seller could buy preferred positioning for their products in eBay’s search results, and some product categories started to be dominated by wholesale suppliers, but it still remained a relatively open system. Everybody’s mostly happy! Not long after eBay started, Google launched, as a sort of market of content, with its PageRank system choosing which pages show up in our search results, ranked by the number of inbound links. On one side were readers, and on the other side we had publishers, and in between was Google using a mysterious but still kind of comprehensible algorithm to create a market where almost everybody felt like they could participate. But before long, those rankings started to be tainted by spammers, due to the fact that higher ranking in those listings suddenly had monetary value, and making spam links was cheaper than paying for Google’s advertising products. What was an open market to do? 2. The rise of rigged markets The inevitable automated gaming of the early open digital markets inadvertently catalyzed the start of the next era: rigged markets. Google got concerned about nefarious search engine optimization tricks, and kept changing their algorithm, meaning that pretty soon the only web publishers that could thrive were those who could afford to keep tweaking their technology to keep up in this new arms race. After just a few years, this became a rich-get-richer economy, and incentivized every smaller publisher to standardize on one of a few publishing tools in order to keep up with Google’s demands. Only the biggest content providers could afford to build their own tools while simultaneously following the demands of Google’s ever-changing algorithm. The problem inevitably became most pronounced in the most valuable markets. Eventually, in lucrative vertical markets like travel, Google started showing its own flight booking tools ahead of the third-party results from travel booking sites, based on the idea that their experience was better for consumers than the confusing and inconsistent results from third parties. This was true, but it was also pretty damn convenient for Google, which now started to make more money on those links. This was the start of a subtle but critically important pattern on the web: A short-term improvement in user experience helped a single dominant tech company to take over a legacy market in the long term. Amazon went through a similar process, when it started putting its thumb on the scale, showing its own products first when doing a product search, even if they weren’t the cheapest. We saw a rapid shift where the companies hosting formerly-open markets started to give themselves unfair advantages that coul[...]



It's time to discover Prince

2017-03-29T02:32:24Z

With the return of Prince’s classic 80s and 90s catalog to the most popular streaming services, now’s a great time to (re?)discover the breadth of... With the return of Prince’s classic 80s and 90s catalog to the most popular streaming services, now’s a great time to (re?)discover the breadth of Prince’s incredible body of work. The full scale of Prince’s music is probably too much for any unfamiliar listener to just dive into; he released nearly 40 albums under his own name(s), regularly enhanced his single releases with extended versions, remixes that could sometimes comprise an entire EP on their own, and legendary B-sides that were often as strong as the single being released to radio. That’s not even counting the literally hundreds of songs he wrote (and often performed on) for others. So, here’s an easier way to dive into his catalog, broken down by the type of listener you are, and what genres of music you prefer. I’m assuming little to no familiarity with Prince’s catalog here, beyond staples like the song Purple Rain. The nice thing about Prince’s work is that there are no bad starting points; if you don’t like what you hear at first, he almost certainly made a song in the complete opposite style as well. The basics If you’ve never really listened to Prince’s work, there’s a reason his 80s albums are revered. They hold up favorably against the very best albums in pop music. Purple Rain (1984) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal It really is that good. Half the songs on the album became hit singles, and the other half would have except they were too sexy. 1999 (1982) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal This one will surprise you. Though Purple Rain has more, bigger hits, this is the album that shaped the sound of 80s radio. And, well, a lot of the Top 40 to this day. The songs really stretch out, and this is the album that turned a lot of casual Prince fans into diehards. Sign O’ The Times (1987) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal If you want to hear Prince at his experimental best, this is almost every hardcore Prince fan’s favorite album. width="300" height="380" src="https://embed.spotify.com/?uri=spotify%3Auser%3Aanildash%3Aplaylist%3A3XvSGxgkq6eurtTma7rYAO" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true"> The greatest hits There are a number of Greatest Hits collections for Prince’s work. None of them are terrible, but all of them ignore the second half of his career which, while uneven, still had dozens of truly great songs. Ultimate (2006) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal The best overall collection of Prince’s work, this includes a number of his best b-sides and extended versions, amply demonstrating why those non-album tracks were essential to understanding his range. And if you like big hits like Little Red Corvette, it shows up here in the full 8-and-a-half-minute glory of its 12" Dance Mix. The Hits/The B-Sides (1993) Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal The first compilation of Prince’s work is still the only one to collect a large number of his b-side recordings. Even if you’ve heard most of his 80s albums, there are almost certainly songs here that you missed. Specially-crafted starting points I made a number of playlists that are specifically aimed at people who feel like they’ve never really gotten Prince. I often hear people say, “I know he’s supposed to be super talented, but I never saw him live, and I don’t know what song of his I would love.” This is especially poignant for those of us who were fans because his live shows were amazing, often radically recasting his recorded material, and because his hit pop singles, while brilliant and unique, often didn’t resemble the more obscure works that won us over. These playlists are necessarily incomplete, because of the inconsistent way Prince’s catalog is made available. Tidal comes closest to including all of these songs,[...]



