> Hello
> My name is Julian
> This is my lifelog
>
and digital playground  

Inventory Update (Q4/20)

This is a quarterly update and review of new tools and products I have recently added to my personal productivity stack.

+ Added to Inventory
  • Autonomous SmartDesk 2
    It looks like we’ll all have to work from home a little while longer, so I finally decided to invest in a proper home office setup. After some Twitter research, I eventually settled on the Autonomous SmartDesk2. Pretty happy with it so far.
  • Autonomous ErgoChair 2
    Related to the above. The chair is great, but I hate that I can’t fit the armrests under the desk – is there an ergonomic reason for this or just poor design?
  • Comandante C40 MK3
    Upgraded my coffee stack (which has a major impact on my productivity) with a Comandate C40 grinder, which not only looks and feels fantastic but also gives me a way more consistent grind size than my old Hario. Recommended.
Removed from Inventory
  • Superhuman
    This wasn’t an easy decision. As I pointed out before, Superhuman is *by far* the best email client ever built – and it will only get better as they add more integrations with other tools. Superhuman would save me at least 30 min per day at work … the problem is, I can’t actually use it at work (security reasons). This has made a little difficult for me to justify the $30 price tag.
? Testing
  • I’ve been playing around with different audio-first social apps in the last couple of months. Clubhouse has been particularly fun (don’t believe everything you read about it on Twitter); Sonar also has a couple very interesting ideas.
  • I’m experimenting with different widgets in iOS 14. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
Oct 11, 2020  ×  Berlin, DE

Media Consumption (Sep 2020)

>_ Summary
  • Read 4 books (627 min, +1% MoM) and 31 long-form articles (-18%)
  • Listened to 551 songs (+15%) and 15 podcast episodes (783 min, +25%)
  • Watched 1 movie (119 min, +∞), 6 soccer games (590 min, -26%) and 2 TV episodes (87 min, -60%)
  • Played 0 board games (0 min, -100%) and 1 video game (25 min, +250%)
>_ Books

The Price of Peace (Zachary D. Carter)
░░░░░▓▓▓░░░░░░░ Progress: 30-52%

The Making of Prince of Persia (Jordan Mechner)
▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ Progress: 0-100%

Order Without Design (Alain Bertaud)
░░▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 16-20%

Gödel, Escher, Bach (Douglas Hofstadter)
▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 0-2%

>_ Recommended Articles

Amazon: A New Kind of Antitrust Risk (Byrne Hobart)

Scarcity as an API (Mario Gabriele)

Why Are We in the West So Weird? (New York Times)

Roam’s road ahead (Nathan Baschez)

Fintech Scales Vertical SaaS (A16Z)

Lay of the Landscape (FutureBlind)

>_ Recommended Podcasts

Modest Proposal – Better, Cheaper, Faster (Invest Like the Best)

>_ Music

Top Artists: Max Richter (42 plays), Hans Zimmer (39), Travi$ Scott (35), Frank Ocean (29), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (25)

Oct 02, 2020  ×  Berlin, DE

Is this real life?

In his bestselling book Sapiens, Yuval Harari argues that humans became the dominating species of planet earth because we are the only animal that can cooperate in large numbers. This, he claims, is due to humans’ ability to believe in purely imaginative things and concepts. A company like Google, for example, doesn’t really exist. Sure, there’s the Google.com website and physical Google offices with real Google employees – but the idea of Google as a company is just a fictional concept. It only exists because multiple people believe in it. The same is true for legal systems, nations, religion or money. Every large human cooperation system is based on a fictional idea that only lives in our collective minds.

What Harari doesn’t discuss in his book is the extreme other end of this cognitive ability: Conspiracy theories. I’ve been fascinated by Jon Glover’s recent essay on QAnon, in which he compares conspiracy theorizing to alternate-reality games. Participating in QAnon conspiracies, he says, feels like playing a real-life multiplayer game based on secret insider knowledge.

Social media has made conspiracy theorizing so addictive and immersive that the line between story and reality can become incredibly blurry.

“A lot of these groups are like cults […] They have beliefs that border on religiosity … And when you contradict them, it’s like telling them Jesus isn’t real.”

The religion analogy is interesting because it’s a perfect example of why fact checking as a countermeasure is useless. Google, Facebook & co have all introduced fact checks and fake news labels to combat conspiracy theories. It’s naive to think that they will work.

