On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, entrepreneur Anil Dash, the CEO of Fog Creek Software, talks with Recode’s Kara Swisher about ethics and accountability in the tech industry. (But you know you really want to hear about the mangoes.)
You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
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Kara Swisher: Hi. I’m Kara Swisher, editor at large at Recode, and you’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech and the week’s news. You can send us your questions on Twitter with #tooembarrassed. We also have an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. A reminder, there are two Rs and Ss in embarrassed in case you cannot spell. Some people can’t.
Today, I’m still in New York City. I never leave here. It’s been a really productive trip for podcasts. Over the past two weeks I’ve talked about Apple with Dan Frommer, and the media merger mania with Peter Kafka, and today I’m branching out. No more Recode dudes. I have a different dude.
Today, I’m here in studio with one of my favorite people, Anil Dash, not just on Twitter, but he’s a very strong thinker about tech and things like that. He’s got a conscience, which I really enjoy. He’s also an entrepreneur, a blogging pioneer and a former adviser to the Obama White House. He’s currently the CEO of Fog Creek Software. How are you doing, Anil?
Anil Dash: I’m great. Thank you so much for having me.
Good. I love seeing you in person because we talk a lot on Twitter.
We get indignant together.
Then we’re funny too, so people don’t know what they’re getting. Let me get some background for you before we get to questions and topics and stuff.
What is Fog Creek Software? Explain it.
We are the last great independent tech company.
All right. Okay.
The company has been around 18 years, probably best known for over the years co-creating Stack Overflow and spinning that out, inventing Trello, spinning that out, and that sold last year. Now, we are all in on a new platform called Glitch, which is a creative community for coders. There’s millions of people making apps and things.
I really don’t think there’s been a company our size — we’re small, we’re like three dozen people — that has spun out products that tens of millions of people have used. The most famous, the co-founders Joel Spolsky and Michael Pryor, they’ve been these incredible entrepreneurs, so I joined about a year and a half ago. It’s a nice thing. We get to be opinionated and loud-mouths a little bit. We also have a lot of fun and build cool stuff, so it’s nice.
Right. What do you do? What is your ...
I’m the CEO.
It’s all my fault when something goes wrong.
I’m really lucky. A lot of what I get to do is, thinking through as we go to Glitch, how do we make this the thing that nobody else can do?
Right. Explain Glitch.
Sure. Glitch, think of it as a creative community for coders. Millions of coders come in and build ...
It has been sold for a million zillion dollars.
It’s more of a repository.
Yeah. I think even it’s closer to SoundCloud or to YouTube than it is to GitHub. It’s like you’re showing your stuff off, and people are remixing it and responding to it. It does do all the Get Stuff. You need that to be able to create.
Yeah. Then what we’re finding, this is ramping up right now, is a lot of people like business users or whatever, it’s like, “Oh, the little tools I want are here.” For them, it’s almost like an app store. It’s a lot of free open source tools. They’re like, “I’m not a developer. I’m not a coder. I want to take this tool, maybe remix it and make the button blue instead of green. I’m not building an app from scratch.”
I think we’re going to follow them over the next couple of months. We’re doing a thing called Glitch for Teams. That’s so you can take it to work and use it. That’s where that’s headed. It’s exciting. To see as an independent company for us, millions of people come in and say, “I want to create,” that’s just a nice feeling.
Right, and I think that’s with Trello and this is all creation. Collaboration.
Yeah, exactly. Collaboration, and then of course with the Stack Overflow DNA, that deep developer connection.
Right. Absolutely. You worked at the Obama White House?
I didn’t. I was an adviser to Jason Goldman’s team and as a digital officer.
What were you advising?
It all seems so quaint at this point.
There is a chief science officer. There’s not a CTO.
Exactly. Yeah, engaging around how to use social media today, like how people’s voices can be heard. Get feedback on everything from policy to what they thought about everything.
The whole character thing.
Right. This is a petty thing, but I’m going to go to it anyway because I appreciate you indulging me.
Please do. Petty is my favorite, right?
