Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Engineer, developer, entrepreneur

Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

After self-hosting my email for twenty-three years I have thrown in the towel. The oligopoly has won.

September 04, 2022 — Carlos Fenollosa

Many companies have been trying to disrupt email by making it proprietary. So far, they have failed. Email keeps being an open protocol. Hurray?

No hurray. Email is not distributed anymore. You just cannot create another first-class node of this network.

Email is now an oligopoly, a service gatekept by a few big companies which does not follow the principles of net neutrality.

I have been self-hosting my email since I got my first broadband connection at home in 1999. I absolutely loved having a personal web+email server at home, paid extra for a static IP and a real router so people could connect from the outside. I felt like a first-class citizen of the Internet and I learned so much.

Over time I realized that residential IP blocks were banned on most servers. I moved my email server to a VPS. No luck. I quickly understood that self-hosting email was a lost cause. Nevertheless, I have been fighting back out of pure spite, obstinacy, and activism. In other words, because it was the right thing to do.

But my emails are just not delivered anymore. I might as well not have an email server.

So, starting today, the MX records of my personal domain no longer point to the IP of my personal server. They now point to one of the Big Email Providers.

I lost. We lost. One cannot reliably deploy independent email servers.

This is unethical, discriminatory and uncompetitive.

*Record scratch*
*Freeze frame*

Wait, uncompetitive?

Please bear with me. We will be there in a minute.

First, some basics for people who may not be familiar with the issue.

This doesn't only affect contrarian nerds

No need to trust my word. Google has half a billion results for "my email goes directly to spam". 
Search any technical forum on the internet and you will find plenty of legitimate people complaining that their emails are not delivered.

What's the usual answer from experienced sysadmins? "Stop self-hosting your email and pay [provider]."

Having to pay Big Tech to ensure deliverability is unfair, especially since lots of sites self-host their emails for multiple reasons; one if which is cost.

Newsletters from my alumni organization go to spam. Medical appointments from my doctor who has a self-hosted server with a patient intranet go to spam. Important withdrawal alerts from my bank go to spam. Purchase receipts from e-commerces go to spam. Email notifications to users of my company's SaaS go to spam.

You can no longer set up postfix to manage transactional emails for your business. The emails just go to spam or disappear.

One strike and you're out. For the rest of your life.

Hey, I understand spam is a thing. I've managed an email server for twenty-three years. My spamassassin database contains almost one hundred thousand entries.

Everybody receives hundreds of spam emails per day. Fortunately, email servers run bayesian filtering algorithms which protect you and most spam doesn't reach your inbox.

Unfortunately, the computing power required to filter millions of emails per minute is huge. That's why the email industry has chosen a shortcut to reduce that cost.

The shortcut is to avoid processing some email altogether.

Selected email does not either get bounced nor go to spam. That would need processing, which costs money.

Selected email is deleted as it is received. This is called blackholing or hellbanning.

Which email is selected, though?

Who knows?

Big email servers permanently blacklist whole IP blocks and delete their emails without processing or without notice. Some of those blacklists are public, some are not.

When you investigate the issue they give you instructions with false hopes to fix deliverability. "Do as you're told and everything will be fine".

It will not.

I implemented all the acronyms1, secured antispam measures, verified my domain, made sure my server is neither breached nor used to relay actual spam, added new servers with supposedly clean IPs from reputable providers, tried all the silver bullets recommended by Hacker News, used kafkaesque request forms to prove legitimity, contacted the admins of some blacklists.

Please believe me. My current email server IP has been managed by me and used exclusively for my personal email with zero spam, zero, for the last ten years.

Nothing worked.

Maybe ten years of legitimate usage are not enough to establish a reputation?

My online community SDF was founded in 1987, four years before Tim Berners Lee invented the web. They are so old that their FAQ still refers to email as "Arpanet email". Guess what? Emails from SDF don't reach Big Tech servers. I'm positive that the beards of their admins are grayer than mine and they will have tried to tweak every nook and cranny available.

What are we left with?

You cannot set up a home email server.

You cannot set it up on a VPS.

You cannot set it up on your own datacenter.

At some point your IP range is bound to be banned, either by one asshole IP neighbor sending spam, one of your users being pwned, due to arbitrary reasons, by mistake, it doesn't matter. It's not if, it's when. Say goodbye to your email. Game over. No recourse.

The era of distributed, independent email servers is over.

Email deliverability is deliberately nerfed by Big Tech


Yes. I think we (they) can do better, but we (they) have decided not to.

Hellbanning everybody except for other big email providers is lazy and conveniently dishonest. It uses spam as a scapegoat to nerf deliverability and stifle competition.

Nowadays, if you want to build services on top of email, you have to pay an email sending API which has been blessed by others in the industry. One of them.

This concept may sound familiar to you. It's called a racket.

It's only a matter of time that regulators realize that internet email is a for-profit oligopoly. And we should avoid that.2

The industry must self-establish clear rules which are harsh on spammers but give everybody a fair chance.

A simple proposal where everybody wins

Again, I understand spam is a problem which cannot be ignored. But let's do better.

We already have the technology in place but the industry has no incentives to move in this direction. Nobody is making a great fuss when small servers are being discriminated against, so they don't care.

But I believe the risk of facing external regulation should be a big enough incentive.

I'm not asking for a revolution. Please hear my simple proposal out:

  • Let's keep antispam measures. Of course. Continue using filters and crowdsourced/AI signals to reinforce the outputs of those algorithms.
  • Change blacklisting protocols so they are not permanent and use an exponential cooldown penalty. After spam is detected from an IP, it should be banned for, say, ten minutes. Then, a day. A week. A month, and so on. This discourages spammers from reusing IPs after the ban is lifted and will allow the IP pool to be cleaned over time by legitimate owners.
  • Blacklists should not include whole IP blocks. I am not responsible for what my IP neighbor is doing with their server.
  • Stop blackholing. No need to bounce every email, which adds overhead, but please send a daily notification to postmaster alerting them.
  • There should be a recourse for legitimate servers. I'm not asking for a blank check. I don't mind doing some paperwork or paying a fee to prove I'm legit. Spammers will not do that, and if they do, they will get blacklisted anyways after sending more spam.

These changes are very minor, they mostly keep the status quo, and have almost no cost. Except for the last item, all the others require no human overhead and can be implemented by just tweaking the current policies and algorithms.

Email discrimination is not only unethical; it's a risk for the industry

Big Tech companies are under serious scrutiny and being asked to provide interoperability between closed silos such as instant messaging and social networks.

Well, email usage is fifteen points above social networking.

Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Nobody noticed the irony of regulating things that matter less than email.

Right now institutions don't talk about regulating email simply because they take it for granted, but it's not.

In many countries politicians are forced to deploy their own email servers for security and confidentiality reasons. We only need one politician's emails not delivered due to poorly implemented or arbitrary hellbans and this will be a hot button issue.

We are all experiencing what happened when politicians regulated the web. I hope you are enjoying your cookie modals; browsing the web in 2022 is an absolute hell.

What would they do with email?

The industry should fix email interoperability before politicians do. We will all win.

[1] I didn't clarify this at first because I didn't want this article to turn into an instruction manual. This is what I implemented: DKIM, DMARC, SPF, reverse DNS lookup, SSL in transport, PTR record. I enrolled on Microsoft's JMRP and SNDS, Google postmaster tools. I verified my domain. I got 10/10 on Thanks to everybody who wrote suggesting solutions, but I did not have a configuration issue. My emails were not delivered due to blacklists, either public or private. Back

[2] Hey, I get it. Surely my little conspiracy theory is exaggerated. Some guy on Hacker News will tell me that they work as a SRE on Gmail and that I'm super wrong and that there are 100% legit reasons as to why things are this way. Okay. Do something for me, will you? Please unread this last section, I retract it. I just needed to get it out of my system. Thanks for indulging me. Done? Good. Everything else above is a fact. Email in 2022 is anti-competitive. The Gmail guy can go explain himself to the US Senate or the European Commission. Back

Tags: law, internet

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Do you feel like Google search results keep getting worse?

