Why Text Message Read Receipts Are So Important

Remember that time you received a text message from your crush? You thought to yourself,

“oh no, I don’t want to appear desperate and reply right away. shit, how long am I supposed to wait before sending a reply?? oh shit! I forgot to turn read receipts off on my new iPhone! they already know I saw this message… what will they think if I don’t answer?? surely, I must never speak to them again. so embarrassing!”

Me neither.

A cursory scan of Google results for “text message read receipts” yields something I might have expected from a trashy teen romance novel about vampires. (why are they always about vampires?!) The top results are blog posts imploring you to turn off your read receipts, lest you be transparent to your potential friends. It’s almost as if being clear and straight-forward about your intentions is a sure-fire way to lose friends and be labeled a loser.

If Google is to be believed, the status quo has devolved into a sea of people neurotically manufacturing reasons why they didn’t reply to a text message immediately. The most common reason seems to rely on an overt lie:

“oh, I didn’t see your text message.”

While many people appear to agree with this approach, they may not realize it sends a different message than they might intend. By choosing the path of active misinformation, they accidentally send this message instead:

“I don’t respect you enough to be honest about my interactions with you.”

The reason I turn on read receipts, and also why I have great respect for the friends who do the same, is quite simple. I may take time to compose a response after receiving a message from someone, sometimes hours or even days later. But I’m not worried if they think I’m dead or in jail or that they’ll think I don’t like them anymore when I don’t respond within a few minutes. They are confident in our relationship and trust that I will honor them with a response eventually. They understand I am a respectful and thoughtful person who genuinely tells people when I don’t want to interact with them, that I am direct and honest in my communication with others. They are compassionate souls who empathize with the perpetual state of being busy with work and life. Like most people, they just want to know if I saw the message.

And if they don’t receive a read receipt from me, letting them know I saw the message, when it’s urgent, they pick up the phone and call me. And if I can, I answer, because that’s the kind of friend I want to be. I don’t always answer, but I always make time to return the call. Because it matters to me that they understand how much I respect them.

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Don’t Hide Your Love Away: An Open Letter About Sex and Communication

This post is for men. Ladies, you’re free to read it, and hopefully you can help the guys learn a little about love and sex. Mostly, it’s for all those fools who think it’s better to withhold their feelings. It’s the 21st century. Men are allowed to have a more refined sense of awareness and expression when it comes to their feelings.

John Lennon was wrong. You don’t have to hide your love away. You can, but you’ll regret it. Sure, it may feel like people are laughing at you, and maybe they are. If they are, it’s because you expect to be immune to suffering, yet you bleed out every day by your own hand. Love is something to be experienced to its fullest. You simply can’t do that if you hide it. Men are taught to keep their feelings inside, never to be shared even with their most intimate lovers. Women are taught to be attracted to men who bury their feelings and never discuss them. I’ve met a lot of really feminine women who seek a sensitive, creative, affectionate man in theory, only to act on naive notions of caveman culture, to be beaten into submission and dragged off and raped. I have actually heard educated women say out loud “I wish he would just come over to my house and rape me. God, that would be so hot!” The first time I heard that, I was horrified.

Do we need an intervention? Show me on the Pikachu doll where the bad man touched you, honey.

Jokes aside, it’s much more complicated than that, and yet simple at the same time. Women are indoctrinated at a young age to compartmentalize their affections. Their fathers were busy building the family foundation, earning money so they could, in point of fact, bring home the bacon. That bacon was what the whole family ate every morning, and without it everyone would suffer. Fatherhood evolved as a form of automata. Mom’s job was to fend off disease, starvation, and boredom. Dad’s job was to keep Mom equipped with a constant supply of food, water, and shelter and defend against attacks from external influence. Mom is a nurturing provider, while Dad is a stoic sentinel. These roles are far more pervasive in modern society than we might want to admit.