There was the, I don’t even know how to say it, C-O-V-F-E-F-E, that horrible tweet of Covfefe, whatever it is. Whatever, it’s a typo. It’s gibberish. The lack of care indicated in that you can just send out any garbage and it can be incoherent. There were people — you know this better than anybody — so thoughtful in that last semester, just so mindful how they’re communicating, so heartfelt. Incredibly talented people putting their minds into, “If we use this platform right, we can give people a voice, and we can hear them, and we can respond to them.” The gap between those things, it gives me enough infuriation to be angered, to fuel my fire to do good work. Every single day I’d get up and say, “Wow. Let me ... Let that encourage me to do my best.”
This morning was bad. It was. Everything is trash now, honestly. What, did I say something controversial? On your website, you call yourself an activist. Talk about that.
I was raised in a household back then. My parents are Indian-American. They came to this country in the ’60s and ’70s.
You’re an immigrant family.
We are. I was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania.
Let’s split you up then.
I take it real seriously.
My parents are what America is about, that working hard and giving us a place to work and for me to be an entrepreneur and give people jobs. That story. At the same time, my great-grandfather marched with Gandhi. I was told these stories as a kid and what it meant for people to have determination over their own lives. This is something that is not the myth that we tell people about, the founding fathers and those things. My father who was alive was born a British subject. He was not born a free man, and he’s alive, and he’s the guy that got me into computers.
There’s a reason I have this show I have to make, so that has lived history, I think I feel very strongly. I carry through with like, “Yeah. I run a software company. Let’s be real about it.” It’s often, it’s not ... when people are marching these days, I’m home with my son, but we’re talking about what is it that they’re marching about. I’m not pretending that I am this fighter on the streets, and I don’t pretend to that. I think there is a role to be had, or a responsibility we have as a CEO, as a voice and a platform, and I get to yell at people on Twitter, or whatever, that we can use it that way.
That’s why I put that early in a description of myself because I think it has to guide this stuff.
Which any one of you don’t want to be seen as. Think about Tim Cook now to respond on DACA and everything, which is what you ever see.
Well, it’s interesting to see Tim being 10 percent more open than Steve Jobs was. Apple is saying, “Okay, we’re going to give a tiny little bit of money to causes instead of zero dollars.” This is their version of responding. It’s good. I’m being glib about the fact that they’re changing, but the change is good and important, and is a totally different by their employees pushing it.
Well, one thing that you have talked about a lot, and you know it’s my big issue, is the state of ethics in tech right now. I just did an interview with Tom Peters, and he called it a moral cesspool, which I thought was ...
Yeah. Can we talk about what’s going? Everything is getting better? Or is it just spinning their wheels? How do you feel about what’s going on?
I look back, I had my eye-opening moment 10 years ago or so where I was building social media tools. I was in San Francisco. I was in the heart of it, and was thinking about, “Okay. If all this works, what happens to the world?” I certainly didn’t foresee what has happened, but there are things that we’re not going to be proud of. Certainly you could foresee the harassment and the abuse that ordinary people, separate from the political event. I thought, “Okay, this is something we need to really focus on.” When I started talking about that — and I was actually not very confrontational, I’m much more so now — I was like, “Hey, what do you think about this stuff?” It was perceived as heresy.
Talk about that.
It was the most grave transgression.
You would say what?
We were building blogging tools. We did tools, and I said, “We should be really thoughtful about how people are going to use them and how we, for example, deal with identity.” I’m all for pseudonymous accounts, that people want to be able to share information safely. It’s important especially to marginalized people that are at risk when they say that.
Totally anonymously being able to share anything at any time without any accountability can have a lot of negative effects, as we’ve seen. This idea, “Well the internet is supposed to be free. Why are trying to censor people? Why do I have to be accountable for what I say?” I had people explicitly say, “If you keep talking about this stuff, you will never be able to get a startup funded. You will never, you’re screwing your future.” Pretty much almost in those words. I’m CEO of a small tech company, so I’m in the B-league, and maybe bit higher because I have a high profile, right, for a low-end CEO. By network, I know a lot of people.
Yeah, you do.
If you look at the Twitters and LinkedIns and whatevers of the world, those are people generally I knew the founders from before they started, just because I’ve been around a long time.
