Category Archives: RLST 245

RLST Post #13: Teaching the Web

[Editor’s Note: These blog posts are from a class at Lawrence University, RLST 245: Apple, Google, Facebook, which examined those companies from a religious studies viewpoint. We were required to keep a blog for the class. The class was taught by Martyn Smith, and I highly recommend it to any Lawrence student.]

My Thoughts:

I’ve always been a huge proponent of teaching people to code. (Full Disclosure: I do it professionally). Most people these days carry around processors in their pockets, capable of doing millions if not billions of calculations per second, and most people have no understanding of how they work. Although I understand that a functional knowledge of these devices is not necessary to use them, the more a user knows about how the machine works, the better experience they’ll have with it.

I also know that learning to program is learning a new way of thinking. Programming forces you to logically construct the instructions that you’re trying to get the computer to do, which is a skill that has great cross-disciplinary effects.

An aside: HTML is not programming. HTML is markup language, which is simply a way of laying out content. I agree that learning HTML would be excellent for everyone, especially anyone working on or with the internet, but I’d like to advocate learning real coding like Python, C++, Java, etc.

Last year, I worked at Valley New School, a local project-based learning school, with the intent of teaching coding to the students there. In starting that, I taught four students some basic python programming over six weeks, which for a lot of them was a first introduction to any coding. At the end of the project, they all agreed that it had been fascinating and useful knowledge.

I read the other day on Hacker News about, a site championed by an absolutely enormous number of celebrities with the focus of giving students the opportunity to learn to code.  I’m behind this 100%. The more people we have who are technologically literate, the better our society will be equipped to handle the emerging era of technology.

A Response

Chris, in his humorously-URL’d  post “HTML”, argues against mandatory coding. We discussed in class the pros and cons of learning to program in the Lawrence Freshman Studies class:

Somehow in the midst of our conversation, It was uttered that HTML basics should be taught at the freshmen studies level.  This is truly offensive to me.  I have long been a proponent of the Freshmen Studies program here at Lawrence, because i hate the idea forcing people to learn things that they don’t want to.  But more importantly, i found it offensive because I have no need to know how to write CODE.  I don’t believe that anyone forces people to learn how to write sonnets here at Lawrence, so why should we be forced to do such a thing as write code.

–Christopher Schmidt

I’m very interested by this approach to freshman studies, because it’s the opposite of what I imagined the course to be. In my mind, Freshman Studies is an introduction to critical thought, with a focus on learning about a broad variety of disciplines. I truly enjoyed learning about Einstein’s Special and General Relativity, which we were required to read my freshman year. The fact that the program pushed us outside our comfort zone was fascinating to me.

I think my point is that nobody really has a need to learn anything outside our major, but it is by “staying hungry” for that knowledge that drives liberal arts thinking and produces successful, creative minds. Why did Mark Zuckerberg make millions off of facebook? He was the first one to combine the ideas of exclusivity with the necessary technical knowledge.

If Shakespeare had only known how to write sonnets and plays, he would have nothing to write those sonnets and plays about.

Chris is right – perhaps it is wrong to force someone to learn how to code, but those of us who do learn how to code are going to know a lot more about the world than those who don’t. And for a college trying to teach its students about the world, perhaps a little mandatory introduction to digital electronics would help open people’s minds about it.

And maybe we would have more compsci majors here 😛


RLST Post #11: Together, Alone


I was struck by this frame while watching Sherry Turkle’s video, Connected, but alone?. Perhaps it was simply the technopunk poetics of the word choice (I feel that this phrase could spawn a novel or two), but something about it caught in my mind.

I was caught off guard when Stephen Colbert asked me a profound question .. he said, “don’t all those little tweets, don’t all those little sips of online communications add up to one big gulp of real conversation?”

