• An algorithm to figure out your gender

    Twitter opened its analytics platform to every user on August 27, allowing all of us — not just verified users and those with advertising accounts — to track how many people viewed and acted upon our tweets. But the "Followers" section, revealing demographics, provoked the most discussion. Alongside breakdowns in followers' interests and location is a gender bar that splits followers into male and female.

    Many women were surprised how many of their followers — whether they had hundreds or thousands — were men. The ratio is often in the 75 to 80 percent range, and it's easy to find thousands of tweets reporting so. Some of the authors work in tech, a male-dominated industry, but others tweet about other subjects. Why such a heavy skew there?

    Forget for a moment the problem, in 2014, with offering a simple duality for gender, which brings with it biases and assumptions.

    How can Twitter offer this information when it doesn't ask for you to indicate a gender when you sign up for an account?

    The service analyses our tweets and uses word choice, proximity, and other factors to make a guess. According to a 2012 post on its Advertising blog, the company relies on multiple signals to assign confidence to a gender selection. For matches with a high confidence level, Twitter tested its results against a global panel of humans found its approach 90 percent accurate. The post noted, "…where we can't predict gender reliably, we don't." (Twitter didn't reply to a request for information for this article.)

    As Robin James, a professor of philosophy and women's/gender studies at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, tweeted recently, "The Twitter analytics method of reading gender just shows social identity isn't bodily features anymore, but behavioral patterns."

    Twitter's marketing research didn't come out of a vacuum. Researchers have long analyzed cues that arise out of modes of expression to determine personal characteristics that aren't explicitly mentioned or known to a reader. A 2002 book, revised in 2013, Reading, Writing, and Talking Gender in Literacy Learning, has a chapter that identifies and summarizes 42 studies mostly from the 1990s examining marks of gender in student writing, and it's just scratching the surface of the literature.

    It's no surprise that such work would be extended when massive corpuses could be analyzed and then checked for accuracy using control cases in which gender was known, as when the writer (on a blog, social network, or other public platform) provided explicit details about themselves. This allows refinement on a scale never before possible.

    One researcher, Delip Rao, was the lead author on several papers during his time at the Human Language Technology Center of Excellence at Johns Hopkins University that dealt with algorithmic methods of identification. Many of his co-authored papers talk about "latent attributes," those implicit specific details about people that can be surfaced, including ethnicity and gender.

    Some of the "tells" in tweets and other messages are the stereotypical ones that would leap to mind, and we shouldn't be surprised that they test out as valid. In one paper from 2010, the researchers note that "OMG" is used four times as often by women than men in the dataset of Twitter messages they tested. The phrase "my zipper" has an extremely high predictive value for men, while "my yoga" has the same effect for women. The paper even notes, "People laugh differently on Twitter as well. While women LOL, men tend to LMFAO."

    (more…)

  • How collaborative social blocking could bring sanity to social networks

    The wisdom of crowds isn't always that smart. We've all seen mobs emerge online, or read uninformed Wikipedia entries that are the work of many idiotic hands. Where crowds help online is when you find your own particular gang: a group of people with whom you have aligned interests for support, complaints, laughs, and profanity.

    Social networks allegedly are built around this simple idea, but abusers, trollers, griefers, harassers, and others in the bestiary either enjoy or compulsively seek out people to harm. While Facebook can be a walled garden — despite its best efforts — where you cultivate a set of close friends and maybe interact with friends of theirs, the wide-open spaces of public Twitter accounts make it easy to be attacked constantly and singled out. It is a game for some to gather forces and assault a person until they give up and leave.

    Twitter's basic rules give individuals and groups of people asymmetrical power as long as they are persistent and awful. The company's response on average is inadequate even to egregious reports, and its rules about what constitutes harassment restrictive in a way that diminishes victims' ability to gain redress and find safety. Samantha Allen, a fellow at Emory University, and the recipient of waves of abuse this year when she wrote about games journalism, says, "As it's currently built, Twitter wins during harassment campaigns and we lose. We have to accept working and socializing in an unsafe environment because Twitter doesn't want to permanently ban users or implement more drastic penalties for abuse."

