The transcript from this week’s MiB podcast with Anil Dash is below.
This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
BARRY RITHOLTZ, MASTERS IN BUSINESS HOST: This week on the podcast I have a special guest, his name Anil Dash; he is a leading technician, entrepreneur, founder in the world of micro-publishing and blogging. I know his work from back when Six Apart was an early pioneer in the world of blogging ,they put out Type Pad which was really the first robust WYSIWYG what you see is what you get sort of blogging platform. Before that you had companies like Yahoo GeoCities, my first blog was on GeoCities, and I say this, it’s really not a joke, it’s true, I say it is a joke but it’s true, I would take 15 to 20 minutes to write something and then two hours to code it in HTML in order for it to work on GeoCities.
It was — you are literally coding everything every — every indent every bold every underline, every paragraph had an HTML code around it.
So to reduce that process of micropublishing to something that was like it very much was like working on a document on Microsoft Word if you wanted to format it, you just click the button that said here’s your underline here’s your italics, here’s your footnote, here’s your — it was it was actually game changing that it went from a ten to one ratio of codings writing to a hundred to one in the opposite direction, you would take a half hour to write something and maybe 30 seconds to format it, it was easy as pie.
My first blog was Big Picture.TypePad.com, it’s still up there. By the way, not only did they create the software for this but they also created the hosting for it and I find Six Apart was a game changer for the world of publishing. I found this to be an actually fascinating conversation if you’re into blogging, technology, entrepreneurship, venture capital, etc., you are going to find this conversation fascinating. So with no further ado, my conversation with Anil Dash.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RITHOLTZ: My special guest today is Anil Dash. He was an advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Digital Strategy. He is a technical advisor to Vox Media, advises the company medium on its publishing, he is also one of the National Advisory Council of Donors Choose, his day job is CEO of Fog Creek Software which have created such products as Stack Overflow and Trello. Were they involved in market-based was that something that…
ANIL DASH, CEO, FOG CREEK SOFTWARE: My company was a start up right before this…
RITHOLTZ: Before that. He writes a monthly opinion column on the impact of technology on society for Wired Magazine. I know him as employee number one at Six Apart behind the seminal blogging software Type Pad, he also serves on the board of the Data and Society research Institute. Anil Dash, welcome to Bloomberg.
DASH: Thanks so much for having me here.
RITHOLTZ: So I mentioned Type Pad I really have to jump right into that.
RITHOLTZ: I know who you are because I actually was a beta tester for Type Pad and that’s where rolled out.
DASH: Thank you for being one.
RITHOLTZ: That’s where rolled out the Big Picture Blog, tell us about your role with the company Six Apart.
DASH: Sure, so I started blogging back in 1999 and there were a couple dozen bloggers on the Internet and I thought…
RITHOLTZ: What were you using to blog then?
DASH: I was manually doing it, I was — people who use Windows remember an app called Notepad.
DASH: And I was manually writing HTML the language of webpages in Notepad and saving it on to a Web server by myself which is the cutting edge technology back in the last…
RITHOLTZ: So I was using Yahoo GeoCities which they are telling me is more advanced, I was just cutting and pasting contents and then having to wrap the HTML code around it.
DASH: Right, so that was a state-of-the-art, and then in late ’99, a couple of the first blogging tools came along and then know so I started using those like Blogger and which Google later bought, and friends shortly thereafter built this tool called Movable Type and it was the first sort of serious blogging platform. Almost immediately, people used it to build Gawker, Huffington Post.
RITHOLTZ: Who was behind Movable Type?
DASH: They were than husband-and-wife couple Ben Trott and Mena Trott, and really were sort of visionaries about the idea that we should take this medium seriously. It was going to be something big, it wasn’t just you know, people sharing their feelings in a journal online like this was going to be where media was heading.
RITHOLTZ: And this is pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, this is way early.
DASH: Yes, yes, before Friendster, if you can remember that one.
So way, way back there.
And consumer Internet was dead, deader than dead in 2001, I mean you couldn’t we — we did in a round that was 600 grand that we raised and people were like wow that’s all the money in the world, I mean it’s like the catering budget for a launch party for one of these startups today. And the and so we did that and was interesting was people almost medially recognizes this is important, this is something new in media, it’s something really powerful and like when you’re — without it, it’s still not easy enough and it was still you had to have a lot of technical knowledge.
DASH: And that was where Type Pad came from, you know, I think the predecessor to today you see the Word Presses and Mediums and Tumblrs of the world and all of them I think would say, you know, Type Pad is a direct antecedent to that and…
RITHOLTZ: It was the first — as far as I can recall is the first WYSIWYG sort of blogging software, what you see is what you get ,it was like operating within a WordPerfect or Word Doc — it was since it was 17 years ago, I could say WordPerfect like anyone knows what that is…
DASH: It’s for the old timers, but I think the other thing is really interesting was we were experimenting with today you know a lot of things that we take for granted in consumer web. So just the fact that we had a consumer pay model that was five bucks a month, ten bucks a month, I mean, you know, I (reached in) for Spotify and Netflix and know…
RITHOLTZ: Right, nobody was really thinking in terms of recurring revenue stream in a monthly — it’s a credit card.
DASH: Yes, the idea that that we were even going to ask people to do that was radical. I mean the stuff sounds like ridiculous because we all do it now but you know, plus it was 16 years ago, 15 years ago, people were really, really taken aback by that. The other thing that I think in retrospect was a bigger deal, a huge deal and we sort of just took it for granted was we were probably the first consumer product TCMs on Web services on the backend.
RITHOLTZ: Really? That’s very interesting.
DASH: So we had some features that were like you list books you were reading and music you were listening to and they would talk to Amazon and link up, you know, Buy my Book, or you know, buy this Pacman CD. And the interesting thing about that is…
RITHOLTZ: Some of us still buy CDs just as…
DASH: Every once in a great while, I will do so you know, for collecting purpose.
RITHOLTZ: That is exactly right.
DASH: And so the interesting thing was that we had this app talking to web services from Amazon, you know, years and years before think that became commonplace, and then the third thing that Type Pad did that I think nobody really remembers, so the you know, the iPhone launch didn’t have an app store, Steve Jobs was like, you got to use the web…
RITHOLTZ: He was against it originally.
DASH: And then a year later, so they said, okay, we’re going to introduce the App Store. At that initial rollout on stage with Steve Jobs, we had our head of product for Type Pad showing Type Pad taking photos on your phone uploading them to the web from your iPhone you know in real time, this was you know, years — long before Instagram took off.
DASH: The very first initial launch of the App Store, Type Pad was one of the first apps they ever feature.
RITHOLTZ: And Type Pad is still around, still…
DASH: Yes, yes.
RITHOLTZ: Still doing its thing.
DASH: Yes, you know, they changed ownership a bunch of times, I literally have even followed because I wouldn’t (inaudible) of those for the last several years…
RITHOLTZ: I mean I know the old Big Picture which I did not take down when I move to WordPress in ’08, I picked September ’08 as a perfect time in the middle of the financial crisis, it was like six months in advance and then the world blew up. I kept both that and I had a fun essays and effluvia for just random effluvia and they’re still up and running I still — at one point in time was 50 percent of the traffic to WordPress, and then it gradually you know, as people moved their bookmarks and RSS feeders which no longer is…
DASH: Yes, there’s a lot — I mean there is a lot of technology that have sort of come — has come and gone and I think some of these things will come back around again but it’s been an interesting thing to watch. A lot of these ideas we thought were really radical around you might take a picture in your camera on your phone and hen share with people instantly and you might store that on Amazon Web services and you might use a service that’s got a consumer subscription model as a way of accessing it, all those things you know we weren’t necessarily, well we were first in some of them but we weren’t the only ones doing them.
I think to have that..
RITHOLTZ: You certainly popularized that.
DASH: Yeah I think to have bet that that was the way the internet was headed were some of the things were just as important as the idea that blogs are going to be (inaudible).
RITHOLTZ: Here is a quote of you that I like, any form of electronic communication will first be dismissed as trivial and worthless until it produces a profound results after which it will be described as obvious and boring.
DASH: Yes, that’s been my experience for sure.
RITHOLTZ: You have been blogging since 1999, was this the plan all along? To just keep blogging?
DASH: You know, it was really one of those — I was underemployed not real happy with my place in life and thought I’m going to have a creative outlet to put stuff out there and I can’t sing and I can’t — I can’t do radio shows so let me do this.
And it was an interesting thing to sort of just have this outlet and then realize this medium mattered enough and that I had been early. You know, I thought I was late starting in ’99.
RITHOLTZ: That’s funny because when I started on Type Pad, it was ’03 so I even remembered July 2003, and it was essentially a handful of college economics professors, nobody really writing about markets, nobody really writing about investing, and you end up, my experience was similar to yours and that I’m not thrilled with what I’m doing, I’m kind of you know looking for a creative outlet, but it was clear that the mainstream media they will then take some young kid out of school and throw them, nobody wants to cover the Fed, nobody wanted to do economics back then and they were frequently — if not wrong then lacking context.
