Just five bucks a month

I was a web developer for nearly 20 years before I ever built web pages that accept payments from customers. I'm not sure if that’s a comment on my career in particular or the industry as a whole. But the day finally arrived in 2013, when we at ThinkUp decided to try something different: build a web business supported by customer subscriptions instead of advertising.

Since then, despite relying on third parties to handle all the complexities of credit card transactions, we've developed and deployed seven billing-related projects. SEVEN BILLING PROJECTS. It's March of 2015 now. That means our tiny team launched a new billing-related project every two to three months. In short, during the entire existence of our business, we've been constantly occupied by designing and building a system tangential to our actual product (albeit core to our business).

In order to assure myself that I'm not crazy for being tired of billing-related code, I'm documenting our journey so far here. Maybe it will help someone out there make decisions about their new subscription-based web product.

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The Great Twitter Unfollow

At the very end of last year, I realized something: for me, more than anything else, Twitter had become a destructive distraction. Scrolling through my home timeline stressed me out. Notifications of new replies or retweets or favorites pulled me out of the moment. Even though I was tired of the curiosity gaps, the FOMO, the long threads of in-jokey back-and-forth about stuff that doesn't really matter, I just kept clicking, favoriting, and pulling-to-refresh, like a robot.

I am not a robot. So I unfollowed one thousand-plus people to see if it made my day-to-day online better. I uninstalled the Twitter mobile app. I unpinned my TweetDeck tab. I poured my energy into other social tools—private mailing lists, private Kidposted Flickr photos, Instagram, Q&A sites, social fitness apps, newsletters, and Slack—and kept my friends close in other ways.

It worked. We're well into March now and I'm just about to start reconnecting with the folks I really miss on Twitter.

Before I do, I wanted to make a note here. There are some really great things about Twitter. It's a place where you get to know new people, get exposed to new and different ideas, and get to enhance relationships with people you already know. There are some pretty bad things about Twitter. It can make you love people less. It can give your monkey mind endless branches to swing on. If you follow talking-head types like I do, forming your own opinion becomes a multiple-choice question of who you agree with versus what you think in your own words. The constant stream of jokes and awful news and self-promotion and good news and kittens and breaking news and snark and calls for help is loud, noisy, and distracting to someone who aspires to a quiet mind. (Ferguson and Gamergate especially destroyed me in 2014.)

For me, from here on in, moderation is key. I've been calmer, happier, more present, and less anxious for the past few months. If I missed something on Twitter, it bubbled up to me in other channels. I'm going to remember that as I re-enter the network: no obligations, no robotics. This stuff is supposed to make my life better.

So, Twitter, you can get off my back now, and stop telling me I should follow some people. I'm going to again, slowly, thoughtfully, and mostly, in a way that aligns with my default optimism about the web and our world.

You-you are so much better than exhibitionist-you

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine if he'd seen a blog post by a mutual friend.

"I don't read his blog," he told me.

Ever? "Nope."

I was surprised. These two had known each other for years, and hung out in person a few times a month. I inquired further.

"He's one of my oldest and best friends, but I don't like who he is on his web site. He comes off so differently than the person I know, and I don't like that version of him."

Today, replace blogging with Twitter and Facebook, and I understand this sentiment better than ever.

When you follow someone online who you adore in person, it's a gamble. In the best case, you gain a magical social sixth sense about your friend's life and work that enhances the relationship. In the worst, they turn out to be an irritating exhibitionist, religious/political/Crossfit/[insert current trend] fanatic, or strident wanna-be thought leader. And it makes you love that person less.

The "unholy mix of exhibitionism and voyeurism" that is social networking can have the opposite of the intended effect. When social tools alienate friends more than connect them, we've failed.

When we do, the responsibility is on the platform as well as the people on it. When a platform encourages thoughtlessness, reductionism, popularity contests, and feedback loops that reward viral soundbites or dumb jokes, its users will run with it.

But we don't have to. We get to decide how we show up every day online, where our words and pictures and links and commentary is permanent and beamed to dozens, hundreds, and more and more often, thousands of people—to greater effect than we may know.

It's also on you and me to demand that our platforms get better—to facilitate more thoughtful interactions, empower people to combat meanness and bullying, to help people share their real, awesome selves. One of the things I happen to think is missing from our networks is a mirror that shows you what you're doing there. I'm working on my take on that mirror right now and some days I don't like what it shows me.

The truth is, exhibitionist-me can be a real jackass sometimes. If you see her online, let me-me know and I'll work harder on keeping it real.

Episode 282

TWiG Muppet fan art

Today's episode, the 282nd of This Week in Google, is my last as a regular weekly host. I am stepping away from hosting All About Android as well; next Tuesday will be my last episode there.

My beloved TWiG! My adored AAA! I miss them already, but the reason I decided to wrap things up is simple: we have ambitious plans at ThinkUp in 2015, and we’re running lean as ever, so I want to dedicate all my work hours to building the product and growing the business.

This was a hard decision, even though it's the right one. And whoa is it a big change. I've spent almost six years and over 400 hours streaming live video with Jeff and Leo, in IRC chatting with thousands of TWiT viewers every week, debating and laughing and teasing apart what is going on with the most interesting company in consumer web tech today. I've spent the past two years chatting about all things Android with Jason and Ron every Tuesday night, which felt more like hanging out with my pals than producing a show. In fact, through the years, all of my co-hosts have become my dear friends. I've been so privileged to have this opportunity at TWiT, and I'm sad that I won't be firing up my webcam and adjusting my lights and fighting with Skype settings twice a week anymore. (Well, maybe not the Skype part.)

