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Tomely Zeitgeisty Books Bundle

July 2013

In the spirit of demurely tooting my own horn, over at Tomely we’re currently running a sorta-neat project: a pay-what-you-want charitable Zeitgeisty Books Bundle.

The bundle is full of stories about the internet, startups of all kinds, geekdom, and pervasive technology. Every book in this bundle asks a question: what does it mean to be alive today? These are all books I’m really fond of, and I’m super grateful to all of the authors for agreeing to be part of the project.

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Tooting Your Own Horn

July 2013

About a month ago, I was picked to write for The Listserve. I wrote a short-ish piece titled “Tooting Your Own Horn”, looking at how our culture of loud self-promotion makes it difficult for those with small voices and subtle ideas to make themselves heard.

Here’s a little bit from the end of it:

My guess is that there are a lot of us out there: those that maybe should be talking our work up more, should be properly launching the projects we’ve worked hard on, and should be more comfortable marketing the stuff we’ve created. It’s a shame that, in some cases, those who are most comfortable with self-marketing are those without anything interesting to promote in the first place. Meanwhile, some of the greatest living artists and thinkers are right now almost certainly working in obscurity, lacking the confidence or the platform to show the world what they’re doing.

For those of us that aren’t prone to shouting about ourselves, we risk being drowned out by those that can and do. The presumption is that if you don’t say anything, you don’t have anything to say, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Those that are quiet are sometimes just waiting for a gap in the conversation. They’re waiting to be invited to speak.

That email went out to about 23,000 people. At the very, very end of the message, I came up with a speck of an idea:

I’d love to hear what you guys have created or are working on – especially those of you who aren’t usually comfortable promoting your work. If you send me a short paragraph about a creative project you’re working on, I’ll compile them on my blog for all of you other Listservers to take a peek at.

Essentially, I was asking for 23,00 total strangers to spam me. I thought this could be an interesting experiment. In general, we don’t ask for random people to tell us what they’re working on. In fact, we generally do our best to avoid hearing what people we don’t know are doing. If somebody’s a bit shy and has just finished work on something amazing, their options are limited: they can tell their circle of friends, and then… what? Buy some banner ads the people you’d like to know about your work will probably ad-block out? The best marketers are loud and brash and talk a lot of “hustling”, and when you’re introverted (as many creative-types are), that’s terrifying. My gut tells me there are a lot of amazing projects that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve because the creators are shy and retiring types. That’s a shame.

When I asked to hear back about the projects the Listservers were working on, I had no idea what kind of response to expect. I was, frankly, a little worried: I was half-expecting an inbox full of ads for Viagra and grey-market pharmaceuticals.

did receive a lot of emails, but nothing I’d consider “spam” (Gmail’s spam filter wholeheartedly agreed with me). I read through all of them. The projects were all very different, but what tied them together was that they were all big, unique, and designed to bring something great into the world.

I’ve decided to share them all here. The takeaway, I think, is that we need to create new channels and spaces for the quieter types amongst us to share their work without getting drowned out. I’m not sure how we can build these spaces, but I think it’s something we need to give some thought to.

List of projects after the jump!

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All the online assholes

July 2013

We launched Tomely a few weeks back. Almost everything people had to say about it was very nice. Of course, we also got a bunch of support requests and bug reports, but that’s all part of the fun of managing a fledgling web service.

One user took things to a level that wasn’t okay. The specifics aren’t important, but he filed a support ticket for a problem that we weren’t able to solve, and that went beyond the bounds of the service we were offering (broadly, the request was about as strange as a person walking into a supermarket and demanding the cashier teach them how to snorkel). The user, who was using our service for free, demanded we solve his issue – or else. Helpfully, he elaborated as to exactly what he meant by “or else” (he was a writer, after all!). It involved body parts being inserted into places they really didn’t belong. All this because we offered him a free service he didn’t even know existed thirty seconds ago and it didn’t do exactly what he wanted.

Crazy, right? We thought so. But it also made us feel really weird. This guy felt we owed him something because we let him use a tool we had created, for free. (Tomely makes money using a revenue-share model, meaning we only make money indirectly from users if and when they sell a title. This necessitates that we need to set clear limits regarding how much support we can offer: for example, we will always endeavour to squash bugs as quickly as possible, but we can’t help authors or publishers design or copy-edit their ebooks).

I’m not suggesting you should feel sorry for us. This kind of thing happens all the time. We’ve been pretty lucky so far, actually. We expect to encounter users like this again. We’ve heard horror stories from others.

It’s simply interesting that when you do something, anything, online, you automatically open yourself up to the wrath of all the online assholes. If you’re particularly unlucky, you might find them all piling on at once (I feel pretty bad for the living, breathing victims of 4Chan’s more unpleasant memes). You can’t do anything about it, either. As soon as you hit “publish”, as soon as you launch, as soon as somebody snaps a picture of you walking down the street and decides to upload it with a snarky caption, anybody with access to the internet can have at you. Of course, if you want to get anywhere, you need to publish and you need to launch (and you need to walk down the street!) but there’s always that voice wondering, “Is somebody going to be a total jerk about what I’m putting out there?” The answer is almost always, “Yeah.”

This is really why we procrastinate. We’re afraid of the assholes. We know that if we don’t hit “publish”, they won’t be able to find us. We’re afraid of showing the world what we’ve made because one troll we’ve never met, whose opinion we wouldn’t pay any attention to otherwise, might just see it and say, “That’s dumb“, or worse.

If it’s useful, keep this blog post handy. Bookmark it, and every time you encounter an asshole online, open it up, and know this: what you’re doing isn’t dumb. It’s probably pretty damn great. And for every asshole online, there are a million brilliant, reasonable people silently cheering you on.