Liked (

If the web remains valuable at all, it will be because the hyperlink has remained the basic unit of currency. Once you lose the hyperlink, you basically lose everything else.

Bookmarked BDFxing, Or Post-Charismatic Distributed Leadership by Venkatesh RaoVenkatesh Rao (

One such pattern I strongly recommend you understand and cultivate in your org if you don’t already is the BDFx, or Benevolent Dictator for x, pattern, where x is a time period between an hour or a year or so. The limits vary by context. In various orgs I’m in, it tends to be days to months.

Source: BDFxing, Or Post-Charismatic Distributed Leadership by Venkatesh Rao

It stands for Benevolent Dictator for _x,_ where _x_ is a time period between an hour (a meeting) to about a year. Happily it could also stand for _eXecution_, since usually it is execution needs that create leadership needs.

Source: Four Modes of BDFxing by Venkatesh Rao

Venkatesh Rao unpacks the idea of BDFx style leadership. For Rao, most leaders are engaged in ‘leadering’, rather than actual leadership.

You see, actual leadership is a thankless job even when you’re motivated by, and being rewarded with, great wealth (stock etc), power, and fame (being US President, a Hollywood producer, etc). As I’ve argued before (in a 2015 post) most leaders motivated by those things don’t actually lead. Instead they indulge in a theatrical grifter activity I call leadering, which delivers the rewards without requiring them to deal with the responsibilities.

Source: BDFxing, Or Post-Charismatic Distributed Leadership by Venkatesh Rao

Continuing with the critique of traditional leadership, Rao explains that the most problematic style is Charismatic leadership.

It’s not that charismatic leadership used to work and has now stopped working. It’s basically never worked, but it was possible to hide the fact near-perfectly in a broadcast world, got harder in a social media age, and is now basically impossible in an AI/decentralization age. The myth-making narrative apparatus that charismatic leadership relied on now produces threadbare plots with cartoon characters only cartoon people can believe in, at best. At worst it falls apart completely, often revealing pits of depravity beneath the myths.

Source: BDFxing, Or Post-Charismatic Distributed Leadership by Venkatesh Rao

He explains how as a model, BDFxing is time-boxed distributed leadership, which helps foster leaders-in-waiting.

BDFxing is a leadership model that is self-consciously time-boxed to be within the limits of human endurance, morality, decency, and fallibility. I previously argued that CEOs don’t steer, but provide high-momentum, orientation-locked dead reckoning in a stable direction. That when a leader turns out to be wrong, the right move is usually not for them to steer and course correct, but to step back and yield to someone else whose sense of direction seems better for the changed circumstances. Which means the culture has to foster lots of leaders-in-waiting at all levels, ready to step up. BDFxing turns this idea into a high-frequency design pattern.

Source: BDFxing, Or Post-Charismatic Distributed Leadership by Venkatesh Rao

In a follow post, Rao unpacks four flavours of BDFxing:

  • Launch Boss – high-stakes, high-energy
  • Lightning Conductor – high-stakes, low-energy
  • Landscaper – low-stakes, low-energy
  • Ringleader – low-stakes, high-energy

He suggestions that everybody should try the different modes and find what is right for them.

Everybody should try their hand at all four kinds of BDFxing, and figure out what they’re best at. And then do it for the things they are involved in to the degree it is fun. If nobody has enough fun doing the BDFxing to supply the leadership of the activity, the activity should probably just be abandoned. A leadership deficit that’s fixed by coercive force and misery poisons the activity and the outcome.

Source: Four Modes of BDFxing by Venkatesh Rao

Bookmarked Accretive Growth Logics by Venkatesh RaoVenkatesh Rao (

Despite the resemblance, an accretive robot is not the same thing as what in software architecture is known as a [big ball of mud]( Big balls of mud are the result of organic growth logics going wrong and stalling out due to insufficiently thoughtful organization. Accretive growth is marked by ongoing incorporation of bits and pieces into an improvised, emergent architecture that has a small, conceptually coherent kernel and a large, wild shell. It is the material-embodiment analogue to the AI/big data principle of “simple code and lots of data beats complex code and little data.”

