The Philosophical Origins of Triberr
You want to make sure no one reads your blog post? Put the word “philosophy” in the title. So if you’re here, about to read this, thank you for being extraordinary.
Also, I’m not too sure I have the linguistic skill-set necessary to fully convey what I would like to convey. But I’ll give it a go.
So, anyways…what is this post about?
This post is about perfect waves of the metaphorical sort, concentric circles that impose the rules rulers are ruled by, and the Wrath of the Titans.
Let’s start with waves.
Part 1: Waves
Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and Pete Townshend, grew up within 20 minutes (driving distance) from one another. They were born around the same time. And all four just so happen to be bonafide guitar gods.
Notice that Clapton and Beck were born in the same County even.
The outlier in this bunch may be Jimi Hendrix who was born state-side, until you realize that Hendrix also launched his god-of-guitar career from London, just like the other 4 lads.
Something in the water?
How is this possible? Is it a mere coincidence? Unlikely. There was a wave, and these guys caught it.
The wave begun with black blues guitarists somewhere in the US recording their songs most of us have never heard of.
Their recordings were then shipped to small record shops in England where young Eric, Jeff, Jimmy, and Pete picked them up and took home to imitate.
As the lads grew, the British record industry matured to the point where they caught it right when the first wave of the British Invasion of rock bands started taking over a fertile consumer market it found in US.
These were right people for the right time.
Before them was Charlie Christian, Django Reinheart, and Chuck Berry. After them was Tom Morello (of RATM), the Edge (of U2), and Stanley Jordan. All of these men are greater innovators and way better guitar players than the British lads, but none of them occupy the guitar god pantheon, or are thought of as guitar gods.
Guitar God in Every City
Here’s something even more outrageous.
I can go to any city USA and find a thousand dudes who are objectively better guitar players than Clapton, Beck, Page, and Townshend. And yet, half of them will be delivering pizzas, and the other half will be delivering weed.
If you wanted to become a guitar god, there was a time and place for it. If you happened to be there, and can play your ass off, you got to ride the wave to guitar god stardom. Congrats.
Personal Computer Wave
Like the guitar god wave, the Personal Computer (PC) wave was a lightning in a bottle.
Bill Gates and Steve Job were both born on the West Coast. They were both born the same year. They both came from similar upper-middle-class upbringing. They both started their PC based empires in 1975/76 respectively.
Another product of the west coast, Larry Ellison, is slightly older than Gates and Jobs, and in fact, was a mentor to Jobs throughout much of his career. However, notice that Ellison started his data-management empire in 1977. Basically around the same time as Gates and Jobs started their companies.
As PCs became more commonplace, the need for data storage became obvious. Ellison’s Oracle addressed this problem and he made a killing in the process.
Late, or Right on Time?
Leo Bosack is only few years older than Gates and Jobs, and his then wife, Sandy Lerner was born the same year as Gates and Jobs.
The couple founded Cisco -the company that transmits your data via wires from your PC to your favorite online hangout- back in 1984 while working at Stanford, a west coast university.
1984 may seam like a late start, but it makes perfect sense. PCs in the 1980s were standalone machines. They didn’t connect to anything. There was no Internet as we know it today, and PCs couldn’t connect to other PCs peer-to-peer style. Not until Leo and Sandy Founded Cisco and started selling devices (called routers) that enable PCs to “talk” to one another.
That blue Linksys box you have at your house is in fact a router and is owned by Cisco.
You’re Too Early and Too Late
If you started a PC based business in 1965, you would be 10 years too early. No amount of talent would save you from failing miserably. The world simply wasn’t there yet.
If you wanted to start a PC based business now, you would be too late.
Can you imagine developing a new Operating System to replace Windows or MacOS today? Can you imagine starting a hardware company that would compete with established players like Dell, HP, and IBM?
Linus Torvalds spearheaded a competing OS (Linux) in the early 90s, and despite the fact that it’s -arguably- a better OS than Windows or MacOS, it is NOT in common usage.