With the advent of the first world came a more sensible egalitarian philosophy about the delegation of responsibilities in the household. Since Mom is now allowed to vote and earn money, the lines are blurred. The stay-at-home Dad phenomenon became a viable option when Mom’s skills in the workplace were potentially more lucrative than Dad’s skills. The hardest part happens when Mom and Dad both leave the house to exercise their skills to bring home dinner. Yet we still read in popular media all about how families struggle with gender equality in the natural order of things in the home. Men continue to have the attitude that women cook and clean. Women complain about being treated like live-in maids. Women continue to develop complex sexual fantasies involving the rugged and trustworthy milkman, even though milk hasn’t been delivered to anyone’s home in nearly 50yrs. Men continue to develop inherent mistrust of any other man who might wander within 20m of the house when they’re not home, as if their wives are helpless victims-to-be. That doesn’t sound like a healthy respectful atmosphere to me.

At the root of it all is the core behavior of withholding our feelings about love and sex. American culture is steeped in the doubt and self-loathing of sex as currency. We use competitive metaphors to describe how men “win” sex from women by rounding the bases on a baseball field. Teenage boys brag about “making it to third base” instead of talking about how much they respect the girl next door for her creativity and intelligence. In their minds, they are conning her into “giving it up,” as if she derives no pleasure from the experience. Imagine their confusion when she says frankly “I want to have sex with you now.” Some part buried deep in their caveman brain will think she’s deceiving them, that it can’t be so easy. Instead of having open honest communication resulting in mutual satisfaction, their defenses go up and they label her a lying bitch, thus destroying the moment that would otherwise have led rather quickly to the thing they both wanted in the first place.

Have we all regressed to being insecure children about this most fundamental aspect of humanity?

Communication doesn’t need to be the thing that destroys the mystery. I promise there’s plenty of mystery to go around. Communication is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. It requires mountains of patience, a willingness to be humble and honest, substantial self-worth on all sides, and the tools and training to build trust and chart a path to mutually beneficial outcomes. It all comes down to being confident in your own desires and having the courage to state them clearly.

You might be surprised how exciting it is to express that you’d like to lick something off your partner’s naked body and see them reach for the whipped cream and start slicing berries. The simple act of participation can be orders of magnitude more interesting than the hope of being overpowered. And with the right kind of open expression, you can ask to be roughly handled, bordering on abuse, taking you closer to the edge than you ever thought possible, all without ever losing the trust and safety with your partner. This is possible because of open discussion. In fact, conversation is what brings us all closer together, not just the mingling of slippery body parts. Just remember to agree on a safe word and always respect the safe word. Knowing where the line is and refusing to cross it will help strengthen your bond. When you’re near that line, remind your partner how much you love them. Actually, any time you think of your partner during the day, let them know. Over time, you’ll find those little moments add up to a deeper relationship.

Also remember this: vaginas are tough; testicles are the fragile parts. Think about that next time you call someone a pussy.

Zen and the Art of Elevator Repair

It turns out earthquakes have a funny way of shaking things up. Puns aside, this is a far deeper and more spiritual sentence than you might think. Early this morning, I awoke to the gentle rocking motion of my second floor top bunk. I’m staying in a hostel for startup nerds in San Francisco, while I wait patiently for my first paycheck from a new job. Without said paycheck and its included signing bonus, I will not be able to afford a luxury refrigerator box (gently used) under the I-280 overpass, let alone a tiny studio apartment within walking distance of my new office.

This was my first earthquake experience, and I must say it was “A++++ would ride again!!!!11!one” After a few seconds of realizing I was not, in fact, dreaming the whole thing, I lay in my bunk evaluating my options. I could hear people in the common area considering running outside to avoid the imminent collapse of the building. As a diagnostician and engineer, I feel qualified to assess the imminence of said collapse, as well as the logistics of the ensuing chaos.

Sure, there would be trouble if the building came apart. That much is clear. It would certainly make my transition period more challenging; damned inconvenient, really, given the current state of my credit card and bank account balance. Still, I took solace in my assessment, surmising that there would be less building to fall on my head if I were to stay on the second floor than if I vaulted from my bunk and sprinted down the stairs, attempting to make it outside before the ceiling did. Then, there was the nagging little problem of my belongings.