Source: Accretive Growth Logics by @ribbonfarm

Venkatesh Rao unpacks the different between organic and inorganic choatic growth, which he labels as accretive growth. Interestingly, with accretive growth, goals are “very unimportant”:

Goals themselves will evolve as chaotically as the body and mind of an accretively growing entity, and will matter much less. In fact, the more I think about complex, large scale systems, the more I realize “goals” are a very unimportant feature of their behavioral profile. Accretive growth logics prioritize the next round of growth, self-perpetuation, and survival, not long-term goals.

Source: Accretive Growth Logics by @ribbonfarm

This has me thinking about SMART goals and curriculum planning in education, and how these might be done differently by being accretive. I wonder if this is what the adaptive Modern Learning Canvas was trying to achieve.

In the end, Rao captures the biggest challenge of all in my opinion in highlighting that organic growth often wins out as it is easier to implement.

Scaling with accretive growth logics is much harder than scaling with organic growth logics. It takes conscious intelligence and more active steering to do. Very simple creatures can grow organically. It takes human intelligence to invent organ transplants that work. Dumb, unmanaged accretive growth isn’t a thing.

Source: Accretive Growth Logics by @ribbonfarm

Liked Storytelling — End-Times Tales by Venkatesh RaoVenkatesh Rao (

But definitely, something is going on that has temporarily shut down our ability to access a sense of the timeless in order to construct stable notions of ourselves in relation to it. For the time being, we seem to be eternity blind, unable to see past the sound and fury of reboots and reruns of our collective memories.

Replied to Tangle Logic by Venkatesh RaoVenkatesh Rao (

Millennia of human building have convinced us that orderliness (with or without greebles) is somehow efficient and tangles are “messy and inefficient.” And it’s not a modern or even medieval phenomenon. I recall my high-school history teacher instructing us that the streets of Indus Valley cities were “efficient” because they intersected at right angles and were “well-laid out” in an obviously planned way, compared to other Bronze Age peer civilizations. She taught us the usual textbook justification: that this somehow made them self-cleaning because the wind swept the streets naturally. More modern thought typically treats straight lines anywhere (roads from capitals to airports, and colonial-era boundaries being the classic examples) as a mark of an authoritarian presence. There may be some accidental benefits for narrow use cases, such as street-sweeping by prevailing winds, but that’s not the reason they exist. They exist because an authoritarian has carved out an island of surplus resources for himself and his buddies, and decided to lay it out as a neat, untangled zone.

Complex answers, how else to describe a complex world? This reminds me of Dave Cormier’s discuss of complicated and complex in education.
Bookmarked Ark Head by Venkatesh RaoVenkatesh Rao (

One mental model for this condition is what I call ark head, as in Noah’s Ark. We’ve given up on the prospect of actually solving or managing most of the snowballing global problems and crises we’re hurtling towards. Or even meaningfully comprehending the gestalt. We’ve accepted that some large fraction of those problems will go unsolved and unmanaged, and result in a drastic but unevenly distributed reduction in quality of life for most of humanity over the next few decades. We’ve concluded that the rational response is to restrict our concerns to a small subset of local reality–an ark–and compete for a shrinking set of resources with others doing the same. We’re content to find and inhabit just one zone of positivity, large enough for ourselves and some friends. We cross our fingers and hope our little ark is outside the fallout radius of the next unmanaged crisis, whether it is a nuclear attack, aliens landing, a big hurricane, or (here in California), a big wildfire or earthquake.

In order to survived the battered psyche, Venkatesh Rao explains that way have resorted to the ‘ark head’ mental model. This involves giving up on solving the world’s ills and simply hiding in our ark.

Ark-head is an interesting collective diagnosis. It’s not depression, anxiety PTSD, or collective brain fog, though all those currently common comorbidities tighten the grip of ark-head on the psyche. It’s an unconsciously adopted survivalist mindset that draws boundaries around itself as tightly as necessary to maintain the ability to function. It’s a pragmatic abandonment of universalist conceits to save your sanity.