Despite that network or those connections, and they’ve always been very respectful and willing to listen in crisis because I come from that cohort. The other people, and this is more the industry player side, not creators, were very explicit about, “You can’t do this. You can’t talk about these issues and still be a credible participatory part of this industry.”
Now, fortunately, that’s not been the case. Now, everybody’s tune has changed and even the least aware leaders are like, “Oh, we’re supposed to say this thing on diversity and culture. I’m supposed to say this thing on ethics.” They at least know the script. It’s funny because they may or may not be sincere, but that at least feels like progress when they let me know just what to say.
Okay. You’re talking about progress, but there are some really big glaring problems, so let’s go over them.
From your perspective, what is happening?
Talk some about morals. That’s a little bit ... It’s aggregation and responsibility.
There is. At a real top tier, actually that initial question, “What happens if this succeeds?” I look at the business models, or the economics. You look at the funders and what are they trying to build? One of these things is the reckoning around our data, our information, our privacy. That’s how people become vulnerable. It’s how they become susceptible to attack. You look at how primitive the early text ads, or in the first version of AdWords was, and it was like, “Those are fine. I don’t think anybody objects.” For me, specifically, I love that there are large-scale ads supportive services because I have family in enforced regions of India. They’re not going to pay $10 a month out of their pockets because that’s a month’s income. Ad-supported services makes sense, and are valuable, and give more people access.
Nobody understands, nobody, literally nobody, including the people building these systems, understands what’s happening through data now when they’re capturing it and putting it into Facebook and Google systems at that scale. That says that not only are we as consumers don’t know what’s happening, but that it is impossible to have accountability because nobody knows what’s happening, is fundamentally untenable.
Then we see the costs of that, so that’s everything from, “Can a company or a government get information about me and use it without me expecting it?” I think of this as a very extreme example, but we have to worry. You have to start at the most vulnerable. There’s a genocide happening in Myanmar right now. There are attacks happening in Sri Lanka. There’s no question that the amplification of misinformation or propaganda ...
... on Facebook in particular, is enabling.
I contrast it to security where we’ve made a lot of progress in industry. It’s security. If you’ve got a bug report that your servers are not secure in Sri Lanka right now, they say, “Oh we better shut that down. We’ll pay a bug bounty.” It’s money to the person that reported security vulnerability. “We’ll wait until it’s fixed, and then we’ll bring it back up, and we’ll do a full postmortem.” That’s actually a great, healthy, mature practice as an industry. If I say you have a social vulnerability ...
That’s a great way to put it.
It’s costing people’s lives. First of all, those actors on the ground raising that flag, they don’t have a way to have that message come in. Second of all, they’re certainly not going to get a check cut as a thank you for doing that. Third, there won’t be a, “Let’s shut it down until we know what’s happening.”
This is people’s lives. This isn’t, “My server is leaking data.”
There’s a sense of culpability. The strongest argument is responses, but also people are using it to coordinate response, or also people are using it to find out the price of fish at the market and they need that to have their living. Those are true things. Those are not the only things. Where do we draw this line? How do we even have that conversation about this? Is there somebody taking culpability? I don’t know who that person is. The stock defense — which I understand because I’ve been guilty of this much lesser in some areas, but when I ran big platforms — of saying, “Well, we’re all good people and we’re trying our best.”
You think about like, “So what?”
That’s what I say.
“So what?” I’m a good person and I’m trying to ...
Who’s saying it or not ...?
Right. It’s not relevant. Let’s talk about the harm and who’s vulnerable. I think that reframing. It took me a long time to figure that out. When I was searching, we were running large platforms, but the risk then was, “These people are saying things about me I don’t like.”
Right. I was doing this the other day ...
... a big thing about “Mrs. Steve Jobs” on Twitter. Someone was like, it went to their feelings, these men’s feelings. “Oh I forgot it was all about you in this discussion.”
Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s not only, is it?
Not about you.
No disrespect to Steve, but he’s not with us anymore.
So this idea of ... By giving Laurene Powell credit for what she has done and describing her as her own person rather than to a person that is her deceased spouse is like a simple thing of saying, “He’s not here to care about this credit and she is.”