    Only the attacked party can report abuse; deleted tweets can't be used as evidence (nor can screen captures); adjudication of a result is at Twitter's internal discretion, can take time, and doesn't seem subject to appeal; and despite Twitter's ostensible best efforts, individuals can create numerous new accounts to continue their behavior when one is deemed abusive and suspended or banned. Sarah Brown, a former UK elected official, and for a time the only openly trans politician in office, says, "I blocked most of [her attackers] manually, but a common technique of harassers is to create new accounts and try again from there, so it was difficult to keep up, and the ones that got through were often very distressing."

    Those affected can mute and block one at a time, even as new accounts spawn or new attackers emerge; they can lock their account, and withdraw their public participation. They can even shut down an account: silencing their voice and removing themselves from a community.

    Social problems can't be solved solely by technology, even within a social network. But tech can restore balance, even when it doesn't fix inherent problems that arise when individuals interact. Collaborative blocking offers one potential for giving people who experience harassment — or simply wish to avoid it in the first place — the wisdom and force of a crowd that has their backs.

    (more…)

  • Why you have to make your own rules for love and sex

    Illustration: Natalie Nourigat

    The title and subtitle of Sarah Mirk's new book, Sex from Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules, have to be read together: the book is about intimate and romantic relationships, which almost, but not always, involve sex; it's not a diagrammatical approach to the latest bedroom maneuvers nor full of the pabulum of the usual sorts of "fix your relationship" and "rules" advice books. The book was officially released last week, and is available via her site and booksellers all over.

    Interview

    Rather, Sex from Scratch is a map of the territory and a set of potential paths to take for people who find themselves figuring out what they want from relationships with another or multiple other people when they don't subscribe to the strictures of religion or vague societal values of what's "right." Many people feel lost when it comes to what they want, how to communicate it, and how to know when they've arrived at their destination. Sarah's book will help. You can hear us talk in depth about some parts of the book in the accompanying podcast.

    There's a lot that this book is about, but it's not about being an advocacy guide for a particular lifestyle or relationship structure. Sarah never tells readers what they should do, only what they might do. The book celebrates the diversity of the ways people have found what works for them. (Sarah and I are friends, a friendship that came about through my interest in the book while it was a work in progress.)

    Sarah started down this path by recognizing in herself that a long-term boyfriend–girlfriend relationship she was in wasn't working and, even before it ended, she was toeing the line of beliefs she didn't hold for lack of better guidelines to follow. She interviewed over 100 people over the last few years, traveling around America and crashing on couches as well as talking to people by phone and Skype. She's frank about her own feelings and connections, but the book isn't about her.

    Sex from Scratch charmingly interleaves interviews between chapters with several people — writers, artists, activists, pornographers, and others — to let them speak in their own words at length. Hands-down, the interview with Betty Dodson is my favorite. Dodson, going on 85, has experienced a vast swath of life, promoted sex positivism back before it was a term in common parlance, and has a gloriously filthy and frank way of speaking.

    Sarah gathered a lot of intelligence about the sheer diversity of kinds of relationships people are engaged in without this turning into a sociological treatise or a statistical report. It's idiosyncratic, but so are relationships: no two are truly alike, and Sarah's book helps tease apart why. We are doing all kinds of stuff in our private lives that we weren't sure how many other people were engaged in, nor whether we'd face opprobrium if it became known. Our private lives are increasingly public, which leads people to fear exposure while also seeing how "normal" something is that they might think is outré or formerly unacceptable. The spread of marriage equality may have something to do with this as well.

    Sex from Scratch is probably peculiarly American (although it may apply to Canadians, too). While some parts of the world adopt Sharia Law, others have had a long-standing tacit acceptance of some practices once seen as beyond the pale in Bible-thumping U.S. of A. Some countries outlaw practices — whether having multiple partners, specific kinds of sex, or specific gender-conjuncted marriages — with jail terms, beatings, and death. Other fully embrace them at a societal or state level. America is all over the board with state-by-state laws, but consenting adults can generally engage in any combination of intimate relationship they wish, although only certain forms may be consummated in state-sanctioned legal contracts (marriage). (Where children are involved, judges and family court officials may cite non-nuclear family structures or a lack of a marriage certificate as a basis for unfitness, of course, a separate issue.)

