Content should be experienced by relevance and importance and interestingness, not chronologically

On Hacker News today, someone posted a Page-Rank-resorted listing of all of Paul Graham's essays. The content itself I'm pretty familiar with since we are acolytes of the Y Combinator school. 

The #1 thing I am struck by here is that even though I am familiar with most of the content and have read most of them already -- it serves as an amazing reminder of what is important and notable. In a glut of information, the most important and scarce resource is attention. 

Luckily computers are quite good at processing large amounts of information. Algorithms like Page Rank let smart programmers make sense of the world. Facebook is one of the few other sites that have realized this and are actively incorporating it into their product in the form of edge rank

If chronological sort is dead, why is the default sort of almost everything else on the web pretty much chronological? It is certainly easy to do. ORDER BY created_at is probably the most used SQL query there is ont he web. Clearly there is a problem here -- and people are rushing in to solve it. 

Some friends of mine from Anomaly Innovations created The Cadmus, a twitter client that shows your twitter feed via relevance instead of chronological. They found in AB testing their relevance algorithm that they could increase engagement by 40%! This seems so compelling I'm rather blown away Twitter hasn't done anything in this area yet. Other groundbreakers to watch out for in the space include Chris Dixon's incredible team at Hunch, YC-backed Directed Edge, and Louis Gray's my6sense.

While there are leaders in the pack, the relevance space is littered with failures and false starts -- so much so that there is a bit of a stigma with being another one of those 'relevance and machine learning' startups. 
With good reason. Many fail.

This form of social-oriented content relevance is a tough nut to crack. It's fundamentally different from traditional Netflix-style machine learning since the number of watchable movies in the world is very much a finite set. In contrast, the amount of interesting content on the web is essentially infinite. The field is still a bit wide open because few people have both the dataset to work and test on, AND the financial backing to see the project all the way through. 

I know this: The future of the web does not include chronological sort as the default view. In the next few years, the frontier of this will be pushed by smart and winning teams that will figure out a way to productize interestingness and provide it on tap. We're only in year 20 of building Vannevar Bush's memex -- a world of human-computer-symbiosis. Conquering the chronological problem is the next logical step.

Letting your mind wander is a major cause of unhappiness

Havard researchers Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth have published a new study that reveals a surprising fact about daydreaming. They distributed a custom iPhone app to 2000 people that would interrupt them throughout the day asking them about moods, what they're doing, and how they're feeling. 

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.

"Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities. This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present. Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people's happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged."


It does appear the mind-wandering is a cause, not just a correlation. The researchers did separate time-lag analyses that helped demonstrate people's mood was affected by their wandering mind, not the other way around.


The upside: Being in the present moment can bring joy. Worry is the realm of the future and the past.

How much money did Airbnb raise? What is the company's financing history? (via @bchesky on Quora)

An inspiring story for a very inspiring company. Not only are the founders complete mensches, they're also superb designers to boot.

It's also an incredibly inspiring story of the power of Y Combinator. PG had a major hand in the success of this great startup.

Airbnb has raised $7,800,000 to date. Here is our complete financing history.

Airbnb approaches many investors in 2008. Most say "the market is too small." Some are concerned 2 of the 3 founders are designers, thus creating a founding DNA different from the success patterns they are looking for. 

Running out of money, Airbnb starts selling collectible cereal, and makes $30,000 in the process. (See the Startup School talk for more about this here:

With their website low in traffic, their kitchen is without food. Airbnb starts living off their collectible cereal. This is a low point.

At a dinner with the founders of in November, 2008, Airbnb is convinced to apply for Y-Combinator, and gets accepted. PG says he is skeptical of the idea, but likes the founders because they "won't die," and are "very imaginative." Airbnb finally raises $20,000.

By Demo Day in April, 2009, Airbnb becomes "ramen profitable," and finally stops eating the leftover collectible cereal in their kitchen. Sequoia Capital takes notice. Sequoia leads a Seed Round of $600,000, led by Greg McAdoo. Keith Rabois, Kevin Hartz, and Jawed Karim of Youniversity Ventures participate.

700,000 room-nights booked later, Airbnb announces a Series A Round of $7,200,000 led by Sequoia Capital and Greylock Partners to expand from 8,000 cities to every city known to humankind. Reid Hoffman leads the round for Greylock Partners. New angels include Ron Conway, Jeremy Stoppelman, and Elad Gil.