DASH: Yes, they weren’t deep enough in it.
DASH: And I think those are the things that have been, the people writing the blogs were the people who were like I’m obsessing over this whether there’s an audience or not.
RITHOLTZ: That is — nobody cares. You know, my view is who cares if there’s an audience, it was a whole lot of expert amateurs is that a real thing?
DASH: Yes, yes, I don’t know but I think what you mean and I think that summer, too, was a particularly interesting time, summer of ’03 because we had folks coming up, they were doing — covering aspects of economics that people weren’t covering. We brought some of the first — well, really, I think all the first VCs that started blogging and came out on Type Pad, so we had Fred Wilson on…
RITHOLTZ: Still blogs.
DASH: Yes, David Hornik from August Capital, a bunch of these folks Joe Ito who’s now heading up the media lab…
RITHOLTZ: MIT, yes.
DASH: And you know, you know all these folks were up — read often, and like…
RITHOLTZ: Who now has a podcast himself.
DASH: Exactly so like…
RITHOLTZ: Former CEO of…
DASH: Of LinkedIn, founder of LinkedIn, and so all these people were you know I knew them as investors and I was not at all fluent in VC. You know, I knew tech, but at that time you could actually build entire career writing software and never cross paths with VC.
DASH: Yes, you know, it was pretty common and…
RITHOLTZ: There was a lot of big companies.
DASH: Yes, mom and pop shops that were built on software and apps and they would start to grow organically out of that, and if you weren’t in the Valley in particular, you know you can easily, I was in New York, you can just never cross paths, and so to read these blogs was like opening up this whole new world tour and they were now I understand let you know to some degree was content marketing, they were marketing their firms by being better storytellers.
RITHOLTZ: I think that is what it has evolved to.
RITHOLTZ: Right, I think that is what it has evolved to, the same thing with the Freemium model, here is a whole bunch of free content and by the way, if you want to work with us, you can do — but that’s not I think that was anyone’s intent actually and truly that wasn’t my intention, here is what I’m going to do, I’m going to blog in obscurity for 12 years and then one day have a radio show.
DASH: Well, it’s so interesting because I had that where you know, one of the people I connected with back then was Joel Spolsky who was writing a blog called Joel on Software and he was really the first person to write about sort of coding culture — technical culture and it was one of the things that those was — were coding for loving which is what I did back then, knew these things but had never seen them addressed as like you are you are you know people to place in society and he was taking programmers very seriously. Part of the reasons why he was blogging then, he was explaining the ideas behind the new company just created which was Fog Creek Software.
And so 17 years later you know for all 16 years from the point that I took over as CEO the company, it felt like I knew everything about how this company ran and what its values were and what its purpose was in the world because I had from day one followed along with the story telling and to think, he was not content marketing, he was not — he didn’t start writing and so he was really like trying to solve a problem, like how do you deal with real estate in Manhattan? How do you keep programmers happy a world where you back then, hard is it to believe, programmers were treated sort of like dirt, they were like, you know, these guys in the back, we’re going to give him a computer and lock him in them in the dark…
RITHOLTZ: And throw pizza under the door.
DASH: Exactly, right, and throw caffeine at him. And now you know you think well I mean there’s probably no more spoiled workers in the world in terms of like the free massages and the trays of candy and…
RITHOLTZ: You mentioned that Google lifted the idea of all the free food…
DASH: Yeah this was one of those things where like things become urban legend and hard to separate fact from fiction but what I’ve heard — so one thing that is definitely true is Fog Creek was one of the first companies to do the like let’s really spoil our coders, our technical workers and was everything from great free lunches to one of things I still spend a lots of time working on the completely end to end healthcare, nobody on our team pays anything for healthcare.
In fact, we have people who have been at the company a long time or came right out of school, they didn’t know what in network out and network means because they never had to deal with it on the network and I think that’s great, like that’s what we want people to feel.
And then one of those things was really great free catered lunches. In retrospect I think some of this is the company was always like downtown Manhattan and especially back then you just post 9-11 there wasn’t like a good restaurant, it also — working late like 5 P.M., it would just shut down, that neighborhood would just be dead.
RITHOLTZ: So how do you get food down to…
DASH: So they had caterers, right? And caterers come in every day…
RITHOLTZ: Show up, how many employees…
DASH: So now the company were about 40, it’s still pretty small, it’s kind of gotten up and down in size because over the years, like they co-created Stack Overflow in the created Trello and as those products grow, they get pretty big and then they would spin them out.
DASH: I think Trello, you know, Trello spun out a couple of years ago and sold to Atlassian back in January for 425 million.
RITHOLTZ: Let me reel you back into the blogosphere and talk a little bit about one of my favorite subjects, which is a public a blog post of yours called Don’t Read the Comments. Now I wrote Bailout Nation on the blog I wouldn’t put up a few hundred words and I would get feedback and have you seen this story and look at this link, and the readers, the community, was astonishing.
DASH: Yes, yes, yes.
RITHOLTZ: And then tragedy of the commons just gets overrun with spammers and trolls and it became so time-consuming to stay on top of comments that finally I had to just grit my teeth and ripped the Band-Aid off and closed comments. I was not happy about doing it, but it just became this giant time suck. What is the problem, and by the way, that’s true of my columns of the Washington Post, and Bloomberg as well.
It’s like if you want to say something, go someplace, here’s a link to twitter, here is a link to Facebook where hopefully you aren’t doing this anonymously and you could be called out because eventually I could subpoena Twitter and find out who you are if you say something really violent.
DASH: Although Twitter had done a good job of protecting people’s anonymity.
RITHOLTZ: Oh, they have done a — protected anonymity, yes.
DASH: But not abuse…
RITHOLTZ: They are just, in fact on my argument as to why twitter stock prices has been in the crap for all this time as they have not created an encouraging community.
DASH: Totally agree, so there’s a couple things I would sort of break out there. The first is that I get to watch people creating the first comment systems on the Internet. And there was a time when you couldn’t actually comment on a webpage. And so the interestingly, the challenge then was are people going to type in this box at all? Are they going to even understand that you can leave a comment and it will show up on the page and that something you can do. So they were hyper optimized for what at any cost we just want to put — we don’t want to put any barriers to somebody typing this box and leaving a comment.
Of course that pretty quickly became well we made it really easy and now there are no barriers and there are no standards and what you know, I wish we had understood the time and I will say this is something I personally didn’t get for a long time was you make a real community by introducing a set of rules that everybody understands. This is true in the physical world. We get it very intuitively. If you go to a park and it’s got the you know, you can’t be throwing your ball around here because you are going to hit these little kids that are over here or there’s a dog running, you got to keep your dog inside the fence, whatever the rules are that makes the place work for everybody. And it doesn’t have to be onerous, it doesn’t have to be burden.
We didn’t do any of that in creating these online systems and in fact a lot of the people — and this is something, it wasn’t as much for me but people that I saw that were creating other tools that made the systems for commenting and feedback online were total zealots about the fact that shouldn’t be any rules, it should be wild west all the time and you know wild west is basically, well if you have wild west and there’s no cops, guess who runs the show?
RITHOLTZ: That’s right, the outlaws and in fact went, when I was I went through a two-step process, the first step was saying all right we are going to do moderated comments and in order to — I’m going to set up some rules which are not to share so you’re not going to know you won’t be able to gain the system just for just — just to get past step one and then step two is no ad hominem attacks, no false– no fake news like it it’s amazing that one simple sentence of nonsense can undercut this deeply researched intelligently debated and I went back and forth, I want to debate but what I didn’t want was just people derailing things with nonsense.
So we’ve had Trump told about fake news, fake news some of which is confirmation bias and tribalism and some of which is just people purposefully trying to…
DASH: Yes, yes.
RITHOLTZ: And there’s a couple of guides online which I’ve posted on the blog as a See, it’s the guide to disrupting social forums. There — they are actually out there. And they’re out of the CIA black book to how to go disrupt society.
DASH: Right, it’s misinformation as a tactic. And so there’s an interesting thing here where we had this escalation. So first we had to what the Internet always had ordinary trolls, right, just people say like I don’t buy that because I can hide behind my anonymity or relative anonymity I can be transgressive in this way where I’m just being the person who’s like you know ruining things for people but in a way that I think living is entertaining, and that sort of like it’s annoying but it’s a big deal and if you can ban them, that’s fine. The evolution of that into organize communities that are trying to undermine other communities or undermined individual people who are trying to communicate by misinformation, by personal attacks, by threats, by all that sort of these tactics, I think people don’t understand these have gotten very organized and structured.