Part 2: Concentric Circles
Rarely does a book come along that changes the way you view EVERYTHING. The Dictator’s Handbook is one such book for me.
The author, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a professor of political science at NYU. He has studied the dynamics of social circles for over 20 years.
The Dictator’s Handbook reveals political systems in a totally new and original way. And not “politics” in the usual, narrow sense. But rather the kind of politics that all social circles are governed by.
De Mesquita uses mostly governments and corporations to make his points, but the principles he reveals are just as applicable to families, student bodies, or any other extended groupings of people.
The circle starts with the inner circle, where the seat of the power is. Surrounding it is the circle of the Essentials. Which is then surrounded by the circle of non-essentials.
Generically, it looks like this.
The genius of De Mesquita is in approaching world governments (for example) not as democracies, dictatorships, monarchies, autocracies, etc. But as these 3 concentric circles.
De Mesquita is able to reliably predict, example after example, how well-off the non-essentials will fare depending on the size of the Inner Circle and the Essentials Circle.
What’s in a Name?
He shows that the name doesn’t define how well off the non-essentials will fare.
A “Democracy” with a very small Inner and Essentials circle, will produce very lousy conditions for non-essentials, regardless of the fact that it’s called a “Democracy”.
The book opens with the story of Bell, CA, a town that was technically governed by the principals of democracy, but due to small inner and essentials circle, created extremely unfavorable conditions for the non-essentials.
Let’s take a small region in Africa, and these United States, to illustrate the basic concepts of how size of circles dictates the conditions of country’s population.
Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire
As a man in charge, Mobutu was able to keep his Inner Circle very small. The circle of Essentials (police, army, government officials, etc.) was relatively small and well controlled, as well.
The circle of non-essentials was very large.
In this kind of setup, time and time again, the living conditions for non-essentials are always and without exception, very, very bad.
Any natural resources, foreign aid, and anything else of value is controlled by the inner circle. The Essentials are paid off to the extent necessary to keep them happy and fat, so as to create mutual dependency.
Meanwhile, non-essentials are screwed. The people of Zaire lived in abject poverty during Mobutu’s entire reign.
These United States
Take United States as a kind of opposite of Zaire.
There is the President and his cabinet of advisors. The three branches of the government. Governors and Senators. The Supreme Court. All of which amounts to a very large and distributed Inner Circle.
The circle of the Essentials is very large as well. Police, the Army, the Navy, even corporations which funnel money to government officials via donations and lobbyists, are part of the supporting framework for the Inner Circle.
And as bad as the economy might be, most non-essentials in the US have a car, eat three square meals per day, carry around cell phones, and are -generally- pretty well off. Certainly better off than people living in huts in Zaire.
Part 3: Wrath of the Titans
If you know anything about the Greek Mythology, or at least have seen the movie Wrath of the Titans, you may remember how Greek Gods lost their power.
Greek Gods lost their power when humans stopped praying to them.
That is such a powerful concept in my mind. And it applies to so many things. Those Greeks were pretty smart, and they tried to teach us some really fundamental principles, but -time and time again- we forget to generalize those principles across other disciplines.
- No religion today would survive without its worshipers.
- No political party would be elected if all the supporters turned their backs on the candidate.
- And Lady Gaga would be just some crazy lady in a costume without her Little Monsters.
It’s the worshipers, supporters, and fans, that hold the ultimate power. They just don’t realize it, most of the time.
Going Peer to Peer
What happens when people stop looking up? They start looking to the left and to the right. They start looking at one another, and they start relying on one another.
The whole equation changes from master/slave relationship to peer-to-peer relationship.
Figurative gods build master/slave structures. Humans have a tendency towards peer-to-peer. And every time non-essentials build peer-to-peer networks, they create disruption in the system.
Music industry was a master/slave structure.