He suggests that it is very much the mental model for the Dark Ages. The way out is through telling stories beyond the ark.

It was interesting reading this alongside Ed Yong’s discussion of the ongoing pandemic:

The U.S. will continue to struggle against infectious diseases in part because some of its most deeply held values are antithetical to the task of besting a virus. Since its founding, the country has prized a strain of rugged individualism that prioritizes individual freedom and valorizes self-reliance. According to this ethos, people are responsible for their own well-being, physical and moral strength are equated, social vulnerability results from personal weakness rather than policy failure, and handouts or advice from the government are unwelcome. Such ideals are disastrous when handling a pandemic

Bookmarked A Dreaming World by Venkatesh RaoVenkatesh Rao (

The world is asleep, but actively dreaming. Often fever-dreaming. But the body politic of the world is in the rigor mortis of REM sleep. It cannot act to unleash the built-up energy.

The essential immobilized dreaminess is why I call this psychohistorical tenuousness. Psychohistorical tenuousness is world history dreaming about being, without progressing to becoming. All adjacent possible, no actuality.

But psychohistorical tenuousness is not the mere absence of wind. It is like being in becalmed weather that is always threatening to turn stormy but never does. Or like being part of a sleeping world that is twitching like it might snap awake with a scream of terror any moment.

Venkatesh Rao reflects on the idea of trends. He provides five tests for what makes a trend.

Here are 5 tests which together I think are almost necessary and sufficient for an interesting and general trend.

  1. The scope is world, not categorically restricted to economy or art or US politics
  2. The trend must be new — it must weave a new strand into world history
  3. The trend must already be robustly in evidence
  4. The trend must have enough momentum to persist for a while
  5. There must be markers of emergent coherent adaptation

Reflecting on the current situation, Rao suggests that we are currently in a phase where we are in something of a lull, that is always threatening.

The world is asleep, but actively dreaming. Often fever-dreaming. But the body politic of the world is in the rigor mortis of REM sleep. It cannot act to unleash the built-up energy.

Psychohistorical tenuousness is world history dreaming about being, without progressing to becoming. All adjacent possible, no actuality.

Bookmarked Elderblog Sutra: 13 (

I want to revisit the question of the future of blogging in light of the impending reconfiguration of the social media environment due to Elon Musk buying Twitter.

Venkatesh Rao reflects upon Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and what that might mean for the future. He explains that for more than a decade, it has been the main discovery platform. In addition, Rao argues that along with WordPress, it is last of the convivial platforms.

Pre-Musk twitter, for all its faults, was, along with WordPress-style blogging, the last holdout of a convivial kind of web. Not convivial enough to satisfy genuine Ivan Illich stans like L. M. Sacassas or Robin Sloan perhaps, but far more convivial than Medium/Substack/Patreon/Facebook type corporatized platform ecologies. And definitely convivial enough for a philistine like me who prefers (modulo Covid effects) Starbucks over indie coffee shops anyway.

Rao explains that if Twitter were to disappear, it is not something that can necessarily be replaced with something else.

In brief, I treat all these so-called options as part of the cozyweb, good for my cozyweb activities like the Yak Collective, but not meaningful substitutes as far as the more public affordances of Twitter, such as serving as a distribution medium for blogs, are concerned. Twitter is basically sui generis that way. Not only can nothing replace it, it cannot be built again either, since it was a product of a particular era of the web (like Wikipedia and Craigslist). If it goes away, or transforms unrecognizably, we just have to do without.

With the association between long form blogging and Twitter, Rao wonders what flow on effect that Musk’s proposed changes may have.

But perhaps, this time, it would be good for blogging to plot a course into the future that isn’t so vulnerable to these battles over aggregated discussion and distribution media.

And perhaps it is would be best if blogging were to fade away gracefully, without passing the torch of independent convivial media technology to a suitable successor. Maybe the future is about neither corporatized platform technologies, nor Quixotic indie conviviality.