As you said, there are guides to how to do it and so they say, well, why don’t you just ignore it…
RITHOLTZ: Not just the Russians too, others…
DASH: Yes, yes, yes, totally, I mean weather it’s Gamergate or the Men’s Rights Activists, like there were a lot of communities that were doing this online and the interesting thing about this is one they learn from each other, they have been evolving this over 10 or 15 years, they are very organized but they organize in places that people aren’t watching so they are happening on you know some sub-Reddit or 4chan, I mean these are the ones that people know, but also there are private channels, they can text each other like anybody else. Like they are not — you know, they are very technically literate and so what happens is people who are not sophisticated in these things think, well, okay, look if this people is being a jerk to you online, why don’t you just not go on Twitter, or why don’t you — just not, you know, don’t worry about it, delete here comment or kind of thing, and so well the difference is when you have people organizing trying to undermine a specific community just ignoring it doesn’t make you go away.
RITHOLTZ: Right, that’s right.
DASH: And the social cost of for example thing just get off social media or don’t go on Twitter and don’t go whenever, well that’s you know, if I work in media, I work in publisher, I work in tech, it’s a business tool, I need that, I need to have a presence there.
RITHOLTZ: Translates the digital version of that into meet space is sort of like saying don’t go to the town square, don’t go to the school, don’t go to the theater, it’s ridiculous.
DASH: That is exactly right, and you take like, you know, YouTube comments, I think they are getting a little better been notoriously terrible. And if you — I’m going to go to Google’s lobby in Mountain View and I’m going to start shouting up offensive people, they are not going to be like have a seat, have some of our free lunch, they are going to be like, no, you got to stop doing that or we are going to kick you out.
RITHOLTZ: And my explanation of a was if you have a cocktail party, A you get to invite who comes, and B, someone starts flipping over tables you get to throw them out. It is not like weld of the thing that makes me incensed about this is they would scream First Amendment and my response is always nothing is stopping you from going and starting your own blog and laboriously building it other than the fact that you are a lazy untalented wanker…
RITHOLTZ: Feel free.
DASH: They don’t want to do that they’re not trying to create something, they are trying to destroy something.
RITHOLTZ: Right exactly.
DASH: And I think that that there’s a really is a tough challenge where you know you, you can express yourself however you want, you’re not entitled to destroy my platform….
RITHOLTZ: And my community and my back and forth.
DASH: Yes, and it’s an interesting thing because, there’s also we, I think especially technical people, how this desired — one set of rules that applies everybody and I want this one set of you know, this behavior is always bad if you do this.
RITHOLTZ: If then…
DASH: Right, exactly, binary logic stuff that…
RITHOLTZ: But that doesn’t always work.
DASH: And that ignores the reality society which is that people have different positions, roles, power, all these things shape the dynamics and the example I always give is the sort of like the classic one of the worst things that people do to threaten people who were on the margins, who were vulnerable or have ideas that are unpopular, you know, we are going to expose you, we are going to (inaudible) and we are going to publish your home address, and I mean I have this happen to me, the gamergaters published my home address.
RITHOLTZ: Don’t you have your phone number on your?
DASH: I do.
RITHOLTZ: I thought that was insane when I…
DASH: You know, so it’s an interesting thing when part of it is about reclaiming like I’m going to control this docs and republish I would resume on this happening you gamer gator published Mike home address know you have your phone number on your I do like I said I was insane when you know so there’s an interesting they weren’t part of it is about reclaiming like, I’m going to control this stuff and what’s out there, and some of it is I do want to show people of good intent, I am accessible, I’m not trying to hide something, I’m not trying to be, you know, wall myself off from — because I do think most people are good and do want to engage with ideas and want to be thoughtful.
And so that some of that is just signaling like I’m open to that. Then there’s this other part which is so there is a behavior where like, some of these like legitimately vulnerable and they are keeping themselves anonymous or pseudonymous in order to keep themselves safe and you out them, that’s a real danger. On the other hand if you say the person who did this transgressive things — this dangerous thing, who posted this threat, I’m going to identify them, that is actually protecting people, rights?
So the exact same activity, I’m going to identify this person who is trying to hide can be both very good very bad, it can be very much a positive that help society or it can be very negative because you’re making somebody vulnerable.
And so the logic of what I think a lot of programmers tend toward like if you do this rule, you are bad, you follow, if you break this rule, you are bad, it ignores power, it ignores the dynamics of society and that’s why we keep bumping into the — what would seem like really obvious screw ups in tech where we’re like how come we can’t make a civil place? It’s like you are not going to be able to regulate human behavior with a single binary set of rules.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little bit about diversity and inclusion this is all over the — you are way, way ahead of the curve on this, we have the CEO of Uber being forced out, we have a number of VCs having to step down to either from the boards that they serve on or from their own companies, it looks like the bro-culture in Silicon Valley is coming to an end.
Tell us a little bit about your perspective on diversity and inclusion and in the world of technology?
DASH: So there is definitely a moment of reckoning going on right now and for me 10 years ago I was just I’ve been in Silicon Valley a couple of years even thought I have been in tech 20 years, I spent a couple of years….
RITHOLTZ: What — because you are really, I know you are New York, so when did you move here when you were there.
DASH: We were doing Six Apart and the company was growing and I went out to the — San Francisco in 2004, and I was there until 2007. And really one of the drivers for me of sort of being — being in Silicon Valley, being in San Francisco was it felt so homogenous and…
DASH: Yes, it just — well I think I’ve been spoiled. I have been in New York and worked in media.
RITHOLTZ: True publishing — no matter how — where you are, there is so many.
DASH: And you know, and I have people to you know that were friends that were outside of tech and they were in other disciplines, it could be in fashion, they can be in media, they can be in finance whatever it was, and you just get a different view of the world, and it was astonishing to me, it was like with all the problems that you know, say the entertainment industry had, they were still much more inclusive and much more diverse, and so to go into conference rooms, board rooms, meeting rooms in Silicon Valley and look around and be like essentially this is just a bunch of White and Asian guys.
RITHOLTZ: Right, that doesn’t count as diversity.
DASH: You know, and it’s interesting because it’s particularly complicated being Asian American where we’re over represented and like we over — we are 2 percent of the population and yet you look at just Indian American, you know, people in tech, the CEO of Google, CEO of Microsoft, CEO of Adobe, these are all Indian guys, so like we’re doing fine, and yet you know, like I said, being a media publishing entertainment, I was like I know that there are black and Latino folks in California, you can’t tell me they’re not there, and yet you go to these offices it was just technical staff there was also the legal staff, the marketing staff, the everything — every one of these roles, the representation was way out of whack to a point where you just couldn’t ignore it anymore.
RITHOLTZ: The number that was in one of your columns, California’s Hispanic population is 39 percent, the average percentage of employees in tech companies headquartered there is less than 5 percent, Google is 3 percent, and if you look in this industry average for women, it’s only a third of employees a women when more than half of the population are women.
DASH: Right and so there is just this proportionality were you are like at a certain point, you say okay it’s not going to exactly match, of course not, but if you…
RITHOLTZ: Got to be ballpark.
DASH: If you take 40 percent and you say, well, we looked at 40 percent of the population we could only find 3 percent of our staff that can meet our requirements, I don’t — I just don’t buy it, the math doesn’t add up.
RITHOLTZ: The push back to that is hey you know you mentioned India, huge technical training, engineering, mathematics, science, India Institute of Technology going on the list — just tremendous and my other favorite stat is half of the C-suite in Silicon Valley are immigrants so there is clearly some recognition of meritocracy at least in theory.
DASH: That is the idea, and I mean I could not be more pro-immigrant, my parents are immigrants, they’re here because you know they were willing to do the work and get educated and you know, I am incredibly proud to be in that you know, of that descent and that tradition. That being said, you look at the costs for paying for an H1B for paying for the lawyers to brings somebody over here, for paying for all of these things, to bring his workers over here is a huge investment in this company and it’s huge.
And for the same amount of money, you could train workers here and they’re not. And you could train people from the underrepresented communities…
RITHOLTZ: So what is the thinking behind that? That is a sure thing and training them is a risk or…
DASH: You know, well, I think there is a lot of factors, I think one of them is you know H1B workers can never organize or really complain because if you, you know, essentially if you get too uppity, you lose your job you get deported and then you’re not sending money back to your family or to your village or whatever else, so the amount of leverage they have over these workers is incredible. I have to think that’s a factor you know, particularly in the case of like there was this collusion orchestrated by Steve Jobs and…
RITHOLTZ: Google, Apple, Amazon…
DASH: Yes, 14 of the biggest tech — everybody essentially except for Facebook colluded against her own workers, right? To depress their wages by saying we are not going to poach each other’s workers and which is still astonishing to me.
RITHOLTZ: And there was almost no ramifications.
DASH: And this is the amazing thing, if the workers are like — there was a sort of like obligatory lawsuit, I think it was for $8 billion or something, they settled it for a tiny pittance of that, which the lawyers…
DASH: And you know, the people at Apple who went through this, I talked to people that work there, and they were like I still just really love and revere Steve, and I’m like the guy took money out of your kids college funds, and you’re like he seems like a nice guy and like what do we have to do for you to be like I’m not going to you know, follow along with this.