    Sarah's travels and research uncovered what a lot of us know already: while many people are engaged in a serial string of two-person couples, with the end goal being a last and permanent partnership, a rather large number of others would put "it's complicated" down for their status — even if they're not seeing anyone or anyones. She breaks her book into seven chapters that address modes of living, relationship types, choices within relationships, and power dynamics.

    One triad of chapters is "Loving Being Single," "Navigating Non-Monogamy," and "On Never Getting Married." These chapters share the experiences and insights of people who have made intentional choices, rather than being forced into them. For instance, while many people are single who want to be in a couple, plenty would like to define themselves outside singlehood, keeping it a continuous state, not a temporary one. One woman, another Sarah, has two romantic partners she sees once or twice a week — she screws one and makes out with the other — and a "cozy friend" she makes dinner and cuddles with. But she counts none as a boyfriend.

    The area of non-monogamy — whether defined as polyamory, monogamish, open, or sometimes monogamous/sometimes not — is broad and well handled. As she writes, "I was surprised to find that people felt stable in a diverse variety of relationship types. It seems like every person I meet in an open relationship had a different set-up." As a poly person myself, I felt Sarah hit the points dead on that fall inside my life, and I gained a lot of new insight, too, from other points of view. (Sarah also defines herself, currently, as non-monogamous.) Her list of 20 lessons from folks in similar relationships includes basics, good for everyone (such as "be more honest"), and more particular to poly couples and groupings, like "meet your partner's other partners" and "only have safe sex."

    Another chapter looks at "Building Feminist Relationships": how to create a relationship that, theme of the book, doesn't adhere to outdated notions you're going through by rote and can't defend, no matter your gender, orientation, or other factors. As with all sensible people, Sarah doesn't preach unthinking equality, either. Rather, she brings suggestions from all over on how to build a harmonious sense of equity, fairness, and respect though exposing assumptions and discussing them. Sarah has a wise aunt she quotes in this chapter:

    I called up Paula. I told her I was upset by that voice in my brain that says my relationships would be better if I could just figure out how to make the guy happy. As much as I try to act the way I want to act, I'm haunted by the persistent mental version of that ubiquitous Cosmo headline, an irritating refrain that constantly prods, "Transform your love life by learning these 75 ways to please your man."

    "That's depressing," Paula said. "Is dating really like that? I thought my generation made it so you wouldn't feel that way."

    Other chapters address even more complicated and fraught aspects of relationships: "Gender Is Messy," "Staying Childless by Choice," and "Knowing When to Split." As in the rest of the book, Sarah reaches out to her interview subjects and beyond to paint a picture that stretches past her own life. The gender chapter would be good as a starting point for everyone to read because of the way in which she establishes the notions of respect and one's own personally space that work in romantic relationships and every other kind of interaction, too.

    And while I and my wife chose to have kids (two lovely fellows), I know from so many friends the continuous grind it is for couples who have opted out of producing progeny to have demands put upon them to justify their decision. Sarah offers a lot of advice from others, including how to navigate choosing a vasectomy or tubal ligation — and how doctors try to subvert that choice!

    Finally, while breaking up is hard to do, if one enters relationships intentionally and honestly, one can leave them that way, too, instead of letting unhappiness mount. Sarah suggests, "You deserve to be happy." While that sentiment appears in the chapter on splitting, it pervades the book, and rightly so. Sarah would like everyone to step into the joy that they want to embrace, instead of remaining bound in chains they didn't forge — and that aren't really there.

    (more…)

  • Web Trackers Paint a Fresh Picture of You

    The canvas HTML element, designed to provide a space on a web page in which JavaScript may draw graphics and paint type, has been hijacked to track visits to web sites, according to a newly released draft of an academic paper. "The Web never forgets" explains its discovery in the wild of a previously theoretically described way to identify an individual browser with some certainty by its eccentricities in rendering the items in question.

    The paper also explains an updated approach in testing for certain kinds of nearly unkillable, persistent browser tracking ids known as "evercookies," and presents a fresh and large survey of the use of a variety of user- and browser-tracking techniques across popular Web sites.