Part of my assessment included the time it might take to gather my essentials. Laptop was first on my list. I can fish my clothes out of the rubble. The laptop seems unlikely to survive. Also, I can sell the laptop to buy more clothes, or at least trade it for an Uber ride to a friend’s house and/or an AirBnB for a few nights. The laptop is also fairly easy to carry, as it is already conveniently in a backpack, ready to go on a moment’s notice. After about twenty seconds of evaluation, including anecdotal reports from the other occupants, I concluded that my time was best spent tweeting about the experience.

I considered tagging USGS in the tweet, but immediately decided against that, presuming (incorrectly, as it turns out) that their Tweet Earthquake Detection (TED) system was already aggregating data from others in the area. Hours later, I would learn that the TED system was sadly offline at the time of the event. Instead, I chose one of my favorite half-snarky announcement styles, as follows:

“Achievement unlocked! Woken up by earthquake”

I briefly considered using the word “survived” in the tweet, but I thought better of that. What supreme irony to be accidentally overly optimistic in a tweet about my first earthquake… I feel good about this decision. By the time I had found my phone and brought up the twitter app, the earthquake was over. So I sent the tweet and went back to sleep. Later in the morning, after I awoke at my usual time of 7:29am, I began reviewing notification activity on my phone, as I do every morning. I had a few text messages and twitter alerts from concerned friends. I went on to review photos posted by others affected more severely by the earthquake. Let’s just say Napa Valley wines are going to be expensive this year. I especially loved the photo of a skateboarder catching some wicked air on a ramp formed by the recently reorganized road surface. How perfectly California!

Shortly after making sure my parents knew I was still alive, I went on with my day of email review and video gaming as an effective means of procrastination. In my email, I discovered a curious message from someone at the office. As a result of the earthquake, the elevators had sent themselves to the ground floor and locked out the controls. The express elevators to the upper floors (where our office is located) would not be operational until an elevator technician came to reset them. I imagined myself as an elevator technician for a moment, thinking how boring that job must be, except on days like today, when suddenly you’re the most important person in the lives of thousands of people, desperately hoping you won’t make it to their building, so they can take the day off tomorrow to get stoned in the park, like any self-respecting Californian.

Mentorship is Worth the Pay Cut

I’ve been writing a lot lately about humility and vulnerability and leadership. All of those things involve a great deal of sacrifice and a willingness to embrace the unknown. This week, I spent a few hours each day helping kids build software. Most of them had game ideas. Some had seemingly impossible goals they achieved and surpassed. A few finished early and went on to make two and even three apps. All of them showed something on a mobile device or laptop after only a week of development. We’re talking about campers age 10-12 building fully functioning games from nothing in a few days, all with original artwork.

As someone who started learning to build software at age 13, I am humbled to see what these amazing young people are doing each day. The rate at which they are able to absorb and apply the fundamentals of interactive product design is simply breathtaking. What was most astonishing to me was how much they remember. With every adult I’ve trained, they all universally needed to be shown something more than once. These aspiring engineers are routinely demonstrating their attention to detail and appreciation for the moral and ethical implications of their efforts.

As someone who has worked with intellectual property for years, I feel great pride in these intrepid young people. They recognize the right of the creator to be credited and possibly compensated for use of their work, even when discovered through Google Images. I feel embarrassed for my marginal use of such copyrighted material in my past work.

I’ve written before about the rockstar curse and what it feels like to be openly referred to as a god (still happens, still uncomfortable). My experience this week changes everything. I thought my choices were limited because I have trouble finding anyone with more skill or expertise than I have. As it turns out, I was looking the wrong way. Mentoring is the right way. I learned more this week than in the last month of client work. But it’s not about me. It’s about the brilliant young minds who will go on apply what we’ve taught them. That’s worth more than money can buy.

