Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hacker News Dinner

Xianhang Zhang, founder of Bumblebee Labs placed a notice on Hacker News a few weeks ago asking if there was anyone interested in having him visit their house and cooking dinner for them. I was intrigued, and signed up. Another couple of Yahoo employees were interested as well, and since we all lived in Sunnyvale, agreed to batch up our meetings. Of course, a Googler's home is unlikely to have to be better equipped for cooking than almost anybody else's home (it makes sense if you think about it!), so we ended up choosing Jaisen's home for the event.

Lisa and I walked into a kitchen that was already in full swing. What amazed me was that XianHang had already done everything since he got off the train at 5:30pm, including shopping, prep, etc. He drafted us into service to shell pistachos, form the lamb sticks (which I did very badly), and various other duties, but it was quite clear that XianHang was in charge and knew what he was doing. You can look at Jaisen's pictures to see what was involved. Lisa and I clearly didn't have what it would have taken to host this dinner.

After dinner, XianHang gave us his pitch about social interaction design. He had a very important insight, which is that most companies and social software is built as a tool, whereas in reality, what social software should do is to be built as a space (as in a building, meeting room). This is a very important distinction. For instance, he pointed out that mailing list software seems almost designed to facilitate flame wars and endless discussions over minutiae, rather than useful discussion, and you don't have to be a social software expert to realize that. In any case, it's a great presentation and I think anyone involved in social software should consider hiring XianHang for his insights. The unfortunate thing about the internet is that most software platforms are designed by engineers for engineers as a demonstration of technology and tools (my own TinyMuck 2.0 was just one such example amongst many), rather than as a space for useful interaction.

Any way, the dinner was very much time well spent. Afterwards, I gave Xianhang a copy of my book for his long train ride home. I'm glad he seemed to have liked it!
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