It's me, Bike Dad!

2017-02-02T20:53:52Z

Until the Citibike bikeshare program launched here in New York City, I'd ridden a bike perhaps once in the prior twenty years. Since it launched,...

Until the Citibike bikeshare program launched here in New York City, I'd ridden a bike perhaps once in the prior twenty years. Since it launched, I ride almost daily.

Because of the massive improvements in quality of life in the city as walkability and cycling affordances were improved, I've become a strong advocate for commuting by bike, and I was excited to talk about my experiences with NY1.

While the Full NY1 series on new commuting trends is unfortunately still a little slanted toward favoring privately-owned, under-utilized automobiles, I think the tide is turning overall because, as I've noted before, our investment in making New York City accessible and safe for pedestrians and bikers has made this the golden era for public space in the entire 400-year history of the city.

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Design Matters

2017-02-02T20:45:14Z

I was delighted to get to speak with Debbie Millman for her venerable podcast, "Design Matters". If you have an hour to spare, please do...

I was delighted to get to speak with Debbie Millman for her venerable podcast, "Design Matters". If you have an hour to spare, please do check out the conversation — we touched on a ton of topics that are near and dear to my heart.

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On Being and Tech's Moral Reckoning

2017-01-15T20:18:05Z

Back in November, I got to sit down with the amazing Krista Tippett for a lengthy interview in front of an incredibly warm crowd in...

Back in November, I got to sit down with the amazing Krista Tippett for a lengthy interview in front of an incredibly warm crowd in Easton, MD. Now, that interview has been edited down and is available as the latest episode of Krista's hugely popular show, On Being.
I hope you'll take a listen — we cover the contemporary tech industry, the social impact of the major social networks, and even the bigger reckoning with how tech is changing our families and or kids and our relationships. I'm really proud of how this came out, and can't wait to hear what you think. And, of course, if you're interested in more on the topic, you can check out my Humane Tech series on Medium.

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If you are interested, there's also a full, 90-minute unedited version of the conversation. With Krista and her team coming from Minneapolis, the Prince mentions you might expect from me are in the uncut version.

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I'm at Fog Creek. And we're introducing Gomix!