RITHOLTZ: You have to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone.
DASH: That is a bridge too far.
RITHOLTZ: Right, that’s the line, that is the Rubicon.
DASH: And what you realize is you know, one, there is that reference, two, they are like who am I to complain, I am getting a good salary, I am being paid well and what they don’t see his common cause with those H1 B workers or common cause with the you know, the contractors and I say contractors in quotes who are providing meals driving the shuttles to the office and giving them those free massages, all those things are presented as perks, so you get free lunch and you get these things, those are people, these are workers and they never get equity in these companies and so we realized there’s this sort of you know, this class system built-in that I’m just a big believer in like you got to treat your people well, and they certainly have the money to do it and they didn’t need to nickel and dime their workers…
RITHOLTZ: That is kind of odd because they have more cash than — all these companies have more cash than…
RITHOLTZ: I have to point out that the only reason Facebook did not participate in it is A, they were too young for when that deal was originally made, and B, they were busy raiding Google for some of their favorite engineers.
So as well as Apple.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little about what Fog Creek is doing before we have you repair twitter.
RITHOLTZ: Tell me what — tell us about a glitch in some of the other products Fog Creek is working on.
DASH: So Fog Creek is a very storied company, it’s been around 17 years, brilliant cofounders, Joel Spolsky, Michael Pryor and what they always wanted to build is one, a great place for like people who want to make the most interesting technology to come work and it’s been a very influential company that has spun out, they co-created stack overflow which is a community that pretty much every coder the world uses to answer their questions about programming.
RITHOLTZ: Did that eventually become like a white label version where if you want to set up your own internal Q&A?
DASH: You can do that, yet for sure, it has an enterprise product for that, I’m just on the board of Stacks so I get to see a lot of what they are doing and the big thing to me is you have this community where tens of millions of coders around the world come and answer each other’s questions and this really collaborative way and then interestingly, it’s a very, you know, reassuring nurturing supportive environment, people really get answers right away…
RITHOLTZ: No problem with trolls or disruption.
DASH: No, you know, and like I think that historically the one of the biggest challenges was they weren’t probably friendly enough to newbies because they are like, you have to phrase your question the right way it has to be you know exactly right, I think that is starting to ease up a little bit as the sort of you know, the community evolves and being more welcoming but the key thing is there’s never been widescale harassment, there’s never even been wild scale abuse and that’s with the site that is probably the top 40 websites in the world in terms of traffic so it is possible to make a large site that works well.
So Stack was co created with Jeff Atwood and his team and that spun out this independent company, they made a project manager to Trello, which lots of people us, it’s really popular and that spun out, the last thing about that. So there is this track record of making these wildly successful products and you know I be — they approach me about taking over the CEO last year and I said, you know, what is coming down the pipe? And I saw what became Glitch that we launched earlier this year and I was just blown away.
I think it is one of the most revolutionary products that I have seen in my life like in my whole tech career.
RITHOLTZ: Really? What does Glitch do?
DASH: So what glitch is very simply, it’s a programming environment where you can go and write code and there’s a couple of things it does that nobody’s done before. The first is as you type, it’s automatically taking the code you are writing, the app that you are creating and publishing it live to the web. That sounds trivial but that’s — you know, you take entire businesses like Amazon’s web services hosting business or Heroku which is sort of beloved by coders and the whole process of getting an app live on to the web is really hard, it’s become very complicated to do it completely automatically in the background is a radical change.
RITHOLTZ: So is this an app and when we talk about apps, I think about the App Store and the Android Store…
DASH: These are right now, web apps and these are things you go to in your browsers if you want to make a little, you know, a simple app for your business, you are going to make an expensing app for your team to use or you will make a to do list app or something like that.
It can be as complicated as you want but the problem is that process of the — even if you knew how to write the code and you build that whole thing yourself just getting it onto the web was a lot of work, it was a pain. So it took all that away. And that was step one.
Step two was your entire coding environment, everything just lives in the browser and it’s easier for the same reason I like — you like to use Gmail instead of having a Mail App on your on your computer, like it’s just there whatever computer I log into, all my stuff is there, those alone were a big leap forward. The biggest things that happen, the two things that sort of came out earlier this year was that first, that we made almost an app store — a catalog of all the different apps people have built and you can remix any of them.
And so say somebody already made a to do list app, and well that’s nice, but I want it to be blue instead of green, you go in there you edit it, that’s instantly yours, you can remix it to whatever you want to with it. It’s really the power and the promise of open source that we have had for many years.
And then the thing that blew my mind when I saw the team had built it was you can edit this code in real time with other people. So like Google Docs.
RITHOLTZ: I was about to say that makes me think of Google Docs but for application.
RITHOLTZ: Web embedded application.
DASH: That is exactly it. So nobody has made that kind of powerful real programming environment that is multiplayer.
RITHOLTZ: what’s the business model on this? Are you selling it to enterprise?
DASH: There is a couple of parts to it, the first we’re doing is it — incidental to the fact that you can code at the same time as other people which is an incredible learning tool, teaching tool, because you can help people. So right now, all the big companies have what they call their APIs of application programming interface, and this is the way that you build services on top of (Stripe) for payments are Trello for messages or your Twitter for sending messages obviously and it’s really hard for them to get developers to try out their tools.
So if you say we have a new developer platform and we want people to use it for example, Amazon has skills for the Alexa.
DASH: You want to make new commands that work there or Slack has bots in their messaging app, they are desperate…
RITHOLTZ: We just added a whole bunch of Slack bots.
DASH: Yes, and they are handy.
RITHOLTZ: Birthdays and know that it’s is really interesting…
DASH: And you see that and you are like wow, I wish you would talk to this other system we’re using, and like I can never do that. It’s too hard. The process with Glitch now is we’ve got a sample Slack bot for you, you go and you remix it, you change the part that just works for your system to be exactly what you want it to be and it’s instantly up and running.
So we take the time to develop a Slack bot or Alexa skill from days or hours into minutes, and that is something that’s enormously valuable, this company’s platform, so they want to use it and be able to pick — pay to do a couple of different things. A key one is supporting developers creating these things. So right now, I feel like I want to build on the you know, Alexa’s skillset from Amazon.
RITHOLTZ: So it’s Amazon buying this or Twitter buying this, not necessarily an enterprise company to create their own unique apps.
DASH: Well, everybody is desperate to make things easier for developers because developers are so in demand and it’s so rare to get them to pay attention to your platform and I look at it and there’s a search tool called Algolia that I just love it was one of those searches really hard to do well, I’m not Google, I’m not going to figure this thing out.
I have always been interested in trying it, and I thought — to tie that search feature into my app would be really useful, but you know, I’m running the company, I’m busy, I don’t have time to learn all this stuff even if I got a little bit of coding skills. Now I can go remix an example out from Algolia that already has search working and just plug in the parts that I want to into my own app and be up and running instantly. That was something where I was like, they took it from it would be cool to try this out and have his intent to learning this programming skill into I can deploy it instantly. And the biggest thing I see is the coders who we show it to like their eyes light up like it looks like Christmas morning more them and I’m like that is a really good sign that we’re on to something big with Glitch.
RITHOLTZ: So that sounds really fascinating.
You mentioned Twitter earlier, let’s talk about what you would do to fix Twitter? I’ve been amazed that they — while there been a series of updates and they continue to improve the interface and some of the general behaviors, the broader concept behind community they just can’t seem to wrap their heads around.
DASH: It’s a hard thing on and I do have a lot of empathy for the team, I do think they’re trying, but I think you know it was so long for them to turn the ship around to really addressing a lot of the issues…
RITHOLTZ: That’s the question…
DASH: That people don’t believe in it.
RITHOLTZ: That is the question, why did it take so long for them to notice that they had a giant harassment problem?
DASH: You know, I think there’s a there’s a lot of reasons for that. I am one of the key issues is who feels the pain? Right? So we talk about the inclusion and diversity issue and you know, twitter is like most of the tech companies, it doesn’t have a lot of people from you know, black and Latino communities, doesn’t have as many women and guess who gets targeted by the majority of the harassment online?
RITHOLTZ: See I haven’t, let me stop you there because as a white dude in New York City, perhaps I’m not experiencing the same thing, however and I’m kind of thick-skinned, I’m more annoyed by the failed logical deduction in people calling me ugly.
RITHOLTZ: But what I’m amazed that is and I’m seeing all this harassment mostly on a partisan basis, name-calling and stupidity, just craziness which I think discourages new — I don’t want to go there.
DASH: Yes, absolutely. That’s cool.
RITHOLTZ: And so it’s a little moderate in Facebook because people have to use — theoretically are using their real names or otherwise have to go through a whole process of creating a fake name and I know people certainly do that but…
DASH: But there’s some barriers.
RITHOLTZ: Right, it is harder to do so what would you do to fix Twitter?
