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.


Once a year I write a letter to my future self and my daughter about what being her Mama is like. Here’s one. This is two. If you’ve no interest in Mommy-blogging, skip this post.

The first thing I experience most mornings, before I even open my eyes, is a small hand touching my arm. I stretch and rub my eyes open to find a miniature human looking at me. Standing next to the bed she’s eye-level with me, wearing fleece footie pajamas with polka dots or monsters or spaceships on them. The first thing she says is usually “Hiiiiii,” drawn out, with a big grin on her face, as if we haven’t seen each other in ages. Or, if her mother has been coaching her, “Good morninggggg.”

This is what having a two-year-old is like.


Short-form blogging

I find tweets too reductionist and Medium pieces too bloviating, so I came to the same conclusion Andy did on mid-length writing. His post reminded me of a working draft I started awhile back called “New rules for blogging.”

This is still a work-in-progress, notes-to-self kind of thing, but it’s been sitting in Draft for months now, so it’s time to get it out. With the obvious caveat that rules are made to be broken (with reason), my new rules for blogging are:

If it’s a paragraph, it’s a post. Medium-sized content gets short shrift these days. Don’t go long. One or two paragraphs count. Then press publish.

Negotiate a comfort zone on two axes: personal and public, tech and everything else (feminism, musical theater, MMA, parenting, etc). 2001-era Scribbling.net was too personal, Lifehacker/Smarterware too tech. There’s something in the middle.

Traffic is irrelevant. Don’t even measure it.

Simplify, simplify. No comments. (Maybe G+ or Disqus later on?) Use Markdown and Draft to write. No pages, no requiring an image every post. No categories, tags, footnotes, special post styles, pages. Virtually no plugins. Default WordPress installation with the most stripped-down theme possible.

Ask for trusted collaborator feedback. Clarify ideas when you’re not sure how they come across. Run a draft by people you trust.

Have fun. Blogging is not your job. Don’t add it to your to-do list. If it’s not fun and you’re not done? Screw it. Take the baby to the park instead.

Guilt-bait for parents

When my circle of (smart, career-focused, techie) Moms passed around this provocative article, How American parenting is killing the American marriage, I didn’t think much of it. Then my spouse brought it up, and joked that it was time we arrange a date night. I’m all for a date night for any reason, but I refuse to indulge the guilt-bait and bad-parent neuroses of that article, and most writing about parenthood in U.S. media.

Thanks to my Catholic upbringing, I’m no stranger to guilt and judgement as a manipulator and shamer. But even someone as inured as I am can’t stand the extreme levels involved in American parenthood, and how we are all doing it wrong. Parenthood is not a religion to me. I’m well-aware of what it’s like to attachment-parent, bring up bébé, tiger-mom, helicopter-parent, or look like I ignore my kid at the park and/or encourage independent play, depending on what angle you’re watching us from. No matter how you parent, someone’s out there saying you’re destroying your marriage, raising a loser, and compromising the future of our country.

And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Love your kid. If you’re married, love your spouse. Figure out your priorities and the life you want to live and go for it. Then, take everyone else’s opinion about what you should or shouldn’t be doing and toss it in your mental trash bin.

Revolution 60

New iOS game Revolution 60 features a cast of complex, strong, female characters, and was built by an all-female game studio. Its success spurred a harassment campaign of its lead developer, Brianna Wu, bad enough to drive her from her home.

I’m not much of a gamer (or iPad user for that matter), but this kind of game is so rare, and so needed, I upgraded iOS, downloaded, played, and purchased the full version. It is awesome. You should get it too, because it’s really fun.

The satisfaction of flipping the digital bird at trolls who can’t stand the idea of women making things? That’s just a bonus.


Reading Kathy Sierra’s account of the horrific attacks against her by anonymous internet trolls – and the way the tech community has treated the lead troll since – just chopped my soul down this week. Kathy Sierra, Adria Richards, Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian – every awful detail outrages me more.

Then, oddly, I find myself feeling grateful that my harasser hasn’t Photoshopped my daughter’s face on a pornographic image.