January 16, 2022 — Carlos Fenollosa

If you feel like your Google searches are less and less effective, you are not alone.

Michael Seibel, partner at YC and a very good technologist, wrote a Twitter thread which generated thousands of comments on HN

The Internet before Google

You may remember the pre-Google internet, where it was difficult to find content online. Information was spread between the web, gopher, BBSs, newsgroups, and more.

Most webs had a Links section where webmasters recommended similar sites. Thus, whenever you found an interesting page you could discover more like it.

Then directories appeared. Yahoo! started as an index which grouped webpages by topics. Geocities created communities based on interests.

A few years later, search engines as we know them today appeared. Altavista had pretty good search results for the era, but Google disrupted the industry very quickly.

You know the story: they were not the first, but they established themselves as the leaders thanks to the quality of their results. Their founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the PageRank algorithm at the University of Stanford.

Yes, Google is a successful spin-off from a research department, created by nerds.

The decline of search results

Google has continued advancing their technology, of course. So it seems like it wouldn't make sense that search results get worse instead of better.

What started with a "simple" algorithm which used hyperlinks to establish website authority has been getting more and more complicated.

There are two main reasons:

  1. The need to understand what the user means and not what they write
  2. SEO strategies have converted the first page of Google results into a global war

Internet gets popular. The common denominator

In the beginning most of the web users were technically inclined. That is no more, especially with the popularization of the smartphone.

People stopped searching by keywords, and started searching by natural language sentences in all languages in the world.

Therefore, Google must understand the intent of the search given a user query. They use Artificial Intelligence techniques, but that means sometimes they ignore important parts of the query.

For example, ignoring niche words, interpreting correct spellings as typos of a more popular word, changing the meaning of sentences, and more.

The search for this common denominator improves overall user experience at the expense of decreasing the quality of certain searches.

In summary, we all had to learn how to search by keywords many years ago. Google now has learned natural language, and some users will need to re-learn how to use search again.

Ecommerce and product searches

Ecommerce is on the rise. More and more users now search for products and services. Businesses have a great incentive to appear on top of the search results.

In 1998 we searched for information about our hobbies. In 2022 we search to shop. Regardless, our visits to websites are monetized in some way.

SEO techniques try to reverse engineer Google algorithms to appear on top of organic searches. Everybody is gaming the system in their favor.

It is a cat and mouse game where Google does its best to provide a good experience, but in the end, they are judge and jury. Because...

Google is also the top advertiser in the world. Business use SEM to promote their services, and the incentive for Google is to promote SEM results, as they are the ones bringing money to the table.

In the end, everybody is getting worse results. We see aggregator sites which add no value, webs optimized for Google instead of the visitors, and plain scams.

Are there alternatives?

That is a good question. What can we, as users do to improve this situation?

I have been researching alternative searchers and, unfortunately, I don't think they're as good as Google.

First of all, there are only two real alternatives: Bing and Yahoo!. Most of the so-called "alternative search engines" are providing results directly from one of the three above. They are just a layer of paint on top of the Big Three.

There are niche, 100% independent search services which try to replicate the Google of the 90s, but they are very limited. Try them!

In another universe we can find regional search engines who actually are more popular than Google in specific geographies. Yandex (43% in Russia), Baidu (76% in China) and Naver (85% in South Korea).

They are not really useful for an American or a European, but it's good to know that they're there.

You may ask yourself, why are there not more alternatives? The truth is that building a search engine is a humongous task, especially in a mature market.

Re-learn how to use Google

My personal recommendation is that you re-learn how to best use Google.

Remember to use the advanced search options.

Log in when searching, because Google uses AI to improve your searches based on past history. The more you search, the better your results will be.

In summary, nobody can trump Google, at least in Western countries.

If you are not satisfied with the quality of search results try some alternatives, but don't expect anything revolutionary.

Get acquainted with the "new Google" and use it for your benefit.

Adapted from my Twitter thread. Follow me on Twitter or subscribe for more!

Tags: internet

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Whatever Clubhouse is, they are onto something

February 21, 2021 — Carlos Fenollosa

I've been following Clubhouse for a few weeks. As a podcaster, it piqued my interest. So it's like podcasts, but live?

The official slogan is drop-in audio chat. But that's not good. It only makes sense once you've used the app, and it doesn't describe the whole thing.

For me, the perfect definition is: it's Twitch for audio. But then, you need to know what Twitch is.

Yesterday I received an invitation and finally got to try it first hand. And I think that Clubhouse is onto something.

Radio vs Podcasts

Everybody knows radio. Even during this Internet revolution, it still has survived. Why? Because it's convenient. You tune in to some station and listen to music or people talking. It requires zero effort.

Radio has two problems: the fact that it's live, and the selection of topics.

Nowadays it's easy to download aired shows, so if you really like some program but you missed it when it was live, just go to their website and download the mp3 file.

However, the selection of topics still is an issue. Due to the fact that a station is a business, and that its model is airing ads, it requires volume. Therefore most radio stations produce mainstram content.

With the coming of the internet, a few nerds started using a new technology called Podcasts. You could record any audio content with a 1€ microphone and publish it on the internet.

Even though podcasts are naturally asynchronous, many shows air live too. Some listeners can listen to the stream, but most of them just download the audio file later.

Publicly searchable podcast directories aggregate both amateur and professional audios. Thanks to that, we have reached this point where anybody in the world has access to an ocean of audio content about any topic, either mainstream or niche.

Enter Clubhouse

What Twitch did to Youtube, Clubhouse has done to podcasts. For the sake of this explanation, let's ignore that podcasts are an open ecosystem and Youtube is proprietary.

Youtube is a video discovery platform. It has some tools to livestream, but it's not their main focus. Twitch has a much better product (and ToS) for livestreamers and their audience.

Want to watch somebody playing Minecraft? Open Twitch, search for Minecraft, and boom! hundreds of streams right there. Join one, chat with the community, and if you're lucky the streamer may shout out to you.

You can't do that with podcasts.

First of all, there can be some interactivity by combining an Icecast stream with an IRC channel, but it is not a good system.

Second, live podcasts are not aggregated anywhere. It is just impossible to search for "strategies to control your stress during covid-19" and find live shows.

So, if only as a directory of live audio content, Clubhouse has future.

But it is not only that. The product is very well thought and lets the audience participate, with audio.

A naive approach would have been to include a text chat on top of the audio stream. That would replicate the current solution on an integrated app. Okay, not bad.

However, the Clubhouse team spent some time thinking about the use case for audio streaming, which is not the same as for video streaming, nor public chat rooms.

Most of us listen to audio while we are doing other tasks and most of the times our hands are busy. This is why people jokingly call it the Airpods social network. You can participate while being away from a phone or computer.

In Clubhouse, you can tap a button to "raise your hand", and the moderators may "unmute" you. Then you can talk to the rest of the audience. Of course, not all show formats allow for that, but the option is there.

Being able to talk to your idols or even talk to the community of fans is very powerful. My first experience with Clubhouse was moving. I was listening to a concert and after the show all the listeners gathered up to talk about their experience and to have a chat with the band. Everybody agreed that with Clubhouse you can feel that there's people at the other end. Not only the speakers, but also the audience.

You don't get that with podcasts, even with live ones with a chat room.

A new category

Clubhouse has definitely invented a new category which combines the best of radio and the best of podcasts.

The product implements a selection of novel features which, when brought together, create an exciting and very addictive experience:

  • Directory of live audio streams ("rooms") about any imaginable topic
  • You can quickly drop in any room, listen for a few minutes, and jump to another one
  • The audience can participate via audio, which creates a great sense of community
  • Basic tools to follow people and interests, and get notified when they live stream
  • Of course, streamers may record the audio and publish it afterwards, so it's trivial to use Clubhouse in combination with the current podcasting ecosystem.