But! I won't be a stranger. I'll check in on TWiG about once a month, and when I can, guest on AAA, so that will keep me from descending into a code hole never to be seen again.

Thanks again to Leo and Lisa, Jeff, Jason, and Ron for making my Tuesdays and Wednesdays so much brighter the the past six/two years. Even though it will be a weird transition in the coming months, it will be fun to get the enjoy the shows from the other side of the screen, as a viewer.

2014 Year in Review: A Bit Much

The weird thing about coming up my 40th birthday is a small but growing sense of urgency that I'm running out of years that I'll be able to go all out, balls to the wall, and Do All The Things. I find myself thinking this is my prime, it's now or never, and what am I waiting for. I'm sure it's symptomatic of working in an industry that fetishizes youth, particularly one's 20's and 30's. Or maybe it's being a woman coming to the end of her childbearing years.

I know the running-out-of-time narrative is a fiction, but in 2014 I embraced it—for better and worse.

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Firefox OS

This weekend I had the chance to play with a phone running Firefox OS, a relatively new open source mobile operating system. The Flame is the Firefox OS reference device, basically the first Nexus of the Firefox OS world. It’s intended for developers, not consumers. Still, the handset itself is a good-looking, 4.5-inch touchscreen phone with a crisp display, soft back, and bright orange accents on the home button, front-facing speaker, and camera.

In the five minutes I had to play with it, I was impressed with Firefox OS. It’s a modern touchscreen operating system with smooth interactions, an array of apps, and all the settings and customizations you’d expect. In my short time with the phone, which was not connected to the internet, I played a game of 2048, poked around the settings, and panned and zoomed around a maps app. I would have liked the 2048 tiles to slide more smoothly, and the map scrolling and panning to stutter less, but the groundwork is there. It is a web-based operating system that worked offline well, and there was no distinction between local apps and web apps.

As an avowed Android fangirl, my main question about Firefox OS is: why? If a manufacturer or a user wants an open mobile operating system, why not use AOSP and build on top of it?

Turns out that the very lowest level of Firefox OS is Android, with the Java/Dalvik layer removed so everything runs as a webapp, locally or on the internet. For consumers, the web focus means there are already gadzillions of apps that run on this phone. (They’re located on the web.) For developers, it means anyone who knows HTML and other web tech can build a local app without having to know Java or Objective-C (which is a big learning curve and a specialized skillset). Since Android’s hardware abstraction layer is included in Firefox OS, it’s compatible with many Android devices.

I love the open web more than I do Android, so the vision for Firefox OS appeals to me. I hope that with it, Mozilla becomes a serious player in the open mobile operating system game, and do what they did with Firefox the browser: upend assumptions about how software should work set by major companies, and make us all fall in love with the web again.

Accused sexist: “I have a daughter”

Lately I’ve been hearing men who want to prove they’re feminists say this: “I have a daughter.”

I get it. They’re saying that even though they are men, they have a vested interest in making sure women get equal rights, equal pay, less harassment, and fewer threats, so they can’t be sexist. Even President Obama invokes his daughters in Equal Pay speeches. (Though it bothers me less when it’s not used on the defensive.)

The problem with “I have a daughter” is that it’s akin to “some of my best friends are black,” but it’s more socially acceptable. (Awww, what a good dad.)

Having a daughter (or a mom, or a sister, or a wife, or you know, sharing the planet with billions of women) doesn’t inoculate you from being a sexist. Heck, being a woman doesn’t mean you’re not sexist. Trust me: I have and I can bro down with the best of them, when I’m not thinking.

What “I have a daughter” actually proves is that the speaker isn’t self-aware enough, or educated enough, to acknowledge that sexism is so baked into our culture that we all participate in it whether we want to or not. Instead of using your kid as proof of the fact that you care about gender issues, use thoughtful self-reflection instead.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

A couple of weeks ago I did that thing that people do where I mentally strung together a series of crappy things that happened and decided I was having The. Worst. Week. Ever.

Looking back I’m embarrassed about the hyperbole and self-pity. To be fair, that week I spent multiple days at the hospital with a family member getting a serious diagnosis, had to have difficult conversations at work, and got a not-fun lecture about my health at my own doctor's visit. So, by the time I lost my MetroCard, missed my bus, and got weepy in the rain, I was just expecting–no, looking–for more things to go wrong. Why wouldn't they? I had incontrovertible evidence that life was beating me down for some karmic reason, and all rationale went out the window. Turns out that when you’re looking for things to go wrong, they do.

Two weeks later, hindsight offers perspective. Taken as a whole, that particular week was not that great. But I can take any aspect of my life and see it as completely awful, right on track and getting better, or something to be proud of, depending on what angle I look at it from.

The truth is, everything in any timeframe isn't all terrible and it isn't all great, it just is. In the meantime, I get to decide what to see, what to focus on, and what to expect.

Let’s learn together till we’re dead

I’ve spent hours and hours on Justin Hall’s Links.net over the years. From his HTML tutorials and accounts of time with friends to his father’s suicide and his nudie pics, I’ve always thought “holy shit this guy is brave (and maybe crazy!) for publishing like this.”

So I loved Justin’s talk at XOXO, where he described his thesis: that if everyone shared more about themselves online, we’d have a more empathic, more peaceful world. What an idea.

As a Justin and Links.net fan, I was thrilled to see Justin started using a standing desk, partly inspired by my own. Let’s learn together indeed.