My answer was no, they don’t add up. Connecting in sips, connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information, they may work for saying, “I’m thinking about you”, or even for saying, “I love you.” … But they don’t really work for learning about each other, for really coming to know and understand each other. And we use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves. So a flight from conversation can really matter, because it can compromise our capacity for self reflection. For kids growing up, that skill is the bedrock of development.  Over and over I hear, I would rather text than talk, and what I’m seeing is that people get so used to getting short changed to out of real conversation. So used to getting by with less, that they become almost willing to dispense with people altogether.

Dr. Rosen came to similar results – although I can’t find them publicly available for linking – about preferred modes of communication with “a close friend”:

Group Most Preferred Less Preferred Even Less Preferred
Older People Face-to-face Phone email
Young Adults Face-to-face Texting Phone
Kids These Days Texting Email/Im/Phone Face-to-face

Face-to-face drops to fifth place in terms of how young kids (defined as Rosen as those born in the 2000s, or so) communicate. So, are we tempted by these machines that offer companionship in place of real communication? Definitely. Is this a bad thing? Nobody is sure, but it’s looking like it. Depressed people chat more online. While correlation does not equal causation, those who use the internet more can become depressed. If both of these are true, we have a kind of negative spiral for anyone with an internet connection and a deep feeling of sadness.

Texts are far easier than actually having to talk to someone, especially because they work across enormous distances. I can see how a generation used to instant gratification would love to be able to have instant communication with anyone anywhere. They’re also incredibly private, so you don’t risk someone overhearing, even if they’re in the same room as you.

I don’t actually have a point about any of this right now, I just think it’s interesting.

RLST Post #12: “just another talkative Egyptian Retweet”

The Earth Turns

On June 13, 2009, I was working for a startup in Boulder, Colorado, and I took the bus to work every day. The night before I had spent on the internet, carefully following the emerging Iranian election protests.

Revolutions fascinate me. I spent evenings in 2011 following the video livestreams from Occupy Oakland and Occupy Boston later that same year, and on the morning of the 13th I sat on my bus seat glued to the screen of my smartphone, refreshing twitter feeds from Iran, Google News, Facebook.

Malcom Gladwell, unarguably more of an expert on this topic than I, posits that the medium is unimportant: people have been organizing revolutions far before the internet became mainstream. His article about the hierarchical formation of the civil rights movement of the 1960s argues that having twitter or facebook could have hurt the movement by turning it from a well-organized force into a sprawling, ineffective network:

Enthusiasts for social media would no doubt have us believe that King’s task in Birmingham would have been made infinitely easier had he been able to communicate with his followers through Facebook, and contented himself with tweets from a Birmingham jail. But networks are messy: think of the ceaseless pattern of correction and revision, amendment and debate, that characterizes Wikipedia. If Martin Luther King, Jr., had tried to do a wiki-boycott in Montgomery, he would have been steamrollered by the white power structure. And of what use would a digital communication tool be in a town where ninety-eight per cent of the black community could be reached every Sunday morning at church? The things that King needed in Birmingham—discipline and strategy—were things that online social media cannot provide.

And yet Egypt seems to have benefited from these modern innovations. In this photo from 2011, an Egyptian protester holds a sign thanking Facebook for enabling the revolution. (At least, that’s what the translations have told me. I don’t read farsi myself :P)



And from Gladwell’s October 2010 article (this is four months before “Arab Spring” officially started):

“Without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy,” Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security adviser, later wrote, calling for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

Yet Gladwell argues (in 2010) that our view of the revolution is skewed by our own media:

In the Iranian case, meanwhile, the people tweeting about the demonstrations were almost all in the West. “It is time to get Twitter’s role in the events in Iran right,” Golnaz Esfandiari wrote, this past summer, in Foreign Policy. “Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran.” The cadre of prominent bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan, who championed the role of social media in Iran, Esfandiari continued, misunderstood the situation. “Western journalists who couldn’t reach—or didn’t bother reaching?—people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets post with tag #iranelection,” she wrote. “Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.”

