Alexander Singh

Co-founder of Domino. Subway philosophizer.

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Notes & Observations on Online Communities

This is a distillation of my experience in community building for Domino, a startup I co-founded that operated for nearly three years. It was a referral-driven job marketplace that let freelancers find work through their friends. As such, our community was an integral component for seeding the two-sided marketplace.

Community building is more art than science. It is highly subjective and so your mileage may vary.


1. Start immediately
Because communities are fuzzy spaces, it’s very hard to will them into being: they simply take time. There are certain things you may be able to do to expedite the process (ads, hiring community managers to recruit people / generate constant activity, partnerships) but these will be temporary effects and they may ultimately fail.

We started Domino’s community before we wrote a single line of code. Back in early 2015, we were one of the first to adopt...

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Ambient Product Design

Since November last year, I’ve been publicly researching Ambient Product Design on Are.na in an attempt to arrive at a new paradigm of harmonious digital products.

My research has accelerated since January, and I’m spending the first few hours of each morning reading, writing and synthesizing.

I have also begun to present the material 1:1, seeking criticism to help shape the ideas and prepare them for wider publication. If you’re interested in discussing this research please email me.

I’ll be back writing here when the initial research into APD is finished.

If you’re interested in following along, I encourage you to read the following channels:

Ambient Product Design

Ambient Product Design References

Ambient Product Analogies

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Ambient Interventions for 2018

I’ve been on the lookout for digital products that embody the principles I’ve begun outlining in my Ambient Product Design research.

Essentially: products with a tiny footprint that empower us, promote calm and protect our humanity.

One class of “ambient products” are ambient interventions. They consciously intercede against existing products on the user’s behalf. An intervention can take any form: a digital product itself, or add-on/plugin/extension into an existing product, a written guide on reconfiguring a piece of owned technology, etc.

For 2018, I’ve set up the following interventions:

Dropout
Collects online material for offline access. There are several use cases for this, but I personally want to leverage it to disconnect from the Internet while preserving access to materials I need for work.

Hardly Everything
Another project by Jon-Kyle Mohr. Defined as an “anti-feed”, it...

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Life as language

Language is an incredible device.

It has allowed us to share knowledge, to organize and clarify our world, to cooperate and collaborate, to be taxed by the man, and to think in abstract terms. It has formed the foundation for the discovery of all of our subsequent technologies. It even lets me pontificate like I know what I’m talking about.

What comes to mind when you read the word “language”? Probably English, if you’re a native English speaker. Or maybe the concept of verbal languages, generally.

A more open reading might include other languages we’re already familiar with:

Mathematics is a problem-solving language.
Physics is the foundational language of the universe.
Design is an abstract language to help us engage with and navigate the various abstractions within our world & society.
Music is a non-visual language that interfaces with our entire nervous system.
Biology & horti...

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Are.na Channel Abstracts

I wanted to write a quick post to share more context around some of my channels on Are.na.

Assorted Design References
ADR began as a collection of digital design references to help with my product design education, and then quickly evolved into a scrapbook featuring art, architecture, fashion, philosophical quotes, graphic design and identity work, digital product design, editorial and print design, posters and packaging.

The broad collection now functions more like a blog that’s intended to aid in combinatorial creativity.

A Catalogue of Simple Pleasures
I’ve grown increasingly wary of the “innovations” of early 21st-century life: iPhones, social networks, the attention economy, digital vanity, the erosion of focus-as-skill, and the elevation of shallow experiences.

There are so many small, simple pleasures in life that are truly wonderful - from holding hands, to stretching, to...

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Wikipedia: prototype for a collaborative, goal-oriented social network

Facebook is the de facto standard in online social networking in the eyes of the tech industry and the media and in the subconscious minds of consumers.

The “Facebook Model” of social networking is so well entrenched that any emergent rivals are swiftly and unfavorably analyzed against it. I suspect this is one of the reasons Snapchat rebranded its parent as Snap Inc and declared itself a camera company with Pinterest recently following suite..

Facebook’s dominance stifles the imagination. A weak abstraction of a local social system mapped to a global scale, it successfully creates a veneer of intimacy between its users that is wonderful and wonderfully hollow.

The platform does allow for some interesting and productive experiences to emerge. These are exclusive, small-scale endeavors, often private and invite-only: localized marketplaces for trading goods & services...

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Sand and sediment

In a speech in 1964 (echoed here in 1981), Richard Feynman talked about the importance of doubt as a principle element of belief and knowledge. He lamented science’s passivity in encouraging society to embrace this point-of-view and it remains a foreign concept until today.

By virtue of his worldview as a scientist, Feynman understood that all knowledge is graded on a spectrum of certainty. Even something as mundane as the rising of tomorrow’s sun, which seems like an inevitability, cannot escape this net. Complete certainty is the domain of the delusional.

Like many of our challenges, I suspect that the reason this worldview hasn’t been more widely adopted outside of science is that it demands a rational mind, a high degree of self-awareness, and the ability to identify and discard bias, which is at odds with our ego. These are demanding qualities to cultivate.

Historically, we have...

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Design the Beginning, not the End

During my conversation with Vadik one of our discussions was on the iPhone and how its current form was not directly and consciously conceived of by Jony Ive and his design team, but by the multitude of social, economic, environmental and cultural influences and decisions made throughout the process by the company, and culture as a whole.

The choices around materials, functionality, and features were the primary contributor to the phone we see today. Those choices were themselves a consideration between cost, durability, supply chain efficiencies, production volumes, and so on. In the end, the conscious aesthetic design process accounts for a fraction of the phones final form.

This reminded me of a discussion on habits with Naval and Shane on the Knowledge Project podcast and the idea of designing your habits, not your goals.

The End is inconceivable at the Beginning, and it’s a mix...

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Individuality at the Intersection of our Interactions

In Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Rovelli cites the “odd” behavior of quantum matter - to exist simultaneously in all possible states until observed or interacted with - and questions whether all reality is interaction.

Born as blank canvases, it’s easy to observe how we take shape through our interactions with others.

The individual can only exist through their interactions with others.

Our individuality is unique only at the intersections of those interactions.

How do individualistic cultures reconcile the value of “The Individual” as greater than the group which nurtures it, sustains it and maintains its form?

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Wet Clay

Wet clay is malleable, unfinished and unformed. You can still mold it, guide it and leave your mark. It is yours until it dries. Then, change necessitates destruction.

Seek the wet clay in your education, your work, your friendships, your home, your ideas and in love.

A random collection of examples include:

1. George S. Patton’s decision to become a pioneer of the nascent “art” of tank warfare

2. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain technology*

3. A.I. and Machine Intelligence*

4. Non-Western countries (Carribean, Central & South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East)*

5. Digital Design*

6. New farming techniques (indoor, vertical, urban)*

7. Natural wines*

8. Clothing that lasts*

9. The colonies and later, the young United States of America through to the end of World War 2.

10. Republics, in the early 1800s and onwards.

11. The printing press and eventually, the print...

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