DASH: There are a couple of things that I actually wrote a piece back in January 1. Jack Dorsey asked, I guess the whole Internet like how would you — how would you fix Twitter and I’ve been out there were couple things I wrote in there and the more cogent ones, one of which was show people you know how to update the service and update the apps, just the ability to iterate and introduce new things would introduce a lot of trust in the platform, because they hadn’t shipped any features, they hadn’t updated anything. So you can make whatever proclamations you want to about we’re fixing abuse, we are fixing harassment or adding better features of filtering or whatever, if you won’t believe in it because like well the thing hasn’t changed at all in a long time, you know, and in fact they were killing off things like Vine that was really great and creative and interesting and didn’t have a harassment problem.
And so we said, well okay these things that make you feel good and those are getting killed and the things that are making me feel terrible, your are doubling down on, so what I think they have gotten better than they sort of started shipping more to is to sort of be really clear about a harassment policy, so instead of these nebulous vague rules like if they see like this person is very obviously transgressing, being abusive and horrible to people, you got to see their account get suspended.
RITHOLTZ: That happened not too long ago, I forgot his name, he is a fairly — Milos Yiannopoulos, am I correct in pronouncing…
DASH: Milos Yiannopoulos.
RITHOLTZ: Right, notorious troll and harraser and he finally, again, you have to go so far so repeatedly before your account is suspended.
DASH: Well it’s also — not just that that he transgressed so frequently so often that he was openly explicit about the fact he was trying to harass people, right? You know and these are the things where it’s like this is a…
RITHOLTZ: But the fact that he stands out as if someone who is banned and there isn’t — first of all, there was a boatload of bots and insane amounts of — I assume half of my Twitter are software algos.
And then on top of that, it seems that there are some people that are just calls to violence and just all sorts of like how do they tolerate this?
DASH: I think one of the things that is easy to lose track of outside of Silicon Valley is how extreme they are about some of some parts of libertarianism around these views, right?
So they are very like everything is free speech, everything is fair game…
RITHOLTZ: No one is saying you can’t do this but we’re a private company, this is our product, and you can go do the sales initially you’re — free to be obnoxious and offensive wherever you want, just not in our private community.
DASH: Well the interesting thing, I think there are a couple of parts they sort of ignore, one of which is you know, there is often the argument that technically it’s too hard to limit these things.
RITHOLTZ: That is nonsense.
DASH: And I said listen you go ahead and upload a Beyoncé MP3 and watch how quickly they can detect that, so the tech is there….
RITHOLTZ: For sure.
DASH: It’s not harder to detect you know sound signature in a song that it is text right this right at the racial…
RITHOLTZ: Here are key phrase, here’s what I mean it that should this was in the…
DASH: Machine learning is making leaps and bounds in advancements like that can be something where you can get better at.
RITHOLTZ: Right, AI should really be all over that.
DASH: And I think that is starting to seep into twitter a little bit, they are getting a little better at hiding and flagging things it is hard to say but that’s part of the they need to communicate clearly about it.
The other part is you know we always talk about the free speech for the people who are harassing and abusing but what they do is they chase off vulnerable voices — what out the free speech of the people who are…
RITHOLTZ: The Chilling effect?
DASH: Exactly and Isis were like I know I have extremely thick skin I am a loudmouth all the time so I got I’m pretty hard to shut up there are times when you get to the worst of them, you know, a mob of people coming after you and they are you know, targeting you, your friends, you family, your coworkers and you just say enough, I got to put this way and like if I can go to that with all as fortunate and privileged as I am with as much of a network is I have to be able to like sometimes it’s too much people who aren’t as lucky as I am and don’t have that support network behind them can easily be hounded out off this network.
And it’s like theirs speech matters too and I care a lot more about the people who are targeted, you know, unfairly for harassment, I care a lot more about their free speech than the people who were saying horrible things to them.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking to Anil Dash of Fog Creek Software. If you enjoyed this conversation be sure to stick around for the podcast extras where we keep the tape running and continue to discuss all things technology. Be sure to check out my daily column on BloombergView.com, we love your comments, feedback, and suggestions, write to us at MIBPodcast@Bloomberg.net. You can follow me on twitter at RITHOLTZ, I’m Barry Ritholtz, you’re listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.
Welcome to the podcast, Anil thank you for doing this and being for so generous with your time.
DASH: Happy to be here.
RITHOLTZ: We were talking during the during the break about the blocking problem on Twitter and you mentioned the service and I’m intrigued by it…
DASH: Well, Twitter has its own service for importing and exporting lists of blocks but it’s not very well integrated, there is a cycle block together that actually a bunch activists made that gives you the tools to share a block list with your friends and or to subscribe to theirs. And it’s really handy because then you don’t have to individually block a whole community people that are trying to troll and harass you.
RITHOLTZ: So if you’re looking to, so I’d break the world into three categories of people and we will keep this relatively PG&E, but there are the folks who are just simply misinformed and I’ve learned if you give somebody a fact that challenges their misunderstanding, it doesn’t help them…
DASH: Then you double down.
RITHOLTZ: So what I always do with that group of people is you should find the data source for the real — right and if you could if you can prove to me that what you — you’re saying is correct, I will write a column on it.
RITHOLTZ: And because if they follow me, I could DM them and then subsequently delete the DM so they can’t harangue me on direct message, and I will give them a — not so much a homework assignment but if you really believe this steaming pile of nonsense you shared, I’m not asking you to create a persuasive argument, just show me your data source, so that say that’s the sort of gentle nudge.
The next level are people who are just kind of ideologically broken and what I mean by that is no concept of beyond not having any data, any data that contradicts their beliefs, their radiology, just pure cognitive dissonance.
DASH: Those rejected outright.
RITHOLTZ: Right then and for them — but not but not venal, but not vicious just philosophically askew on top of not being evidence-based and so now you know I really because I start — I will look at something and I’ll go down the rabbit hole and it’s like oh okay I know this is you know it all roads lead to Breitbart and (Trojan) a bunch of, and there’s some versions of that on the left as well some of the early — I’m trying to remember the sites, (Salon) could be a little over the top and then there’s another one on…
DASH: I mean I think they can be wrong or exaggerated but they very seldom inspire mob to go target people.
RITHOLTZ: That’s for sure but as somebody who works in finance I can afford to have a stream of dead means and misinformation and myths so I just want to cut — so those people get muted but the aggressive like I’m wrong and I’m going to be aggressive about it yet and obnoxious about and offensive about it, I’m sorry those folks have to be blocked.
I didn’t know block together even exist then. My only concern is how do I not, so I’ve noticed some crazy Trumpers lately sure, right? At one point in time was other crazies but I don’t mean people who are pro-Trump or anti-Trump, I have friends in the Trump administration, Anthony Scaramucci is a buddy of mine, we had very civil debates about Trump, someone in my office is a Trump supporter, she and I have had very rational adult discussions.
That online just something tribal and partisan that people lose their mind so — and I will give you a perfect example, this weekend I discovered that Jenna Jameson, the former adult film star is kind of like a wild…
DASH: She is way out there, yes.
RITHOLTZ: Just listen, there is some extreme behavior in her history so but I never expected that’s a tip into wild ideological and was just kind of random that I found it.
DASH: She has amplified white supremacist…
RITHOLTZ: It’s a sort of surprising…
DASH: You know, I think…
RITHOLTZ: So how do you how do you block the people that you want to block yet at the same time not block — so I can’t say on the radio but there was a science thing about something happening in one of the gas giants in outer space about a subsequent probe, I won’t even go there and she just retweeted at least buy me dinner first and I just found that hilarious that I was looking for something science and (Phil Plate) does a — bad astronomy exactly and from that led to this led to that so I don’t want to block the beauty of the web is the random…
DASH: The serendipity…
RITHOLTZ: Yes, absolutely so how do you block people on the list like block together and not lose that random…
DASH: You know what — there are going to be some false positives but it already happens in email, that already happens in everything, right?
RITHOLTZ: But you should at least check your (spammers).
DASH: Yes, but the same thing, like if you really, I mean you know, somebody goes to the block…
DASH: Yes, you just go and vet it, if you are like, I really want to see this tweet but I had this person blocked, you just unblock them, there is nothing to that.
DASH: I think what is key is like being able to use the service for like it’s not such a huge barrier, but if you block somebody, they can still see your Tweets if they want to…
RITHOLTZ: Sure, they just still have to be logged in, yes, absolutely.
DASH: So it’s not like this is some impermeable barrier all it’s doing is making it harder for a mob of harassers to target you, right, and that’s really useful, like for me, it’s like if I’m like whatever out with my kid and you know, we’re doing fun stuff in the weekend and that happens to be the moment when like a model white supremacists decided they wanted to come after me for something I wrote.
And the thing is like they will go digging back through history, it could be something I wrote years ago, and I’m getting notifications on my phone while I am out with my kid my I like I don’t want to be distracted by this, and I can just go and find somebody who’s already got a good block list and just share it, and okay good I’ve been able to sort of cut this off.