Nor would he have cared.
Right. And I’m sure, like every spouse, you want your spouse to be recognized on their own, and there’s no ... that’s a basic respect thing.
But I think that sense of not only just the ego of the men that were complaining to you, but the sense of, I have to fight for the ego, one, of a guy who had no lack of ego on his own, certainly has gotten enough credit in his life when he was here, and three, would want her to get credit, and this theoretical “I’m gonna fight on his behalf.” For what? He’s not gonna come back and high-five you.
No, not at all. And in fact, the person who wrote it, Marc Benioff, changed it.
Yes, and to his credit.
And that’s actually an interesting point, and this happens a lot in culture, too. And Marc, I think, is really growing and trying to be thoughtful in his leadership role, and so he was able to hear you and think about Laurene and say, “Okay, let me be a responsible person and change.” The fanboys can’t make the leap with him. That’s the thing, they were saying Marc was not wrong, and he says, “I think I was,” and they can’t say, “Well, he reflected, therefore I will.” They still have to double down.
No, one of them was like, “That’s not what Marc thinks,” I go, “Oh, I know what Marc thinks. Do you think he’s not having discussions with me about it? You don’t know him. I actually know him.” It was ...
They were so ... “Here is what he thinks,” Steve Jobs. I go, “I think, of all of us, I knew what he thought. I don’t know everything he thought. But I knew him better than you.”
And I feel this way a lot, where I’m like, “You know, I’m a middle-aged dad. I’m not new to this. I’ve been doing this a long time. I started my first company 25 years ago. And I’m like, I get it, and maybe, I’m a total idiot in all other regards. But just, I’ve been around a long time. Just that much, you should probably listen.”
It’s so not surprising to me.
So, before we get to a break and get to questions from the audience, where are we in Silicon Valley after Mark’s hearings?
There’s a reckoning.
Reckoning. We talked about that at Code. Talk about ...
I think there’s a couple inflection points. Zuckerberg in front of Congress, Travis stepping down at Uber, and one or two sort of similar things, were all things I thought unimaginable 10 years ago. I definitely would have said, “We’ll never have a financially successful startup or a hot-growing startup ...” Habitz — one of the most popular ones — Habitz CEO stepped down on ethical grounds. I hadn’t imagined.
So those are milestones. And even the fact that, like I said, all the CEOs know what to say about inclusion and hiring. So, I think we’re at the end of the beginning. I think we have turned the corner on “Does everybody understand we should treat people decently?” And that people who work in tech are humans with responsibilities and basic human dignity. Human rights stuff. Which is an incredibly low bar but I’m thrilled that we have gotten to the part where we’re like, “We should treat people like people, and be kind and thoughtful.”
Now, whether we’re doing that ... No, the structural stuff has not changed at all.
The new stats came out today and it’s just as bad.
And, in fact, I look at ... The economic drivers are worse because now, we have almost all VC dollars are going into hyper-funding. So, you can’t ... I see this where Glitch is taking off and we’re really successful and I’m really happy and when our company did Trello not that many years ago, six, seven years ago, very parallel. We’re going a little faster than Trello, but call it even. And it was, like, they did a round of $10 million, which is a lot of money. And they grew and they sold for $425 million, and it’s fine.
And that human scale, you can understand how many people you’re doing and then people come in and you can teach them the culture and do these things. And now, it would be hard to do. That deal would be perceived as small, even though everybody made a ton of money on it. And, in particular, in our case, we are a social network. We have a social platform. Hyper-growth of social platforms is bad for the world. But if that fund is at the end of a fund and they haven’t had any hits and the LPs are putting pressure on them, they’ve gotta turn around ...
Then all of a sudden, you’re like, “Well, it doesn’t matter that these huge social costs are growing our product, our platform, our network ...”
“No, let’s just go in and ...”
“We’re gonna do it.” And that is more common, because there are fewer startups and there are more dollars. Right? And so, that fundamental economics of ... And hyper-growth is bad in a million ways. Why do you cut corners? Why do you cut ethical corners? Why do you make bad choices about your hires? All those things, all the way down, happen because of, “We have to move too fast; we can’t be thoughtful.”
