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Internet Culture Startups

Day 236 and Founders Who Write

A heuristic I’m playing with for assessing founders is how good they are at writing.

And while this approach to vetting a founder is a practical method (everyone writes) it’s obviously limited. But I think it is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an approximation of founder capacity in a swift and asynchronous way. I like to see examples of founder writing whether it is Tweets, blog posts, technical documentation or a Notion document.

It’s my belief that we’ve overweighted salesmanship, pitching & synchronic communication methods (remember reality distortion fields) which has led to prioritizing messianic style founders. A rousing keynote speech used to be the gold standard. But this may be less relevant as teams go fully remote and more work is done asynchronously. Your capacity to document and communicate meaning at scale is crucial as a founder.

The canonical example of a founder who telegraphed competence and meaning through writing was Joel Spolsky. The Joel on Software blog established him as ur technical writer and gave us documentation culture which blossomed in Stack Overflow.

A more recent example for me is Devin Finzer who I discovered through his technical writing. Long before OpenSea was a clear winner in the NFT space, Devin’s writing caught my attention as his crisp clear articulation on the basics non-fungible tokens was legible to everyone.

My guess is this heuristic of focusing on writing instead of showmanship will improve overall diversity of founders & companies in a portfolio as less bias creeps into asynchronous documentation whereas mirroring & social cues easily tilt pitching in favor of certain classes of people

I’m also keen on folks who like messaging culture. Being able to hop in and out of conversations is crucial to team building & scaling. Those that are happy to DM & chat to build rapport in distributed fashion more easily will succeed at building relationships in a remote first world.

Categories
Aesthetics Chronicle Finance Internet Culture

Day 89 and The Real Fake Fendi

What is real? Do originals exist? Can we determine the source of creative genesis when we stew in the folklore of cultural memetics? A knockoff has its own reality steeped in the accretion of culture.

I was once was asked by a tourist for direction’s to find “a real fake Fendi” when I lived in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I was honestly stumped by this inquiry. Was there a fake that had inherent realness that other knockoffs did not possess? Was there a vendor who sold the most authentic mimicry of Fendi which the tourist wished to find? I had no clue how to answer. Did they mean the realness one sees on the catwalks overseen by RuPaul? But which kind of realness? The creation that evokes the spirit of its inspiration? A realness so over the top and yet absolutely true to its essence. Or perhaps the blunt direct feedback that no construction no matter how convincing is the original artifact. Is is serving realness? I honestly didn’t know. I just told them Canal was one block north.

But perhaps authenticity isn’t the issue. In drag authenticity is manufactured. In fashions’ knockoff districts the question of authenticity is a layered confect of replication adhering to the aesthetics of the original. In some cases it actually is the original conveniently lost from some faraway inventory count. The real fake Fendi might in fact be real.

I bring this all up because in Illegal.Auction’s second collection we have curated a selection of the most outrageous instances of authenticity being the commodity sold in the NFT space. None of what we have posted are originals. They are all knockoffs. But like the real fake Fendi how can you tell? What makes something original in digital spaces. All is perfectly replicable. And no we have no new answers from Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction either. But maybe you will. You can buy a token of these real fake NFTs. Like the real Fake Fendi realness is in the eye of the beholder.

Categories
Finance Internet Culture

Day 61 and The Semiotics of Ownership

I wrote a lot today. Like a LOT. Over the weekend my dear friend and erstwhile cofounder decided to make an interactive art installation to explore our interest in non-fungible tokens. We’ve been watching the explosion of interest in digital art, sports memorabilia, and tickets. We had a lot of questions about how value is created, traded and ultimately decided.

We typically learn best by building and doing so we thought rather than get mired in spammy YouTube tutorials and long essays we would build our own minimum bid auction for a set of NFTs. Phil Leif thought a funny domain would be illegal.auction and we were off to the races.