I remember on the bus that morning in 2009 a constant stream of English-language tweets directly from Iran, and perhaps they were tailored toward me as a westerner, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be helpful to anyone in the situation – locations, names, tactics. Shared with the knowledge that the police were watching the stream as well.

The contemporary (her last tweet at the time of this writing is from 5 seconds ago) Egyptian blogger  blogs in English, her Twitter feed is almost entirely in Farsi, leaving me to pick out the few English RTs to make sense of the situation. Her 100k followers probably get a lot more meaning from her stream than I do.

The internet moves fast, and it’s helping to accelerate the speed of our lives. Gladwell is probably right, and these revolutions would have happened without Twitter and Facebook, but I think that the Internet is acting as a catalyst to accelerate these movements. The internet is a kind of Central Nervous System for humanity.

RLST Post #10: Web Development

Watching “The Social Network” was a strange experience for me. During the times that the Sorkin obviously tried to lose the average viewer in “technobabble“:

I understood all of that. The world of web development is truly insane. I’m sure I would be just as lost during a biology or chemistry babbling session, but this one happens to be the world I belong to.

I’m not writing this to brag – just to share that the movie hit very close to home for me. Even now I’m sitting in front of my computer, working on a PHP project in Apache (the same technologies that powered the early versions of Facebook). My resume says “Web Application Developer” at the top. I make things like facebook for a living.

The keyboard they use in that scene is the one that I brought in to class to share – the IBM model M.

Language and Culture

Any culture is going to have its own in-jokes and words. For a traditional religious example, I still don’t know what a catechism is (but it sounds dangerous). Web developers have this effect amplified by their very nature – creating things to share on the internet. A new word, phrase, name, or technology that makes it to the top of Hacker News or Reddit can quickly be assimilated into the language of other developers. In any field, it’s important to stay on top of the current language and culture, doubly so in the fast-moving world of web development. Click on the “truly insane” link up above and you’ll get an example of what I mean.

Because of the reliance on computers, technobabble for programmers becomes even more cryptic. 13375p34k, though a relic of the 90s, is still understood by any hacker worth their salt. Even the word “hacker” has a different meaning in the tech community (and that meaning is hotly contested).

Personal Note

The craziest thing about the whole Facebook debacle lawsuit thing, is that I have been there before. My friend Alex and I put up a site online that let you google 4 things at once. We called it “”, bought the domain name, and within 2 days had gone viral, thanks to an anonymous post on MyLifeIsAverage.

And by viral, I mean 1.5 million pageviews over two months. About 50k users, if I remember correctly. Gizmodo wrote an article about us, Huffington Post wrote one, gave us a link, and we even had an Urban Dictionary definition.

Then we got a cease and desist from Google, and in 7 days they took our domain name and shut us down. We were both pretty upset about it, but hey, it’s not every day you make Google feel threatened.

That’s why Facebook hits really close to home for me. Hopefully I’m not an asshole like Zuckerberg is portrayed as in the movie.


“You know who knows about web development? Spiders.” — Evan Conway

RLST Post #9: Ignoramus et Ignorabimus

We Do Not Know

When I took the Theory of Computation class last term, I was fascinated by the amount to which it stretched the limits of human knowledge. Perhaps it is because computation is so new a field – just 60 years ago, a “computer” was a woman at a desk with a pen and paper – or perhaps because it is a field that intrinsically bumps up against universal computation limits.

The ideas in the theory of computation that I want to focus on are related to Gödel’s (pronounced more like “guhdel”) incompleteness theorem. The actual proof is written in very technical language, but the idea is (according to the well-curated wikipedia page on the proof),

Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory (Kleene 1967, p. 250).

Ignoramus et Ignorabimus – we do not know and we will not know. There exists some arithmetical statement that is true but not provable. If you’re not mathematically inclined, you could think of “this sentence is false”, as a kind of english-language nonprovable. If the sentence is true, it is also false. Not the most rigorous, but it gets the idea across.