If you're in the podcasting community you should try to find an invitation. It is the real deal.

Tags: internet, podcasting

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You may be using Mastodon wrong

October 18, 2020 — Carlos Fenollosa

I'm sure you have already heard about Mastodon, typically marketed as a Twitter alternative.

I will try to convince you that the word alternative doesn't mean here what you think it means, and why you may be using Mastodon wrong if you find it boring.

An alternative community

You should not expect to "migrate from Twitter to Mastodon."

Forget about the privacy angle for now. Mastodon is an alternative community, where people behave differently.

It's your chance to make new internet friends.

There may be some people for whom Mastodon is a safe haven. Yes, some users really do migrate there to avoid censorship or bullying but, for most of us, that will not be the case.

Let's put it this way: Mastodon is to Twitter what Linux is to Windows.

Linux is libre software. But that's not why most people use it. Linux users mostly want to get their work done, and Linux is an excellent platform. There is no Microsoft Word, no Adobe Photoshop, no Starcraft. If you need to use these tools, honestly, you'd better stick with Windows. You can use emulation, in the same way that there are utilities to post to Twitter from Mastodon, but that would miss the point.

The bottom line is, you can perform the same tasks, but the process will be different. You can post toots on Mastodon, upload gifs, send DMs... but it's not Twitter, and that is fine.

The Local Timeline is Mastodon's greatest invention

The problem most people have with Mastodon is that they "get bored" with it quickly. I've seen it a lot, and it means one thing: the person created their account on the wrong server.

"But," they say, "isn't Mastodon federated? Can't I chat with everybody, regardless of their server?" Yes, of course. But discoverability works differently on Mastodon.

Twitter has only two discoverability layers: your network and the whole world. Either a small group of contacts, or everybody in the whole world. That's crazy.

They try very hard to show you tweets from outside your network so you can discover new people. And, at the same time, they show your tweets to third parties, so you can get new followers. This is the way that they try to keep you engaged once your network is more or less stable and starts getting stale.

Mastodon, instead, has an extra layer between your network and the whole world: messages from people on your server. This is called the local timeline.

The local timeline is the key to enjoying Mastodon.

How long it's been since you made a new internet friend?

If you're of a certain age you may remember BBSs, Usenet, the IRC, or early internet forums. Do you recall how exciting it was to log into the unknown and realize that there were people all around the world who shared your interests?

It was an amazing feeling which got lost on the modern internet. Now you have a chance to relive it.

The local timeline dynamics are very different. There are a lot of respectful interactions among total strangers, because there is this feeling of community, of being in a neighborhood. Twitter is just the opposite, strangers shouting at each other.

Furthermore, since the local timeline is more or less limited in the amount of users, you have the chance to recognize usernames and being recognized by others. You start interacting with strangers, mentioning them, sending them links they may like. You discover new websites, rabbit holes, new approaches to your hobbies.

I've made quite a few new internet friends on my Mastodon server, and I don't mean followers or contacts. I'm talking about human beings who I have never met in person but feel close to.

People are humble and respectful. And, should you encounter a less nice user, admins enforce codes of conduct and, on extreme cases, users may get kicked off a server. But they are not being banned by a faceless corporation due to mass reports, everybody is given a chance.

How to choose the right server

The problem with "generalist" Mastodon servers like is that users have just too diverse interests and backgrounds. Therefore, there is no community feeling. For some people, that may be exactly what they're looking for. But, for most of us, there is more value on the smaller servers.

So, how can you choose the right server? Fortunately, you can do a bit of research. There is an official directory of Mastodon servers categorized by interests and regions.

Since you're reading my blog, start by taking a look at these:

And the regionals

There are many more. Simply search online for "mastodon server MY_FAVORITE_HOBBY." And believe me, servers between 500 and 5,000 people are the best.

Final tips

Before clicking on "sign up", always browse the local timeline, the about page, and the most active users list. You will get a pretty good idea of the kind of people who chat there. Once you feel right at home you can continue your adventure and start following users from other servers.

Mastodon has an option to only display toots in specific languages. It can be very useful to avoid being flooded by toots that you just have no chance of understanding what they're about.

You can also filter your notifications by types: replies, mentions, favorites, reposts, and more. This makes catching up much more manageable than on Twitter.

Finally, Mastodon has a built-in "Content Warning" feature. It allows you to hide text behind a short explanation, in case you want to talk about sensible topics or just about spoiling a recent movie.

Good luck with your search, and see you on the Fediverse! I'm at

Tags: internet

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No more Google Analytics

May 22, 2020 — Carlos Fenollosa

I have removed the GA tracking code from this website. does not use any tracking technique, neither with cookies, nor js, nor image pixels.

Even though this was one of the first sites to actually implement a consent-based GA tracking, the current situation with the cookie banners is terrible.

We are back to the flash era where every site had a "home page" and you needed to perform some extra clicks to view the actual content. Now those extra clicks are spent in disabling all the tracking code.

I hate the current situation so much that I just couldn't be a part of it any more. So, no banner, no cookies, no js, nothing. Any little traffic I get I'll analyze with a log parser like webalizer. I wasn't checking it anyways.

Tags: internet, web, security

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KONPEITO, Gemini and Gopher

December 07, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

KONPEITO is quarterly Lo-fi hip hop & chill bootleg mixtape, distributed exclusively through the Gemini protocol. Each tape is a half-hour mix, clean on side A and repeated on side B with an added ambient background noise layer for atmosphere. Tapes are generally released in the first week of each meteorological season.

Okay, so there's a lot to unpack here.

  • KONPEITO is a very nice chill mixtape with a couple mp3 files that I found thanks to Tomasino on Mastodon
  • These files are distributed over the Gemini protocol, via this link
  • Gemini is a new internet procotol in between Gopher and HTTP
  • There is one Gemini client available, AV-98
  • The specs of the Gemini protocol can be accessed via this Gopher link
  • Gopher is a protocol that ruled over the internet once but got replaced by HTTP, what we know as "the Web" nowadays
  • You can reach Gopher links with lynx or a web proxy, but there are no modern graphical clients
  • Gopher is making a niche comeback among a few enthusiasts and you should definitely check it out if only for its nostalgic and historical value

Now that's one hell of a rabbit hole. If you reach the end you'll find a very cool mp3 mixtape.

Tags: internet, retro

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Google may terminate your account if you're not profitable

November 17, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

Youtube's new ToS, emphasis mine, via

YouTube may terminate your access, or your Google account's access to all or part of the Service if YouTube believes, in its sole discretion, that provision of the Service to you is no longer commercially viable.

Initially, this was interpreted as a way of kicking non-profitable channels out of the platform.

However, the implications are wider. Watching a Youtube video with adblock enabled may wipe your whole Google account.

It's not like they couldn't do this before, and good luck contacting Google's support channels, but the fact that they have made it explicit is a bit scary.

Personally, I've been slowly transitioning out of Google services for a while, but this is going to accelerate the process.

If you want to be safe, make sure that your gmail account is expendable before December 10th.

(Obligatory if you're not the customer, you're the product)

Tags: internet

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US Software companies comply with international law, to their great regret

October 12, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

This week has been very heavy on China-related software scandals:

On Apple's side, as usual, ther has been more media coverage:

US companies and entities are forced to apply international law, sometimes breaking universal human rights.

This is a difficult topic. On one hand, States are sovereign. On the other, we should push for a better world. However, to which degree has a private company the right to ignore state rulings? They can, and suffer the consequences. That would be consistent. Are they ready to boycott a whole country, or risk a banishment from that country?

As an individual, the take home message is that if you delegate some of your tasks to a private company, or you rely on a private company in some degree, you risk being unable to access your data or virtual possessions at any time. Be it due to international law, or to some stupid enforcement or terms-of-service bullshit.