We both share a love for Matt Levine and his running gag that everything is securities fraud. This leads to lots of funny discussions about reprehensible behavior that is totally legal and perfectly fine decisions that somehow end up being felonies. The American financial system!

It turns out that it’s relatively simple for a developer or even someone nominally technical to mint an NFT using platforms like rarible. Putting together our own site was the same basic stack you’d expect for a simple web app that sells e-commerce things. We thought a web 1 Craigslist aesthetic fit the bill.

The last step was what on earth would we sell. Too many jokes have been made a lot bad art, dumb art and meme art. In fact, the entire concept of art seemed less interesting than a discussion of what constitutes art and how removed we are from the source of creation in a financialization scenario where something that is supposedly unique is made fungible. So we thought screw it, this is clearly a meditation on art, representation and the semiotics of value. So why not go all in on the satire? Why not ask why finance is so keep to manufacture another esoteric asset class with some technically novel structure. Is this good? Is it bad? Who knows. We aren’t even sure if it is a “thing” or not the further you remove it from reality. It’s just all so abstract.

This the first unsanctioned sale of art representations was born. Featuring a diverse selection of copies of contemporary and street art for new and seasoned collectors alike. The sale includes unauthorized digital images.

We went pretty far down the semiotics rabbit hole in our artists statement.

The auction works. You can buy representations of art thanks to a non-fungible token. The token is legitimate and shows just how early you got in on this. And it’s pretty darn funny. Except for all the people who have some ideas about IP law. Even though it’s pretty clear we mean this as satire and they should really jump into the discourse on what it means to own a unique item that has been reduced to a hash on a blockchain. Financialization gets pretty weird and we would all benefit from a discussion of the cultural foundations of ownership.

Categories
Chronicle Finance Internet Culture

Day 57 and The Fungible

Finance commodifies. The value of one thing must be stacked against the value of another. We can put “a thing” in a ledger and trade it for another thing.

Making something that is not a commodity into a piece of property that can be valued, traded, sold, or transferred is the natural order of financialization.

Not content with turning food or labor into commodities, we have created financial products to divine literally anything into an asset that can be owned, traded, or hedged against.

We’ve decided on fancy vocabulary words like fungible to make the basics of human reality seem more exciting. Or maybe just to charge more for it. 2 and 20 requires a bit of song and dance I suppose.

Fungible is a funny word too. Interchangeable makes more sense. It has more inherent meaning when brought to the context of finance. Sure, we bristle at the idea that our labor, our time, our creations are interchangeable, but we assign values to them so human creations largely have value that are easily exchanged. Finance commodifies. Just because you are unique doesn’t mean your creations aren’t things.

This week we sell non-fungible tokens (nft’s). A financial person might stop and think “ok, but I prefer the fungible, as I myself trade interchangeable things”. And this isn’t, it’s right there in the name. And if I’m not, I damn well better be doing it with something that has a price we agree on like a dollar or an ounce of gold.

And yet here we are with the NFT. Art lands in this category. It is unique. It is non-fungible (say that at a party and see how fast people walk away). It is unique it and cannot be made interchangeable. And yet we sell set.

So how do we trade it? How do we assign value? This contradiction tickles the minds of thoses who have aggregated many interchangeable items with agreed upon values. The rich I mean. The rich enjoy the tension inherent in a thing not being a fully agreed upon commodity. A “not thing” can be worth more than a “thing” precisely because we don’t agree on it. Even if the process of assigning something a price can often feel like it is toeing the semiotic line of “not a thing” assigning value brings it into “thing-ness” by anchoring its reality to the present.

Signifiers are required. The semiotics of value. The desired exchange. And so we toss technical terminology on top like fungible and pretend these frameworks make it easier to turn a “not thing” into a “a thing”

The non-fungible token. It is right there in the name. It is not interchangeable. And yet it has an assigned value. It has been funged.

Standardization, interoperability. Tradeability, liquidity, immutability, scarcity. Amazing what finance can do to a “not thing” in no time at all.