The record labels owned the music, distribution, and controlled the price. Some dude made a tool called Napster which enabled non-essentials to exchange music with one another, and brought the entire, long-established industry to its knees.
In fact, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did the same thing to IBM.
Before PCs, there were Mainframes. And if you’re a computer geek, like I’m a computer geek, you will know that a “Mainframe” is the “master”, and terminals (monitor + keyboard) connect to the master/Mainframe.
IBM even used the master/slave nomenclature to describe the relationship terminals (often called dummy terminals) had with the central processing unit (aka Mainframe).
Gates and Jobs essentially gave a central processing unit to every non-essential and created the Internet revolution which begun its life as a network of equals.
Part 4: What’s Web Got To Do With This?
The Internet revolution begun its life as a network of equals. But then something happened.
Guitar gods were born in London, PC revolution mavens were born on the west coast. But that was then. The technology has eliminated the issue of having to be “in the right place”. However, even technology can’t escape the restraints of good timing.
If you take a cross-section of top 100 Internet properties, you will notice something peculiar. All of them were born around the same time. Around mid 2000s.
Even really stupid ideas, like Slideshare(2006) took off in a big way. Not because looking at Power Point presentations is a compelling activity, but because it nailed the timing.
And let’s face it, Twitter(2006) wasn’t considered a good idea when it started. Few years earlier, or few years later, those who thought Twitter was stupid would have been “proven” correct. But because Twitter was born at the right time, it had the opportunity to grow up in a very favorable environment.
Content warehouses like Mashable(2005), HuffPost(2005), RWW(2003), etc. (see slide above for more examples), also benefited from nailing the timing. And despite their content being total garbage 98% of the time, they continue to thrive. Why?
What Do They Have That We Don’t?
All of the top 100 Internet properties were born into the culture of linking. Thus creating a perfect storm.
When LifeHacker(2005) and TechCrunch(2005) were born, people (read bloggers) still linked to other people’s posts. So these sites had time to establish a pile of backlinks. And then the online culture changed (sometime around 2009) into a sharing culture.
Even Google recognized this trend and had to compensate for the lack of backlinks as a signaling mechanism by creating their own sharing site. G+.
When a casual Internet user searches for something -due to backlinks- chances are these top sites will pop up. Once the user lands on a page on, say, HuffPost, they will see those nifty sharing buttons. They click on a Facebook Like or Tweet This button, which then sends their friends to the same page. Thus creating a perfect wave.
These sites represent the masters of the online universe. And braking into their inner circle would be as hard as breaking into the Guitar God circle, or Gates/Jobs circle.
- Every time we share one of their posts, or link to them, we are submitting ourselves to their tyranny.
- Every time we contribute content to these sites, we are building their empire with our bricks.
- Every time we send our friends to these sites, we are asking our friends to waste their time
Part 5: My Story
I started blogging in 2009. It didn’t take long for me to see through the bullshit that is Search Engine Optimization.
Not that people who are perpetuating the myth of SEO are bad people, it’s just that they have vested interest in making you believe SEO is the answer to traffic.
My Life as an SEO Expert
I was a Network Engineer for about 10 years. Which means that I was a geek’s geek. In fact, 7 of those 10 years, I spent teaching other computer geeks how to become even bigger computer geeks.
Let’s just say, I’m no stranger to technology.
And so, once I found out that the conventional wisdom dictated that SEO is the way to drive traffic to one’s blog, I threw myself deep into the pits. I was doing cutting edge stuff like submitting my blog posts to social index sites under fake accounts (this was circa 2009), way before “Social SEO” was a buzz word.
But there was one, inescapable reality. A wall I kept running into. To rank high, you need backlinks. Alas, by 2010, we no longer lived in a backlinks culture. Twitter and Facebook took over as the primary mode of notifying one’s audience (friends, followers, etc.) that you “like” a post.
Breaking Into the Inner Circle
So I changed my strategy. Instead of focusing on SEO, I decided that having friends in powerful places would be just as good. Except, powerful friends online didn’t want to have anything to do with me.
