Responses to an Email Interview

I’m speaking to a Mensa gathering this Spring about the internet and was just sent some interview questions for the local chapter’s newsletter. Pretty strange, huh? After I took the time to reply to the questions, I thought I’d take a page from Dave Winer and post my replies here. Perhaps you, dear readers, can let me know if you think I am wrong, too obnoxious, or otherwise in need of different replies to such questions.

> 1. What does it mean to be the “lead writer” at Who
> is your primary audience?

I’m the senior daily writer for the company and was hired in that
capacity by founding editor Richard MacManus, a Kiwi. We get about 2
million readers per month from around the world, a mix of “early
adopter” web users and some programmers. I describe our site as by
and for people who admire what cutting edge web programmers do.
> 2. How did you get into this line of work and what did you do before?

I came from the nonprofit world, writing online and in print about
politics. I got a political science degree but have always been
primarily self-educated. I happened across this new class of tools
online and immediately realized its research and communication
potential for nonprofit organizations. I ended up working with the
tools themselves, writing about them, more than helping nonprofits
adopt them, unfortunately. I was writing about what I was learning,
as a way to generate work teaching and consulting, and ended up
getting hired to write instead.
> 3. What is Web 2.0 and what are your favorite tools and techniques in
> it (maybe your top five)?

Web 2.0 is the second generation of the web, a class of applications
that are best known for enabling everyone to produce content – not
just consume it. That’s the simplest explanation but as my list of
favorite tools demonstrates, it’s a lot more complex than that. My
favorite tools are probably RSS (Really Simple Syndication), Twitter,
Custom Search Engines and Greasemonkey. If you search online for any
of those terms and the word “explanation” you should be able to find a
good one. The common thread with all of them is that they allow me,
as a relatively non-technical person, to manipulate the web in order
to increase my information absorption capabilities by orders of
> 4. What are some of the “out there” technologies on the horizon that
> you think might be popular someday?

The Semantic Web and artificial intelligence, personalized
recommendation technologies and what’s called “lifestreaming”
(activity aggregation) are some of my favorite things to keep an eye
> 5. If someone is just getting plugged in, where should they start?

Twitter is a great place to start. Twitter is small, there’s only
about 6 million people using it right now, but there’s a very good
reason that every journalist and many politicians, scientists,
computer programmers and others in the country won’t shut up about it.
It’s as much a paradigm shift as blogging was, maybe more so, and it
was invented by the same man who sold the first major blogging
software to Google. It’s really, really easy to use. Go watch a video
called “Twitter in Plain English” and then find some people with work
interests like your own via the search engine Spend a
little time engaging with people that way and you’ll have your head
spinning with Web 2.0 in no time. It’s just a matter of diving in.

> 6. If someone is already plugged in, what are some new things to try?

If someone is already plugged in enough to have tried the above list
of some of my favorite things, then they should try thinking about new
non-human publishing agents of RSS feeds. That would be cool. I’m
going to bet though that none of your readers have explored things
like RSS, Twitter, Custom Search and Lifestreaming to a fraction of
their potential. I know I haven’t, and I make my living writing about
how crazy things you can do with those technologies.
> 7. How do you think Web 2.0 has changed the world so far, and what
> changes do you expect in the near future?

SEED Magazine said in its 2008 year in review that humanity created
more “data” last year than in all the previous history of humanity,
combined. That’s pretty hard to wrap your head around, but a whole
lot of that data was produced on MySpace, Facebook, Orkut and big
Chinese online social networks that I can’t remember the names of.
Of course big science produced a whole lot of it as well, but don’t
neglect how many more data producers there are around the world today
– just by way of mobile phones. That’s in terms of data production;
our capacity as individuals to consume data is as changed today
compared to what it was 10 years ago as it was on one hand from the
time that people had to ride a horse miles into a town with a library
to the day when a daily newspaper was being delivered to their door.
The change may be bigger, actually; go search for an esoteric hobby on
YouTube. Web 2.0 has changed the world in a lot of ways but those who
have truly taken the plunge into leveraging it will probably not be
capable of reproducing children with people who don’t understand it at
all, at least not for much longer. That’s a joke, sort of.
> 8. For the (many) paranoid amongst us, what suggestions do you have
> for preserving personal privacy?

Say no to the implant. It will probably come from Google first and it
will come in my lifetime (I’m 32). Learn about open data standards.
There’s not much hope for privacy, really. Follow the debates about
it and you’ll see what of it will be preserved and what of it won’t.
The whole paradigm is shifting. Don’t use debit cards if you’re that

> 9. If someone is looking for a new career (perhaps they have some
> unexpected free time due to a layoff), what areas might be good to become an
> expert in?

Effective use of new technologies on the internet; many self-professed
experts are frauds and marketing shills. A person can benefit in any
job, in any field, if they have faster access to more and better
information than other people. A great place to start would be
learning how to use an RSS Reader. Then learning how to use it

> 10. What Web 2.0 tools do you personally find to be indispensible? For
> example, would your day be as adversely affected by Twitter ceasing to work
> as if your car stopped working? Could you imagine living an ‘unplugged’
> life?

Well, I’ve never had a driver’s license (neither has my wife, believe
it or not) but yes, when Twitter stops working it really messes up my
day. Yes I can imagine living an unplugged life, but given the state
of the world I have a strong inclination to remain plugged in for now.
> 11. If someone wanted to read something you’ve written, where would they
> go? (Maybe a few specific URL’s or general directions to find some of your
> articles).

You can find all my articles at ReadWriteWeb on this page (number of comments is
in parentheses).