I asked Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the reddit, several (hopefully interesting) questions during one of his relatively frequent AMA‘s (Q&A sessions). Alexis was the largely nontechnical guy who built redddit over a summer during the first Y Combinator (YC) programme, with his technical colleague Steve Huffman, and later sold it to Conde Nast (though he still advises/works on the site).
What do you enjoy doing the most these days?
You’ve done various things, made various things happen – what do you do to make you happy?
Cuddling my cat. Reading. And meeting + helping people be awesome using the internet. That’s why I wrote the book, why I’m doing an insane 5month tour for internet entrepreneurship, and why I care so damn much about not letting government or business screw up the internet.
If you were doing a startup again, without your past work at various of these companies, as a nontechnical guy, what would you say you brought to the table, to other, more technical founders?
No doubt, non-technical founders have a lot more to do to justify their worth at the pre-product stage of a company. We all have ideas. They’re worthless. A non-tech founder has to be egoless enough to do ANYTHING that is not technical. Ordering delivery, handling paperwork, collecting receipts, as well as the ‘sexy’ things like product and branding.
I’m particularly good from that brand + community building side, whether it’s creating the logos (notice all the mascots? heh) or developing that relationship with users and customers to create businesses that people love.
Of course, without first having a product that people want, all of this is worthless. I love that about the internet.
When you were doing $a_startup, who did you ask for advice, how much did you listen to them and how did you know how much to listen, and how much to JFDI?
You know, PG was a great mentor for me and Steve during the first 6mos of reddit because YC was still so small (we were first round, so there were only like 12 companies) but after that, I never really had a mentor.
Aside from Mr. JFDI I wish I did have someone, though. Like Gabe. Or Jay Z.
Do you have any advice for British nightowls up late hacking on things between days of a python conference?
Please stop putting “u”s in places where they don’t belong.
Since I’m being polite & British – here’s a plug for his upcoming book Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed – you can preorder it, and co-incidentally, it’s on my wishlist.
With Parliament being recalled to discuss the current situation in Syria, I’ve felt compelled to write to my MP again to tell her my thoughts on the matter.
After the Government’s crushing defeat in vote in the House of Commons, I’ve sent Lucy a thank you letter:
On the 5th of August I wrote to my MP about Tempora.
My concerns are quite generalised, and my letter format and styling is to be worked upon, however the most important thing was to convey my opinion, and that is what I did:
Today I received a response. Take a read, it’ll only take a second.
Some points of note:
- Lucy is recently elected, and could not have personally voted RIPA into law.
- Parliament is on recess
- Lucy is currently on maternity leave after giving birth to a new member of her family
- I like paper responses, in specific cases like this.
It’s quite easy to be disillusioned by a letter like this, but I’m happy with it. The Home Secretary, Teresa May and I will not see eye to eye, but the most important thing about this letter is something that you may not noticed first time through.
I’ve had to blank it out partially, but I now have a reference number, and this reference number means that, rather than simply sitting and waiting for Lucy to hand me a form-letter from Teresa May’s summer intern, about why “GCHQ is important for our national security” and we must “prevent terrorists and think of the children”, what the reference number means, is that I can write back and engage Lucy in the issue more.
Here’s what I have written:
We’ll see what happens.
What I do know is that writing this letter has done more than doing nothing at all, or posting on Facebook about this every day.
Writing to your MP, is quick, easy, and potentially very rewarding.
Due to more GCHQ idiocy and the harassment of Guardian Journalist, Glen Greenwald’s partner, I’ve been compelled to write to my MP again:
Why don’t you have a go?
It’s quick and easy via http://writetothem.com
The less it sounds like you copied and pasted something, the more of a personal response you’re likely to get.
I got my first email address aged 10 so I could communicate with my older sister who was taking a year out and travelling Australia and New Zealand.
The experience is vividly memorable, as my mum (and to be fair, me neither!) had no clue how one got email addresses and told me she thought you probably had to phone someone up.
A very kind and helpful teacher helped guide me through the signnup process to get (if I remember rightly!) a whopping 2MB of storage on Talk21.
talk21 was created to help everyone in the UK to be able to keep in touch in the 21st century. This part of BT’s Millenium Programme. talk21 is enabling the Government to meet its pledge to provide an email account for everyone in the UK over 9 years old.
> This summer, we’re simplifying our email product range and we’ll be closing some of our email services on 16 September 2013.
> This means that your firstname.lastname@example.org email address will stop working after that date.
Apparently, if I wanted to pay them ££ or get Broadband from BT (LOL NO!) I could keep it, but since I’ve got any remaining email, and I haven’t actually used it since, about, 2004, I think it’s wise to let it lapse.