When that’s what you’re grateful for, something’s deeply wrong.

I don’t have answers, but I do have some half-formed thoughts. I’m grateful to the women who are out there braving the worst hordes of mysogynist trolls and speaking up in the name of change. I will continue to support them publicly, privately, monetarily, in any way I can. I’ve always thought it’s every woman’s job to stand with each other, spread the heat as thin as we can, and be our own formidable horde.


Even for allies, there are days when preserving your sanity is more important than educating yet another stranger who wants to know what you’re talking about. Or explaining that “just ignore them” isn’t enough. Or filling out another online abuse report. Or discovering anew how badly our tools fail the most vulnerable in our community.

Those are the days it feels like the unwinnable scenario Sierra described, a DDoS attack on one’s spiritual reserves. And you know what? That’s when it’s okay to opt out.

On those days, I can and will choose to spend my time in safe, private spaces, where I will surround myself with people who feed – rather than deplete – me. That’s a fine choice. I fully support Sierra’s departure from Twitter, and understand why she did, even while it makes me sad.

It’s not a woman’s job to make the world a nicer place for everyone to live in her spare time. Some days a woman’s job is to build her own world and invite only the people worthy of it inside.

My XOXO 2014 talk video and transcript

I don’t do public speaking anymore, but once in awhile I get an opportunity I can’t turn down. XOXO Festival was one of those invitations. Andy Baio, XOXO’s organizer, my former co-worker, and a person who lives so many of the values I hold about the web and making stuff, asked me to tell a personal story on stage there last month. It was one of the scariest things I’ve had to do in a long time.

Here’s the 17-minute video of my talk from XOXO, which happened on September 11-14, 2014, in Portland, OR. If you prefer to read rather than watch, the transcript follows. Do tell me what you think — tweet at me @ginatrapani.

Hi friends. Today I’m going to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just three stories.


On paying for promotion

While waiting for takeout from a new pizza joint in our neighborhood, my better half overheard the owner complaining about Yelp.

“They call me every few weeks telling me I should spend $600 a month. On Yelp! This is a family business. I don’t have the money for that.”

When she told me the story, I assumed Yelp was selling these sponsored listings for people searching for pizza in the area.

Friends of mine have been experimenting with promoted tweets. Some are more serious than others — promoting an episode of their podcast, or a post on their blog. Others promoted a tweet asking for a recommendation for a good dentist in NYC, or asking their followers to fill out a survey.

It’s weird to see the “Promoted by Your Friend” note below a tweet. Brands do that, not people.

My feelings about advertising are fraught. I’ve worked for advertising-supported web businesses my entire career, so I mostly hate ads, even while they paid my salary.

Ads can compromise the user experience by splitting product makers’ loyalties. Is the advertiser or the user the customer? Ads are a way for monied brands to buy exposure for a product that’s often not as good as an alternative. Ads give companies a reason to collect data about you and sell it to advertisers for targeting purposes.

This week, my company ThinkUp sponsored Daring Fireball. That means we paid John Gruber good bit of money, and in return we got a post about ThinkUp on Daring Fireball on Sunday night and we’ll also get a link to ThinkUp on DF on Friday.

I was dubious about doing this. It was a costly investment for a small company that’s running lean. Like Gruber, I ran a high-profile tech blog for years. When I saw a cool app, I wrote about it, because it was my job. I’ve always thought that ThinkUp will get the attention it deserves for free, because it’s worthy. Because it’s an app I would’ve written about.

That hasn’t turned out to be true. ThinkUp is a good product that almost no big outlet has covered (except for my alma mater).

I’ve thought a lot about why this is, and there are a few reasons I can see. First, while almost every media outlet uses an analytics app or three to optimize their own online presence, they aren’t news-worthy. The thinking goes like this: If you’re a regular person who uses them, you’re probably a douchebag. Only brands care about analytics — so consumer-focused sites don’t pay attention. We haven’t been able to describe what ThinkUp offers in a way made it compelling enough to try anyway. (As recently as today we revised our tagline.) Since ThinkUp grew out of an open source project I started building and talking about over five years ago, it’s not new. This I’ve learned the hard way: that constant, iterative “it gets better” releases don’t get the attention a single massive reveal commands.