Think about it: Science (which, you could argue, is also a form of fact checking) has been around for centuries trying to debunk most religious beliefs – and yet religion still plays a major role in Western society. If entire education systems teaching millions of people about science haven’t worked, why do you think adding a small fact check disclaimer below a YouTube video would?

In fact – as you would expect from a perfect alternate-reality game – fact checks (and how to circumvent them) have actually long been part of the game.

It’s worth pointing out that science is also just another belief system. We laugh about flat earthers, but how many people can actually explain why the world is round in a scientifically correct way? Most of us don’t know science, we believe in science.

What should give us hope though is the fact that many people believe in *both* science and religion despite their contradictions. This means that multiple realities can co-exist even when they are at odds with each other.

We don’t live in just one reality – we switch between different realities (and play different characters within them). It’s a bit like Westworld, where guests can explore different theme parks: Westworld, Shogunworld, Warworld, etc.

Similar to Westworld, it’s increasingly becoming more difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. As Aaron Z. Lewis points out in his brilliant essay You Can Handle the Post-Truth, we have created a fragmented reality with hyper-realistic CGI influencers, bots, deepfakes, AI pretending to be humans and humans pretending to be AI. We don’t live in a single timeline with a single history, but in a variety of “contradictory reality bubbles“.

Bruno Maçães paints a similar picture in his excellent book History Has Begun. America, he believes, is in the process of transforming into a new, post-liberal society, distinct from current Western civilization. It’s a society that has not only been heavily shaped by television but one where reality and fantasy overlap.

This transformation has been in the making for a while: Kennedy had the aura of a movie star and leveraged his image through the medium of television. Nixon created the first political soap opera with the Watergate scandal. And with Reagan an actual movie star moved into the White House.

Trump is the ultimate culmination of this trend. His entire presidency feels scripted. His tweets end with cliffhangers. A House of Cards screenwriter would not have been able to come up with a better story.

Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger used the social capital and entertainment skills they acquired as actors to appear more likable and competent as politicians, but at least they tried to be politicians. Trump, on the other hand, uses politics as another stage for his acting performance.

“Americans see the world as an action movie” Maçães writes. I think this became especially apparent during the current covid-19 crisis and the most recent wildfires in California. People in my social media timelines seemed only superficially worried. Instead, their posts contained an underlying sense of excitement about real life finally catching up with the science fiction aesthetics of Blade Runner and Akira.

Perhaps this is Hollywood’s greatest achievement: It gets us excited about our dystopian future. The world might be ending, but at least it’s an ending that’s entertaining to watch.

If Hollywood created the fantasy worlds that reality is catching up with today, who is creating the fantasy worlds of tomorrow?

Maçães thinks the answer is Silicon Valley, which he describes as “a fantasy land where engineering talent and capital come together to power the serious project of creating new worlds out of nothing”. It’s one of the most idiosyncratic descriptions of how startups work that I have read. VCs are the new Hollywood studios; founders are the directors and actors.

A founder’s job is essentially to create the most compelling narrative of what their company will look like in 10 to 20 years time. It’s not lying, it’s telling pre-truths. Being contrarian just means that you came up with a novel fantasy plot no one else had thought of yet.

Sometimes founders are able to re-create the fantasy narratives of their pitch decks. Sometimes you end up with Theranos.

And even when you do end up with Theranos, at least you get material for an exciting new Netflix series. Perhaps VCs should buy the movie rights to the startups they invest in as a hedge against their biggest portfolio failures?

The concept of the tech industry as a creator of fantasy worlds immediately reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend Max recently. His theory is that it’s not the lack of tech talent or venture capital that explains why Europe hasn’t been able to create a tech ecosystem on par with the US. It’s the absence of religiosity that has kept Europe from creating its own Google or Facebook. The US is able to create larger companies because it’s able to believe in larger and more ambitious narratives.

Silicon Valley is not just creating new fantasy worlds, it is building tools that allow others to create their own fantasy worlds. Enter social media.

If TV has taught us to think of ourselves as characters in the story of our lives, then social media has allowed us to actually write and edit the script and build fictional characters. Social media is essentially the democratization of virtual world building.

As I wrote in Signaling-as-a-Service, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook are just massive virtual status arenas that allow us to build social capital through signaling. Some of that social capital might be built on top of real stories and actual achievements, but most of it is not based on reality. Every time you are applying an Instagram filter, you are already changing reality.