Please follow the HN discussions on the "via" links above, they are very informative.

Tags: internet, law

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I miss Facebook, and I'm not ashamed to admit it

April 13, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

I'm 35. Before Facebook, I had to use different tools depending on whom I wanted to chat with.

I'm not talking about the early era of the Internet, but rather the period after everybody started getting online. Chat was just getting popular, but it was quite limited.

We used ICQ/MSN Messenger to chat with real life friends. IRC was used mostly for "internet friends", as we called them back then. Finally, we had the Usenet and forums for open discussion with everybody else.

If you wanted to post pictures, Flickr was the go-to website. We didn't share many videos, and there was no really good tool to do so, so we didn't care much.

There was Myspace, and Fotolog, very preliminar social networks which had their chance but simply didn't "get it."

Then Facebook appeared. And it was a big deal.

Add me on Facebook

Whenever you met somebody IRL you would add them to Facebook almost immediately, and keep connected through it.

Suddenly, everybody you knew and everybody you wanted to know was on Facebook, and you could reach all of them, or any of them, quickly and easily.

At that time, privacy was not such a big concern. We kinda trusted the network, and furthermore, our parents and potential employers weren't there.

On Facebook, we were raw.

At some point it all went south. The generational change, privacy breaches, mobile-first apps and the mass adoption of image and video moved everybody to alternative platforms. Whatsapp, mainly for private communications, and Instagram as our facade.

I wrote about Facebook's demise so I will not go through the reasons here. Suffice to say, we all know what happened.

The Wall was replaced by an algorithm which sunk original content below a flood of ads, fake news, and externally shared content "you might like". We stopped seeing original content. Then, people stopped sharing personal stuff, as nobody interacted with it.

In the end, we just got fed up with the changes, and maybe some people just wanted something shiny and new, or something easier to use.

Facebook was a product of its era, technologically and socially. But, as a service, it was peak human connection. Damn you Zuck, you connected mankind with a superb tool, then let it slip through your fingers. What a tragic outcome.

Current social networks, not the same thing

I, too, moved to Instagram when friends stopped being active on Facebook and encouraged me to create an account there.

Then I realized how fake it is. Sorry for the cliché, but we all know it's true.

I gave it an honest try. I really wanted to like it. But I just couldn't. At least, not as an alternative to Facebook. Stories were a step forward, but I felt —maybe rightfully— that I was being gamed to increase my engagement, not to have access to my friends content.

Instagram is a very different beast. There is no spontaneity; all posts are carefully selected images, masterfully filtered and edited, showcasing only the most successful of your daily highlights.

I admit it's very useful to connect with strangers, but the downside is that you can't connect with friends the same way you did on Facebook.

Of course, I'm not shooting the messenger, but let me apportion a bit of blame. A service that is a picture-first sharing site and demotes text and comments to an afterthought makes itself really difficult to consider as an honest two-way communication tool.

Instagram is designed to be used as it is actually used: as a posturing tool.

On Facebook you could share a moment with friends. With Instagram, however, moments are projected at you.

I miss Facebook

I miss knowing how my online friends are really doing these days. Being able to go through their life, their personal updates, the ups and the downs.

I miss spontaneous updates at 3 am, last-minute party invites, making good friends with people who I just met once in person and now live thousands of kilometers away.

I miss going through profiles of people to learn what kind of music and movies they liked, and feeling this serendipitous connection based on shared interests with someone I did not know that well in real life.

I miss the opportunity of sharing a lighthearted comment with hundreds of people that understand me and will interpret it in the most candid way, instead of the nitpicking and criticism of Twitter.

I miss the ability to tell something to my friends without the need of sharing a picture, the first-class citizen treatment of text.

I miss the degree of casual social interaction that Facebook encouraged, where it was fine to engage with people sporadically. On the contrary, getting a comment or a Like from a random acquaintance could make your day.

I miss when things online were more real, more open.

I miss peak Facebook; not just the tool, but the community it created.

Facebook was the right tool at the right time

Somebody might argue that, for those people I am not in touch anymore, they were clearly not such big friends. After all, I still talk to my real-life friends and share funny pics via Whatsapp.

Well, those critics are right; they were not so important in my life as to keep regular contact. But they still held a place in there, and I would have loved to still talk to them. And the only socially acceptable way to keep in touch with those acquaintances was through occasional contact via Facebook. I've heard the condescending "pick up the phone and call them"; we all know that's not how it works.

In the end, nobody is in a position to judge how people enjoy their online tools. If users prefer expressing themselves with pictures rather than text, so be it. There is nothing wrong with fishing for Likes.

So please don't misinterpret me, nobody is really at fault. There was no evil plan to move people from one network to another. No one forced friends to stop posting thoughts and post only pics. Instagram just facilitated a new communication channel that people happened to like more than the previous one.

When Facebook Inc. started sensing its own downfall, they were happy to let its homonymous service be cannibalized by Instagram. It's how business works. The time of Facebook had passed.

I'm sorry I can't provide any interesting conclusion to this article. There was no real intent besides feeling nostalgic for a tool and community that probably won't come back, and hopefully connecting with random strangers that might share the same sentiment.

Maybe, as we all get older, we just want to enjoy what's nice of life, make everybody else a little bit jealous, and avoid pointless online discussions. We'd rather shut up, be more careful, and restrict our online interactions to non-rebuttable pictures of our life.

We all, however, lost precious connections on the way.

Tags: life, internet, facebook, web

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Facebook Inc. starts cannibalizing Facebook

March 13, 2018 — Carlos Fenollosa

Xataka is probably the biggest Spanish blogging company. I have always admired them, from my amateur perspective, for their ability to make a business out of writing blogs.

That is why, when they invited me to contribute with an article about the decline of Facebook, I couldn't refuse. Here it is.

Facebook se estanca, pero Zuckerberg tiene un plan: el porqué de las adquisiciones millonarias de WhatsApp e Instagram, or Facebook is stagnating, but Zuckerberg has a plan: the reason behind the billion dollar acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram.

Tags: facebook, internet, mobile

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Three take aways to understand Cloudflare's apocalyptic-proportions mess

February 24, 2017 — Carlos Fenollosa

It turns out that Cloudflare's proxies have been dumping uninitialized memory that contains plain HTTPS content for an indeterminate amount of time. If you're not familiar with the topic, let me summarize it: this is the worst crypto news in the last 10 years.

As usual, I suggest you read the HN comments to understand the scandalous magnitude of the bug.

If you don't see this as a news-opening piece on TV it only confirms that journalists know nothing about tech.

How bad is it, really? Let's see

I'm finding private messages from major dating sites, full messages from a well-known chat service, online password manager data, frames from adult video sites, hotel bookings. We're talking full HTTPS requests, client IP addresses, full responses, cookies, passwords, keys, data, everything

If the bad guys didn't find the bug before Tavis, you may be on the clear. However, as usual in crypto, you must assume that any data you submitted through a Cloudflare HTTPS proxy has been compromised.

Three take aways

A first take away, crypto may be mathematically perfect but humans err and the implementations are not. Just because something is using strong crypto doesn't mean it's immune to bugs.

A second take away, MITMing the entire Internet doesn't sound so compelling when you put it that way. Sorry to be that guy, but this only confirms that the centralization of the Internet by big companies is a bad idea.

A third take away, change all your passwords. Yep. It's really that bad. Your passwords and private requests may be stored somewhere, on a proxy or on a malicious actor's servers.

Well, at least change your banking ones, important services like email, and master passwords on password managers -- you're using one, right? RIGHT?

You can't get back any personal info that got leaked but at least you can try to minimize the aftershock.

Update: here is a provisional list of affected services. Download the full list, export your password manager data into a csv file, and compare both files by using grep -f sorted_unique_cf.txt your_passwords.csv.