    (more…)

  • Uber and the appropriation of public space

    Taxi drivers protest in London, June 11, 2014. Photo: David Holt

    Uber, the ride-for-hire firm, recently raised $1.8 billion, putting the private company's valuation at $18 billion. How much they can raise—and how much they're worth—isn't so interesting as what it lets them aim for: an unprecedented amount of control over who gets to ride, who gets to drive, and where wages and rates land after the market shakes out.

    Uber is a new middleman, making a market and profiting from it. It matches buyers (those who need rides) with sellers (drivers and companies that hire drivers). If it dominates the car-hire and taxicab business, it could become both a virtual monopoly and a monopsony. A monopsonist is the only buyer for a given set of services or products, and can dictate terms to sellers while also potentially, but not always, controlling the price that its customers pay.

    A Maker of Markets

    Uber wants to be considered part of the sharing economy, in which people turn underutilized assets — a spare bedroom, a lawnmower, a car, and so on — into something that can be rented out by the hour, mile, or other increment. It's often lumped into that category.

    But most aspects of the sharing economy involve three key elements: someone owns, leases, or rents an asset that they hand off to another party; the asset is in the possession of another party for the duration of the transaction; and both parties rate each other for their side of the transaction, and those ratings are typically made public. (Sometimes there are endorsements, too: so-and-so, who you know, recommends such-and-such.)

    There's sometimes a touch-and-go contact; other times, people have a passcode or other information that gives them access. This varies a lot by type of transaction. You might rent an apartment via Airbnb and never see the host; or you might be staying in a room in a host's apartment or house and have little, some, or no interaction.

    Uber stands largely outside of these three aspects. Its goal isn't uniqueness — as with Airbnb, which wants every property to be distinct — or a personal connection. Rather Uber makes a market. It owns no vehicles and has no driver employees; all drivers are independent contractors or employees of other businesses with which Uber has a contractual relationship. Uber's staff writes software and checks and meet with drivers, city officials, and companies with which it does business.

    The company took an inefficient industry and turned it into a fungible one from which it takes a 20% cut. (That can vary by ride type and there's currently a price war and driver-acquisition fight.) Regulation and artificial monopoly power wrapped in politics make cabs scarce and livery vehicles (town cars or black cars) expensive. Both are underutilized relative to demand because they are hard to book and supply has no dynamic relationship to demand. Cabs pick up hails and, in some cities, can be centrally dispatched. Black cars must be booked, often for a period of time at high expense, and some regions require booking at least an hour in advance; they cannot pick up passengers without prearrangement.

    Uber relies on ratings by passengers of drivers as a way to ensure consistency and high quality. Rather than Russian roulette, it's a hamburger, albeit one from a very nice upscale chain. Every ride should be of the same quality, something impossible to arrange with a cab and logistically hard with black cars.

    Uber started with what is now called Uber Black: livery drivers, who are insured as drivers for hire and licensed in their jurisdiction, or with firms that own cars and hire drivers. The price was often 50% to 100% higher than a cab, but below town-car prices. It was more like a super-cab.

    Drivers get their own Uber-issued phone and can be blocked from Uber, regardless of the firm they work for. Having spoken with several drivers (and no, I am not Thomas Friedman) and read many interviews with them, it is clear that for many, Uber fills in downtime or allows a much more flexible schedule.

    Uber's use of surge pricing has made people extremely angry at times, because it makes the service seem unreliable and capricious by pricing it out of range. Surge prices can range from 1.5 times to several times the base pricing when, Uber says, drivers are scarce and demand is high. The company says it raises the multiple and alerts drivers to bring more capacity online.

    On New Year's Eve, for instance, a driver might be contracted for $1,000 for a few hours work in big metro areas. The New York Times's Nick Bilton recently Tweeted a picture of his Uber driver's app where it alerts the drivers to areas in which multiples are in effect. Demand stabilizes as drivers flood in, and the surge price ebbs. If Uber surged but there were enough cabs or other alternatives, the demand wouldn't be there to raise prices. (I don't take Uber at its word; it's economics at work.)