2016-12-06T14:14:45Z

Okay, here’s the story: I’m the new CEO of Fog Creek Software! And we have an awesome new tool called Gomix that just launched today,... Okay, here’s the story: I’m the new CEO of Fog Creek Software! And we have an awesome new tool called Gomix that just launched today, and you should go try it out and build the app of your dreams in a few minutes. Want to know more? Okay, there’s more. If you know me, you might be familiar with Fog Creek Software. Cofounded by Joel Spolsky and Michael Pryor in 2000, it’s one of the most venerable and respected software companies in the world. I’ve known it from its earliest days, as both a customer and a fan, and have gotten to watch excitedly as they launched hugely influential tools like Trello (which Michael is now CEO of as an independent company) and Stack Overflow (also independent, and headed up by Joel as CEO). Fog Creek’s flagship product FogBugz has long been the best tool for helping teams make great software — I know because we used to use it to make Movable Type and TypePad back when I was helping get those products off the ground a decade ago. Built on Values But Fog Creek is a lot more to me than just a company that’s made a bunch of hugely popular applications. What first resonated for me was reading Joel’s words in his seminal posts on tech culture, like the Joel Test. Though some of the references to old Windows software are a little bit dated now, the insights in Joel’s writing are so essential and timeless that they’ve become part of the canon that almost every developer is expected to read. And what I found in these seminal documents of Fog Creek’s culture were a few simple statements of values that could be easily summarized: Workers matter, deeply. The things they create, the environment they work in, and the ideas they imagine are worth protecting, respecting and honoring. Technology and software are better when they’re accessible to more people. We need to build tools, platforms and organizations that prioritize the thoughtful dissemination of technical information, to stop coding from being an exclusionary priesthood for a small few. We can build our values into our software. We aspire to having a point of view and to being thoughtful, and we can build tools that encourage other creations of technology to do the same. What I found was that I had a chance not just to work with some of the most talented people in the world, but to do so in an environment that was actively countering the worst excesses and abuses of the tech industry. It’s no secret that I’ve become increasingly critical of the conventional tech world’s lack of focus on ethics, humanity, and inclusion. But at a personal level, I realized I couldn’t in good conscience just criticize from afar. If the best way to criticize software is to make software, then the best way to criticize tech companies is to make a better tech company. And it turns out that one already exists. Even more fortunate, its brilliant and thoughtful founders Michael and Joel were willing to trust me to be the CEO of the company that have so carefully shepherded all these years. And frankly, after challenges like shutting down ThinkUp earlier this year, I started reckoning a bit with how to be most effective in pushing the tech industry to be a little more thoughtful. This personal inflection point became clearer as the team at Activate released this year's Activate Outlook — seven years after we'd set out to create the leading strategy consulting company, I realized we'd not just succeeded, but done so to the degree where the team could now run effectively without me being involved day-to-day. Between stepping back to an advisory role at Activate and sharpening the focus of my work for the organizations whose boards I serve on, I was able to bring some clarity to the[...]



Forget “Why?”, it’s time to get to work.

2016-12-06T14:27:45Z

There are going to be endless think-pieces and armchair analyses about why America elected Donald Trump as its next President. But you already know why.... There are going to be endless think-pieces and armchair analyses about why America elected Donald Trump as its next President. But you already know why. Don’t waste a single moment listening to the hand-wringing of the pundit class about Why This Happened, or people on TV talking about What This Means. The most important thing is that we focus on the work that needs to be done now. While so many have been doing what it takes to protect the marginalized and to make society more just, we must increase our urgency on those efforts, even while we grieve over this formidable defeat. It is completely understandable, and completely human, to be depressed, demoralized or overwhelmed by the enormity of this broad embrace of hateful rhetoric and divisive policy. These are battles that have always taken decades to fight, and progress has never been smooth and steady — we’ve always faced devastating setbacks. If you need to take time to mourn, then do. But it’s imperative that we use our anger, our despair, our disbelief to fuel an intense, focused and effective campaign to protect and support the marginalized. And it has to start now. There are concrete steps we can take immediately, which can set up habits that we can sustain for the years of struggle to come. 1. Show up, in your community. Whether it’s issues like marriage equality, fighting climate change, or welcoming refugees and other immigrants, much of the progress we see starts at the local level, in our neighborhoods and cities and states. We’ll need to support and grow the organizations doing the work, and commit our time and energy to helping them accomplish their goals — simply donating our money will not be enough. There are a few key things to remember: Organizations fighting for civil rights and social justice already exist in your community. Take the time, now, to research who is providing for essentials like food and water security, education, shelter, legal representation, and policy advocacy on behalf of people at risk. Commit to showing up to help. We all have an overwhelming number of obligations to our lives, our families, our friends and to our work and careers. It’s hard to give up the one night a week we might spend hanging out, watching Netflix, but if that’s the night of the City Council meeting, or when your local elected official has a public hearing, it’s time to show up. Building real, sustainable infrastructure to protect those in need is a job that can’t only be done virtually, or remotely. We’ve got to show up. Start fundraising, now. Once you’ve found the organizations doing the work in your community, commit what resources you can to supporting them, and begin helping them come up with ways to be sustainable over the long term. Local businesses are going to be key to providing necessary resources (whether that’s in-kind offerings or simply funding) and the time to capture their good intentions is right now while they’re still feeling the full weight of Trump’s win. If companies in your community say they want to do the right thing, give them the chance to. 2. Make stopping Trump a regular habit. There are a few key steps we’ll all need to follow to prevent the gradual acceptance of Trump’s extreme and dangerous rhetoric. Fight normalization in media. We’ll start to see the morning shows doing fluffy profiles of Melania and Ivanka almost immediately, along with “humanizing” articles and profiles of Trump following closely behind. These will be part of a concerted effort to make it seem as if Trump fits into a normal pattern of political practice in this country. We need to stead[...]