Or the economic model does not sustain this thing. I mean, there are businesses ... Caterina Fake, who was the co-founder of Flickr and many other things that she’s done, had a really great phrasing for me the other day. She talked about what we’re trying to do with Fog Creek and with Glitch, being a middle-class company. And, for the same reasons that the middle class is under attack, there are not middle-class companies. We’re not tiny. We have millions of users and all that stuff.
I think about that a lot.
But we’re not trying to be a multi-billion dollar company. If it happens, that’s fine. I’m not averse to that. We’ll chase the opportunity.
Someone was like, “Why isn’t Recode bigger?” I’m like, “I want it to get smaller.”
Yeah. But just being human scale. I don’t mind if this takes us 25 years to build this, that’s fine. Because we’ll take care of our people, meaning our employees but also the community along the way.
Which is a hard thing given the bigger ... getting bigger with these mergers and things like that.
So, that’s the next ...
Except all we’re getting is mega-mergers. These massive companies, trillion-dollar companies.
But that’s the next challenge. That’s the next, sort of, thing that’ll be the end of the beginning.
Middle-class! I like that. Middle-class companies.”
All right. We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors, and then we’ll get back with Anil Dash. We’re talking about a whole range of things, including ethics. And we got a lot of questions from readers. Anil, you need to give me your best reading of the line “hashtag money” since we have to make money on this show.
Nice! All guys do this sports announcer thing. And I’m gonna now read my ad right now.
We’re back with Anil Dash, who’s the CEO of Fog Creek Software, but he’s also a great thinker around topics of ...
You’re so kind.
You are, you are! Not a lot of people go out of their way the way you do. So, let’s take a look. Questions we’ve gotten from audience members and take a few. Couple people had food-related questions for you too. So, we’ll get to that later, around mangoes.
Elizabeth Wilner: “He has written brilliantly about online marketplaces and the trend from wide open ones such as eBay to rigged markets such as app stores and Amazon to false markets where the company sets the price. Would love to hear him update his take on marketplaces given all that’s happened in the past year+. And perhaps nothing has changed.”
Hmm. That’s a good question. I should go to some depth in the explanation there because it’s a complicated idea, but the short version of it is, what we all got excited about in the early days of the internet was the eBay idea, right? Anybody could sell stuff to anybody. And one of the examples I look at is Amazon, where if you search for bedsheets, you’d probably get Pinzon as one of the responses. And that’s their house brand of bedsheets at Amazon. And what they’ve done is they’ve watched for what’s the size of bedsheets people search for the most and the thread count, and let’s just make it ourselves and sell it and put it at the top of the listing. And that’s sort of what I would call a rigged market, right? And all the other people that are selling bedsheets on Amazon are probably still thinking, “If we make a great product, we’ll go up to the top of the list,” and they don’t know the playing field that they’re on.
That’s happened in a stealth way. People don’t really know that’s how the landscape has changed. And you go all the way into Uber in towns where it’s the only place where you can hail a ride, and they call what they do a “market.” Right? The drivers are competing for business but they fix the price and they choose to get some business. And that’s a completely closed thing. And they’ve taken the language and the decorations of, “We’ll match you with a provider.”
And there’s possibilities of competition. It just doesn’t exist.
You imagine in this other version, where in the old Web 2.0 days or if that other version of the internet had succeeded, Google would have said, “All the taxi companies, list your available rides in this format and we’ll index them. And when somebody searches ‘taxi in downtown Manhattan,’ we’ll list all the providers and you can choose one.” And there’s no reason they couldn’t do that. The city could do that. Some have tried but they’ve not really gotten anywhere on it.
That idea that we were gonna have these open platforms and people would compete for your business almost seems old-fashioned. And this goes to that point about the economics of it. And, actually, to answer the question, it gets worse before it gets better. And it’s because now with the ...
Why does it get better?