It’s not just that we bend reality in our social media narratives, we also play different characters. As Chris Poole already pointed out years ago, we all have multiple (online) identities. There is not just one reflection of yourself – identity is prismatic. Twitter-Julian (armchair intellectual) is not the same as Instagram-Julian (hobby photographer) or Facebook-Julian (high-school drinking buddy). Google Circles and Facebook Lists always got this wrong: They let us change who we shared with, but not who we shared as.

This is why social networking is not a winner-take-all market. We need different channels for our different, contradicting online personas.

The problem is not that we live in multiple realities or that these realities are sometimes at odds with each other. What’s problematic is that we sometimes get so immersed in one virtual world, that we forget about all the other realities – which brings us back to the problem of online conspiracies.

In Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Dom Cobb uses a spinning tractricoid top that tells him if he is awake or still dreaming. You can think of the mechanisms I describe in Proof of X as social media’s equivalent of the spinning top. As influencers rent grounded private jets to pretend living a billionaire lifestyle, social networks introduce new proof-of-work hurdles to make sure our status games remain grounded in truth. Proof of reality.

It feels like some of the new virtual realities we have created need more than that. A kill switch that automatically brings us back to base reality.

So if you have reached this point of my essay, perhaps now would be a good time to close your browser window and enjoy real life. Or at least the closest simulation you have thereof.

Thanks to Aaron Z. Lewis, Jan König and Max Cutler for reading drafts of this post. If you have thoughts on this essay, please leave them here.

Sep 25, 2020  ×  Vienna, AT

A Meta-Layer for Notes

What’s the digital equivalent of sticky notes?

01 Hey

This was originally supposed to be a blog post about Hey. I wanted to write a longer essay about Basecamp’s new email tool and test if the app actually lives up to its hype.

After playing around with it for a few weeks, my conclusion is this: Hey’s most interesting aspect is not its radical approach to email – but its fresh approach to note taking!

We have long treated notes as a distinct silo in our productivity stack, when we should have integrated them right into our workflows instead. While email might need an overhaul, I see a way bigger opportunity in rethinking digital note taking.

So instead of my Hey review, let’s talk about notes and my idea for a radically new kind of note taking app.

02 A Closer Look at Notes in Hey

Hey has two interesting notes features.

The first are so-called Thread Notes. These are basically emails to yourself within an email thread that only you can see. You might have seen similar internal notes features in shared inbox tools like Zendesk or Front. Thread Notes in Hey are effectively the single player version of those.

I’d find Thread Notes super useful in combination with snoozed emails: “Show me this email again in [insert time] and remind me of [insert note]”

This feels like a way better workflow than adding a note in a separate reminder, to-do, CRM, or note taking app.

a) Because there’s no need for context/app switching.
b) You might not even remember that you took a note related to an email when it resurfaces in your inbox a few weeks later.

To-do and reminder apps (and calendars!) work great for tasks that are tied to a specific day or time. But many tasks – and especially notes – are not dependent on time. Their relevance is based on other trigger points. Only when certain conditions are met, should these notes resurface: “If [insert event] is true, then show [note]”

In the case of our email, the note becomes relevant in [insert snooze time] or whenever the recipient replies to the email thread. The fact that many tasks have external dependencies (which are usually linked to an email thread) is one of the reasons I believe that your email inbox should also be the place where you manage your to-dos. You shouldn’t need a separate to-do app.



The second note feature in Hey are Inbox Notes.

As the name suggests, these notes are added to individual emails in your inbox. Similar to Thread Notes, you can use them to quickly jot down things you need to remember, but they also help you to highlight specific emails.

Thread Notes and Inbox Notes feel similar, but they serve two slightly different use cases. Thread Notes work more like reminders (“Don’t forget X when you reply”), whereas Inbox Notes feel more like bookmarks that highlight the most important messages in a long list of emails.

Together, they remind me of one of my all-time favorite note taking tools: Post-it Notes.

03 Post-it Notes

I’m a huge fan of physical note taking and there are two writing tools that I use every single day: A physical notebook (for longer thoughts, including first drafts of my blog posts) and post-it notes (for all kinds of quick notes).

(Disclaimer: When I say “post-it notes” I’m referring to all types of sticky notes, not just those sold by 3M.)