    Uber was an early entrant, but it quickly faced competition from "ride sharing" companies starting in earnest in 2012 with Lyft (once dedicated to long-distance rides), Sidecar, and others. Uber started with the issue of reliability and quality at the high end, tapping people who could afford to pay more than a cab (or stretch to pay it). Lyft and the others had people share their own cars, which required a lot more extremes, but charged rates in line with cabs. (Lyft was originally paid drivers from voluntary donations to sidestep whether it was a transportation operator or not, but now requires donations in some markets and straightforward taxi-like fees in others.)

    The taxi market didn't stand still, either. Taxi Magic came out of an existing dispatch software company (along with Sedan Magic) and ties into cab companies' networks to allow an electronic hail equivalent to a street hail. The app can also handle payment.

    Uber expanded its offerings to match its competitors. It now operates UberX, a Lyft-like service; Uber Taxi, which works with central dispatch; Uber Black, its original service; and Uber SUV for parties of more than four. (It's entering the courier business, too, which could shake up or complement a whole other industry already in tumult.) To recruit UberX drivers, the company has given $500 bonuses and a free iPhone to Lyft drivers, according to reports and a ride-sharing driver I spoke with on background.

    Uber and the others have lobbied hard and enlisted local users when battles brew with regulators; Uber is the most vociferous because it has so many different lines of business. The companies have often won deferrals, carveouts, and legislative changes, but not everywhere. Virginia recently banned car-aggregation services, including Uber and Lyft, but the companies say they will keep operating. Madison, Wisconsin, is issuing fines to drivers and considering either restrictive rules or ones that require 24/7 operations.

    California enabled ride-sharing services and the like through rule changes at its Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that came with insurance requirements, but just threatened to shut them all down because the companies were supposed to obtain permits to have drivers handle pickups and dropoffs at airports. None of the companies have. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's PUC wants judges to shut down all ride-sharing operations.

    The firms all think, and Uber in particular, that they will win the day because their services offer so much to passengers and are so well liked. Regulators are circling, and trying to draw rules or draft laws around the upstarts.

    (more…)

  • A Talk with Threes App Designer Greg Wohlwend (New Disruptors 74)

    threes_1000bb

    The New Disruptors logoGreg Wohlwend developed the popular game Threes with his colleague Asher Vollmer. Greg is a games illustrator and designer who was part of teams that made Hundreds, Gasketball, Solipskier, and Ridiculous Fishing. Threes is his breakout game — and has inspired lots of admiration, frustration, and imitation. He and I talk in this episode about the joy of success, the burden of being independent, and the problems with parasites.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    Support The New Disruptors directly as a patron at Patreon starting at $1 per month, with on-air thanks, premiums, and more at higher levels of support. We do this show with your help. Thanks this episode to patrons George O'Toole, Jonathan Mann, and Sean Wickett!

    (more…)

  • Talking CASH Music with Maggie Vail and Jesse von Doom (New Disruptors Episode 73)

    Maggie Vail and Jesse von Doom are the co-executive directors of CASH Music (Coalition of Artists and Stakeholders) a non-profit organization that brings an open-source approach to music distribution and production. CASH focuses on educating around those ideas through online resources, stakeholder events, and face-to-face workshops, as well as offering a software platform.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    This episode is sponsored by:

    MailRoute filters your mail, quarantines any suspicious mail offsite, and delivers only clean mail to your mailboxes. With one simple click, your domain, mail server and other precious resources are protected. For 10% off the lifetime of your account, and a free 15-day trial, visit mailroute.net/disrupt!

    (more…)

  • A chat with Henry Smith, Spaceteam Game Designer (New Disruptors 72)

    Henry Smith is a games app developer, and the evil genius behind the addictive multi-player app Spaceteam. Spaceteam won oodles of awards, and it has the added benefit (or problem) of being free. Henry has an active Kickstarter to fund future development of free work over the next year.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    This episode is sponsored by:

    New Relic helps everyone's software work better, and if you're in any business today, you're in the software business. Software powers our apps, runs our databases, manages our accounts, and runs ecommerce sites and email programs. New Relic monitors every move your application makes, across the entire stack, and shows you what's happening right now. Visit newrelic.com/disruptors to find out more.

