Vacations are good

I’m not good at vacationing. I’ve repeatedly failed at palapas and mai-tais. The word “thong” makes me nervous. And on a vacation to Boring-Boring I mean Bora Bora after snorkeling, waterskiing, visiting the marine preserve, getting stung by a jellyfish, eating at every restaurant and reading the seven books I’d brought, I spent all my time sneaking into the business center and wheeling around the island looking for a functioning cell tower. In any event I’m back from my first vacation in 4 years. I mean, I know I have a reputation for not relaxing, but I didn’t expect when I returned I’d be met with speculation that I’m leaving Hunch. Reporters calling me (Hi Mike!) asking if it’s true. But I’m a full time employee, and I just took a vacation. :-/

Hunch has pivoted. We’ve gone from being a consumer destination site based on user-created topics, to a taste-graph driven platform for partner sites. The things I’m good at are building communities, participatory media, places where people contribute things of their own making. So yes, I am wondering what I can do that best serves Hunch and utilizes my own particular talents. I will find the perfect role for me, and whatever it is, is TBD. I have no plans to parachute off the plane.

Hunch’s dataset has grown incredibly fast: we’ve mapped 30 billion “edges”, we’ve signed dozens of partnerships and 2011 will be the year that the internet gets personalized. Hunch will be at the center of it. I love Hunch, the awesome team, my brilliant cofounders — we’re doing great work and building a great company. Vacations are good, and I come back energized, with the whiff of Hawaiian Tropic in the air and 2,000 messages in my Inbox.

Dramatic overhaul vs. gradual changes

Ben Parr’s analysis of the latest Digg launch was spot on, and his column was full of great analysis and good suggestions of where Digg should go next. One part of his post stood out, and I think it’s right on the money:

2. Digg chose dramatic overhaul over gradual changes. If we’ve learned anything from Facebook’s many redesign and privacy fiascoes, it’s that major overhauls of large websites don’t go over well. The company tried to launch way too many things all at once, and the result was a buggy platform that frightened users.

This is so true. I think after the initial launch, if you have a large number of users the ‘big launch’ should be avoided as much as possible. The main reason being users can’t digest it all at once. If you release separate features continually over time, users can adapt to each of them give feedback on each, and you can debug and alter them as you see fit. What do we want? Gradual change. When do we want it? In due course.

Children in the gulag

Eugenia Ginzberg, who served eighteen years in the camps of Kolyma, wrote that when a camp of child prisoners was given two guard-dog puppies to raise the children at first could not think of anything to name them. The poverty of their surroundings had stripped their imaginations bare. Finally they chose names from common objects they saw every day. They named one puppy Ladle and the other Pail.

On the Prison Highway, Ian Frazier (New Yorker, August 30, 2010)

Friendship & other relationships

Somewhere in The Art of Happiness a book of interviews with the Dalai Lama, he talks about how in Western culture the most emphasized form of relationship is romantic, and that he, as a monk, will never have a romantic relationship, but that he has deep and abiding relationships with all kinds of people. And it seems that in our search for romantic love we overlook the possibilities for profound relationships with sisters, children, colleagues, and the like. Which I thought of as I read America, Land of Loners.

Friendship is uniquely suited to fill this void because, unlike matrimony or parenthood, it’s available to everyone, offering concord and even intimacy without aspiring to be all-consuming. Friends do things for us that hardly anybody else can, yet ask nothing more than friendship in return (though this can be a steep price if we take friendship as seriously as we should). The genius of friendship rests firmly on its limitations, which are better understood as boundaries.

And a quote from Aristotle on its different flavors:

Aristotle, who saw friendship as essential to human flourishing, shrewdly observed that it comes in three distinct flavors: those based on usefulness (contacts), on pleasure (drinking buddies), and on a shared pursuit of virtue—the highest form of all. True friends, he contended, are simply drawn to the goodness in one another, goodness that today we might define in terms of common passions and sensibilities.

And a quote from John Cacioppo, who says that Americans are lonely—not because we have fewer social contacts, but because the ones we have are more harried and less meaningful.

Easier to just read the whole thing. 🙂

Individualism, infantilism

One begins to suspect that over the years the ideal of individuality which lies at the root of the idea of America has become infantilized. The corruption of individualism we now so often see about us is a species of arrogance that confirms itself by excluding others and begets conflict with others, opposition and fear.

From The American Soul by Jacob Needleman

I’ve been reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, after seeing her speak and being impressed (which led me to this essay by Jacob Needleman) and is largely about bridging differences and making room for disparate positions and world views among Lincoln’s cabinet.