Post-it notes serve two of the same functions that Hey’s note features offer: highlights and reminders.

One of the reasons I still read a lot of non-fiction in physical book form is because it’s easier to bookmark and annotate passages that I quickly want to find again later. Similar to Thread Notes, sticky note bookmarks help me highlight the most important items in a long list.

Apart from helping you find important passages in a book later on, sticky note bookmarks also allow you to add additional context to the section you highlighted (e.g. *why* you bookmarked a particular section or thoughts you had about it).

You could write down notes like this in a separate notebook, but then you’d lose the connection to the source they are based on. What makes post-it notes so interesting is the spatial relationship between the notes and their respective context.

It’s this spatial relationship that also make post-it notes great reminders.

Post-it note reminders are similar to Hey’s Thread Notes in that they are triggered not based on time but on events that don’t have a (forecastable) deadline. They are essentially like notifications that appear when you look at specific objects.

A post-it note on your front door, for example, is like a notification that pops up when you’re about to leave the house: “Before you go, don’t forget to [insert note]”. A shopping list on your fridge is a data request notification that surfaces when you are most likely to have new items to add to your list.

Together, post-its essentially become a notes layer that augments the real world. Instead of a physical notebook that lists all your notes and tasks in chronological order, post-it notes are scattered around your house but tied to specific places or objects where they are most relevant.

The question is: Why isn’t there a digital note taking tool that works like this?

04 A Spatial Note Taking Layer

There are dozens of great note taking apps out there: Evernote, Google Keep, Apple Notes, Workflowy, Notion, Roam … the list goes on and on. Every one of these tools has its own unique angle on note taking, but they all have one thing in common: They are stand-alone apps.

This strikes me as suboptimal. Neither the creation nor the consumption of notes should be treated as separate workflows.

As John Palmer points out in his brilliant posts on Spatial Interfaces and Spatial Software, “Humans are spatial creatures [who] experience most of life in relation to space”. Post-it notes are so powerful because they have a spatial relationship to their context.

Many notes shouldn’t live in a dedicated note taking app that you explicitly have to open and search. Notes should emerge automatically whenever and *wherever* they are most relevant.

As long as note taking remains separated, users constantly have to switch back and forth between different applications, which is not ideal. It reminds me of the recent discussion around productivity and collaboration – which have historically also been treated as two separate, isolated workflows:

The platonic flow of productivity should minimize time spent not productive, with collaboration as aligned and unblocking with that flow as possible. By definition, any app that requires you to switch out of your productivity app to collaborate is blocking and cannot be maximally aligned. It’s fine to leave your productivity app for exceptions and breaks. But not ideal when working.

The same applies to notes. You shouldn’t have to switch apps and context to take or consume notes. It should stay within the same workflow!

(Side Note: You could argue that note taking is essentially single-player collaboration where you communicate with your future self – but that’s a whole new discussion I’ll save for another blog post.)

Natively built in note taking features like email notes in Hey feel like a good step in the right direction – but email is just one distinct silo in your productivity stack. Imagine you had to buy different sets of post-it notes for every single room or object in your house.

What we need instead is a spatial meta layer for notes on the OS-level that lives across all apps and workflows. This would allow you to instantly take notes without having to switch context. Even better yet, the notes would automatically resurface whenever you revisit the digital location you left them at.

Let’s look at a few examples.

05 Examples

One use case that immediately came to mind when I thought about spatial notes is bookmarking.

Most of us don’t use just one bookmarking app for everything. We use different bookmarking apps or bookmarking features depending on the type of object we want to save for later: Podcasts are usually saved in a dedicated podcast app, for example. Articles are bookmarked in Pocket, books on Goodreads, songs on Spotify, places on Foursquare, products on Amazon … you get my point.

Bookmarks are great to remember *what* you want to revisit later – but not *why* you saved something in the first place. I would love to be able to add notes to my bookmarks directly in each app so that I have some context on why these objects are important when I return to them later.

Ideally, these notes wouldn’t just show up in the one place I originally left them, but across all apps and websites that reference the (semantic) object I bookmarked. A note attached to a book I want to read in Goodreads, for example, should also emerge when I see that book in my Amazon search results – or when someone mentions it in my Twitter timeline.

