This one is fun. This one is really fun.
You may remember that a while ago I published my big piece on Governing the city of atomic supermen in MIT Tech Review. I really liked it, the world seemed to like it, it was a big deal! The central conceit of the piece is that social media is like a new kind of city, and that integrity work is a type of new city planning.
So! There’s a community of people who are obsessed with actual, real, cities. One of them, Jeff Wood of The Overhead Wire, reached out to me, and we had an amazing conversation. Him from the city planner / city advocate world, me from the internet.
You might think that this gimmick would only last for about 20 minutes of conversation, and then we’d run out of things to talk about. That’s reasonable, but it turns out you’re wrong! We just kept talking, and the longer we went, the more interesting it got.
I can’t think of a more fun or more deep podcast episode I’ve done. If you haven’t listened to any yet, this is the one to check out.
We talked about fun new things like:
- To what extent is social media like the mass adoption of the automobile?
- Are company growth metrics the analogue of “vehicle miles traveled” goals/grants by the Department of Transportation?
- Is there a coming collapse of rotten social networks due to all the spam and bots? Is that like climate change?
- I learned a lot about hot new topics in urbanism! Like the four-step model.
- Induced demand in freeways as an analogue to bad faith accusations of “censorship” when social media companies try to crack down on abuse.
- Path dependency is a hell of a drug.
- Corruption, the history of asphalt, and ethics in social media / city governance. Building code corruption and “lets bend the rules for our large advertisers” corruption.
My quick notes on the conversation:
- First 14 minutes or so: Intro to me, integrity design, theory of integrity. Mostly stuff you might have heard before elsewhere.
- Minutes 14 – 23: Do you actually need to bake in integrity design from the beginning? How is growing a social app similar to (or not) growing a city from a village? Online vs in-person social behavior.
- Minute 19: A lot of the work has shaded into organizational design. What I imagine they teach you in MBA school. How to set up an organization with the right incentives.
The growth of a city is in some sense bounded by the number of homes you can build in a period of time, right? You’re not going to see a club of 15 artists turn into a metropolis of 2 million people in the span of two weeks. It’s just physically impossible to do it. And that gives people some human-scale time to figure out the emerging problems and have some time to experiment with solutions as the city grows. And that’s a sort of growth. That’s a story about the growth of a small platform to a big one, but it’s also the same kind of thing of just how lies are spread, how hate speech is spread — any sort of behavior.Minute 22
- Minute 24: Power users of social media. Power users of automobiles. How are they similar and differnet?
- Minute 30: The reason spam is a solved* problem on email is that the email providers have a sort of beneficient cartel. (Before Evelyn Douek corrects me — “solved” in the sense that we’re not having a panic about how gmail is destroying society, or that outlook’s spam filter isn’t working)
- Minute 35: Jeff Wood brings up a new metaphor. “20 is plenty” (as a speed limit for cars). How well does it work for online?
- Minute 40: My pet metaphor for integrity work — platforms are often a gravity well that incentives bad behavior. Doing the wrong thing feels like walking downhill, doing the right thing takes effort.
- Minute 41-45: Vehicle Miles Traveled, the 4-step model, departments of transportation. Cars and social media and bad metrics. Bad metrics -> bad choices
- Minute 46 – 51: If at first you don’t do the right thing, then you try to do the right thing, then people will complain. Whether its the suburban sprawl or not cracking down on spammers. They’ll act all righteous and go yell in public meetings. But in the end they did something wrong (in the social media case) or were receiving an unjust subsidy that you’re finally removing (in both cases).
- Minute 53 – 58: We’ve been talking design here. But let’s not forget actual, literal corruption.
- Minutes 58 onwards: Ending
These notes don’t do it justice. It was just such a delight. Grateful to Jeff Wood for a great conversation.