Maybe it is about an entirely different kind of media environment.

This is a particularly interesting in regards to those who wish to find somewhere else to converse and what that might mean.

In other pieces written about Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, Adam Serwer suggests that Musk’s purchase is less about free speech and more about politics:

“Free speech” is a disingenuous attempt to frame what is ultimately a political conflict over Twitter’s usage as a neutral question about civil liberties, but the outcome conservatives are hoping for is one in which conservative speech on the platform is favored and liberal speech disfavored.

Ben Werdmuller suggests that opening up the algorithm will not resolve the move to a more inclusive world.

Elon is right to want to open source, but he’s wrong about the implications. The world is moving in a more inclusive, more compassionate direction, and there’s no going back. Nationalism and traditionalism are firmly party of the 20th century, and that is becoming an increasingly long time ago.

Discussing the metaphor of the town square, John Naughton suggests that Twitter is just one small piece of this space:

Musk suffers from the delusion that “Twitter has become the de-facto town square”, which, frankly, is baloney. The internet, as Mike Masnick points out, is the metaphorical “town square”. Twitter is just one small private shop in that space – a shop in which hyperventilating elites, trolls, journalists and millions of bots hang out and fight with one another.

Ranjan Roy and Can Duruk theorise that Musk’s purchase is about diversification:

My mini-grand theory is that this entire sequence of events: The Twitter purchase, the SEC escalation, Tesla’s blowout quarter – it’s all about the next giant package. Musk saw an opportunity at the beginning of the year. Tesla’s business was on a roll, his pay package was almost complete, the SEC was threatening his Twitter account, and Tesla’s stock had stalled out for six months. Every great entrepreneur understands the importance of momentum and he decided to capitalize on this confluence of events.

Similar to Rao, Alex Hern believes a healthy social network is not possible:

I don’t think it’s possible for a site to be both a replacement for Twitter, and a healthy social network, because I no longer think it’s possible for a healthy social network to exist that connects the world.

Robin Sloan adds his thoughts in regards to professional engagement:

As a writer, looking for evi­dence of read­er­ship and engage­ment on Twit­ter makes you into the drunk look­ing for your lost keys under the street light.

A lot have spoke about Mastodon as an alternative. Alternatively, Chris Aldrich talks about syndicating for your personal website.

Alan Jacobs wonders if Musk might be a hero and close the platform down.

Elon Musk could become the world’s greatest hero by buying Twitter and then immediately shutting it down.

Liked Tools (

There are two kinds of tools: user-friendly tools, and physics-friendly tools. User-friendly tools wrap a domain around the habits of your mind via a user-experience metaphor, while physics-friendly tools wrap your mind around the phenomenology of a domain via an engineer-experience metaphor. Most real tools are a blend of the two kinds, but with a clear bias. The shape of a hammer is more about inertia and leverage than the geometry of your grip, while the shape of a pencil is more about your hand than about the properties of graphite. The middle tends to produce janky tools unusable by everybody.

Liked Storytelling — Cringe and the Banality of Shadows (ribbonfarm)

There is an approximately accurate mental model of shadows I find useful to work with — your shadow is the union of all your pushable buttons, and that’s all it is. So long as you have a single button left that anyone can push, you haven’t integrated fully your shadow in the Jungian sense. You can reconcile this with the common “buried demons” mental model of the shadow by thinking of each button as triggering a specific little demon. And they are mostly genuinely little. And harmless. Not big, mysterious demons that drive you to serial killing. Of course, there may be major ones too, like the button that when pushed unleashes a Hulk-like rage because it’s hooked up to the demon of some unprocessed schoolyard bullying. But the shadow is mostly the long tail (heh!) of smaller demons. The larger, more charismatic demons get all the attention, but they’re not that important, and mostly not even real.

Liked (

At any rate, it’s nice to have some obsessions going. It makes me feel strangely young again. Obsessiveness is naturally a young person’s mode of being. To discover it again in middle age, in a somewhat mellowed form, is something of an unexpected gift, even if the precipitating event of a pandemic makes it something of a gift from the devil.