People are a similar type of semantic object you could tie notes to. Instead of a stand-alone CRM tool, you would leave a note attached to a person straight from your current workflow (e.g. your email client). That note would then automatically re-surface whenever the person it references becomes relevant again:

  • When you’re in an email thread with them
  • When you add them to a calendar event
  • When you’re visiting their LinkedIn page
  • When you look them up in your phone book
  • etc


Another use case for spatial notes are instructions on how to use specific software features or improve workflows. These could be quick reminders to add permissions to new calendar events or to use Filtered Views in Google Sheets. You could also use these notes to train users on keyboard shortcuts.

You could imagine employers shipping corporate laptops with pre-installed notes to make it easier to transfer (previously tacit) knowledge and thus improve the onboarding process for new hires.

06 Closing Notes

I could go on and on about potential use cases for a spatial note taking app. The possibilities are endless – but blog posts shouldn’t be. So I’ll end things here.

A final note before you leave: I’d love to hear your thoughts on this whole idea. What would you use a spatial note taking tool for? Let me know what you think in this Twitter thread!

Thanks to Kevin Yien, Matthew Achariam, Max Cutler and Nathan Baschez for their detailed feedback on drafts of this post.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy the following essays:

Sep 04, 2020  ×  Berlin, DE

Media Consumption (Aug 2020)

>_ Summary
  • Read 3 books (623 min, -29% MoM) and 38 long-form articles (+36%)
  • Listened to 481 songs (-17%) and 9 podcast episodes (627 min, -31%)
  • Watched 0 movies (0 min, -100%), 8 soccer games (795 min, +167%) and 4 TV episodes (215 min, -20%)
  • Played 1 board game (75 min, +∞) and 1 video game (10 min, +∞)
>_ Books

Algorithms to Live By (Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths)
░░░▓░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 24-26%

Big Business (Tyler Cowen)
░▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ Progress: 10-100%

The Price of Peace (Zachary D. Carter)
▓▓▓▓▓░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 0-30%

>_ Recommended Articles

My GPT-3 Blog Got 26 Thousand Visitors in 2 Weeks (Liam Porr)

Antitrust Politics (Stratechery)

This Is Not a Game (Real Life)

The UX of Lego Interface Panels (George Cave)

The Case of the Top Secret iPod (TidBits)

The Internet’s Most Undervalued Company (Not Boring)

>_ Recommended Podcasts

History Has Begun with Bruno Maçães (Venture Stories)

>_ Music

Top Artists: Max Richter (78 plays), Sufjan Stevens (594), Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (57), 2raumwohnung (34), Zoot Woman (21)

Sep 02, 2020  ×  Berlin, DE

Proof of X

01 Intro

Sparked by an interesting Twitter discussion, I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about different proof-of-work mechanisms.

When I say proof-of-work, I’m not talking about consensus algorithms like the ones that some crypto currencies use. I’m talking about social networks.

At their core, social networks are primarily about one thing: Building social capital through signaling. As I wrote in Signaling as a Service, signaling can be broken down into three different components:

  • Signaling Message
    A hidden status subtext you’re trying to convey about yourself
  • Signaling Distribution
    The channel through which you’re communicating your signaling message
  • Signaling Amplification
    Ways to boost your signaling message to compete against status rivals

For example: A Patagonia vest signals both a prosocial attitude (“I care about the environment“) as well as wealth (“I can afford to spend $500 on a jacket“). Depending on where you live, it might also signal something about your occupation.

In order to signal these messages to others and build actual social capital you need a signaling distribution channel. One option would be to wear the vest in public where others can see it – but there are obvious physical constraints to the size of the audience you’d be able to reach.

This is where social networks come in.

Their primary role is to distribute signaling messages at scale and transform them into quantifiable social capital (in the form of likes and followers).

As social networks grow, they increase the potential reach of your signaling messages – but they also get crowded with status rivals. This is why social networks typically provide you with a set of signaling amplification tools. These tools help you boost your signaling messages and stand out from the crowd.

In Signaling as a Service I compared signaling amplification to Eugene Wei’s idea of proof-of-work hurdles, which he describes as follows:

Almost every social network of note had an early signature proof of work hurdle. For Facebook it was posting some witty text-based status update. For Instagram, it was posting an interesting square photo. For Vine, an entertaining 6-second video. For Twitter, it was writing an amusing bit of text of 140 characters or fewer. Pinterest? Pinning a compelling photo. You can likely derive the proof of work for other networks like Quora and Reddit and Twitch and so on. Successful social networks don’t pose trick questions at the start, it’s usually clear what they want from you.