Well, it’s two reasons: Gets worse is because they’re not even trying to compete in the market. Uber is saying, “If we raise enough funding, we could just subsidize all the rides and buy your business till your competitors go out of business.” And that’s bad for consumers. And, actually, it’s bad for product. I really think of this as a product guy, who runs a product company, I’m like, “I want us to have great competitors.” Because I want it to push us and then it’s good for our users and good for us and we don’t get complacent.
The reason it gets worse is that sort of economic incentive around like, “We wanna own the whole market.” I think it gets better because it collapses under its own weight. The way that we see with every market where there’s monopoly, dominant player, at a certain point people get too fed up where they’re like, “There’s only one player. They keep raising prices because they own this market. We know they don’t care about our needs.” And we see this pushback and it takes a long time, usually takes regulation or policy. But, at some point, people get fed up with that dynamic. I’m hoping that happens sooner rather than later with some of these things.
Okay. Adam Morgan: “You have been very outspoken about diversity and inclusion within the tech industry and the hostility under-represented minorities may face within the industry. Why do you think Southeast Asians, male and female, are so over-represented within the industry despite being a statistical minority in America?”
That’s a great question and I think there’s a couple of factors.
They’re talking largely about Indians, essentially.
Yeah, yeah. Indian-Americans are a really interesting challenge around all of our preconceptions of race and dynamics in this country in a lot of ways. One part of it is, we have, what, Google or Microsoft or Adobe all have Indian-American men as CEOs. They’re all immigrants. None of them are Indian-Americans born in the U.S. I think it’s a really interesting distinction because there’s a big cultural gap there. But, overall, Indian-Americans are underrepresented in management in tech companies compared to our overall populations like engineers and other things. There’s a couple factors — and there’s actually a very big difference between South Asian tech workers born in the U.S. versus not. Right? So, the majority of those who are not are here on H-1Bs and have very little market leverage. The way I would reduce it is overly simplistic but they’re not gonna complain at work because they’re not gonna risk getting sent back home. Because they’re sending money back home, and in many cases, it’s sustaining their family or their village. That’s an obligation or a burden that, I think, is very hard for people to understand if they’re not ... if they haven’t seen it first hand.
I grew up in a household where we were helping my cousins and my uncles and aunts. And that obligation is taken more gravely and more seriously than almost anything else. So of course they don’t organize. Of course they don’t say, “We’re not fairly compensated.” Of course they don’t say, “I’m not getting promoted,” and there’s not a lot of vertical mobilization. But in numbers, they’re there because they are easy to keep in line. And so, you’re incentivized to hire them.
And there is also a legitimate thing of there’s not enough skilled workers in certain trades, and there are just numerically more Indian and Chinese workers that are doing this work. And so it’s like, yeah, also we want these kinds of engineers.
That’s a very different story than those of us that are born here. I mean, I grew up in the suburbs in Pennsylvania. Of course, I don’t have an accent, which a lot of people ... accents are this huge provocation to a lot of people in America, especially Indian accents, even though Indian English is the most commonly spoken English in the world.
So, we have the accents. They don’t. But when you have people hear an Indian accent on the phone when they call somebody, they’re livid about it. And then that comes up. And so, there’s this dynamic here about ... there isn’t a monolith. There’s not one answer to this. Why are there a lot of us? The fundamentals are, one, that economic story of like H-1B workers represent less but more control for companies. And then the other part is amongst those of us born here. The cultural assumption and the sort of cliché version of this is our parents pushing us to be in the spelling bee. But there’s ... what are acceptable paths? And when I was growing up, it was doctor or lawyer. And sometime in the ’90s ...
It was computers.
Software, computers, got added to the list. And so the pressure of what’s acceptable was there. But I think one of the things that’s important to flag is, you know, Steve Bannon while in the White House as chief strategist said, “There are too many Asian-American CEOs in tech.”
And has for years been promoting a book called “Camp of the Saints” that explicitly is propaganda about Indian immigrants being a plague that the only solution to it is rounding us up in camps and exterminating us.
And I would say for cultural context, it is as poisonous as something like ... and I’m forgetting the name of it. There’s a really notoriously anti-Semitic book that ... “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” right?
There’s just one?