Set Adrift: Beneath the Surface of P.M. Dawn

2016-06-28T03:14:26Z

Today, P.M. Dawn exists as a faded memory for most music fans, if they’re remembered at all. But Attrell Cordes made songs like nothing that... Today, P.M. Dawn exists as a faded memory for most music fans, if they’re remembered at all. But Attrell Cordes made songs like nothing that came before. Beautiful, sweeping melodies paired with lyrics of regret, remorse, heartache and profound loss. And then there were those surreal, recurring images of water. To casual fans, P.M. Dawn was “the big guy and the other guy.” The big guy was Attrell Cordes, known as Prince Be, who passed away yesterday. The other guy was his brother Jarrett, who usually went by DJ Minutemix until scandal pushed him from the group in the mid-90s. They grew up in Jersey City, which may be the only part of their story that sounds like a regular rap group. The standout moments of the group’s history are like no other group in hip-hop — enormous pop hits and groundbreaking production work, a deep catalog of songs suffused not just with pathos but often with genuine despair, a notorious and absurd run-in with a hip-hop legend, and a stream of profound moments of personal and professional tragedy. P.M. Dawn’s unique mix of extraordinary success, deep influence on current sounds, and a relentlessly heartbroken outlook raises the question: What on earth inspired Attrell Cordes in the first place? It’s easy to forget, nearly 20 years after they faded from view, that P.M. Dawn enjoyed both enormous commercial success and broad critical acclaim. The conventional narrative of the early 90s in mainstream hip-hop is of a time when the genre transformed from a rebellious and challenging upstart artform to the dominant musical force in culture, maturing from golden age boom bap to globally-dominant gangsta rap with only a brief detour into the Native Tongues. The works we associate with that moment of transition in the early 90s are still respected as classics —albums like 36 Chambers and The Chronic. But in 1993, those legendary albums sat on the charts and the critics’ lists right next to The Bliss Album…? Or, to respect the full title of P.M. Dawn’s sophomore effort: The Bliss Album…? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence). The name alone does a good job of explaining exactly why P.M. Dawn was both beloved and mocked. So what is P.M. Dawn‘s rightful legacy in hip-hop history? Are they sidelined today because they were hippies? Maybe, but so were De La Soul until De La deaded the D.A.I.S.Y. age. Was it because they were too soft? After all, P.M. Dawn‘s catalog is full of overtly romantic songs suffused with heartbreak, as likely to be sung as rapped. But in a world where Drake dominates and everybody from Kanye to Lil Wayne gets some of their biggest pop hits by singing moody songs about their feelings, it seems as if history has come down decidedly in favor of the styles the group pioneered. So how did P.M. Dawn end up sinking into obscurity? The answer to P.M. Dawn may lie beneath the surface. [Content notice: This piece includes references that may be troubling to readers sensitive to abuse/violence.] 1. Making Waves Baby you send me, baby you send me Set adrift on memory bliss of you Though they billed themselves as a group, P.M. Dawn was barely even a duo — Attrell was always the creative force behind the work, the lead voice on every song. Those songs typically matched samples of very white, very pop artists to thick layers of Beach Boys harmonies. More than half a decade before the artist intermittently known as Puff Daddy would become one of the biggest stars in pop (and earn the ire of hip-hop purists) with tracks built entirely around top 40 hits, P.M. Dawn was riding a Spandau Ballet song to the top of the charts. Indeed, whe[...]