Afterwards, check the list of potentially affected iOS apps

Let me conclude by saying that unless you were the victim of a targeted attack it's improbable that this bug is going to affect you at all. However, that small probability is still there. Your private information may be cached somewhere or stored on a hacker's server, waiting to be organized and leaked with a flashy slogan.

I'm really sorry about the overly dramatic post, but this time it's for real.

Tags: security, internet, news

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Bots lack metaphors, and that is their biggest asset

May 17, 2016 — Carlos Fenollosa

Bots are the hot topic this 2016. They need no presentation, so I'm not going to introduce them. Let's get to the point.

We can all agree that bots are an interesting idea. However, there's this debate regarding whether bots are going to be the user interface of the future.

Many critics argue against a future where bots rule user interaction. Some are philosophical, others are somehow short-sighted, and many are just contrarian per se.

I'm not saying they're wrong, but they overlook some strong arguments that we should have learned by observing the history of computing.

What computer history taught us

The most important thing we learned since the 70s is that people do not want quicker and faster interfaces, they want better interfaces.

In the 80s, during the GUI revolution, they had critics too. GUI detractors claimed that the GUI was just a gimmick, or that real computer users preferred the command line. We should know better by now.

Critics were right in some points: GUIs weren't faster or more potent than the command line. However, this wasn't the winning argument.

GUIs won because the general public will always prefer a tool that is easier to use and understand than one which is more powerful but harder to use.

Are bots a command line?

See how there is a simile, but in fact, bots are the exact opposite from a command line.

Bot critics equate bots with CLIs and thus reach the conclusion that they are a step backward compared to GUIs. The main argument is that bots do not have discoverability, that is, users will not know what they're capable of since they don't have a menu with the available options. Whenever you're presented with a blank sheet, how to start using it?

However, I believe this comparison is wrong. People don't have a post-it note on their forehead stating their available commands, but we manage to work together, don't we?

We've been learning how to interact with people our whole lives; that's the point of living in society. When we walk into a coffee shop, we don't need an instruction manual to know how to ask for an espresso, or the menu, or request further assistance from the barista.

Bots can present buttons and images besides using text so, at the very least, they can emulate a traditional GUI. This is not a killer feature but contributes to refute the discoverability criticism and provide a transition period for users.

Bots lack metaphors, and that is their biggest asset

Bots will win because they speak natural language, even if it is only a dumbed down version. Their goal, at least in the beginning, is to specialize in one use case: ordering a pizza, requesting weather information, managing your agenda. After all, 90% of your interactions with your barista can be reduced to about ten sentences.

Being able to use natural language means there is no learning curve. And, for once in the history of computing, users will be able to use a UI that lacks what all other UIs required to function: metaphors.

This is critical since metaphors are what regular people hate about computers.

Who cares if one needs to press seventy buttons to order a pizza with a bot instead of just three with an app. People will use the product which is easier to use, not the one which saves them more keystrokes--not to mention that you can send commands with your voice. Didn't we learn from GUIs?

The death of the metaphor

Every metaphor has been moving both hardware and software towards a more human way of working.

Files, folders, commands, the mouse, windows, disk drives, applications, all these have been bright ideas that emerged at some point and then died when the next thing appeared. We even tried to style apps with leather and linen, buttons and switches to make them more understandable and relatable to the real world.

By definition, metaphors are a compromise. Both users and developers have a love-hate relationship with them, as they have been necessary to operate computers, but they also impose a barrier between thought and action.

Thanks to metaphors, this metallic thing which made funny noises and whose lights blinked continuously in 1975 has now evolved to a very easy to use smartphone. But that smartphone still clearly is a computer, with buttons, windows, and text boxes.

Bots, if done correctly, may be the end of the computing metaphor.

Metaphors have an expiration date

This is not intrinsic of computers.

At some point in time, a watch was a metaphor for counting time. We designed a device with a hand pointing to numbers from 1 to 12 and we matched it to the sun cycle. Advances in technology and culture have converted it in a fashion item and, while it still bears a metaphoric value, both four-year-olds and ninety-year-olds can use it without much thinking.

It's like driving: once you master it, your brain operates the car in the background. Your eyes still look at the road, but unless there is any unexpected issue, your conscious mind does not need to be driving.

I feel like the computing world, in general, is mature enough for this. Bots are a natural progression. They will not replace everything, like bicycles do not replace trucks. For most people, however, interacting with a computer as they do with a person is indeed the clincher

Ultimately, a tool is just a means to an end, and people want to do things, not mess with tools. Some of us engineers do, but we're in the minority.

Can we foresee the future?

So, why bots and not another UI?

I haven't reached this conclusion myself, strong as some arguments may be. I just follow the trend that thinkers have created.

The future is written in cyberpunk novels and philosophical AI movies, in music, in cinema. Not in blogs, not in engineer forums, not in the mind of some visionary CEO.

People will use what people want, and the best demand creation machine is imagination, in the form of art and mass media.

What people will want is what artists have represented: futuristic VR and human-like --but not too human-looking-- software

And now for the final question. Chat bots and expert systems have been around since the 1960s, so why is now the right time?

All paths lead to Rome

First and foremost, now is the right time because we believe it is. Everything is pushing towards chat UIs: big players, money, startups, the media.

Marketing and news articles can make people like things, hate things, and love things. People are told that they will be able to talk to their computers, and they've been baited with Siris and Alexas. Those are not perfect, but hint of a better future.

Consumers imagine a plan for a better future and generate demand. And demand is the driver of innovation. That's why in tech, self-fulfilled prophecies work, and predictions can be incredibly accurate even over hundreds of years

At a technical level, both hardware and software are advanced enough for real-time audio and text processing with natural language. APIs are everywhere, and some IA problems which were too hard ten years ago have been solved by either commercial packages or free software libraries

Finally, the customer's computing environment is as close to bots as it can be. Chat apps are the most used feature of a smartphone because they're straightforward and personal. People write or talk, and they get text or audio back. Not buttons, not forms, just a text box and a sentence.

My contrarian side feels a bit odd by tagging along the current big wave, but both rationally and by intuition I really do believe that now is the right moment. And I feel that I had to share my reasons.

For what it's worth, I'm putting my money where my mouth is, developing bots at Paradoxa. Who knows what will happen anyway. Undeniably, nobody has a crystal ball.

But isn't trying to predict the future enjoyable? Just imagining it is half the fun.

Tags: internet, startups, AI

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Why the centralization of the Internet is a bad idea

February 29, 2016 — Carlos Fenollosa

You probably know that the Internet was born as a military project. That its goal was to have a computer network that survived a nuclear attack. Therefore, the pipes that make the Internet work are scattered through all the world. Every computer is connected to each other in a grid, more or less.

In theory, it’s easy: to go from computer A to C, go to B. If B is down, you can probably be routed through D and F and reach C nonetheless. To learn which is the best route, you ask a router. Apply recursively, and that’s the Internet!

However, the Internet is a technology, not an application. The applications we use are email, the Web, the Usenet, etc. Many popular services are nothing else than an API running on the Web. And most are centralized: to use Gmail you need to connect to the Gmail server. Makes sense, right?

In fact, that is not necessarily so; it has traditionally been the exact opposite, especially with email.

Email, along with web pages, it is the last bastion of decentralization on the Internet. You can install some software and send a message from your email server to another on the other side of the world without any meddling from third party servers — routers aside.

Most users don’t do that, though. Centralized systems are convenient. Managing a private server is complicated, and it forces you to have a computer running 24/7 at home, or rent one. Why should you handle this? Let the professionals do it, and end users can connect to centralized servers when they need to access a service.

There is a decentralized Facebook, called Diaspora, and a decentralized Twitter called Twister. BitTorrent is a decentralized file sharing system, Aether is a decentralized discussion forum, and there is even a decentralized currency called Bitcoin.

With them, you can have your data on your personal computer, or a machine you trust, and send specific pieces to your friends computers, without going through a central server. These services aren’t very popular at the moment, but due to increasing espionage, data selling, moderation abuse and others, their usage will probably increase, and pave the way for similar solutions soon.