We Will Not Know

The idea that there is a limit to what science can tell us was proposed in 1872, by a German scientist Emil du Bois-Reymond, about such things as “the ultimate nature of matter and force”. Scientists are still working on that, and discovering things like the higgs boson, purported to be the giver of mass. But the theory of computation bumps up against this threshold, with things like the Halting problem:

From Wikipedia’s page on the Halting Problem:

 The question is simply whether the given program will ever halt on a particular input.

For example, in pseudocode, the program:

loop forever

does not halt; rather, it goes on forever in an infinite loop. On the other hand, the program

print "Hello, world!"

halts very quickly.

While deciding whether these programs halt is simple, more complex programs prove problematic.

One approach to the problem might be to run the program for some number of steps and check if it halts. But if the program does not halt, it is unknown whether the program will eventually halt or run forever.

Given one of these programs of significant length, we have the problem that is unsolvable. Mathematical models of Turing Machines often expand out to quadrillions of steps, although they might simply be drawn as a few symbols on paper. For example, a Turing Machine that takes a Turing Machine as input, and determines something about the nature of that machine could take billions of steps to simply read in the other machine, much less process it.



Via Aaron Diaz / Dresden Codak

Via Aaron Diaz / Dresden Codak

From a religious studies standpoint, we see an obvious hole to fill. What is beyond the edge of the known universe? What is the machine that can decide the halting problem? For some, a god fills this gap, something that technically possesses infinite power and knowledge, which exists outside of our natural universe.

Defining a mathematical “god” perhaps is useful. One can use it to define the origin of the natural numbers (a debate still held by, for example, Profs. Porciau and Sanerib in our own Mathematics department). Yet for others, the  notion is empty – there is still so much of our universe and ourselves to be discovered that deciding now whether or not there is an answer is ridiculous. It is okay to acknowledge that the answer may be discovered by humanity far after our lives are over, or perhaps never.

And yet, is that not a reflection of the halting problem? We do not know if we will find it (halt) or search for the answer forever.

Excuse me for a minute while I go lie down and process all of this.

RLST Post #8: How Much Does Google Know About You?

Since I work in web application development, it behooves me to keep up on the latest in browser technology. I noticed a blog post by Google, posted on hacker news, titled High Performance Networking in Google Chrome.

Cool Chrome Stuff

The thing I found the coolest in this article was the way that Chrome used heuristics to start loading pages before the user has finished typing the full url.

  • Users hovering their mouse over a link is a good indicator of a likely, upcoming navigation event, which Chrome can help accelerate by dispatching a speculative DNS lookup of the target hostname, as well as potentially starting the TCP handshake. By the time the user clicks, which takes ~200 ms on average, there is a good chance that we have already completed the DNS and TCP steps, allowing us to eliminate hundreds of milliseconds of extra latency for the navigation event.
  • Typing in the Omnibox (URL) bar triggers high-likelihood suggestions, which may similarly kick off a DNS lookup, TCP pre-connect, and can even pre-render the page in a hidden tab!
  • Each one of us has a list of favorite sites that we visit every day. Chrome can learn the subresources on these sites and speculatively pre-resolve and perhaps even pre-fetch them to accelerate the browsing experience. And the list goes on…

If you visit chrome://predictors in your chrome browser (Turn on “filter zero confidences”), you can see the sites that Google thinks you’re going to visit. Of course, this is all stored locally, but it got me started thinking about what other kinds of data Google is keeping track of without me knowing.

Google Dashboard

Google has been in trouble for this kind of thing before, and they’ve very much improved their transparency. Google Dashboard gives a listing of the knowledge that Google has about you, and gives options to delete that data from their servers.

For example, I can see that Google Chrome has 1068 “Omnibox data” stored for me, which I assume is things like the predictors I linked to above.

Google also has 73 of my passwords on file. They’re encrypted, of course, but that’s still access to my life that’s stored on Google’s Chrome Sync servers.

They know that I have 75 apps installed on my Android phone. I even use Google Analytics on my sites, so unless you’re using NoScript, Google knows that you just visited this site.