DASH: It’s a no-brainer like why would you not be?
RITHOLTZ: Can you search for a blocklist by a specific…
RITHOLTZ: Find me a blocklist with this person and then I will share.
DASH: It’s just a person and so yes, you go by like an individual twitter user who you trust and then you sort of…
RITHOLTZ: No, I mean the opposite, I want to block Jimmy Dean, and then who else is…
DASH: I don’t think so, and part — they have been really thoughtful about it where they deal — they don’t encourage sort of willy-nilly blocking like it’s really about sort of sharing with the community and doing it and people having human judgment involved in it and so I think that’s really good and then you can then you can also go and search for like people that you follow do have lists so that this is a very handy. I think Twitter is going to involve their tools too but the key is that like there’s a there’s a really valid use to blocking people that we learn from again like I always thin digital communities need to learn from physical communities, and there’s a reason why we sort of say like you can’t come into this coffee shop if you are going to shout at people and you can’t come to this lobby if you are going to be acting this way.
RITHOLTZ: Shouting fire in a crowded theater, classic example.
DASH: Exactly, right.
It’s like being able to have analogous tools for — just limiting really, really antisocial behavior I think is really useful and I’m glad like the tools are starting to evolve, I think it’s a shame they’re happening by like activists self funding themselves building as opposed to the platforms building it in…
RITHOLTZ: So are we just going to end up with ideologically-opposed left blocks and right blocks or is it really is the unifying factor antisocial behavior?
DASH: I think it is anti-social behavior, there are people that do that, of course that will ignore you but disagrees with them politically but they were already doing it, like they don’t need software to do that. If you are the kind of person that can’t deal with dissenting ideas, the block was not the issue the interesting thing that’s happening rhetorically now is run like I don’t want to interact with for example like White Supremacists online.
RITHOLTZ: Why is that?
DASH: Go figure, right. And they’ll come back to me and be like oh you can’t handle political dissent…
RITHOLTZ: Snowflake, I like the expression snowflake at because it’s all massive projection was the slightest challenge and they just melt.
DASH: Yes, so fragile. And then and I’m just like you might like I like I’m tough as nails I have no question about that, like I know what I’ve been through and I know you what I’m able to do. I’m just like why would I want to deal with you?
DASH: This is like — this is an elective thing, it’s about me having good judgment and discernment, where I’m like you are a person who acts obnoxious online all day. Why would I put like I’m not — that’s not the idea I’m working to engage with, if you think that the only way that your ideas can represent the culture is by you acting like a monster all day.
RITHOLTZ: Right, lighting it on fire and throwing into a school bus…
DASH: Exactly, then your ideas probably aren’t that good.
DASH: And it’s like — it’s not that I’m not intellectually curious, I know I am, I’m very interested in having my assumptions challenged and learning things, O got — I am very much like I love that idea of like I had to change my mind because I was wrong about the way I thought about this, I love that feeling it doesn’t come from somebody saying like why…
RITHOLTZ: Screaming epithet…
DASH: Exactly like why the fact that like my family is multiracial is wrong but that is never going to be the thing that I’m wow I’ve seen the light.
RITHOLTZ: You know, we used to have laws against that sort of stuff back in the good old days that it’s amazing, you know when I get the requests through a colleague, hey you blocked so-and-so so now the process is I’ll go look at their not only their tweet stream but their tweets and replies because I want to see how they are interacting.
DASH: That is right.
RITHOLTZ: And I say to people, listen life is too short, you’re not a good person, there is 8 billion people, most of whom are half decent and well-intentioned. So I may be misguided but I don’t need venal jerks in my — nobody needs venal jerks.
DASH: Life is too short and I got too much to learn to spend life finding with a stranger that really wants to fight more than they want to learn.
RITHOLTZ: Right, that’s right, you know one of the beauties of both going to law school is moot court and the best part of that moot court is you have to be able to switch hats and argue either side of any litigation literally mid case. You could be — all right, now so I’ve always taken that as a as a sign of intellectual openness having the ability to see all sides of an issue of a prom what have you prevents you from turning your opponents into a sub human. It keeps the discussion rational because hey things that are really, really at least in court things that are really one-sided, those cases settle, but where there’s a legitimate debate let’s have the debate and unfortunately too many people just can’t imagine the other side of the discussion and that’s amazing.
DASH: Yeah I’m very — you know, my mother’s family is all lawyers and I’m sort of raised…
RITHOLTZ: So sorry.
DASH: Well you know, it’s interesting they were both the somewhere criminal defense lawyers and then my great grandfather was involved in the Independence Movement, he marched with Gandhi and was sort of very involved in civil rights and social justice.
RITHOLTZ: Was he a big blogger back then?
DASH: You know, what is interesting is they had a printing press in the house.
RITHOLTZ: No kidding.
DASH: And so there is…
RITHOLTZ: So he was…
DASH: Like how do you use your own, you know, platform…
RITHOLTZ: To get ideas.
DASH: Right, yes, so you know, a century ago that was cutting edge technology to be able have in a rural very, very poor part of India and so yeah I think there is this idea of how do you debate ideas using cutting-edge platforms to get your ideas out there and advancing the cause of social justice and I think those are things that you don’t think about consciously but they sort of seep in into your mind and so there was always a healthy debate about how to how to do these things, like I mean you know, like especially you look at the — this is still true today civil rights movements always have these big schisms within them of like — how radical do we want to be in what’s the right way to approach this and you know, do we change the system from the inside or do we you know try to tear down from the outside and those kinds of debates.
I think there is a fascinating and timeless debates and I’m always happy to engage in those, the people who are like I want to personally you know hurt you or I want to attack you and that’s the only way to advance my ideas, I’m like it’s never — it’s never going to be the thing that persuades me or that makes me see the light and it certainly doesn’t indicate much confidence in that person’s argument anyway.
RITHOLTZ: You know I’ve gone back and looked at some old blog posts that I could see our out of frustration where I don’t want to say I just called other people idiots but I would look at their position and first try and take it apart and somewhere in the middle was a little bit of name calling would creep in, and then you catch yourself and move away from it, how have you — you more than any person I know have been added the vanguard of seeing the arc of the blogosphere change over time. What have you noticed how has this evolved — do you plan on continuing blogging for forever? What are your thoughts on…
DASH: Yeah, you know, I have learned a lot. I think it is that I definitely see when I look back at 18 years of writing now that it is always this sort of ink blot test about where I’m at in my — and you go back and read it and I can see exactly how I was feeling at the moment, even if I don’t remember writing it…
RITHOLTZ: It is shocking, isn’t it?
DASH: You are like, oh no, I was having a bad day that day, you know, or wow, I was really in a good mood.
DASH: And you can really read that into you know, the work. I think that has been really — constructed as I don’t keep it like a mood journal, and so I could be writing about like whatever — a new update to windows came out and when I used to be blogging about tech a lot, and I can still tell you exactly how it felt, you know, when I read it.
I think that is really instructive, I think my attitude about dealing with you know, people being aggressive or hostile on line has changed a lot over the years.
I think initially you know –I think your first reaction is like well, screw you too buddy and you start to go at them, I think I spent a long time trying to be like I’m just going to love you to death and that’ll get you the change and I had some successes with that I may have actually seen conversations where I change somebody’s mind or they change my mind.
RITHOLTZ: Or at least you get them to back down from the sort of over I think people’s initial emails like it would be great if email had like a 60 minute delay you can respond instantly so every now and then someone sends an email and if you give them a big friendly hug and say…
DASH: You look like you are really upset right.
RITHOLTZ: Right, or hey I hope you’re not missing the key point, here is my data source what are you using to reach this conclusion? As often as not or not especially in the professional community, so my universe is finance…
DASH: They will back down.
RITHOLTZ: When someone gets — it’s not even they will back down, it’s like I’ve gotten – hey, I appreciate you responding civilly, I was out of line. Like you say, these people are really professional and smart he was just perturbed at some of them…
DASH: Yes, yes and again, it can be whatever they know they didn’t eat lunch that day or they have something else going on.
RITHOLTZ: What about the change in media how has the blogosphere impacted that in your perspective?
DASH: It is interesting I was such an idealist about blogging and social media when it came out and it’s like we are going to platforms that are going to give voice to people that don’t have any other place to show their words and that was true, that did happen.
RITHOLTZ: The professional amateurs.
DASH: Yes, exactly.
RITHOLTZ: Who are no longer amateurs now, they are professional…
RITHOLTZ: Expert amateurs, expert professionals.
DASH: That right.
RITHOLTZ: And I’m exhibit A.
DASH: Yeah and you know, I’ve been very lucky to benefit from that too, and I think that was true and then we kept saying, you know the whatever the mainstream media makes all these mistakes and now the social media will have to correct it. And then we ignored or didn’t anticipate the exact opposite which was the times when mainstream media was exactly right and people had used social media to spread the disinformation.