    MailRoute filters your mail, quarantines any suspicious mail offsite, and delivers only clean mail to your mailboxes. With one simple click, your domain, mail server and other precious resources are protected. For 10% off the lifetime of your account, and a free 15-day trial, visit mailroute.net/disrupt!

    (more…)

  • New Disruptors 71: Bike Activist and Publisher Elly Blue


    Elly Blue. Photo by Caroline Paquette.

    Elly Blue is a bike activist, writer, and publisher, and has run more Kickstarter campaigns than nearly any other person or group. She is fiercely in favor of using bikes as a primary mode of transportation, and is a feminist bicycle activist. We talk funding, publishing, and persistence.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    This episode is sponsored by:

    New Relic helps everyone's software work better, and if you're in any business today, you're in the software business. Software powers our apps, runs our databases, manages our accounts, and runs ecommerce sites and email programs. New Relic monitors every move your application makes, across the entire stack, and shows you what's happening right now. Visit newrelic.com/disruptors to find out more.

    Abraham Finberg, CPA: From dealing with those pesky 1099Ks to complex accounting needs, go to finbergcpa.com for all your financial support. Services can be as simple as a 15-minute phone consultation session all the way up to outsourcing your whole internal accounting office. Use promotion code DISRUPT to get a free phone consultation today!

    (more…)

  • New Disruptors 70: Puzzle Maker Chris Yates

    Chris Yates is a polymath. A sculptor, artist, woodworker, cartoonist, entrepreneur, dog-kennel assembler, musician, and more. He's best known now for his handmade jigsaw puzzles. He's on the show to talk about his zigzag path to making a niche for himself.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    This episode is sponsored by:

    New Relic helps everyone's software work better, and if you're in any business today, you're in the software business. Software powers our apps, runs our databases, manages our accounts, and runs ecommerce sites and email programs. New Relic monitors every move your application makes, across the entire stack, and shows you what's happening right now. Visit newrelic.com/disruptors to find out more.

    What do Lil Wayne, Black Girls CODE, and Humans of New York have in common? They've all raised funds on Indiegogo! Indiegogo has hosted over 100,000 campaigns since 2008 and distributes millions of dollars every week around the globe. There is no application process or waiting period associated with launching a campaign; individuals can start raising funds immediately. Listeners visit tnd.indiegogo.com to receive a 25% discount on fees.

    (more…)

  • New Disruptors 69: cartoonist Dylan Meconis

    Dylan Meconis is a prolific cartoonist who lives in Portland, Oregon. She constantly labors away at a mix between her solo work and projects in collaboration with others, including writing the script for Scott Kurtz's popular PvP webcomic. She is part of Periscope Studio, which we've talked about in previous podcasts. We talk about building a career and learning from mistakes while keeping all the plates spinning.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    This episode is sponsored by:

    New Relic helps everyone's software work better, and if you're in any business today, you're in the software business. Software powers our apps, runs our databases, manages our accounts, and runs ecommerce sites and email programs. New Relic monitors every move your application makes, across the entire stack, and shows you what's happening right now. Visit newrelic.com/disruptors to find out more.

    Creative VIP is the exclusive membership club for creative professionals, writers, and designers. Membership includes discounts on world-class online services and apps, and access to a growing library of graphics, vectors, icons and themes. You can also get a regular goodie bag on your doorstep. Save 25% on your membership, forever, by visiting http://creativevip.net/disrupt

    (more…)

  • Documentary "Stripped" shows the past and future of comic strips

    Stripped is a new film about comic-strip history and cartoon artists, and about the scary and wonderful future we're living in, that's been four years in the making. It was funded in part by two Kickstarter campaigns and produced by two guys, long-time buddies, who had never made a full-length feature film. And it's wonderful from start to finish.

    Stripped goes on sale today (April 1) at iTunes, and the filmmakers are hoping to make a splash and drive it up in the rankings to expose it to more people. On April 2, it will be released for the same price as well on Google Play and on VHX, a DRM-free distribution service, where you can stream on any compatible device as well as download the film for later playback. (Update: It's now on sale at VHX, where you can buy the basic film for $14.99, or with all sorts of extras and bonuses at higher prices.)