Gods usually keep their worshipers at a distance.
Breaking into the Inner Circle proved to be impossible. Back then, I didn’t know why, but now I do. Guitar God circle is not open for new members. PC revolution circle is not open for new members. Online pantheon wasn’t accepting new members, either. I was too late.
What Did Work?
I formed an alliance with 15 of my blogging peers. We used a tool called TwitterFeed to automatically share each other’s posts with our respective audiences on Twitter.
My blogging circle was reading and commenting on my posts, their audience was coming by as well, reading and leaving comments. Not only was a finally getting some traffic, but it was relevant, quality traffic since it was sent by bloggers who are audience builders themselves.
And Then Dan Came Along
Dan Cristo and I did a few SEO podcasts together. Philosophized -usually via skype- on the future of Facebook and the nature of online influence, and generally waxed poetic about this and that.
When he told me he was gonna start blogging more regularly, I said “hey…you should be in my blogging circle”. Except, there was no easy way to add Dan to my blogging circle.
Each individual blogger had to add Dan to his TwitterFeed, and Dan had to add them. It was a tedious and repetitive process with high degree of attrition.
If only there was a service that allowed bloggers to form a circle together, each connect only their own feed, and enable sharing across all members. Furthermore, if that service allowed bloggers to connect not only Twitter, but also Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social destination, that would be super.
When that thought occurred to me, I spend an entire night searching for a service that does that. Alas, there was none.
So I called Dan, asked him to meet me for coffee, and I presented him with the problem and the solution. The solution being that we will build a service that does it.
That night, Dan had the wireframes up, and later in the week we were testing in. Three weeks since our meeting, we invited friends to try our service. Triberr was born.
Part 6: What Triberr Do
Triberr changes the equation in few fundamental ways.
Triberr enables you to establish your own inner circle.
But more importantly, it turns the blogosphere from Zaire under Mobutu, into United States of America. In other words, it creates the kind of blogosphere where there are many distributed inner circles.
Furthermore, it creates a marketplace with a very large middle class. And middle class, both online and off, is the recipe for the right kind of society.
Historically, societies with an expansive middle class are well educated, enlightened, and tolerant. Societies with few rich, and many poor, are oppressive or unstable.
Currently, the blogosphere is rulled by few rich. The sites -and people- from Part 4.
Currently, there is barely a middle class online. And not surprisingly, top online properties are routinely taking advantage of us, thus being oppressive.
- Well known liberties Facebook takes with our privacy (not that Facebook is alone in this)
- Inane, click-baiting posts routinely published by top blogs like HuffPost and Mashable
- Ability by top blogs to manufacture news (Pawlenty’s presidential candidacy, for example) and thus feed on our attention
The lifespan of any blog post is very short.
The post has to flood the marketplace, so to speak, if it’s to gain any traction. Your tribal network gives your post the initial, much needed push. Then, it’s up to your headline and content to motivate re-shares.
We are too late for the big wave. But Triberr enables us to make our own waves, small as they might be.
Peer to Peer
Perhaps the biggest and most important effect Triberr has on its members, is that they enter into a peer-to-peer type of structure.
Without knowing about Greek mythology, and without watching the Wrath of the Titans, Triberr members stop paying attention to the current gods of the blogosphere. Instead, they engage in supporting their peers, because that’s who is supporting them.
THAT is the thing I’m most proud of when it comes to Triberr. It’s bloggers supporting bloggers.
The Right Mechanics
I suppose we can conclude that Triberr enables you to create your own inner circle, build your own wave, and it redirects your attention towards your peers.
These are the right elements of a prosperous society, online as it may be. And who knows, maybe if we can change the online equation, we can change the way things work in real life as well.
And if you took the time to read this entire article, which clocks in at over 3000 words, I want to thank you for paying me with your attention. A truly precious and scarce resource.