This week’s signals speak to the importance of questioning the premise — ways that we can alter the underlying web to make it better, how to see what could be subtracted from a system, and what kinds of incentives you might (intentionally or unintentionally) create. But first, we rant about something incredibly dumb. And we end with a sandwich.

— Matt & Alexis

Gamifying fame with crypto and oh god make it stop

On April 15, pioneering musician Imogen Heap tweeted a cryptographic hash, claiming ownership of her profile in a new BitCoin-based social network. The basic premise of this network is that as people become more famous and well-known…

How do we make the spaces we want to live in, both online and off? Do we innovate within the context of public works, or private markets? Once we build those spaces, how do we tend to them, make them safe, allow people to flourish personally and financially in them? This week’s newsletter gathers thinking on how we imagine, create, and care for our current and future communities. (And there’s an emoji palate cleanser at the end!)

— Alexis & Matt

1: Community moderation & the logic of care

How do we talk to each other online? How can we build the right guardrails for those conversations that…

“It’s not like we’re building a machine,” Moore said. “It’s more like we’re gardening. You need a good patch of land, sun and water, and you give it all that and hope the tomatoes turn out okay.”

From this thoughtful piece by Sophie Haigney about moderation vs. community building, and how the dominant approach to corralling online discourse has shifted as platforms have scaled.

This week takes us on a journey from the web of the past to the objects of the future — and even further to some truly wild, speculative futures. One theme throughout is that innovation often isn’t about a shiny new object, but about the nuances of how that object works in relationship to everything around it. The design of incentives, defaults, protocols, and interconnections is what really determines how our reality unfolds. So let’s continue to pay attention to the nuances and seams in order to create the things we’ll want to live with.

— Alexis & Matt

1: A future object is designed for an alternate reality


Happy March, the month that wants to be spring but is, in every way, still winter. Take your mind of your seasonal affective disorder with this week’s signals, which explore product evolution, virtual collaborations, the beauty of abundance in digital art, and the most hilarious AI exploit ever. Enjoy!
— Alexis & Matt

The product growth paradox

We’ve written before about the concept of “playable systems”: systems that are designed to afford virtuosity, in the way that a musical instrument might. One of the design principles we identified for building playable systems is that they should be open enough that they allow space for…

Orthogonal, intersectional, and communal futures

This week’s newsletter is a compilation of some of the most thoughtful folks we know, all of whom are touching on a recurrent theme we’ve been exploring at EFL: the increasingly urgent need to think, create, and innovate in the broader context of systems and communities. We have reached the current state of our techno-social reality by looking through narrow lenses — a focus on profit, a focus on groups with power, an individualistic focus on the user, a focus on direct effects while ignoring indirect ones. Increasingly, we see technologists, designers, academics, and others calling for fundamental change in…

This week we look deeply at the idea of “scale”, or the size and reach of an idea or service. Being big has its benefits and drawbacks, and while being small can feel precarious, it also means the ability to be nimble and to solve fewer problems at once. Read on to learn how to make your own social network, to see how regulators can fight scale effectively, and how some restaurants are building new businesses out of structures no bigger than a parking spot.

— Alexis & Matt

1: Scale, networks, & disinformation

In the wake of the January 6th riots at the Capitol…

“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin, who died OTD in 2018

The events of this last week reflected many of the themes we’ve touched on here for over a year: the responsibility of platforms for the conversations they promote, the failure of imagination that occurs when leaders don’t listen to enough perspectives, and how online and offline influence each other to the point where the boundary is mostly meaningless. We are sure there will be much more to say as we all learn more about what happened and come to terms with these risks to our institutions, but make no mistake: nothing that occurred on January 6 was unpredictable.

In this…

Alexis Lloyd

Ethical design and weird machines. VP Product Design at Medium & co-founder Ethical Futures Lab. Previously @automattic , @axios , @nytimes R&D. She/her.

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