    (more…)

  • Interview with the creators of Stripped, feature-length doc about comic strips [New Disruptors Podcast #68]

    Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder created the movie Stripped about the past, present, and future of comic strips and their creators. Dave is the creator and cartoonist of two webcomics titles, Sheldon and Drive, and the co-author of How To Make Webcomics. He is one of a small but growing group of webcomics artists who are self-sufficient. Fred is a veteran cinemographer, nominated for Best Cinematography at Sundance for his work on Four Sheets to the Wind. He has been shooting commercials for much of his career.

    Together, they matched Fred's filmmaking skills with Dave's personal knowledge of the field and his contacts to create the first feature-length documentary on the topic, funded in part through two Kickstarter campaigns. They don't pull punches about the difficulties of being a comic-strip artist, but they show all the joy and love that goes into the work along with many potential bright lights already illuminating parts of the field and shining on the horizon.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    This episode is sponsored by:

    Creative VIP is the exclusive membership club for creative professionals, writers, and designers. Membership includes discounts on world-class online services and apps, and access to a growing library of graphics, vectors, icons and themes. You can also get a regular goodie bag on your doorstep. Save 25% on your membership, forever, by visiting http://creativevip.net/disrupt

    Media Temple: Web hosting for artists, designers, and Web developers since 1998. World-class support available 24×7 through phone and chat—and even Twitter. Sign up with coupon code "tnd" to get 25% off your first month of hosting.

    (more…)

  • New Disruptors 67: Danielle Hulton on how she built a dramatically successful indie bookstore

    Danielle Hulton of Ada's Technical Books not only opened a bookstore in Seattle in 2010, but recently dramatically expanded the size of the shop by moving to a new space. What led her to leap where others feared to tread, and how do you keep a bookstore current when ebooks seem to sucking readers away? Expertise, instant availability, and many lines of business are all part of the process.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    This episode is sponsored by:

    Media Temple: Web hosting for artists, designers, and Web developers since 1998. World-class support available 24×7 through phone and chat—and even Twitter. Sign up with coupon code "tnd" to get 25% off your first month of hosting.

    Mailchimp helps more than five million people and businesses around the world send email newsletters. They sent 70 billion messages on their behalf in 2013! They also have hats for cats and small dogs.

    (more…)

  • New Disruptors 66: Crowded House with Joshua Lifton

    Joshua Lifton is one of the founders of Crowd Supply, a company that crowdfunds around products. They take a very different approach to preparation, funding, and follow-up than Kickstarter. Kickstarter just announced that it had crossed $1bn in pledges in its five-year lifetime. Of that, it's disbursed nearly $850m. It's on track to facilitate perhaps half a billion in 2014 alone.

    The name Kickstarter may be used interchangeably with the term crowdfunding, and it is the 800 lb. gorilla in the space. (Watch out for the shipping charges on that gorilla, especially internationally.) But in its wake, hundreds of millions of dollars are being raised from all sorts of other sites which fill in important aspects of ecosystem, and Crowd Supply is one of them.

    The New Disruptors: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Listen on Stitcher

    This episode is sponsored by:

    Media Temple: Web hosting for artists, designers, and Web developers since 1998. World-class support available 24×7 through phone and chat—and even Twitter. Sign up with coupon code "tnd" to get 25% off your first month of hosting.

    Mailchimp helps more than five million people and businesses around the world use MailChimp to send email newsletters. They sent 70 billion messages on their behalf in 2013! They also have hats for cats and small dogs.

    (more…)

  • Meet Jeopardy!'s new master–and his controversial strategy [Podcast interview]

    Arthur Chu is mopping the floor at the American game show Jeopardy!, a program that combines trivial knowledge, speed on a signaling device, game strategy, a mind for wagering, and flopsweat. At this writing, he's won $261,000 across nine episodes of the show, which is celebrating its 30th season in its current incarnation with Alex Trebek as the host. He returns Monday, March 10, for his tenth outing.

    Arthur and I recorded this podcast on March 5 about his run on the show, and focused especially on his game strategy. (See the notes below for links to several things we talked about.) While the program is syndicated and almost impossible to view most episodes outside of broadcast TV, someone has uploaded all of Arthur's episodes to YouTube, where (as long as Sony Pictures seemingly ignores it) you can watch his run to date.

    (more…)