RITHOLTZ: It inverted.
DASH: And the idea that like the people who didn’t have access to get their voice out there, some of them would not use that power responsibly. We — I was such an optimist and idealist of like, wow, if we just give everybody a printing press, all they are going to print is good thoughtful true things.
RITHOLTZ: There you go.
DASH: And you know, that is not the case. And it was a long slow painful lesson that I know I personally took too long to learn.
RITHOLTZ: What is the old quote? A lie is halfway around the world while the truth is still tying on its boots?
DASH: Yeah, yeah and I think that was very naïve on my part and the amazing thing about it is I felt like I was slow to get that lesson and slow to really build it into my work and in the tools and platforms I was creating and yet I think it still took even longer for the people that made the Facebooks and Twitters of the world to get that lesson.
RITHOLTZ: Of course, not only do they have to recognize that they have to then recognize that it’s a an existential threat to their platform and then creates a tactile response…
DASH: Well — and I was lucky in that we had built a product when we built blogging tools that people paid for, you paid for, right?
DASH: And so if you wanted to have a voice and a platform, you were going to directly support it and you were head of investment in it. And so we weren’t based on attention, we were not based on the ad model…
RITHOLTZ: And so you didn’t have to be outrageous, you didn’t have to jump up and down and scream and you didn’t have to have click bait headlines.
RITHOLTZ: You won’t believe what is slide three.
DASH: Right, but even if you are going to do that, you are incentivized to build your audience on your terms but not just views at any cost, you know, and cost.
And everybody else basically went with the ad model.
DASH: And you know, I was really adamantly against it and I do think you see the sort of return to subscription models for the Times, the New York times is setting like everyone would want to subscribe and pay for great journalism, all these things.
This is this reaction to seeing the distorting effect that that the major ad models have on web media and the Facebooks and Twitters and Instagrams of the world build models that were totally advertising dependent and so get hyper exaggerated into attention-getting models and I think that something that the publishers didn’t understand how much that would skew their business and it’s interesting because in prints, you know, there’s — one, there is more ad dollars to go around, two they were indirect models, rights?
So the fact that you had a ton of classified ads might encourage you to have a real estate section but it didn’t make your news headlines more extreme about politics and about whether and about whatever.
RITHOLTZ: The same thing with the automobile that you go through each of the major sections of the Sunday New York Times…
DASH: And there were advertisers.
RITHOLTZ: Right, and so you have the theater section the arts and arts and entertainment session, real estate, automobiles, I don’t know if they still have an automobile segment…
DASH: They might have killed it off. But even to that example, the existence of an automobile section was a sop to advertisers obviously but it didn’t skew the hard news reporting and so that was okay because you are like whatever, you got to pay the bills, and you have comics, you don’t have comics because like it is important news for people, like this makes people read and that gets the circulation up and that lets us do the hard news work.
And the problem is that line goes away and what media there is in some like while you to come and read the car ads and that’s going to supports — they are reading the hard news, the hard news has to sell on its own and so it gets more and more distorted and more and more exaggerated in order to get that attention because you’re in this more and more environment.
RITHOLTZ: Now that is Buzz Feed or maybe a Vox or something like that but that shouldn’t be the Washington Post and New York Times, the Wall Street Journal..
DASH: It’s all of them, there’s no difference between those.
DASH: Yes, yeah I mean you look at like the best reported stories on Buzz Feed are not different than the rest reported stories on the Times or the Post like when you do good journalism like there are…
RITHOLTZ: But not necessarily the most read stories.
DASH: No, that’s true, and there are more you know cat pictures or lists that are subsidizing that journalism on the Buzz feed right then there are on you know, the other sites but like that’s just the question of how you subsidized, you know in the case of the Post or the Times or whatever, they are subsidizing through print subscriptions that are going to go away as that audience ages out.
RITHOLTZ: Right I finally I finally dropped everything but the weekend edition of New York Times because I would carry it to the office, I would carry it home and it would go — go into the recycle. And the Wall Street Journal comes to the office and it this way I don’t have to take it home, it goes right into the recycle room. The way the Journal has their and I think the Times is the same if you do digital subscription, the print edition is free.
DASH: Well, and this is all about the metrics and the numbers, right?
RITHOLTZ: For the advertisers.
DASH: Exactly, so they want to tell the advertiser we have this many print subscribers even though all those people are just you know, recycling…
RITHOLTZ: When does that stop, when does that go away?
DASH: The next 10 years.
RITHOLTZ: In 10 years, no more newspapers.
DASH: Yes, yes, you know to for any practical purposes.
RITHOLTZ: Same thing with New Yorker, New Yorker the digital subscription and the digital plus print are the same price so your initial reaction is all this is more for the same price I’ll take that you have a stack of unread magazines, it is pointless.
DASH: Well it’s like, yes, unless you’re going to the beach or something you’re not looking at print edition and I see this all the time with people that, like I watch that have print subscriptions that are saying okay well, I found this article but I’m going to read it online.
RITHOLTZ: Now, I will tell you that when you thump through paper, you are going to find things that you are not going to discover with digital, it is other than the ink on your hands and the fact that you’re carrying around dead tree pulp.
DASH: There’s no question the discovery experience on print media is good and it is interesting and unique thing and you find stuff you wouldn’t find otherwise the digital that’s also just a design challenge, like it’s not impossible to solve these problems in the digital realm, they just haven’t invested in doing so.
RITHOLTZ: So one of the things I’ve noticed in the ark of media has been how in the beginning I want to call that the mid-2000’s they felt very comfortable lifting anything from print, anything from the blogosphere without attribution just relentlessly in and I started the (read it here) first, here’s the blog post from Monday and oh look, this is what the Wallstreet Journal had on Thursday. I would do screenshots side-by-side.
DASH: Yes, I definitely had that with (inaudible).
RITHOLTZ: Ad then you send it to the editor and saying I want you to know that I’m going to keep doing this until you’re free to call me, I have a professional title where I’m quoted in the medial all the time.
DASH: Write me a check.
RITHOLTZ: Don’t rip this off and if you do this more blatantly, I’m going to set for lawyers on you because at a certain point, you crossed the line from inspired by to copyright infringement, and it was a — my favorite was the thing I did on Terrestrial Radio, I’m a big music buff and I just hated what Clear Channel was doing to music and I…
DASH: And you were right.
RITHOLTZ: Right, 03 or 04 was way early and then I think was (Barons) had this front cover story losing the signal and to their credit they didn’t actually steal language but the structure — and is like, wait a second, this looks really real and I didn’t even notice it until friend said hey (Barons) ripped you off and what you mean? Look at that. It’s — and there are a couple of other people, I won’t mention their names who feel like they can take that and it it’s so first that was the first phase, the second phase was when the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and other mainstream media started rolling out blogs of their own.
Does this have any staying power? What — how do you see the role of a fast not really very lightly edited get it out quickly how do you see the role of that in mainstream media.
DASH: I think it depends on the vertical and the you what space you’re covering and how much reporting and then you have the original networks sort of fuels it. There are there are great blogs done by mainstream media outlets that are usually written by somebody that has a great voice that knows the space really well has their network and can turn that into, you know, a story really quickly.
And I look at like, actually it wasn’t a blog I look like David Carr what he had done of the Times, boy I missed that guy.
missed think and you know he was very blog like — even he wrote his print columns very fast, turned things around, knew exactly who to call, connect the dots really well. I think that model can work but very few of the major outlets have a business model for that and can’t hide the blog behind a pay wall because right that ruins it point of linking the stuff.
RITHOLTZ: I’ve had that argument with the Wall Street that this discussion with others the Wall Street Journal, hey why don’t you put your blog out ahead of the pay wall, right but you have to be registered subscriber to comment and this way, not only that, you have actual people who are identifiable.
DASH: And the feedback makes sense.
RITHOLTZ: So right, you are inherently raising the quality of discussion.
DASH: Yes, yes, and you know, so I think the business tensions always arise and you see that with even like a great, great blog, they sort of fade out after a while because the company is like I’m not really buying this, I don’t believe this.
And I draw this contrast to like organizations that started by blogging, right?
So you know, Gizmodo formally Gawker, like they are sort of still all in and they still get good work, I mean I think it’s you know, it’s always been uneven but I think good stuff is also in good — you know, Buzzfeed still feels like a blog, you know you can define blog however you want but that aesthetic, that voice is still there.
RITHOLTZ: Can we say the blogosphere is a meritocracy or is that overstating it?
DASH: Yes, I think it’s overstating because you still have the same dynamics you have in a lot of media, one of which is simple like an old boys’ network like right promote who they know and these kinds of things, I think it’s easier to get in, I think you can blog your way to being the voice on a certain topic like if you have a certain niche or a certain subject that you are just obsessive about, and you go all in on you just keep blogging about it, you could own that topic or that idea and that is still true.
I think if you’re in a popular subject of the sort of like, you know, like for me, like a generic tech blog about what is happening in the tech industry.
