Some Things Which Surprised Me

Published: 2/12/2021

Two week ago I wrote about how I was surprised about what happened on Predictit in the wake of the election [1]. I thought it would be good to write more about things which surprised me, or I otherwise wouldn't have predicted. Here's a short tech themed list [2]. I guess the unifying thing that surprises me is that these things were successful.

Substack

I don't mean this as a jab. I mean this as sincerely just not understanding. What is substack for? What does it allow you to do that you couldn't have done (easily) before? I have some friends who have made substacks. I do not understand why they didn't just make their own website. And I don't mean necessarily buy their own domain and write their own html. They could have used wordpress for example. What does substack do that tumblr doesn't? The only appeal to substack over existing free content distribution channels (twitter, wordpress, facebook, etc.) I see is the minimalism and the lack of baggage. Is it that hard to make a minimalist website? Maybe I'm just blind to how shitty my website looks.

I don't really see the 'newsletter format' appeal either. Don't you want people to be able to easily read your old writing? I guess you want people to see the new stuff as soon as it's out. But do they want that? I guess they could manage their e-mail inbox so that the newsletter type things end up in a different folder? But they probably don't.

I actually made a substack (don't subscribe I don't intend to use it) to get a sense of what it was like and maybe I'm just a boomer but I found it very confusing. It's one of those modern passwordless sites which give you magic e-mail links to manage log in. And after making the substack I came back to figure out how to make a post and went through every item in the upper right menu without finding a 'write post' option. Before I found it I tried the inviting 'Publish on Substack' button which prompted me to start another substack. Eventually I found it behind the 'dashboard button'.

I guess the point is to signal to your audience that this isn't some casual personal blog but a serious journalistic enterprise that they should really pay for. And I guess hosting your content on substack is a very simple way to signal that (though I don't think any of my friends with substacks plan to charge). And more than signal that it also allows you to paywall your content. Though all their instructional material points you towards making your best work free. But I'm skeptical if you want to charge for your work substack with a 10% fee is the best way. I also set up a Buy me a Coffee [3] type page to get a sense of how difficult it is to ask for money. And it sure was easy. I just have it as an aside in the middle of a paragraph because I'm not really trying to make this my job (for now!). But I feel like if I made it a banner up top I would get a similar conversion to setting up a substack (not much!).

P.S. Shortly after starting this post (my posts must be fermented like fine wine, stored in a dark directory as the flavors developed (note this process is (clearly) NOT editing)) Hamish McKenzie, a co-founder of substack, got the jump on me by tweeting:

P.P.S When I went to Hamish's twitter for the above note I saw they just released footnotes which means I got the jump on them by a few days

Zoom

I've seen so many takes (particularly last Spring) about how Zoom is the first nonshitty video conferencing software. And I really don't understand what they're talking about. All video chat software seems basically equivalent to me? Facebook, Skype, Hangouts, Discord and I'm sure others all seem like they have comparable quality to zoom. Possibly I'm blind or have low standards or whatever. Or maybe it's not about the video chat itself but the scheduling and organizing software around it? I guess zoom is better designed with a 'one organizer; many peons' model in mind with features like hand raising.

Back in the day it was fun and good to pass around the same hangout link for months but I guess I wouldn't want to teach a class that way. But wait I totally am. I just posted a link to the zoom at the beginning of the semester and that's been the room. Somehow the room has a schedule associated to it but I can just click 'start meeting' whenever. So does it really?

Lime/Bird/Spin/Lyft/Link

Why are there five different scooter companies in Columbus? It doesn't make any sense to me. Are they profitable? Can they be profitable? I guess I'm a fan of scooting. I guess when one is a fan of scooting they just have all the apps on their phone and go to whichever scooter is closest. I kind of like the scoot transportation model. Though I think it's maybe more enjoyable than good. And I guess for me it's best that there's five of them locked in a competitive death match in which every penny more than their competitors and every foot further will decide who gets the ride. Actually the lyft scoots seem gone so their just in their one other competitive death march with Uber. I just don't get how we got to this point where there are 4 scooter start ups in Columbus. I understand how it happened with lyft/uber. Calling a car with your phone is just an obviously good idea. I remember telling a taxi driver about how good an idea that would be in 2013 when I was taxiing to a job interview and he told me it already existed. I'm sure millions of people had the idea independently. But somehow making a thousand scooters and sprinkling them around a city seems like a … bad idea? How did even more people independently come up with that one?

[1] I didn't even publish at the end of the saga. In between publishing and now at one point Trump's cabinet nominees were trading at 9c.

[2] I'm starting to think I should make more predictions about the future so I can be wrong instead of in the future saying 'I would have been wrong had I got around to saying anything'. I guess predictit is a place to make predictions but I'm mostly just trying to bet on the past and get a 1% a month return on my capital

[3] This one is live I think. Please pay me to see if it works. Just for science.