Let’s get back to email for a minute because, unfortunately, its decentralization is jeopardized by a few powerful actors. There are strong reasons to trust big email providers, especially to avoid spam and fraud. Sadly, some of the measures used to filter potentially harmful emails also hurt small, honest servers, who see how their emails get rejected or delivered directly to the spam folder.

I’ve experimented with email servers since I was in college. Back in 2001, you could install an MTA and start sending emails without much trouble. However, for recent projects like Puput, installing and maintaining the email server has been nightmarish.

We are preparing the details for a future post, but to summarize, after installing postfix, no fewer than eight steps were required to get our emails successfully delivered into our users inboxes.

Both startups and the big players offer email delivery services, and I admit that had it not been for my obstinacy, we probably would’ve used some of them.

However, being as we are a bit old-school, used that your server could be a first-class node of the internet, that proved to us a serious ethical dilemma. Either you succumb to using one of the few “trusted email servers” or you essentially risk getting banned from delivering your own email. It is not yet blackmail, but it’s close.

I don’t want to be dishonest, there are genuine reasons for this. Trying to recentralize email may probably be just a measure to combat spam. Probably. Because when the big players have such large incentives to kill their competition and become The One Email Provider in the world, each barrier counts. It is not far-fetched to think that, at least, there are conflicts of interest among these big players.

Some sysadmins capitulate and end up using XYZ Apps for Business, surrendering a bit of the Internet’s decentralization to that company. Again, it makes sense, both technical and economical. Don’t reinvent the wheel. But every small decision we take contributes to create the world we want to live in.

Being a monopoly is tempting, and XYZ already has a history of embracing services like the Usenet, chat and RSS to kill them shortly afterward and force users to move to their proprietary solutions. In the 90s, XYZ was Microsoft. Nowadays, it is the formerly not evil company — ironic value of this left to the reader’s criterion.

With the de-facto death of Jabber, email and The Web are essentially the only popular services that you can still run from your private box and interact with the outside world. IM and social networks have been taken over by a dozen of centralized and isolated services; we can’t let email suffer the same fate.

Maybe the future of communications is just around the corner. When all devices are permanently connected to the Internet in a robust way, we will probably carry an internet node in our pocket. Meanwhile, we will keep using just an internet access device and reaching a central server to get our data, trusting that this machine doesn’t misuse it.

This post was originally posted on Puput blog

Tags: internet

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What's up with disliking Liking?

January 10, 2016 — Carlos Fenollosa

Twitter recently changed their faves for likes with much controversy and bashing Facebook's Likes is already a meme. What's up with disliking Liking?

Are we more narcissistic than ever? Maybe we are. Public image has always been important for two groups: public figures and teenagers.

I find myself lucky to have been a teenager in a world without social media. Otherwise, everyone could have been my adolescent cringe-inducing posts that were lost in private ICQ and MSN chats.

People need to feel important, and the new coolness ranking is social media Likes. Years ago, it was (paper) facebook notes and signatures. That's how the world works now, and we can only react to it, not change it.

Us adults tend to frown upon a teen posting a vaguely suggestive picture for their friends to Like but can't seem to enjoy a vacation unless we're sure all our coworkers are green with envy at our beach pictures. We can't start eating until everyone has uploaded a pic of its dish to Instagram as if waiting till mom finishes her prayer.

Technology is always ahead of society. It takes some time for people to adjust to new customs. We added "texting" to the list of things that are rude while dining at a table, then allowed some exceptions for important messages. We considered that leaving a meeting for a phone call is unprofessional, then accepted that people can have legitimate reasons.

Some will eat their dishes cold for some ♥s; others will unhealthily link their self-esteem to a particular threshold of Likes, and people will publicly mourn their dead in exchange for some sympathy.

In the end, liking somebody's content is a way of showing that you care about that person. Sympathy makes us human. Some will argue that private things should be kept hidden, but what's wrong if broadcasting their lives make people happy?

Everyone has their individual reasons for providing a Like or not; likewise, they are free to choose whether to publicize a personal event or not. Those who advertise all their illnesses on Facebook are no different than grandmas who go to the park and compete with other grandmas in the so-called ailment Olympics.

People need sympathy; Likes is just the channel that we use in the 2010s to provide it.

Tags: internet, life

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Puput, mail without internet

December 21, 2015 — Carlos Fenollosa

Here's my new project: Puput, a service which lets you listen to your email when you have no internet.

I honestly think it's pretty cool, the project has a strong R+D component for which we filed a patent, and it has lots of potential to integrate into IMs like Slack and close the communication gap for people who are offline.

It's free, so please be my guest and give it a try! It's surprisingly awesome to be able to listen to your email when you're abroad without an internet connection.

Even though we have been absorbing a lot of startups-related material these last months, nothing will prepare you for a real product launch. Everybody says it, and I agree:

  • The last 20% of the work consumes us 80% of the time. That is, UI, UX, the website, and the marketing strategy
  • Selling is hard.
  • Selling is even harder when you first invent a new technology and then try to find use cases for it. Yes, the lean startup recommends doing the opposite, it is a common first timer mistake :(
  • I'll say it again, do product/market fit first, then start coding.
  • Raising money is nearly impossible in the Spanish startup scene. Obviously we're nobodies, but I've also talked to many other founders, with great products, thousands of clients and two-digit monthly growth, who find it incredibly frustrating to raise even 200k€
  • Launch day is scary so you find excuses not to launch. Adding more features is one of them. Establish hard deadlines and try to respect them as much as possible.
  • It turns out it isn't that scary anyways, in fact, getting users and attention is difficult at first. Dying from success is unrealistically represented in sites like HN, it doesn't apply to 99% of the startups.

Anyway, launching a product is hard, teaches you many things about the world, and makes you respect people who have done it successfully.

Cheers to all first time founders.

Tags: internet, software, startups, projects

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"Think of the terrorists" is the new "Think of the children"

July 11, 2015 — Carlos Fenollosa

If I am prime minister, I will make sure that it is a comprehensive piece of legislation that makes sure we do not allow terrorists safe space to communicate with each other. That is the key principle: do we allow safe spaces for them to talk to each other? I say no, we don't, and we should legislate accordingly.

—David Cameron

What infuriates me the most is that is such a blind, selfish, first world argument. It implies freedom of speech is granted, ubiquitous, and irreversible, so those who want extra protection must be criminals. Mr. Cameron's statement also assumes that there is no middle ground, and all technologies that can be misused by some party should be illegal. You know, the Hitler-croquettes theorem: since Hitler liked croquettes, croquettes must be bad.

In some countries, the Government can kill you for your political views. Your neighbors can also kill you for what you are—gay, for example. Ill-named "activists" can kill you for private beliefs that don't affect other people, like your stance on abortion. Mafias can kill you for badmouthing. And these all happen in first world countries, can you imagine the rest of the world?

Requesting those people to abandon the tool that is currently saving their lives in exchange for the vague promise of finding terrorists is a false dichotomy. I can understand uneducated people considering this topic as black and white. But a Prime Minister? That's a supreme level of blindness.

Mr. Cameron and others surely understand how the world works. They know that hackings, theft, revolutions, and coups d'etat exist, and those who once were righteous, legal and legitimate may be prosecuted. Something being legal or punishable can quickly change, it is not written in stone, and definitely not universal.

Imagine a Christian in 2011 Syria. They lead an ordinary life, have a job, a Facebook, they send funny memes to their friends, they communicate online. Being a Christian something we can agree is a legitimate and harmless belief and, according to 2011 Syria's laws, legal.

Now meet ISIS. In just a year they have conquered a large portion of the territory and changed some laws considerably. Forbidding Christians in Syria to use encryption is, with Mr. Cameron's words, not allowing people a safe space to communicate with each other, and exposing them to ISIS. You see, in some cases, banning encryption helps terrorists.