Well no, but I think particularly “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which is like, use this tool to signify hate. And this is sort of the same thing for our community. And, you know, to see a guy like that, in that position of power calling out ... and he’s not talking about me because I’m too small a fish, but to call out Satya Nadella or to call out any of these leaders in our industry, I think is absolutely extraordinary.
And so, I think there’s a balance here where numerically, we’re overrepresented. On the other hand, we’re the only group that the chief strategist of the White House while in office there said, “There’s too many of you and we ought to do something about it,” while saying, “Look at this book. It talks about violence.” So, I might trade one for the other. I think there’s a book rec in there.
All right. Next question, from @CodeForPDX: “Are real names essential for more ethical behavior online? If the account was anonymous, what is a way to make users account for how they use it?”
Good question. It’s complicated. I’ll try to do the simple version. Real names can help in some contexts, certainly like in neighborhoods and things it’s really great to get to know what people are. Real names make a lot of people vulnerable, right? So, we see this like, how do you define real? Especially if somebody is discovering your identity is transgender, and they change their name, what is real? Is that your legal name or not? That’s a thing that very, very few platforms handle well. So, real is a very fraught thing.
And of course like whistleblowers and things like that don’t want to have their names attached to it because then it’ll put them at risk. So, those things are all legitimate reasons to say no, we shouldn’t do real names. On the flip side, a lot of the worst trolls and adversarial behaviors happen because people are not accountable because their names aren’t attached. I think the balance to that — and this is a problem across all of social networks — is the mechanism is not the thing. Whether it’s a real name or not; whether it’s a pseudonym or not is not the thing. It’s enforcement and understanding power and abuse is actually the issue.
And you can choose any value here. One example I’d give is Stack Overflow, know it well so I’m not just talking my book because I’m on the board. But they’re like ... It’s 50 million users or something like that. Huge, huge site. Like top-40 site on the web. And, very fraught things like talking about programming languages, people get very emotional. And it allows people to be completely anonymous. Now the site is ... it should be more welcoming. There are challenges around how friendly it is, but there are not mobs of Nazis on Stack Overflow. There’s not mass disinformation on Stack Overflow.
And yet, you can be totally anonymous and use the site, or not even log in at all. So, it’s possible to design systems that don’t have some of these abuses with totally anonymous systems. It takes enforcement, moderation, investment, and that’s actually the challenge. So the names thing is sort of a side issue. You can make almost any choice there and as long as you have good policy, good enforcement ...
Which is the problem on Twitter. They just don’t enforce ...
Then you can a good result.
Right. Enforcement is it. All right. Ian Gertler: “As we continue to see the state of tech change quickly in both good and bad ways, what is the big thing that Fog Creek Glitch needs to address next for customers?”
That’s a good question. There’s a lot. I mean, we’re early. Glitch is about a year old, and we only came out of beta like two months ago. So, we’re doing the basic every-startup stuff. We’re growing, and we’re building new features, and we’re gonna build our paid business products this fall with Glitch for Teams. Those are functional things. I think as an organization, we’ve done a lot of tactical stuff.
We’d always been pretty good about being open about salary, but we did full-salary transparency last year and gave everybody inside like, “These are the salary ranges in these things.” And it’s helped. It’s nice because it was not actually a big lift. It was like, we had to do the functional things. Well, once it was there, it was just there. And so every job listing has a salary range and people don’t have to negotiate when they come in. And you see it in what kinds of candidates come in, whether it’s by race, by gender, or any other part of identity. It attracts so much more talent, because they’re like, “I don’t have to negotiate who I am and fight with somebody on the way in.” That’s the stuff that we’re doing more and more of.
And we even did ... Our employee agreement, we let everybody sort of edit collaboratively and say, “What do we want to do here around ...?” One of the things was intellectual property. And I think a lot of companies are still trying to claim what employees do. And we’re like, we’re just gonna do California-style. You can have control over what you create on your own time, in your own space, and do that for everybody around the world. So those are things where, we want to do more of that. But it’s just basic, treat people well.
Right. Okay. Sounds good. A listener who asked to remain anonymous emailed to ask us, “I’d like to work for Fog Creek but don’t live in New York City. Will you guys ever become a more distributed ‘remote’ company? What are your thoughts on ...”
