Online Communities Gone Bad (and getting them back on track)

After my appearance on the podcast Masters of Scale, a lot of people have written to me for advice on managing their communities. Here’s one request and my response, which I posted with permission, in the interest of making the internet a more civilized place.

Things had gotten so bad in this founder’s community, that even employees were thinking of leaving. The team felt hamstrung by their users. He explains:

When we first started our community I was in there posting every day setting the tone. Over the years as the company scaled I chose to spend time on other things beside posting in the forum. Gradually over time things got bad…then really bad…now horrible. 5-10 members of the community have started berating everyone in between posting useful content. Do you have any principles or experiences I can draw upon to think about how to solve this?

Yes, I wrote back, this community has run amok. A garden needs both fertilizer and weedkiller. But most of all it needs a gardener. Go back in and participate as much as before. Community manage with a heavy hand. Promote good people, respond to them.  Make them shine. Build good admin tools to silence bad actors.

You have to take a “iron fist in velvet glove” approach; warn borderline cases, and discuss their behavior with them. Often they can be rehabilitated. But for those who will not change: ruthlessly delete the accounts of abusive people, irrespective of their contributions. Keeping 5-10 bad people have undoubtedly lost you dozens, even hundreds, that you don’t even know about. They’ve stifled other people who are still participating and darkened the atmosphere of the whole community.

Community management is art, not science. There is no black and white when dealing with people. Choose your community team carefully, and find people with good instincts. Have all members of the team participate in the community. And be present there yourself.

Announcing Yes VC

After 8 amazing years investing with my brilliant colleagues, the fun, funny and genius investors at Founder Collective, and after Jyri’s two years working with the great, brilliant, soulful and amazing team at True Ventures, we — Jyri Engeström and Caterina Fake– are busting loose, breaking out, getting down and starting up our very own fund, yes indeed, it’s Yes VC.

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We’re doing Pre-Seed, as it’s called these days, and Seed investing — investing in great, visionary, early stage companies. We’ll be raising up to $50 million. We’ve got some amazing LPs already and are seeking a few more. We’ll invest in about 20–30 companies over the next several years. We’ll roll in our investments in OrchidSpell and Gaze. And we’ll be continuing to look for world-changing companies like the ones we’ve invested in in the past, like EtsyKickstarterStack Overflow, and Cloudera. We’ve made over 40 investments as angel investors and with our respective firms, but it’s just a start. The opportunities we’ve missed because of not being able to put in bigger checks, and follow on, were giving us a feeling of No.

Years ago, I gave an interview on Inc. magazine about the struggles of getting my first company off the ground, as an unknown and fledgling entrepreneur, and the amazing breakthrough we had, getting into PC Forum, and getting Esther Dyson on board as an investor. At the end of that interview I had said something that later became one of those Pinterest graphics:

“When the world says No No No No No, and you hear a Yes, go towards that Yes as hard as you can.”

I have swum in The Sea of No, which is an inevitable part of the entrepreneurial journey. Sometimes the No means “you’re on the wrong track”. Sometimes the No means: “no one wants this product or service”. Sometimes the No means: “pick something else to work on”. And sometimes the No means, “you’re just not cut out for this”. If you’re a startup that’s only heard Yes, who’s never been rejected, who raised money with no effort, who slid easily into the warm waters of infinite funding, free lunch, foosball and no discipline, you either got it just right–which almost never happens!–or it’s a cause for concern. But when The Beach of Yes appears on the horizon of The Sea of No, where you, the spent swimmer, has been struggling to stay afloat, you might just be–finally, finally, finally–on The True Path.

So. We’re excited about this. Major changes are afoot in the workings of the internet and in society and culture at large. Suppressed voices are finally being heard. We are looking at the end of cars. And though we once believed the internet was about the equitable distribution of power, we have lived through a massive consolidation of power. If people like you don’t get involved in disrupting the new power and building the future, rapacious trolls, megacorps and mercenaries will have their way with all of us.

Is the internet once again reinventing itself as a free and open place where users own their words, and voices and identities? Will we be able to live free of businesses that lure us in to harvest and sell our data? Is it safe to wade back into the water? Is now the time to enter the fray? We think so, yes.

All the things we love–humanity, community, possibility, opportunity–are once again ascendant. Let’s make the future, let’s do great things.

Yes? Yes.