How does an all powerful God allow terrible tragedy to happen?

Reverend Tom Honey has been a priest in the Church of England for over 20 years. In 2004 he had to address his flock on a Sunday shortly after the tragic Indian Ocean tsunamis. Unspeakable suffering -- but how can you explain God's role? Countless tragedy and unimaginable suffering over eons.

How can an all-powerful God allow this to happen? It has long been a deep-seated theological and philosophical question in my mind. Is God a puppet-master, or some medieval tyrant? If so, then he is either not benevolent or not ominipotent.

Rev. Honey explains that perhaps this is the wrong frame. That maybe we're pretending to know God better than we possibly could know him. That he might not be an agent in the way we think of human beings as agents. That he does not, but is. The reverend goes on goes on:

To have faith in this God would be more like trusting an essential goodness and benevolence in the universe, and less like believing a system of doctrinal statements. Isn’t it ironic that Christians who claim to believe in an infinite, unknowable being, then tie God down in closed systems and rigid doctrines? Faith in God demands the huge step of saying, “despite all appearances to the contrary, I trust that there is a loving presence, but I will live without knowing.”

And that resonates with me. I accept that there is pain and suffering in this world. I would go further -- that we are called to recognize the divine within others and to serve and love and bring happiness to them.

I've been studying other traditions in my spare time of late, particularly the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Bhagavad Gita. And I'm struck by the common chord between them. Life is a tremendous gift, and it is so short. So we must try to live it in service to those of our tribe, be it our friends and family, our nation, humanity, or all life in the Universe.

HyperMac batteries are awesome, but they're discontinuing them due to an Apple lawsuit

I've had one of these for a couple weeks now, and they're awesome. It's a 3rd party external battery that weighs about a pound that hooks directly into your Macbook Pro MagSafe. It also has a USB outlet for charging your iPhone or iPad.

They let me get a ton more mobile battery life on the go -- so no more running out of batteries on cross-country flights and/or at conferences without power outlets. On average I get 8 or 9 hours of charge with my 15 inch Macbook Pro Unibody (circa 2009).

Not sure whether I should be angry at HyperMac for not properly licensing the power connector or Apple for refusing to license it.

This is a shame. But apparently they're being sold for the next two weeks before getting discontinued. If you've ever had problems running out of juice on the go, I recommend picking one up.

Online sharing to real life sharing: How a new sharing economy is emerging

A new sharing-oriented economy is emerging. Imagine a world where we don't own 90% of the stuff we keep around the house. Sure, we'll have a TV and toothbrush, but we won't have a power drill. The average power drill is only used for 20 minutes over its entire lifetime. And that's just one of hundreds of things we have lying around the house.

We don't need to own it if we can have instant access to it at all times.

Latitude Research reports that this radical future may become a reality. It's called collaborative consumption and it is becoming a major force in the way we live our consumer lives.

Think ZipCar. Or AirBnb. This is just the first wave.

Hat tip to my friend @krgaskins who also led the report for Latitude!

Hate, Ship, Love: A Product-driven State of Mind (Seattle StartupDay 2010 talk I just gave today)

Thanks so much to Seattle 2.0 for having me here at StartupDay 2010. It seriously was a blast talking to so many excited entrepreneurs and pre-entrepreneurs.

Above are my slides from my talk. It's pretty straightforward, in as few words as possible:

  • First, hate the problem. This means you really connect with something that SUCKS A LOT and you know is a real problem. Come on people, we work in tech. There are a lot of things that are terrible. PC LOAD LETTER, what the heck does that mean!?
  • Second, ship the solution. The product. Get the smallest possible quantum and don't boil the ocean. You don't know whether your product is goodt il it's out there.
  • Third, love your users. If you build it, they won't come. Building consumer web startups is absolutely not like building a car, but that's how we think about building them. It's logistics and technology and mechanisms. No, no, no. It's more like throwing a really awesome party. And nobody throws parties for people who they don't love.

So that's what I got in a nutshell. I can't believe how many people have helped us along the way (and we are so far from done!) but it feels great to be able to give back and help more people get to fulfill their dreams.

Seattle is probably the biggest collection of amazing software engineers and product creators outside of the Bay Area -- but they're all locked up in massive vaults called Microsoft and Amazon. Come on out guys, the water's fine.