Measure Behavior. Stop Asking for Feedback

“Hey Twitterverse! Check out our new awesome app concept. Enter your email address to be included in our arbitrarily limited beta. We’ll nag you for feedback after you’ve barely used our hastily assembled product. It’s going to be epic! We’ll make billions and you’ll get this rad t-shirt.”

Does this sound familiar? There’s a good chance you’ve heard of some new concept before, making big claims about what they are eventually going to do for the world. Often, the people who build these concepts have no experience doing so. The lucky ones have guidance from mentors, folks who have founded, built, and sold companies before. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that some mentors are lucky enough to work with startup founders who listen. In nearly every case of entrepreneurial failure I’ve witnessed, the founders were reluctant to hear any advice that put them outside their plans and expectations about their business. Some died a quick painless death. Others managed to collect revenue, only to wallow in the pit of customer retention despair.

What was their primary mistake? Asking for feedback.

Many first-time entrepreneurs build immediately, based on their intuitions and (hopefully) years of experience dealing with some pain in a specific industry. They do not take time to survey potential customers. They are often blinded by the belief that they must be first to market. It never hurts to be first to market, unless you’ve rushed to get there. Typical bootstrappers have no budget, which means they choose to skip important steps, such as persona development and user research. Instead, they go straight to visual design so they can have pretty pictures to show investors. From there, they hire code monkeys to make software that looks like the pictures. This is exhausting for everyone involved, as no high level awareness of the core product exists without sketches and storyboards, which were skipped to keep costs low. Eventually, they send out those beta invites to the few hundred people who have expressed interest.

“Tell us what you think!” might as well be “share your deepest concerns about your edge case, so we can focus our time building things only one user requested instead of the one thing we set out to do in the first place.”

Publishing a product and allowing it to grow organically is a great way to gauge customer interest. It’s also an excellent path to information that will serve far greater purpose than customer feedback. By reviewing analytics of actual user behavior, we see a pure unfiltered stream of high quality information. Communication is hard. People lie. They don’t ask for what they really want. They are inarticulate. Behavior data never lies. Ask for feedback, and you’ll hear many suggestions for features. You’ll need to interpret the feedback, collect similar ideas, prioritize the resulting feature requests, and make difficult choices about which features to add and in what order. Look at behavior analytics, and you’ll see precisely the point in your workflow where users give up. If 75% of your users click cancel at the end of an interaction, there’s a good chance the interface is hard to use.

Focus on what you know, not what you think you know, nor what you hope to be true. Hope is not a business model. Feedback is at best a distraction. User research and behavior analytics are your salvation.

Wearable Society

Let’s do a thought experiment. Try to remember the first time you encountered someone in a wheelchair. In your eyes, it was an anchor. You most likely focused on the limitations they must encounter regularly in everyday life. In their eyes, it was a rocket ship. With a little finesse, it could take them to places their body would not avail.

I think of social media in a similar way. Some people see it as a possible threat to personal security. Others see it as a mechanism to provide security through community. No one disputes the additional exposure we incur for using location services on our mobile devices. The key is to provide the sensory value while also offering the ability for the individual to control their level of exposure. This personal authorization layer is critical to the long-term survival of any mainstream solution for data publishing.

As personal devices multiply, the infrastructure required to coordinate all the information becomes exponentially more complex. Sharing this information in real-time helps people make decisions. Decisions are the currency of the internet of things. The choices we make now ripple outwards to subscribing devices, which take actions based on our decisions. In many ways, this is the definition of society. Disney got it right when they depicted a team of dishes and appliances working together in harmony to achieve the goal of cleaning the house. Usually, they represented this as magical in nature. I’m sure Arthur C. Clarke would agree that we have achieved sufficiently advanced technology that we barely believe our own abilities.