My current email infrastructure is better, currently in a hybrid self-managed setup… soon to be more self-managed I hope.
Goodbye Talk21. Thanks for connecting me to people back in the day. Dream of sunsets on calm seas.
A private investigator hacked a schoolgirl and a few celebs’ voicemails, and it caused a public inquiry, it brought a media mogul (previously considered “untouchable”) to be summoned to parliament and forced a historic Sunday newspaper to shutdown.
All because of a few private investigators listening to a few voicemails.
We’ve learned since then, that GCHQ has, (partly sponsored by the NSA) has been intercepting any internet traffic, conversations, phone calls that leave/return the UK via submarine cables (Level3, BT, Vodafone & others have helped facilitate this) as part of a programme called Tempora.
As even a Facebook conversation with my girlfriend will probably go via Sweden, An email via Gmail will go via Irland, and a good deal of other communications will cross borders, we can assume that details of most people’s daily communications are being captured.
The response from the UK Government has been for William Hague to call for the public to have “confidence” in GCHQ and to state that “law-biding members of the public had ‘nothing to fear’“.
They also released a D-notice (effectively about Tempora) which, though voluntary, means that many UK news outlets won’t report on the Tempora. The Guardian clearly is the main exception.
Interestingly, as lots of EU traffic flows through the UK on the way to the US, a lot of European countries, Germany in particular, are less than pleased about their citizens being snooped on - Germany recently nuked a cold war era collaboration pact with the US in protest.
The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection in Germany has called for the former U.S. intelligence employee Edward Snowden to be given asylum in Germany so he can assist with ongoing investigations.. Imagine if the Information Commissioner of the UK said that?!
The striking thing about the story is not the revelations, or the implications, or the speculation of what these tools could/are being used for, the striking thing about the story is how little the public seem engaged in it.
Since the phone hacking scandal caused a public inquiry, and took down a historic newspaper, why is mass interception of everyone’s email, not an issue?
The story needs to be communicated better to the public and we need to work out how we can make people relate to it.
How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?
A few of my thoughts:
- Can the Tempora story be personified? Who has it been used to snoop on? What has it been used for?
- What is it used for? Who has access to it? Who chooses targets?
- Can stunts be deployed as a medium of raising the profile of the system? Can airtime and media attention be ‘bought’ by peaceful and legal activist actions?
- Would street protests help start a movement and help people supporters meet and rally each other on?
- Would a coalition of NGO’s signing a public letter with several demands or questions help get the media try to answer those questions?
- How can we make people feel like something can and must be done to stop this?
The Great Firewall of Kim Jong Cameron is a distraction from the more pressing things.
- MPs are currently on recess.
During the summer, MPs go on holiday, and so MPs and ministers can’t be called to the house to debate or justify their idea. Parties don’t need to react/state their views to things. In addition, some of the MPs that are voices of reason are on holiday and thus not available to shout it down.
- If it got anywhere neat implementation, it’d be wildly unpopular.
- It’s conveniently drawing attention away from other things
Criticism, media attention, activist attention is being diverted to the Porn Block from the other story – that GCHQ is already is monitoring your internet with Tempora and that almost no UK media want to talk about it. “Sex sells” as they say.
Whether deliberate or co-incidental, the porn block is clearly is a distraction. And a very effective one.
We know we’re being watched by GCHQ.
We’ve found out, via a whistleblower, that in the past few years, mass surveillance, for the purposes of later analysis, has been turned into reality, in the US and in the UK.
The thing is, the general public is largely unphased. It’s barely scraped public opinion. The average person who doesn’t watch the news, might be aware that there was a guy called Snowdon, but would not be aware that the UK government knew who they’d phoned, who they’d emailed, and what the subject lines of those emails were.
The thing is, if I’d suggested this 6 months ago, it’d have sounded like a crazy conspiracy. Even today, it’s only information, pieced together – various sources correlating stories and confirming points, that give me the confidence to say it exists.
But the public doesn’t care, and apart from The Guardian, the UK media isn’t bothered in the surveillance story (perhaps due to this D-notice?) or more probably, due to various bias’s inherent to their organisations.
The problem is: we’ve not communicated it well enough.
We’ve so far not communicated how this means that the Government knows about you. How talking to your girlfriend via Facebook is a lot less private than you might think and that actually, your phone shares a lot more information about you than you think it does.
We have a system so far reaching, that a German ex-Stasi lieutenant said:
“You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,”
What we need to do now is to work out:
How can we communicate this to people?