But the more I think about it, the less I like the comparison. I actually think that Eugene’s proof-of-work theory only scratches the surface of what social networks actually do.

Let me explain.

02 A closer look at proof mechanisms

Take a look at this very cliché Instagram picture. The photographer clearly put a lot of thought and effort into its composition and applied different filters and editing tools to make it look nicer.

Full disclosure: I actually took this picture from Unsplash. No influencers were harmed during the production of this blog post.

It’s a perfect example of Eugene’s definition of proof-of-work.
Proof-of-creative-work, to be more exact.

Editing your photo helps to amplify your signaling message and sets you apart within Instagram’s status arena (aka the newsfeed). It also adds additional signaling messages to your post: “Look how great a photographer I am” or “I’m a creative person”.

But those are not the main signaling messages you are communicating here. What you really want to tell your followers with this photo is something along the lines of “I’m a world-traveler” and “I’m in a happy relationship” (which in turn are also just signaling proxies for wealth and mating worthiness).

The photo and the location tag are your proof points.

If you look closely, you’ll notice additional hidden signaling messages in the form of Allbirds sneakers and what’s most likely a Patagonia vest → proof-of-ownership

Social networks are therefore not only signaling distribution (and amplification) networks – they also allow users to prove their signaling messages.

The creative proof-of-work is just pretext and helps to boost your post. What’s more important are the additional proof mechanisms that social networks provide. In the case of Instagram those are photos and location tags.

Instagram is essentially “pics or it didn’t happen”-as-a-service.

03 Implications for new social networks

When new social networks emerge they have to introduce new proof mechanisms to differentiate themselves from existing incumbents. These can either be novel proof-of-creative-work hurdles or completely new proof-of-x mechanisms.

TikTok is a good example for proof-of-creative-work innovation. The app provides creators with a powerful set of video editing tools that have opened a whole new level of creativity.

The cost to participate in TikTok’s status game is a lot higher than Instagram’s (compare a well-made dance choreography on TikTok to your median Instagram travel post) – but its powerful feed algorithms also make discovery easier and thus reward users faster and with more social capital.

TikTok doesn’t add any new proof points beyond its novel creative work hurdle though. You can signal and prove your creativity but you could achieve the same by uploading your video to Instagram.

Strava, on the other hand, introduced an entirely new proof mechanism: Proof-of-physical-activity. By using your phone’s GPS sensor (or a 3rd-party fitness tracker), users can actually prove how much and fast they ran or cycled. In contrast to Instagram photos, Strava’s proof mechanism is a lot harder to fake (though there are exceptions).

What’s great about Strava is that it reinforces a behavior that’s actually good for you: While the status game that initially got you into the app might be zero sum, the actual physical exercise you have to put in to compete has a very positive, compounding effect.

The question is: What other social networks should we build that could have similar positive feedback loops? And what are their proof mechanisms?

04 Strava for X

Let’s start with the two examples in this tweet.

I love the idea of a Strava for Cooking – but I’m very skeptical that it can be built. Why? Because the necessary proof mechanisms don’t exist.

The primary metric you optimize on when cooking is taste. But how would you measure or quantify taste? The closest proxy to taste that we have is optics: How good does the meal that you cooked look? This can easily be proved with a photo .. but that’s a proof-of-work mechanism that Instagram already offers (including filters to make your food look nicer). As long as no one comes up with a better proof mechanism for cooking, I think it’s unlikely that we will see a successful social network in the space.

I’m more optimistic about Strava for Learning.

While the activity of learning itself might be hard to quantify, you can measure the outcome of learning: knowledge. Has anyone built a multiplayer version of Anki yet? Flash cards would be a perfect proof-of-knowledge mechanism and could easily be turned into a game where you compete against friends.

Similar to physical activity in the Strava example, learning is not something that most people enjoy doing. As TikTok founder Alex Zhu points out, education goes a little against human nature. In combination with a strong enough signaling mechanism however, you can get users to participate. It’s kind of the opposite of Chris Dixon’s famous “Come for the tool, stay for the network” strategy. Come for the status, stay for the tool.

A related product I’d love to see is Strava for Reading. Imagine an eBook reader that not only tracks how much time you spend reading but also *what* you are reading. Based on these proof-of-(reading)-work mechanisms you could build streaks or GitHub-contributions-like visualizations that incentivize users to read more (and more regularly).