“Colin Walker” in muse-letter 27: the state of the web ()
Quoted People Don’t Learn from Crises (Strategic Reframing: The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach)

The very act of calling an event or situation a “crisis” is an exercise of power that closes down an expected future (Wilkinson and Ramirez 2010). Organization theorist Bill Starbuck, who has extensively studied how people learn (or don’t) in crises (2009), noted that the emotional aspects in cognition make it difficult for people to leam from events considered “one-off exceptions” or “rare.” As he put it, “reactions to the uncertainty (of and in rare events) include wishful thinking, substituting prior beliefs for analysis, biasing probability distributions towards certainties, searching for more data, acting cautiously, and playing to audiences. (But sometimes people leam in crises, see Box 3.4 on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.)

The OSPA suggests that scenario planning can be used to support better shared sensemaking. In crisis situations this shared sense often does not have the time to arise. Because scenario planning allows disagreeing views, it can reveal, compare, and test alternative framings that can help to prevent premature foreclosure on the crisis problem definition, and to instead promote learning as inquiry and reflection

Change during a time of crisis is so interesting. My experience is that people tend to jump straight to (prior) solutions and what we already know. The challenge with this is that they may no longer be applicable. On the flipside, Steve Collis also talks about the risk of trauma about changing too much too fast. Rafael Ramirez and Angela Wilkinson’s discussion of scenario planning and sense making reminds me of Venkatesh Rao’s comparison of map-makers and sense-makers. Rao actually suggests that the notion of something being ‘weird’ is “a sense-making failure in response to a shock.”

via David Culberhouse

Replied to Elderblog Sutra: 11 – angkorwatification (

Applied to a blog, angkorwatification is a sort of textual equivalent of rewilding. You have a base layer of traditional blog posts that is essentially complete in the sense of having created, over time, an idea space with a clear identity, and a more or less deliberately conceived architecture to it. And you have a secondary organic growth layer that is patiently but relentlessly rewilding the first, inorganic one. That second layer also emerges from the mind of the blogger of course, but does so via surrender to brain entropy rather than via writerly intentions disciplining the flow of words. I’ve seen some other old sites undergo angkorwatification. Some seem to happily surrender to it like I am doing, others seem to fight it, like I won’t.

I really like this idea of ‘angkorwatification’ Venkatesh. I spent years carving out longer elaborations. However, in recent times, I have taken to engaging in ideas and curating my bit of the web. For me, this is another example of developing a blog and how our intent emerges in time.
Bookmarked Weirding Diary: 11 (ribbonfarm)

Map-makers try to make one map that accounts for everything they see happening to things they care about. Then they try to craft narratives on that one map. Maps can be wrong or incomplete, but they aren’t usually incoherent or entropic, because they represent a single, totalizing, absolutely interested point of view, and a set of associated epistemic, ontological, and aesthetic preferences.

Sense-makers on the other hand, try to come at the territory using multiple maps, as well as direct experience. Theirs is not a disinterested point of view, but a relative, multi-interested point of view. We want various points of view to agree in a certain limited sense, lending confidence to our hope that we’ve made sense of reality through triangulation.

Venkatesh Rao finishes his series on weirding as opposed to new normal or temporarily depressed.

When the situation is ambiguous, as it is around the world today, we cannot estimate the proportions of transient weirdness, new normal, and temporarily depressed old normal in the mix.