RITHOLTZ: It doesn’t do any of that.
DASH: It is really hard to break out and that is good to be about do you have the relationships, do you have somebody who is going to scratch your back by giving you traffic?
RITHOLTZ: Let’s jump right into our favorite questions tell me something the most important thing people don’t know about your background.
DASH: A lot of people don’t know that I am from a tiny little town in rural Pennsylvania and that we were one of the only certainly only Asian families in that and I really informed a lot of my view of like having a very different — probably the opposite perspective of living in a big city like Manhattan.
RITHOLTZ: Understandable. Who are some of your early mentors?
DASH: I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of good ones, I had a business partner in Fred Burke who was my partner in my first company that I started the day after I graduated high school and he taught me a ton about sales and marketing and that was really, really instructive.
RITHOLTZ: Who most influenced your approach to technology and entrepreneurship?
DASH: Maybe one of the biggest influences is Dan Bricklin who is the inventor the spreadsheet…
Lotus, okay, all right, I know I recognize the name..
DASH: And later sold it to Lotus and was working with Mitch Kaper and that team that made 123, but Dan is one more thoughtful brilliance creative voices you know, really undersung as one of the heroes of the tech industry and super generous with this thoughts and ideas.
RITHOLTZ: This is the question that listeners ask all about constantly, this is the most asked question from listeners, what are some of your favorite books?
DASH: Favorite books, the Powerbroker, Robert Caro’s bio by Robert Moses, monster classic, and also really teaches systems thinking so that’s one of those that really jumps out.
RITHOLTZ: Like 1200 pages of…
DASH: David Ritz’ biography of Aretha Franklin.
RITHOLTZ: Really, I just saw her recently.
DASH: And is it almost a history of America in the form of the biography of Aretha Franklin, it is such a brilliant, brilliant…
RITHOLTZ: David Ritz, The Biography of Aretha Franklin.
RITHOLTZ: See, I would have named that Respect if…
DASH: I forgot what the actual title of it is — there is a bunch of books about Aretha named Respect and shouldn’t go with that name, but it is actually one of the best business books that I have read in a long time.
RITHOLTZ: Really, that is quite fascinating. Give me one more.
DASH: Yes, there is so many, it’s really…
RITHOLTZ: Then give us ten more.
DASH: It was actually, I forgot the name of it, there was a book about the creation of the High Line Park in the City, and hot it started as really a community movement and it became the sort of one of the top landmarks in the city now for tourists who visit.
RITHOLTZ: Sure, those guys are actually consulting around the world trying to do something like that…
DASH: And they did such a good job of telling the story and of it being self critical about mistakes they made and for example that the park is not really inclusive enough of a community that it is part of. I thought it was just very thoughtful and nuanced and also showed how you can build things that are improbably ambitious and make them happen anyway.
RITHOLTZ: Now they are talking about trying to create an underground park from an abandoned subway like. I don’t know if that’ll really work to the same degree.
DASH: We will see.
RITHOLTZ: But listen, no one thought the as the High Line would work. It’s been a home run. Since you joined tech, tell us about what you think are the most significant changes?
DASH: You know what I would say this past couple weeks has been one of the most significant milestones which is the wild retrofitting of you know VCs being pushed out of their own funds on ethical grounds…
DASH: …was really powerful…
RITHOLTZ: Which is amazing because that post was around for months before it seemed to have gained any traction.
DASH: Yes, yes, and also there were voices before her, right you know I think the fact that just a steady drumbeat of activism worked and that you have things like the CEO of Uber stepping down, I think these are hopefully a moment of reckoning for so many of us that have been talking about the need for tech to be more ethical more humane, more inclusive, to be able to really point that that having had some impact and these are not victories because of these are horrible situations that people went through but it’s just the first time that we didn’t completely lose after somebody had to endure these kinds of indignities at work.
RITHOLTZ: I suspect Travis who owns 51 plus percent of the voting stock is and eventually find his way back when he’s the reeducated and the kinder, gentler Travis will show up but you never know. So that’s the change that have taken place, what do you think the next major changes are and it’s only technology, it’s not a big field…
DASH: I do think there is a return to first principles about people being able to create on their own, which is that the promise of the web was that we were all going to have a voice and we have a place and that we would be able to publish and create things and there is such a centralization happening around Facebook Google you know.
RITHOLTZ: 90 percent of the ad dollars go to those two.
DASH: Exactly and about that much of the tech platform development so what developers are doing outside the world is oh I’m doing this for iOS for Apple, I’m doing this for Android for Google and being able to go back and say well the web itself is still the bigger platform. So the biggest platforms that ever existed, how do you create for that and support that and expresses yourself there, and I mean, you know, we have a dog in this fight with Glitch where I’m very lucky because developers love it and they are catching on and really saying like this is one of the things that gives us hope. But I think it’s a broader movement which is what brought a lot of us to the web in the first place, the idea that we could create something in the world could find it and respond to it in and make it a success.
RITHOLTZ: So this is a standard question I ask people but it’s especially poignant for you, tell us about a fail, tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from the experience and if people want to know why that is a poignant question, just Google Anil Dash and quote fail and you’ll understand why.
DASH: I do think one of the biggest failures was in being part of the community that created the first social media and social networking tools, we were so desperate for — hunger for people to use them and optimize for growth at the expense of making these environments humane and thoughtful for people, and so there’s been a tremendous social cost where yeah, everybody got connected and it’s great, it’s amazing to be able to send messages and media and photos to people instantly anywhere in the world but it should’ve also been something that empower the people most of the margins, most vulnerable to be able to advocate for themselves and instead, in many ways, we re-victimized them and that is something that I hope to spend the rest of my career working to fix.
RITHOLTZ: To be fair to you guys, that’s like third level thinking at the time is a is anybody going to use these tools and not these are going to become widespread adoption it’ll be enormously successful, so successful that trolls are going to be a problem in the common set, that was just unimaginable in 99.
DASH: I remember saying to our friends, you know, someday there is going to be a million people on social media and she was — and she was like you idiot, there is going to be 100 million people, and of course, then it turns out, there is a billion.
DASH: And so you would never — it would have been absurd if we have said let us plan for what happens when a billion people show up in these social networks.
And you are like out of your mind, there aren’t a billion people with computers yet.
RITHOLTZ: Right but there are a billion people with smartphone who saw…
DASH: Exactly, exactly.
RITHOLTZ: It was just so — there was no iPhone.
DASH: It seemed like science fiction.
RITHOLTZ: That is exactly right. What do you do to keep mentally or physically fit outside of the office? What do you do to relax…
DASH: I love music and I know you are a music fan I still am absolutely notorious for being a big Prince fan even before he passed away but I love to cataloging his work and sort of showing the cultural impact and sense of that it’s a fun hobby because you cross paths with like an improbable cross-section of life like there are people in politics and media all these different disciplines that are like you know, whatever, like the music is fun but also this like he was a pioneer in tech and to have all these sort of interesting cultural things and then of course it’s a human love me like one of the best ways to clear my head as I have got a six-year-old son and will go out and you know to sort of do something fun, go to a Museum you know, walk around the neighborhood and take the dog for a walk and I am never not reset by spending just a little bit of time listening to him and his view of the world.
RITHOLTZ: That’s a lot of fun. If a millennial came to you or someone at the beginning of their career came to you and said hey I’m interested in and going into tech or social or community, what sort of advice might you give them?
DASH: One of the key things is find this topic about which you are irrationally passionate like it can be as narrow as niche as you want but if you can be the person who is the one person the world who was most in love with that idea, knows the most about it, obsesses over it and really just owns it, there’s something there for you. Like you can you can really build a whole career around because you can’t win on like everybody’s chasing this one trend and I’m going to be part of it.
I think it’s really key, I think the other part because the tide is trying to turn particularly in tech, find the people who are most in the margins, least connected, least central, and least privileged in tech and lift them up because people, one, they will remember it, they will never forget you did it, two I think that is who is ascending probably is the people on the outside are saying like I want to be part of the success that I want to benefit from it.
And three, it’s just the right thing to do. It feels good.
RITHOLTZ: And our final question, what is it that you know about technology and social networks today that you wish you knew 17 or 20 years ago?
DASH: I wish I had known the technology follows the same rules of human society that the physical world does in the same way that we architect our buildings and design our communities in our neighborhoods to be safe, comfortable, welcoming, warm places for us to live, we need to put that same thought into designing our digital spaces so that people are welcoming and kind to each other and treat each other well and feel neighborly towards one another.
And if we can just repeat a lot of the lessons that the last 10,000 years of civilization have taught us, we can make being online in our apps a lot more thoughtful and rewarding experience.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking with Anil Dash, he is the CEO of Fog Creek Software, but sure to look up an inch or down an inch on Apple iTunes and you could see any of the other 150 or so such conversations, we love your feedback, comments, and suggestions, write to me at MIBpodcast@Bloomberg.net.