You could even build leaderboards for different topics based on the content of the books and articles you read. Or think about a score that indicated how balanced your reading behavior per topic was (to incentivize users to read takes on political topics from different perspectives).

Unfortunately, I think it’s unlikely that we will see a product like I described anytime soon. The world’s largest bookstore, most popular eBook reader, and biggest social network for books are all owned by a company that has very little competency in design and user-facing product innovation.

(Side note: Amazon’s monopoly on books might be the most underrated sub-optimal equilibrium in tech.)

Another app that would be interesting is a social investing app. Think “Robinhood but as a social network”. It seems like investing is already quite a social activity – just look at communities like r/wallstreetbets. As patio11 pointed out, Robinhood already feels more like a game than a finance app.

So why not build an investing app that opens with a feed of all your friends’ investments and their returns over time? Instead of sharing screenshots on Reddit and Instagram you could prove your investments right in the app.

Note that an app like this would not be about signaling wealth. It’s about signaling being right and the ability to prove it. This is probably an even stronger and more engaging mechanism than signaling wealth – and the reason why I’m still bullish on prediction markets.

Perhaps a well-designed, consumer-friendly prediction market app would be the ultimate proof-of-x social network. Strava for being right.

05 A Closing Ask

While we are on the topic of being right: Do you agree with my thoughts in this post? What other social networks and proof-of-x mechanisms would you like to see?

Please leave your comments here.

Thanks to Dan Romero, Des Traynor, Jan König, Max Cutler and Zack Hargett for reading drafts of this post.

Aug 06, 2020  ×  Berlin, DE

Media Consumption (Jul 2020)

>_ Summary
  • Read 7 books (874 min, +4% MoM) and 28 long-form articles (+22%)
  • Listened to 583 songs (+7%) and 13 podcast episodes (908 min, +128%)
  • Watched 1 movie (141 min, +∞), 1 soccer game (45 min, -93%) and 5 TV episodes (270 min, -45%)
  • Played 0 board games (0 min, -100%) and 0 video games (0 min, -100%)
>_ Books

Designing Games (Tynan Sylvester)
░░░░░░░░░░░░▓▓▓ Progress: 87-100%

Dune (Frank Herbert)
░░░░░░░░░▓▓▓▓▓▓ Progress: 63-100%

Order Without Design (Alain Bertaud)
░▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 3-16%

Algorithms to Live By (Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths)
▓▓▓▓░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 0-24%

Underground (Haruki Murakami)
▓▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 0-12%

Very Important People (Ashley Mears)
▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ Progress: 0-100%

Big Business (Tyler Cowen)
▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 0-10%

>_ Recommended Articles

The Garden of Forking Memes (Aaron Z. Lewis)

The Freud Moment (Alex Danco)

The TikTok War (Stratechery)

>_ Recommended Podcasts

Charlie Songhurst: Lessons from Investing in 483 Companies (Invest Like The Best)

What Dan Romero Thinks About Basically Everything (Venture Stories)

The Tyler Cowen Production Function (North Star Podcast)

>_ Music

Top Artists: Slut (85 plays), Sufjan Steven (54), Hans Zimmer (53), Trent Reznor (34), Tocotronic (33)

Aug 02, 2020  ×  Berlin, DE

A Mid-Year Check-in on my 2020 Goals

At the beginning of each year, I release a public list of my goals and rules for the upcoming 365 days. Here’s a mid-year review of the 24 goals I set myself for 2020.