We’re mostly remote.
Oh, you are?
So, when we started, Joel Spolsky was writing “Joel on Software” and it was a very influential software blog. And he was really adamant about, “We’re gonna make an amazing office in New York and you can come here.” And then, maybe eight or nine years ago, right before Trello sort of took off, we went remote-first. And so, every meeting ... literally the day I joined, we had an all-hands, and everybody — including everybody at headquarters — was on their headset and had a video camera at their desk, so that there isn’t anybody who’s on that conference phone on the wrong end, and people are like, “Are you still on? I forgot you were there.” And that was a huge thing. I was like, “Wow. This is wild. I’ve never seen anything like it.” We’re still mostly remote. So about half ... a little less than half the company’s in our headquarters, which is actually where our building in downtown Manhattan is, the next building over from where Vox Media is. So we’re very close by. And we have a great office, and that’s nice. And then we have a ton of people who work at home.
Okay. All right. What are your thoughts? He likes it, all right? Okay. Last question. Carol Forden and many people: “I want to know your favorite way to eat nori and how you prepare it.”
All right. Try that one first.
I don’t have real strong feelings on nori. I mean, it’s fine. I don’t ...
I wish I had a better answer though.
Why are they asking you about nori?
Nori’s weird. Mangoes I get.
I agree. We’re gonna go to mangoes now.
When we said you would be on the show, Ana Milicevic and Michael Hart both tweeted us about mangoes. What is that? What is the mango thing?
I’ll give you the short version of it. I’ll try. It’s hard for me to be succinct.
Yeah. So, in the U.S., we basically only have one or two kinds of mangoes. Most common are Haden. And they’re those reddish-green ones you see. And they are the worst mangoes you could have. They’re optimized for transport, which is why they’re stringy and gross.
And it’s little bit like, if the only apple we had was a mushy Red Delicious. You’d be like, “”Apples are bad.”
Being Indian — and this is true of I think most of the world that has access to tropical fruit — mangoes are almost a religious thing. One is, every region has its own. It’s very, very local and there’s all different varieties. Two is, the ritual of it, because they’re this amazing fruit. It’s this very, very rich, complex flavor and also everybody has access. So, you don’t have to be rich to buy a mango.
And it was actually not until 2007 that you could buy Indian mangoes in the U.S. And even here, it’s really rare. They’re really expensive, because they have to be flown before they get too old. But there’s this couple week window every spring where you can go to an Indian store, probably in the two or three biggest cities in America, not really that much else. And you can get these Indian mangoes and they are ... they’re as good as I remember when I was a kid and we would go to India and try them. And I was like, “These are amazing.”
So I’ve been evangelical about them, because I’m just like, “If you think you don’t like mangoes, or you think mangoes are only okay, you’ve never actually had one.” And we should just raise our standards. What’s taken off, and this is mostly on Twitter, but on social media is ...
It is. The mango thing is big.
Everybody’s like, “This is weird.” And then they try one and they’re like, “Oh. I see why.” And then this really took off this year. There was a comedian, who’s a friend of mine, Hari Kondabolu, and he did a Netflix special, and he went off on how Indian people are obsessed with mangoes. And it’s true of everybody in South Asia. And so more and more are trying them. And as they try it, they’re converted.
And it’s a huge social media thing.
Yeah. Yeah, because it’s amazing.
It’s a nice thing on social media.
Yeah. Well, it’s something that makes you happy.
Have you ever had a good mango?
Apparently not. I think I’ve had a mango ...
All right. I’m gonna make sure we get you some.
All right. Okay.
And then you’re gonna be one of us, and then they’re gonna be like, “What happened? What happened to Kara? Why is she this person?”
A mango. Is there a hashtag?
No. There doesn’t need to be. It’s bigger. It’s bigger than hashtags.
It’s bigger than that. Okay. All right. So, it’s the mango thing. It’s such a nice thing given what fresh hell that Twitter brings us every day.
Yeah, I think it has something good in the world. Exactly. It’s literally sweet.
Yeah. Thank you. Oh, Anil. I can’t believe we ended on that.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.