Three decades on

As of last Friday, I kissed my 20s behind and turned 30. I also completed my first year at Google.

2010 was an interesting year, and seems to mark the end a long run-on sentence with a big, smudgy period:

Nearly everything that defines me happened in my twenties — especially after my move from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in 2004. The decision to go west — instead of returning east, to where I grew up — put me on my current trajectory, and opened up opportunities that I never could have anticipated.

From helping to launch Firefox, to organizing the first BarCamp, to co-founding Flock (recently sold to Zynga), to founding and co-running my own consulting company Citizen Agency, to opening Citizen Space and helping the nascent Coworking community get off the ground, to introducing hashtags and slashtags — my twenties have been an unprecedented time of exploration, experimentation, learning, and creation. And of course all this happened while watching and participating in the rise of social media and the social web.

This raises a question for me as I enter my fourth decade though: how do I continue to create and contribute to the social web as my interests, experiences, and worldview drift further and further from that younger — and entirely more naive — perspective that allowed me to take the risks that lead to my previous successes? Will “growing up” lead my ideas to be more creative and more impactful? — or will they become less ambitious and less relevant to a new generation of technology users with different demands and expectations? Will the “openness” I’ve sought and championed be as important to competition and innovation over the next decade, or will closed systems and curated walled gardens become the de facto circumstance by which people experience and benefit from technology?

I don’t know. I’m really not that worried, but I do feel the ground shifting beneath me — and I do recognize that the relatively simplistic arguments about openness for openness’ sake won’t cut it in a world dominated by design-lead (and silo-bound) technological innovation. I remain optimistic though, and am actually looking forward to seeing the acolytes of openness (and interoperability) be driven to place a higher premium on design and user experience as a first principle. Looking back at the success of Firefox (and now Android), it’s clear that it’s not just “free” (as in freedom) that brings success to open and open source systems, but that building something “better” is also a requirement (free as in beer helps too, but isn’t sufficient on its own).

In particular, when I think about the challenges that OpenID and ActivityStreams and even OAuth must overcome in the next several years (problems which I expect to continue to work on), I think the solutions will come from as much user experience and design-lead innovation as technical enhancement. And that, given my training as a designer, is something that definitely excites me and gives me hope.

While we’re at it

The second half of 2010, by the numbers

You may recall that I collated a series of stats on my five-month anniversary at Google (of course I’d intended to do it at 6 months, but my math was off). I decided that I should update those numbers, and add a few more to see how things have changed in the past half-year.

Not that these numbers mean a whole lot, but I am curious to see how they change over the next year, and which numbers will become more relevant and less relevant over time.

Originally published at on January 9, 2011.

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