That is not a paradox. Encryption is a tool, like a knife, a chainsaw or a Bic pen. Banning a tool has consequences, and arguing at a fallacy level with something as serious as the lives of people is deeply insulting.

We need encryption, period. Personal communications must be private, period. We can discuss the transparency/secrecy balance for governments, but that is a topic for another day.

Governments must find some other way of fighting crime than just exposing everybody naked to make it easier to pick the bad apples.

Encryption is saving lives of gays, Muslims, activists, individuals who are threatened. It is allowing Mr. Cameron to send private texts to their wife without The Sun intercepting them. It is what avoids ISIS to spy on the UK Ministry of Defence intelligence. Does he really not realize that? Is he not that bright? Is he ill-advised? Is he just a hypocrite?

Encryption is avoiding that in a massive wirelessly connected world anybody can listen to what everybody else is saying in any part of the planet. Do we allow safe spaces for people to talk to each other? I say yes, we do, and we should legislate accordingly

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else

—David Brin

Tags: law, internet

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Making podcasts mainstream

March 06, 2015 — Carlos Fenollosa

There is no better companion for a long trip than a podcast. Familiar voices talking about familiar topics, listened on demand. Definitely better than turning the radio on and following some random program that's scheduled for that day at that time.

I've been podcasting since 2005 and my numbers have always been modest. I know I'm not that good, it's my hobby and it makes me happy. However, I've always wondered why people are turning away from the audio format, since it was so popular during the radio days. Maybe there was nothing better back then? Given the choice, nowadays the audience will prefer images, text and video over audio.

Now, I'd like to test the viability of podcasting as a format.

A game of numbers

In the US there are some shows which are more popular than ever, and even mid-range podcasters can produce with regularity and getting a fair number of sponsors. On the other hand, in Spain, I'd say 80% of the population doesn't know what a podcast is. They've never even heard the word.

For most of us, our audience is a niche. That usually means it's less abundant but more committed. Listeners are more vocal, participative, and opinionated than a general audience. They're sincere and give honest feedback. However, there is an audience ceiling for podcasters; depending on the topic, your download peak may never surpass 10k-50k hits.

There is still something that has yet not been tried here, to start a podcast with a radio superstar. In the US most senior podcasters are ex-radio hosts. Maybe if a popular host can publicly quit and announce that they'll start their own show, that could attract some audience to the format.

We find ourselves with a textbook "chicken or egg" problem. How can professionals jump to solo podcasting if it is impossible to earn a living? They can't quit their day job and work 9-5 preparing a show, either daily or weekly. There is just not enough money in the equation.

In my opinion, it is not really a technical issue. The days of needing to explain what a RSS is are long gone, thanks to iTunes, podcast apps and embedded audio players. I know a lot of non-tech people who listen to radio shows on the internet; that's what podcasting is for them. Off-schedule radio listening, plus some really bad amateurs. They are probably not wrong.

We won't know until some professional host tries to close the gap and see if audience trickles down to us amateurs. But who will be the first? Who will open the can of worms, um, sponsors, for them to see that podcasting is an acceptable medium to advertise on?

I started podcasting when I was 20 and it was—still is—a hobby. But my time is now more valuable, and while it's ok for hobbies to cost money, it is difficult to justify the hours it would take to emulate a professional effort and polished product. Simply put, if a podcaster can't earn a few hundreds of bucks a month to contribute to their regular income, it will never become more than a hobby.


I was mentioning before that niche audiences tend to be more cooperative. They give valuable feedback and fill the comment forms on our web pages.

Well, at least until the age of social media. Now everything has changed.

It used to be that you had a podcast, published it on your blog/website, and people left some comments. Now the tables have turned; the audience wants to leave the same comments, only on their own website. Which, for the overwhelming majority, is Twitter.

It makes some sense. People apparently prefer a crippled comment system, which not only has a character limit, but also makes it impossible to follow multiple branches of a debate. In reality, that system allows them to treasure all of the user opinions on a single place, which is their Twitter profile, akin to a personal website.

We—notice the first person plural—love the idea that someone else may browse our Twitter profile to learn our cool interests and read our witty criticisms of other people's work. That just doesn't happen, however.

Another interesting feature is that every time one at-mentions an author, they get notified and get to see your face on a profile picture and maybe drop a quick 'thanks', creating a feeling of self-importance. In blogs, you never know if your comment is even read.

That sounded a bit sarcastic but it's why Twitter has hundreds of millions of users; they are hoping for a retweet from their idols, big or small.

Here's my business card: Name, email, Twitter. Email is too serious, send me a tweet. So we do that, and Twitter has become a global identity. Not Facebook, not, not OpenID, not Google Plus. Our Twitter handle is our online persona, we use it to network with strangers, so we want to use it as much as possible.

I really see the rationale behind it. It's literally our internet username. There is no other website since the dawn of the internet that has managed to be used as a global identification system, and many have tried really hard.

And, like that, Twitter killed the blog comments.

So, what now? Well, now we adapt to this new situation, simple as that. On the positive side, it has increased comment quantity, even if at the huge expense of quality. And, in a world where a podcast debating politics only used to get 0.1% of its audience to comment, that may be a good thing.


You know what else Twitter is killing? Organic search and directories. Content discovery is now done via social media, and that definitely is a good thing. An audience of 10 committed listeners who are referred by a friend who knows their taste is worth 1000 random visits from Google. Those 1000 visits will never even listen to a minute of your audio. They'll think, "bah, it's not text/video" and close the browser tab.

Generalizing, there are two kinds of audio listeners, the ones who have a podcast app with their favorite shows and have integrated podcast listening into their daily workflows, like running or commuting, and the rest. That majority are casual listeners, who aren't used to consume content in an audio format. It's not that they don't have the time; some people will block half their morning to watch a Minecraft show on Youtube, but won't listen to a 40-minute podcast on their way to school.


Well, unless they really like it. There's no trick here, people only do stuff that either makes them feel good, or they get paid for.

How to get people to quickly check out our 90-minute podcast? They can't just skim audio as if it were text.

Here's where micro podcasts may help. A micro podcast could be defined as an audio file with the following characteristics:

  • Self contained, i.e. not an excerpt or a slice of a full show
  • No longer than 5-7 minutes
  • Has the same quality of a full show, including audio production and contents

My theory is that there is excellent podcast content, but unlike text and video, it is very difficult for a potential listener to decide if they are going to like it. Thus, they don't make the investment of listening to a couple long episodes to make that decision.

I'm currently experimenting with a podcast-in-a-tweet. It's like a regular micro podcast, but the main distribution channel is Twitter. The audio is actually hosted somewhere, but my marketing strategy is 100% focused on Twitter.

That's ideal because it appears in front of the audience exactly at a point when they are predisposed to consume content, since they are in fact browsing Twitter. Furthermore, they don't need to leave the page or perform another action, like subscribing or downloading a file.

Click and listen. Since the episode is very short, the user is still there, in front of a text box, when the show finishes. That directly invites the audience to participate and share while they are still inclined to do so, as opposed to long podcasts which are consumed in a scenario where the listener is unable to interact, like driving or jogging.

Us podcasters may succeed if we can lure the general audience into becoming sporadic audio consumers. Then we should fight to make them regular podcast listeners, but not before. We have to get the format out of the way, at least initially, and push our best content as digestible pills.


I don't know if that will work, it's a wild bet. Right now, since I just started, most of my audience still listens from a podcast app. I guess that old habits die hard, and a person who consumes many shows has little incentive to change their workflow. For them, the micropodcast is in the same category as a regular one, and treat is as such.

Let's try to reach out of our regular audience, the ones who don't have a podcast app. In a few months from now, and thanks to Twitter's new analytics, I'd love to see that the number of casual listeners surpasses the number of subscribers. My goal is not that they end up subscribing to the show, but rather to see a huge spike of social-driven listeners when a brilliant episode is produced, similar to what happens when awesome content is published in other formats.