  • Publish 52 blog posts ⚠️
    Behind target: I published 23 articles since the start of the year. I’ll have to carve out more writing time in the next few months to get to my end-of-year goal.
  • █████ ██ ███████ ██ ███ ✅
  • Read 20 books
    On track: I completed 12 books so far.
  • Watch less TV
    Failed: I spent 125 hours watching TV last year. This year I’m already at 120 hours (74 hours of which are The Sopranos).
  • Swim a total distance of 120km ⚠️
    Behind target: Due to covid-19 I only swam 36km so far this year. I’ll have to swim at least 3.3km per week from now on to still hit my target. Unlikely.
  • Go for a swim at least once a week
    Failed: Covid-19 broke my 183 week swim streak.
  • Back exercise every second day
    On track: Completed exercise on 70.16% of all days so far.
  • ██████ ████ ████ ✅
  • ████████ ████ ⚠️
  • ██ ████████████ ❌
  • Ship a redesign of this blog ⚠️
    Behind target: Started working on first wireframes.
  • Finish work on my daily uniform ⚠️
    Behind target: Not started.
  • Conduct a 2020 Quantified Self Project
    On track: You can see my current setup here.
  • Publish my 2019 Quantified Self Report before end of Jan
    Failed: Finished about 40% of the work and still aim to publish the report before the end of the year.
  • Build a Personal CRM system
    Removed: My idea was to build my own personal CRM system, but I’ve since discovered Clay.
  • Limit meat consumption to 24 days
    On track: I ate meat on 12 occasions this year so far.
  • No alcohol if I have to work the next day
    On track (with 2 or 3 exceptions).
  • Visit 1 country I haven’t been to before ⚠️
    Behind target: Covid-19 makes it unlikely that I’ll achieve this goal.
  • Explore more new places ⚠️
    Behind target: 25% of my Swarm check-ins should be places I’ve never visited before. Due to covid-19 I’m currently slightly behind that target (~20%).
  • Keep phone screen time below 1h per day
    Failed: My average phone screen time is currently way above 2h per day.
  • Meditate 1h per week
    Failed: I keep failing to make meditation an actual habit.
  • Do a 3 day silent retreat ⚠️
    Behind target: Unlikely to happen due to covid-19.
  • █████████ ████ ████████ ⚠️
  • ██████████ █ ✅
Jul 12, 2020  ×  Hamburg, DE

Media Consumption (Jun 2020)

>_ Summary
  • Read 3 books (840 min, +16% MoM) and 23 long-form articles (-15%)
  • Listened to 544 songs (-19%) and 8 podcast episodes (397 min, -36%)
  • Watched 0 movies (0 min, -100%), 10 soccer games (660 min, +65%) and 9 TV episodes (495 min, -59%)
  • Played 2 board games (305 min, -18%) and 1 video game (15 min, same)
>_ Books

Designing Games (Tynan Sylvester)
░░░░░░░░▓▓▓▓░░░ Progress: 53-87%

Dune (Frank Herbert)
░░▓▓▓▓▓▓▓░░░░░░ Progress: 11-63%

Order Without Design (Alain Bertaud)
▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 0-3%

>_ Recommended Articles

Marc Andreessen on Productivity (The Observer Effect)

Why Figma Wins (Kevin Kwok)

The End of OS X (Stratechery)

>_ Recommended Podcasts

John Collison: Growing the Internet Economy (Invest Like The Best)

>_ Music

Top Artists: Endel (183 plays), Sufjan Steven (37), Travi$ Scott (25), Portugal. The Man (19), Paul Kalkbrenner (17)

Jul 01, 2020  ×  Berlin, DE

Media Consumption (May ’20)

>_ Summary
  • Read 4 books (725 min, -45% MoM) and 27 long-form articles (+23%)
  • Listened to 675 songs (+12%) and 11 podcast episodes (623 min, +68%)
  • Watched 1 movie (73 min, +∞), 4 soccer games (400 min, +∞) and 22 TV episodes (1217 min, -35%)
  • Played 2 board games (370 min, +∞) and 1 video game (15 min, -92%)
>_ Books

Designing Games (Tynan Sylvester)
░░░░░░▓▓░░░░░░░ Progress: 42-53%

Dominion (Tom Holland)
░░▓░░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 12-16% (stopped reading)

The Plot Against America (Philip Roth)
▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ Progress: 0-100%

Dune (Frank Herbert)
▓▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░ Progress: 0-11%

>_ Recommended Articles

Contemplating calendars (Devon Zuegel)

Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage (Ranjan Roy)

The Rise of TikTok (Turner Novak)

Communication in World 2.0 (Daniel Gross)

>_ Recommended Podcasts

Alex Danco: Funding the Future (North Star Podcast)

Tobi Lutke – Building a Modern Business (Invest Like the Best)

Shishir Mehrotra – The Art and Science of the Bundle (Invest Like the Best)

>_ Music

Top Artists: Radiohead (108 plays), Mikel (75), Max Richter (41), Hans Zimmer (30), Nine Inch Nails (26)

Jun 01, 2020  ×  Hamburg, DE
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