Prince’s Own Liner Notes On His Greatest Hits

2016-06-02T02:14:59Z

When Prince’s first greatest hits collection was released, Prince made private comments as a guide for the liner notes. Later briefly posted on his website... When Prince’s first greatest hits collection was released, Prince made private comments as a guide for the liner notes. Later briefly posted on his website thedawn.com in 1996, Prince’s comments have been lost for the last 20 years, but now provide a rare first-person insight into how he saw some of his most famous songs. In 1993, just as Prince had changed his name and began wrangling with his record contract, he agreed to his first-ever collection of greatest hits, released as a 3-disc set, The Hits/The B-sides. Prince’s longtime manager Alan Leeds wrote the liner notes for the box set; already an industry legend for his work with James Brown, Leeds had won a Grammy for his extraordinary work on the liner notes for Startime, the definitive James Brown box set released in 1991. But Leeds’ notes on Prince’s work included a number of mentions of anecdotes and inspirations that Leeds couldn’t have been privy to first-hand, and a few that only Prince himself could have known. When liner notes for The Hits were posted on thedawn.com three years later, fans were shocked to see that, rather than simply replicating Leeds’ writing, the notes on the site were clearly Prince’s own thoughts. The notes omit many tracks, include mention of songs that weren’t included in the box set at all, and include what appear to be editorial suggestions for Leeds. Prince often refers to himself as “PRN” (Prince Rogers Nelson) throughout. This was likely both reflective of his longtime habit of trying to issue his pronouncements as coming from a larger, vague collective rather than just himself, and the fact that the notes were likely captured as recited to an assistant. However, it could also have been a deliberate stylistic choice in reference to his then-recent name change; at the time this was published, his public position was that “Prince” was dead. Update: Alan Leeds himself has weighed in, on Reginald Hudlin’s Facebook page, saying he hadn’t known these notes were ever posted online, but confirming that he did use these comments from Prince to inform his work. Interesting — I’d never seen this before and wasn’t aware P had posted these comments. For the record, I had volunteered to Warner Bros. to help assemble and sequence the 3 CDs. However, they were stuck on “their” sequence — I never knew for sure if Prince liked or was involved in the sequencing. I believe it was put together by WB’sr in-house catalogue maven, my friend Gregg Geller and I doubt he had much dialogue with Prince. However, Prince did call me to write the notes. I told him it was an honor but only if he’d answer a few questions so I could add some background that wasn’t common knowledge among fans. He agreed but asked me not to write like an interview. So I simply incorporated some of his “revelations” into my notes. When I sent him the finished notes, he called to say “thanks, nice job” and that was it. He surprisingly did zero editing. It’s wonderful to hear directly from Alan on the role these notes played in his incredible work. LINER NOTES “I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER” - originally recorded as a demo 4 Patrice Rushen’s album. PRN had a mad crush on her at the time and the song is about her. “HEAD” - was only used as a concert tune. This song was picked as Lisa Coleman’s initiation into the band. Gayle Chapman quit because the material of the Dirty Mind period got 2 strong 4 her. Prince figured if Lisa could sing the lyrics to head she could han[...]