David Bull & Ukiyo-e

Through my online pal Gripper’s Findery post, I learned of the YouTube channel of David Bull, who practices the traditional art of Ukiyo-e. I grew up in a house full of Japanese woodblock prints, and, as an artist and as an early member of the Etsy team, I have a love of the handcrafted. One of the best things the internet has done is made it possible for people like David to make a living practicing ancient arts.

David runs a YouTube channel, which has videos of him and his team carving the wood blocks, painstakingly laying down each color, talking about new editions from his collaborator, Jed Henry, and telling stories about his experiences meeting elderly masters of the art in his friendly, impassioned and charming way.

I sent away for one of the prints, which I received today. It is gorgeous.

David Bull Print 2

Massive Stars more Common than Believed

When the news gets you down–and it’s been getting me down consistently since November 8, 2016–it’s good to be reminded of how insignificant all of this is on a galactic scale.Here’s today’s “let’s put it in perspective” news story: Massive Stars are more Common than Believed. We’re talking huge stars, 15-200x larger than the sun, that were just discovered using the Very Large Telescope.

Ponder this: The diameter of 30 Doradus is 600–700 light years. If you put it at same distance to Earth as the Orion nebula (about 1300 light years away), Schneider calculates it would cover 60 full moons of the night sky. It would be so bright it would cast shadows.

Big! Wow!

Harassment: ways to cope

How to raise a feminist son. Unfortunately, raising feminist daughters doesn’t have much effect unless we also raise feminist sons. Dads! Husbands! Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.

• How to make things right if you’ve made a mistake. Dale Dougherty, the CEO of Make Magazine and those (awesome!) Maker Faires wrote a tweet & made assumptions based on a sexist world view, realized his mistake, and wrote a blog post in which he explained his mistake and  committed to making amends. People make mistakes, but can make amends too. A model of how to do it.

Experts in the Field. An account of sexism in the writing world. The article begins on the topic of Trump’s ascendency:  “I knew he would somehow win,” she said, “because my life has been continually shaped and distorted by the greed and ignorance of men like him, in positions of power, taking everything they can get, whatever they want, whenever they want. What am I, what is my very life, if not a projection of and product of the desires of such sick men?”

• What to do when you witness harassment in a public place. This is about Islamophobic harassment, but it works for all kinds:

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• In dealing with harassers, abusers and other people who’ve hurt you, first, recover as best you can. If you want to do the world a favor and talk to the offender, which is not your responsibility in any case, one approach is this. It is derived from a passage in the Bible, that old manual of the patriarchy, Matthew 18:15-17:

1. talk to the offender. If that doesn’t work:
2. bring other witnesses and talk to the offender again. If that doesn’t work:
3. take it to a neutral aribiter (mediator, priest, judge, council of elders, family council) If that doesn’t work:
4. dissociate yourself from that person.

Here’s the original:

15. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Matthew 18:17 was written by patriarchs in a different era. To translate, publican would mean “tax collector”. Non-church members, replace the word “church” with whoever is your community’s neutral arbiter, and “heathen man and a publican” in contemporary parlance would be “someone you should avoid”.

•  Always remind yourself that history is written by those in power and you should find the hidden stories of those not represented and mentally correct it.

“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

– Homegoing, p. 226-7 by Yaa Gyasi

•  Thomas Pynchon wrote about the Herero genocide in V and Gravitys Rainbow, without writing like a colonizer. Literary geniuses, take note!

 

Heard, read and seen

An image of Totoro, comprised of the entire screenplay written by hand in Japanese.

• My favorite anecdote from Emma Cline, author of The Girls, interviewed by Vendela Vida at City Arts and Lectures. Cline grew up in a family with 7 children, and on their birthdays each kid would get their very own box of cereal. They’d write their names on the box with a sharpie and guard it with their lives.

• I serve on the board of McSweeneys, the publisher of the Internet Tendency, a humor web site, the McSweeneys Quarterly Concern , a literary magazine, and lots of lots of literary fiction, poetry, non-fiction, children’s books and books that make the world better. The Quarterly and the Books are in actualy, physical print, beacons of beauty in a world starved for gorgeousness.  Certainly your holiday gift recipients should have some ideas, some poetry, some love, some beauty?

 

No difference at all

“I was working for the city as a janitor in a neighborhood elementary school and, in summer, collecting litter in the park alongside the East River near the Williamsburg Bridge. I felt no shame whatsoever in these activities, because I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park. In fact, there may have been no difference at all.”

from A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

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