What does this mean?

This means I give a lot of my information to google. Especially since I carry an android device in my pocket with me all day, I assume Google could potentially locate me via my devices if they so desired. But Google doesn’t gain anything by doing this – they know that transparency and security are the things that people trust them for. Google knows when I’m in class, since I use Google Calendar.

Funny enough, I use adblock in chrome, so really I guess I’m stealing all of these services? I see it as customizing my experience. As a google fan, I think it’s wonderful that I can give the details of my life to Google, and they’ll help me organize my life.

Speaking of religious studies, I think I’m happy sharing everything with Google – at least they have oversight committees, compared to most deities.


Edit: I just found this fascinating article on some potential upcoming facebook privacy changes, if you’re interested.

RLST Post #7: Analysis of a company analyisis

Just today, on, “walker” posted a blog post about his business, TeeSpring, titled Our Path to $1M in Sales. I want to analyze the business decisions made by the company to make it to $1M in sales from the viewpoint of this class.

If you’ve decided that walker’s post is TL;DR, here’s a few quick excerpts that explain TeeSpring’s business and path to $1M:

The plan:

Just over nine months ago, armed with a few beta users and a short wait list, we launched Teespring to the world. The concept was simple: Kickstarter for custom t-shirts. Instead of dropping thousands of dollars to get your tees screen printed and trying to figure out how to get them to your buyers, all you had to do was come to Teespring, design your tee, set a goal (the higher the goal, the cheaper the price per tee), and launch the campaign. Buyers could come to your campaign and pre-order your tee, and once you reached your goal we’d handle the production and fulfillment and send you a check for the profit.

The Ethic:

From the day we launched we always said we wanted Apple quality with Amazon’s customer experience. It’s something that’s core to us.

The Success:

Campaigns started popping up organically and selling hundreds of t-shirts, TWiT launched their first campaign and sold almost 3,000 tees, we finally got that article in Techcrunch, we flew past $1M in sales with over $250k in December and, above all, we’re finally profitable.

So how did TeeSpring become profitable? By following the path of modern startup culture.

TeeSpring and Google’s 10 things

Google’s first rule is to “Focus on the User”, and that’s just what TeeSpring did. Check out their story of acquiring their first few sales:

Right away we could see that it wasn’t as easy to sign up new customers as we’d hoped, especially without a design tool. While people seemed sold on the concept, nobody wanted to take the time to create their own design or launch their campaign. We ended up providing hours and hours of design consultations to groups that would only sell ~50 t-shirts, it was hugely unprofitable and there wasn’t a chance it would scale – but it created happy customers and that was what we needed.

TeeSpring knew that a focus on the user was the lifeblood to starting a user-oriented service. The small-order custom t-shirt niche is no longer empty, and TeeSpring went into this business with a lot of very strong competitors. The only way they could be successful is by offering a better small-order custom t-shirt service. Custom design consultation, personalized service, etc. All focused on making their users happy, so that they will generate word-of-mouth advertising and happy return sales.

Moving on down the list, we see that TeeSpring abides by Google’s 10 rules on almost every line. Their business plan is democratic – if not enough people “vote” on a t-shirt, the design is scrapped and the money returned. They don’t try to rip off the customer, and they allow anyone to make a design – crossing borders.

They even know that dress codes are a thing of the past. Here’s their dev team:



T-shirts and jeans all around. The look  of the modern developer.

TeeSpring and the individual

When we started planning the Gaming House trivia team for this year, a good friend of mine suggested getting T-shirts for the team. We didn’t use TeeSpring (we went with, who were super awesome!), but the idea was to have our community defined in part by our clothing, through matching T-shirts. Custom clothing can help define a community by clearly delineating the people who are part of that community. At the risk of being exclusionary, custom clothing helps people feel like they are really part of the group.

(If I had known about TeeSpring, I would have gone with them, since I ended up not ordering enough T-shirts for everyone).