If you are a podcaster or a listener, I'd love to hear your opinion. I really want to see people who never cared for audio listening to micro podcasts. That'd be an enormous achievement.

If you understand Spanish, you can follow my podcasts at 5 minutos con Carlos Fenollosa and Dame la voz, and recall episodes of the now defunct El Amuleto de Yendor.

Tags: internet, podcasting

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You are not late

October 12, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 1985 when almost any dot com name you wanted was available? All words; short ones, cool ones. All you had to do was ask for the one you wanted


But, but... here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet. The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we'd realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2044 were not invented until after 2014

You are not late

Tags: internet

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Hey NSA, as you sow, so shall you reap

September 25, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

It looks like the new "encrypted by default" policy on smartphones is freaking out law enforcement agencies. Honestly, what were they expecting? They have been abusing laws and courts for so long that we are starting to take measures to let private companies protect us from our governments. How twisted is that, huh?

"When I see a police officer now, instead of protected, I feel threatened." That's a bit demagogic but bears some truth. People seem to have interiorized that concept and we now prefer to have some privacy, regardless of what police think. Yes, we are so busy caring for our safety that we don't give a crap if that interferes with the FBI —probably necessary— counterterrorism work.

But wait, is that true? I mean, isn't that reasoning a bit flawed? Are people stupid or careless?

When you think about it for a minute, there is a crucial point. Who is more likely to have resources to circumvent police investigations? Of course, professional criminals. That's why you can't make a backup of your DVDs, but pirates can. Professionals always find a way, it's regular citizens who have no means to protect themselves.

This is a comic I made in 2005 (click to zoom).

It says, "The EU wants to keep a record of phone calls, SMS and emails as a security measure against terrorism." Then, an Al-Qaeda terrorist who's planning to bomb the twin towers starts using carrier pigeons. Both his phone and computer are wired to the CIA, but that's of no use now.

As time told, they passed that law, and now everyone's communications are under police eyes. It's ironic, but nowadays the communications protocol which is the most protected by law is... postal mail.

In the end, it is a false sense of security. We have to give our laptop password to a random guy on an airport and let him check our email and pictures while real terrorists have a decoy encrypted partition. They can manage all the hassle, we can't, so they win.

Or better, they will carry paper documents in a briefcase. Expect next decades' spy films to stop portraying criminals as cyberpunk hackers and go back to the 50's analogic look. In the age of Apple Watches, nobody will suspect that a Casio watch hides a microfilm with the schematics for a bomb.

Tags: internet, law

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Allowing strangers 24/7 access to you

September 02, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

Marco posted about some internet drama and I found the second part of the post quite enlightening.

We allow people access to us 24/7. We're always in public, constantly checking an anonymous comment box, trying to explain ourselves to everyone, and trying to win unwinnable arguments with strangers who don’t matter in our lives at all.

That is exactly spot on, and that is why I always recommend disabling all notifications on your phone except for a few important people on Whatsapp. Otherwise, any random person on the internet can ruin your day at any time with an offensive comment on any public website.

Tags: internet, life

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Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet

August 15, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

Nice piece by Alexis C. Madrigal on why the email will live long and strong for many years to come. Furthermore, I agree with thim that all these startups trying to replace it with some other proprietary protocol are pretty much doomed.

IM didn't kill the email and it has been around since the nineties; phone messengers have taken some of its market quota and use cases, but THE messaging protocol is still email.

Who knows, maybe in five years I have to eat my words. Meanwhile, I'm positive that it was a good choice of a protocol for feenbox

Tags: feenbox, internet

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Spanish media just shot themselves in the foot -- or maybe in the head

July 24, 2014 — Carlos Fenollosa

In Spain we have an old proverb, La avaricia rompe el saco. Literally "greed bursts the sack"; it means that if you fill a purse with too many coins it will break and you will end up with none.


This week, the Spanish Congress passed a law with two main goals:

  • Ban torrenting sites, i.e. that is link-only sites (not content hosts), which is a totally different topic.
  • Make social aggregators pay media publishers for the use of news excerpts.

More details can be found on this Gizmodo article

If this weren't so serious I'd say that news lobbies pressing against the right to quote, you know, the one their business is based on, is ironic.

But this is so outrageously hypocritical that it's not ironic, it's immoral and vomitive. Disgusting. Greedy to the extreme. This is a capital crime against ethics.

So why did they just do that?


Last year, Google was forced to pay French publishers for use of their content. Spanish publisher lobby AEDE (lack of link intended) saw here a huge opportunity: let's do the same and get free money from Google.

Google is so big that's it's an easy target. Demagogy is so simple; Google is a tech giant that does fiscal engineering to avoid paying taxes and profits from our content. Yes, that's true. But Google does exactly what these publishers do: curate what others say and provide citations to strengthen and validate their job.

But then, Google's natural reaction would have been, "You don't want my traffic? Wish granted! Next time, be careful what you wish". However, AEDE had anticipated this, so with the new law content providers can't opt out by not linking to AEDE's affiliated media. F*ck off genie, we wished for infinite wishes!

It's so effortless to lobby in a corrupt and manipulated environment where politicians don't even know what a link is.


But wait, there's more.

Once you start considering the implications of having to pay to hyperlink, things get worse. A study conducted by Coalición Prointernet, a lobby against this law, states the obvious:

  • It has not been proven that content aggregation limits the editor's earnings. Of course; it's the opposite, it actually drives them more traffic—300M yearly visits, according to an admin of one of those sites.
  • There is no basis to establish an inalienable compensation towards media editors and, if it were any, this new legislation is not the best way to go.
  • The new law reduces legal security for Spanish internet companies.
  • Media aggregation is necessary and positive from a "freedom of speech" standpoint. Unavailability of aggregators can drive small publishers to extinction and leave users without an important tool to diversify their media consumption.

Please read and think about the last point again, because it is very, very important.


Let's summarize what is happening here:

Big media editors AEDE, most of which pro-government, in collusion with the corrupt Spanish politicians have managed a masterstroke which they think will:

  1. Get them free money
  2. Destroy the discoverability of smaller media competitors, usually critical with the government
  3. Hinder the future of Spanish internet tech business, their main competitor
  4. Get more exposure, since readers won't have access to media agreggation and will resort to reading just one or two outlets

In reality, what is likely to happen is:

  1. Google will close Google News Spain, no big problem
  2. Spanish media aggregators will move their business abroad and won't contribute taxes to the country
  3. Tech entrepreneurs will realize that Spain is a shitty country to invest money on
  4. Without Google, the aggregators, and thanks to the increasing user boycott to AEDE media, those editors will lose traffic and money.

This is so, so sad.

It is clear that traditional media companies are suffering because of the internet revolution and need to fight in some way. However, they are cutting their own nose to spite the face. And, in the way, they are denying others a right, not a banal one, but the right to quote, which news business is built on.

I honestly think that traditional media is absolutely necessary even today. They are the ones who report, research, discover, analyze and interpret what's happening in the world. Specially in Spain, where we don't have these modern US internet-only media companies which don't just feast on press releases but do real journalism.

This is not a cry against traditional media. People, most of all, need them. But people also need aggregators to contrast different views on news. Aggregators need media because it's impossible to talk about news without a headline and an excerpt to reveal what's going on. And media, most of all, needs aggregators and people to survive in today's world.

Now the law has been passed. Though it needs to be ratified in the Senate, it is a pantomime because the majorities are the same as in Congress and also Congress has the last word even if the Senate votes against it (take that, Montesquieu!). What will media editors do when they start losing money and realize the harm they have done to themselves, the Government, Spanish media consumers and the Spanish tech industry?

Next time you think somebody is stupid, remember that the Spanish press just got in a war with Google, Facebook and Twitter because they want them to stop linking to their content.

Crazy world we live in, huh?

Tags: law, internet, news

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