So here we are, paying for promotion. Gruber’s post about ThinkUp is his impression of the product in his own words, after he tried it. He wrote:

ThinkUp is social analytics for regular people. I admit I rolled my eyes a little when I heard about it, because I’ve seen so many other analytics tools/apps for social networking, and they’re usually just awful — dreadful interfaces, useless information. ThinkUp is different. It’s simple, beautiful, and clear. It’s just a way to make Twitter (and Facebook) more fun. One of the stats ThinkUp tracks: how often you drop the f-word. (Mine shot up as the Yankees season ended.)

Huh. Well, that was educational.

So far, the sponsorship has been a success. Gruber verified that yes, ThinkUp is actually good and quite different from every other analytics app you’ve heard of. That gave permission to a huge community of potential users to try it — and they have. I like knowing that my small company helped support A Guy Writing a Blog. And the blunt discussion about how ThinkUp sounds like a tool for d-bags has been enlightening.

I still don’t love advertising. I don’t know if my local pizza joint should pay Yelp for a sponsored listing. But it does break my heart to see a place that serves truly exceptional pies stand empty.

I highly recommend the Roma tomato, red onion and wood-oven-roasted peppers.

A year of transition

A few things have happened since the last time I published here. I moved across the country, sold a place, bought a place, started renovations, survived the worst winter, became the sole provider for my family, and did lots of coding. My kid turned 2. My company turned 1. Every aspect of my life got upended, and it was a lot.

Even though these enormous changes were for the best reasons, because we chose to make them, it was stressful and hard and most days my only goal was to just. keep. going. It’s crazy how draining moving your whole life is, and worrying about whether or not the giant holes in the walls of your new home are safe for your infant to be around, and how much health insurance costs, and what the best childcare setup is, and whether or not your business is going to survive. Not a lot of sleeping happens. I used every ounce of the little energy I did have to try to be the best spouse, parent, business partner, and manager I could possibly be. The aspects of my life that suffered were the usual suspects–self-care and creative projects (including this site).

Now, finally, it’s time to emerge from survival mode and get back to more sustainable living. For me that means at least a little bit more of writing down the stuff that’s on my mind, because that’s one of the best ways I can take care of myself and my sanity. Even if it’s just a paragraph a day. So it begins–let’s see how this goes.

My company launch

Big week. After years of planning, collaboration, and work, my company—my first company, cofounded with Anil Dash—launched with a crowdfunding campaign last Tuesday. In our first week, we’re 80% of the way to reaching our goal of 1,000 subscribers to ThinkUp-as-a-service.

I’m grateful. And terrified.

We’ve been building ThinkUp, the open source app, since 2009, but adoption was slow because installing a LAMP app on your own web server is too much of a pain. Now, with ThinkUp LLC, we’re making the app a consumer product that anyone can use by simply filling out a web page and clicking on “Sign Up.”

Taking on the burden of running a hosted web service that (hopefully tens of thousands of) customers will pay for scares the crap out of me. But until there’s something as simple as an app store for hosted web applications, it’s the only way to create a good user experience around deploying webapps to users.

I won’t repeat ThinkUp’s consumer pitch here; you can see it on our homepage. Computer nerds will understand what I mean when I say that ThinkUp is personal data mining, quantified online self, the idea that we can (and should!) have the tools to better understand ourselves, our connections, our content, and our personal history using the data we’ve been publishing on social networks like Twitter and Facebook for years now.

In short, Twitter and Facebook and Google’s advertisers aren’t the only ones who should be able to learn about me given my online activity. My social data is mine. Not only should I have a living, breathing, constantly-updating copy of it, it should live in my own database so that I can query it for my own purposes. That’s why we’re going all-in on ThinkUp.

I don’t know if this is going to work. I’m terrified that it won’t, and I’m terrified that it will. I do believe that when it comes to significant undertakings, if you’re not at least a little bit scared, then you’re not trying hard enough. By that measure, I’m on the right track.

Wish us luck.