Kickstarter, the wildly popular croudfunding website, is all about bringing together communities to support an idealistic individual. TeeSpring, a more specialized version of Kickstarter, does the same. From shirts, suicide prevention awareness, and even the SigEp fraternity at Stanford, people with an idea for a t-shirt for a community can use TeeSpring to get their swag. The idea of allowing the people who are going to wear the shirts to buy the shirts before having to put up the capital for the initial order.

TeeSpring and the $1M

TeeSpring’s path to success (for now) is defined by their attention to the individual and ability to cater to communities and groups other than themselves. With this comes the monetary gain marked by our current era of tech-savvy startups. People are beginning to ask, are we in another tech bubble? But nobody seems to know the answer. Perhaps we’re in a new era, cautioned by the late ’90s, guided by the current giants, Apple, Google, Facebook, that will see a less volatile bubble of tech.

Either way, this new round of startups and entrepreneurship will be guided by companies’ attention to their customers, and not their brand name or cheap tactics as the past may have allowed. There is no more foregiveness in the market for anyone who is rude to their customers. Unless they apologize, but that’s a different story.



RLST Post #6: Ten Things Google Knows to be True


I’ll be examining the ways in which Google’s philosophy focuses on the users’ identity and self, using the 10 “truths” that google professes.

With my experience working at start-ups and technology companies, I’ll also be looking at how Google’s “truths” have come to revolutionize the way that start-ups are made, and companies become successful.

1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.

Not only at the top of the list, this is also the #1 tenant for any modern successful company. Any start-up these days has to focus on the user, which has led to the adaptation of user-centric, “agile” development techniques, which focus on responding to users’ needs as fast as the developers can push code.

From the “Agile Manifesto”:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

Customer satisfaction is important because happy customers are more likely to “be loyal and make repeat orders” (source), which leads to higher revenue for the company. The old style is caring about the money. The new style is caring about the people.

2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.

People might think of Google as a mail, maps, phone, video, and search company, but the company professes otherwise:

 Our dedication to improving search helps us apply what we’ve learned to new products, like Gmail and Google Maps. Our hope is to bring the power of search to previously unexplored areas, and to help people access and use even more of the ever-expanding information in their lives.

Even in the area of Google Mail, the real focus is making mail quickly searchable, and gaining insight on users to make their searches more relevant. Amazon does the same thing for sales. Apple does the same thing for personal computing. Each of the modern behemoths has a focus on one sector or technology that they’ve decided to excel at, and that’s what pushes them above the competition.

But this is really about catering to the user. If a company can do something better than before, the real winner here is the consumer, who suddenly has more, cheaper, faster technology to be satisfied with.

3. Fast is better than slow.

What is more satisfying than going fast? Americans are all about speed. Look at our pizza, our obsession with cars, planes, and the fact that “time is money”. Code, whether on our computers or in our browsers, reflects this.

According to that last link (which is according to Google), 400 milliseconds is long enough for a user to become impatient with a website., for my machine, takes 271ms to start loading content, and a full 853ms to show all of the content. Google, on the other hand, takes just 97ms to start loading content, and less than a millisecond to be done. Google utilizes some interesting tricks to accomplish this feat.

This is, again, a reflection of the first point. The user’s experience is priority #1.

4. Democracy on the web works.

Having a lot of users to make happy means that a company can quickly learn how to make a lot of users happy.

On that note, data mining is king. According to that source:

A May 2011 study by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that retailers analyzing large data sets to their fullest could increase operating margins by 60 percent and the health care industry could reduce annual costs by 8 percent or $200 billion.

And if you want to get a piece of that:

According to the report, a shortfall of about 140,000 to 190,000 individuals with analytical expertise is projected by 2018.

How better to teach a machine to make users happy than to look through data, something that machines are really, really good at.

5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.

How better to make your customers happy than to make sure you’re with them 24 hours a day?

With this, google tracks traffic:

Google tracks your voice.