He concludes with a discussion of the differences between sense making versus map making, and suggests that weird is “a sense-making failure in response to a shock.”

via Doug Belshaw

Bookmarked The Internet of Beefs (ribbonfarm)

If the relatively peaceful web of the 90s and aughts was about civilian eyeballs, the IoB is about mook-on-mook combat clicks, and is now entering its second decade

In this lengthy post, Venkatesh Rao makes the case for the ‘internet of beefs’, where the focus is on

A beef is a ritualized, extended conflict between named, evenly matched combatants who each stand for a marquee ideological position, and most importantly, reciprocate each other’s hostile feelings in active, engaged ways. A beef is something like the evil twin of a love affair. A beef must be conducted with visible skill and honor (though codes of honor may be different on the different sides), and in public view. Each combatant must be viewed, by his or her supporters, as having picked a worthy adversary, otherwise the contest means nothing. The combatants fight not for material advantage, but for a symbolic victory that can be read as signifying the cosmic, spiritual righteousness and rightness of what they are fighting for. So the conflict must be at least nominally fair, hard to call decisively, and open to luck, cunning cheating, and ex-post mythologizing by all sides, in terms favorable to their own champions.

These arguments are built around a feudal model of knigths, mooks and manors.

Mook manorialism is an economy based on axe-grinding. As the peasantry, mooks do more than fight other mooks. They are also responsible for keeping grievances large and small well-nursed and alive. Occasionally, through an act like whistleblowing or leaking of confidential communications, a mook might briefly become a named player in a particular theater of conflict, but the median mook is primarily expected to keep everyday grievances alive and fight under the glare of algorithmic lights when called upon to do so, unrecognized by history, but counted in the statistics and noticed by the AIs (senpAIs?).

The problem is that there is no way of ignoring or escaping this space.

If you participate in online public life, you cannot entirely avoid the Internet of Beefs. It is too big, too ubiquitous, and too widely distributed and connected across platforms. To continue operating in public spaces without being drawn into the conflict, you have to build an arsenal of passive-aggressive behaviors like subtweeting, ghosting, blocking, and muting — all while ignoring beef-only thinkers calling you out furiously as dishonorable and cowardly, and trying to bait you into active aggression.

It has come to define the modern web.

If the relatively peaceful web of the 90s and aughts was about civilian eyeballs, the IoB is about mook-on-mook combat clicks, and is now entering its second decade

The only way is to foster a new way of being.

We are not beefing endlessly because we do not desire peace or because we do not know how to engineer peace. We are beefing because we no longer know who we are, each of us individually, and collectively as a species. Knight and mook alike are faced with the terrifying possibility that if there is no history in the future, there is nobody in particular to be once the beefing stops.

And the only way to reboot history is to figure out new beings to be. Because that’s ultimately what beefing is about: a way to avoid being, without allowing time itself to end.

This is one of those posts which seemingly forces you to stop and reassess many actions and assumptions. Interestingly, it also inoculates itself against criticism.

One piece that I am left thinking about was my question of tribes from a few years ago.

Bookmarked Against Waldenponding (

How to manage your attention without smashing your smartphone or retreating to a log cabin

Venkatesh Rao provides a counter-narrative to the argument that we need to abandon social platforms perpetuated by Cal Newport. I think that the challenge is in finding some sort of balance. This is what I tried to capture in my post and I think is touched on in the #ProSocialWeb movement.


Whether you choose a Soft or Hard Waldenponding, and whether you choose it as an occasional break or a regularly scheduled retreat, just recognize that it is not a self-evidently more “moral” attitude then getting your mind all dirty and entangled in the “toxic” information streams.

We are all now part of a powerful global social computer in the cloud that is possibly the only mechanism we have available to tackle the big problems of the world that industrial age mechanisms are failing to cope with. We might as well get good at it. Do your part. Stay as plugged in as you can.

Liked Elderblog Sutra: 1 by Venkatesh Rao (

The idea is that in a complex game, after most players have finished a first full play-through, the mechanics might still leave interesting things for them to do. An Act 2 game-within-a-game emerges for experienced players who have exhausted the nominal game. A game dominated by such second-order players is an elder game. In Borderlands, the elder game was apparently gun collecting. […] An elder game can be contrasted with a late style, which is a style of creative production taken to an extreme, past the point of baroque exhaustion, in a sort of virtuoso display of raging against the dying of the night. Late-style game play is an overclocked finite game resisting the forces of mortality. An elder game is a derivative infinite game, emergent immortality hacked out of mortality.

via Doug Belshaw