Fortunately for our childlike dreams of magical solutions, reality isn’t far removed from the dream. We have just enough understanding of the idea of connectedness to envision a world where the conversation involves machines. We’ve all seen it from early life, when we watch robots make jokes with each other using noises we can’t understand (but still laugh about) in Star Wars. We’re already indoctrinated by science fiction to accept this future as a natural, inevitable outcome, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

So, when the waste band of my running shorts tells my shoes to cool off my feet, so my body temperature cools, allowing me to reach a higher natural speed, I doubt I’ll be aware that they’re having a conversation at all. In fact, I won’t even know it happened until I look at the details of my weekly fitness report and see my average cruising speed has increased. And if I can authorize my doctor and my immediate family to see those same details, I guarantee I won’t be angry if they comment about it in casual offline conversation. It would be wonderful if I could share this data with a wellness coach, so they can make adjustments to my daily regiment (diet, exercise, rest, etc) on my behalf. Granted, I’ll still eat a pint of ice cream all to myself from time to time. You can’t fight basic carnal desire…

All of this is possible with a little magic, if you choose to see it that way. Any way you look at it, we can not ignore the impact of machines on human society. I don’t think we’re headed for the Matrix, but I do believe wearable technology will change the fabric of humanity, pun absolutely intended. I, for one, would love to have a rocket-powered hover chair, which is clearly the natural evolution of the wheelchair. Duh.

Give Day Tampa Bay: A Humbling Experience

Rarely in my life, some say too rarely, I have had the good fortune to experience something awe-inspiring, something that humbles me and reminds me how powerful community can be and how small I am in the big picture of the universe. Today, I experienced one of those moments. I’d like to share it with you.

Last Thursday, shortly after recording a podcast episode for Distilled (iTunes link), my co-host, Justin Davis, made a comment to Ned Pope that changed my life. Ned is president of Florida Next Foundation (http://floridanext.org), which supports the efforts of non-profit organizations in Florida. His office is on the opposite side of the building from mine. Justin’s is halfway in between. Before last week, we barely discussed much detail about today’s event, but we chat all the time about the various goings-on of our lives. Ned and I shared a stage last year at Karaoke for the Kure (http://becauseofezra.org/k/). He is a rock star in more ways than I thought possible, but that’s a story for another time.

Justin’s comment was a suggestion that we interview some of the folks running non-profits, as part of a live podcast during Give Day Tampa Bay (https://givedaytampabay.org). I think he meant to do it as an audio thing initially, but it quickly escalated. Sunday night, we collectively realized we had never done a video podcast, let alone a live video podcast. Monday was a scramble of “oh shit” moments, as we quickly surmised we did not have the capabilities we needed to achieve the goal. Cabling issues persisted until this morning around 10:45am, when Justin returned from Tiger Direct with the one cable we didn’t have. Quickly, things fell into place.

What happened after that was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I’ve walked away from a devastating car wreck uninjured. I’ve held my newborn child in my arms. I’ve built some products that captured the hearts of millions of free users and others that made over $1B in revenue. All of this pales in comparison to the magnificent display of collaborative problem solving and general excellence I witnessed today at Tampa Bay Wave.

We went from a whim to a high quality live video broadcast in under 48hrs with almost no structure at all. We tried two different cameras, only to barely succeed with a just-in-time cable purchase. We tried two different sets of mics because of background noise. We tried to green screen the Tampa skyline as a backdrop, but couldn’t get the software to play nice. We called an audible and stole (borrowed?) tablecloths to use as a backdrop. The only challenge we faced that we didn’t overcome was a Skype call-in for one of the ten guests we had scheduled. For that, we needed Just One More Cable™. The green screen was just a nice-to-have anyway.

Amazingly, nothing went wrong. People even started saying “nothing’s going wrong! this is amazing!” which almost begs for something to go wrong. But it didn’t. We coordinated video transitions smoothly. We showed supporting material when appropriate. The conversation was engaging and personal. We really had an opportunity to showcase some wonderful people doing great work for all aspects of the community. There were funny moments. There were tragic moments. Nobody dropped the F-bomb. For over three hours, we were a window to the world, empowering non-profit champions to tell their story.

This was an entirely volunteer effort. No one got paid to do it. And in the end, we raised over $1M for local non-profits in under 24hrs. That’s the power of community, and I’m proud to be a part of it.