Google tracks you, and it uses that data to focus on you and make you happy. Customer satisfaction, 24 hours a day.

6. You can make money without doing evil.

“Don’t be evil”, Google’s unofficial motto, is something that permeates their company to this day. Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and even Google have been accused of unsavory business practices, but Google is the only one of those that has been declared “pure of heart” by the US Government.

Americans are so into feeling good about our purchases that we’ve invented words to describe it. We don’t want to buy from an evil company. So to make a user satisfied (rule #1!), the company itself must be “good”. Mistrust only breeds mistrust.

7. There’s always more information out there.

I’ve already posted about this.

8. The need for information crosses all borders.

What better goal than utopia? Although our fictions often show them going awry, we seem to hold out hope that one day all peoples will be united. Technology is helping do this.

9. You can be serious without a suit.

The startup community has known this for years. Happy workers = more productivity = happy users. Gone are the days of dress codes and uniforms.

10. Great just isn’t good enough.

Because what user wants a great product when it can be better. Looking back on studying apple, we know that

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. (source)

User satisfaction is king, and the only companies that survive are the ones that know this. Look at how long Facebook refused their IPO. The new wave is to keep control as long as possible, so that a company doesn’t have to deal with shareholder pressure. That means unhappy customers, and in today’s world, that means death.

RLST Post #5: Five Sites That Drive the Internet

If you really want to understand the world of the internet, the best way is to jump in and experience the daily craziness. Here are five sites that (in my opinion) have their finger on the pulse of the web.


Although mainstream Reddit is becoming less of an internet-news site and more of a meme factory, there are still quite a few places on the site that are incredibly interesting and showcase the power of the internet.

Reddit is a link-sharing site. That is, people post links to media hosted elsewhere, and Reddit provides a platform to comment on and share that media. Posts are organized by votes, so that the community decides what is important and interesting on any given day.

The “frontpage” of Reddit, which you see when you visit, is actually a conglomeration of various “Sub-Reddits”, which are focused communities of interest, centered around a hobby or common trait. It doesn’t matter if you’re into photography, videogames, or even My Little Pony, there’s a Sub-Reddit for your interest. There are even quite a few meta-Sub-Reddits, which deal with issues on Reddit itself. is one of the most community-centered sites I have ever been on, with kindness (as well as cruelty) escaping the bounds of the internet. If you want to know what media is hot on the internet today, just visit Reddit and click away.

2 & 3. and DeviantArt




Although it may take you some time to create a well-curated list of tumblr blogs to follow, Tumblr is another internet community that is right now going strong.

Meanwhile, DeviantArt is a repository of original content creation, the hangout for many, many aspiring artists. The main draw of these sites is the immense amount of art uploaded to them every day.

Just like other social media sites, Tumblr allows you to follow whatever interests you, so you’ll have to find your own way on the site. DeviantArt does have a firehose stream, but you can also choose artists to follow to have your own curated list.

4. 4chan


I’m not going to link to 4chan from here, since it has a bit of a bad reputation, but the site still maintains somewhat of a high pedestal for knowing what’s what on the internet.

Despite 4chan’s reputation, there are a few SFW boards that maintain a solid stream of content creation and creative output.

I can’t advocate going on 4chan (and I don’t myself), but a list of popular internet sites without 4chan is quite incomplete.

5. Hacker News


Hacker News is Silicon Valley’s Reddit. A media sharing site for startups, innovators, and content creators. If you’re looking to really have a feel for what people who run the tech companies of the world are talking about, spend some time on Hacker News.

Hacker News has no sub-genres, although it does split off “Show HN” for content and “HN Jobs” for finding employment. That means that all ~35K users see whatever is on the front page. But among those 35K users are some of the best and brightest technology and social leaders of our time.

Among all of these sites, Hacker News is easily the best place for news and internet content, since it holds its posts to a very high standard. It’s often faster than Reddit for tech news as well, often about a day ahead of the rest of the internet.