My Internet: Anil Dash

The internet pioneer prefers pure expression to maximizing audience and revenue.

Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, from Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci.🧩

Every Friday, we quiz a very cool “very online” person to get their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.

Today we welcome Anil Dash, an entrepreneur, activist, writer, and early and influential blogger and Twitter user. He’s also the CEO of Glitch, a community for developers to collaboratively build web apps: “If you want to make stuff on the web, check out Glitch. I am hoping that people will soon stop being limited by these tools that want you to put one link in your Instagram bio.”

Anil supports the ideals behind NFTs despite all the grifting, hates surveillance-based and algorithmically-run business models, and shares how he has stayed sane after 20 years on social media. —Nick

What's a recent meme or other post that cracked you up?

It’s a perennial, but every time Matt Damon ends up back in the news, like 20 people will send me the “I live in my own heart, Matt Damon” quote and I appreciate it each time.

Would you say that you have an Instagram aesthetic? How would you describe it?

I am *terrible* at Instagram. I think my aesthetic is hopelessly dadcore, but I’m okay with that. I just don’t use it much and I like having a form of social media that I don’t feel any FOMO over, or any compulsion to be good at it.

What type of stuff do you watch on YouTube?

I obey what the algorithm tells me, which has become disturbingly dad-like as well. European dudes restoring old machinery. Deep technical analyses of old video games or computers. Obsessive urbanism assessments of street plans and bike lanes. Incredibly nerdy stuff, for which I am grateful to find others who share my embarrassing interests.

Do you use TikTok? If so, how would you describe what shows up on your For You Page?

I use tiktok in the best way possible, which is without the app, only subsisting on others curating tiktoks for me on other platforms. This way I don’t get sucked into the algorithm but I still get to see all of the fun/funny stuff.

When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?

It always shows up in my Google image search results, thanks to whatever dark magic they’ve performed to game those search results. So, I’ll be doing research for an article I’m writing, flip over to an image search, and suddenly everything is Pinterest. Meanwhile, when I’m doing actual Pinterest-style things like decorating or whatever, it’s never a help for me.

Do you ever tweet? Why?

Far too much. The psychological motivation is probably about how I like to think out loud, and so this is a way of finding commiseration with half a million people by rambling about what’s on my mind in hopes that it’ll resonate with a few of them. The practical explanation is that, despite how awful Twitter can be, there’s still so much fun stuff and you can connect with people who are into whatever obscure thing you’re fascinated by. That’s still one of those great internet-only things. The boring answer is that people are constantly asking me to amplify stuff, and I feel guilty if I don’t.

Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?

Yyyyeah, it’s bad. Like, many years ago (I think it was 2007?) I wrote a blog post about some of the earliest memes, like LOLcats. Somehow it caught on, and got shared, and something like a million people read it. The same thing happened a few years ago when I wrote about JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out. And every time something like that gets big, there’s all these folks that want you to turn it into a whole thing, to pimp your viral crap on some TV show, or churn out a quick book about it, and it’s all such schlocky garbage. I think a big reason I’ve been able to stay sane despite being on social media for 20 years is always having resisted becoming one of those one-trick-pony meme people.

Who's the coolest person who follows you?

Oh wow. I got really geeked out when Quincy Jones followed me on Twitter. AOC followed me early on in her candidacy because she wasn’t that big yet, and now she would probably be too cool for that. Same deal with Mero.

Who's someone more people should follow?

I think Andréa López, @bluechoochoo on Twitter, is super smart & funny about the intersection of tech & media. Everest Pipkin is brilliant on all platforms, their art and creativity are just constantly blowing my mind. Tressie McMillan Cottom is hardly a best-kept secret, but she’s brilliant and a longtime friend and everyone should follow everything she does.

Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?

Missy Elliott. She’s so upbeat and positive and sincere and loving, and she even encourages her fans to support her without putting any other artists down, instead of feeding stan wars. I just love her so much. Anita Baker is also brilliant, because she is a total straight-shooter about the music industry while also being unconflicted about being a living legend.

Where do you tend to get your news?

I used to get everything from Twitter like a true monster, but I installed a few of the big news apps just to see what their push notifications are like, and it’s not so bad!

What's your favorite non-social media app?

Oh I have so many. Right now it’s Procreate, which despite its cringe-inducing name is a wonderful drawing app for the iPad. I have no drawing ability whatsoever, yet this thing makes me feel like I can create, and that’s kind of magical. I also get to see a lot of fun and weird apps in my day job, since we make a tool for creating apps. One of the standouts there is Kalidoface, which lets you control a 3D avatar in real-time using just your webcam. Right now it’s mostly being used by vtubers, but it feels like only a matter of time until it’s doing a virtual character in a movie or something.

What are you willing to pay for online?

I’m kind of a zealot about this, so I try to pay for as much as I can. I support a lot of Patreons and Substacks, I pay for Medium and once I found out creators got a cut, I subscribed to YouTube Premium, too. Between that and the music services, it’s… a lot. But I just hate surveillance-based and algorithmically-run business models so much that it feels like I should put my money where my mouth is.

Are you a fan of any NFT art or artists? Do you have strong feelings about blockchain tech or cryptocurrencies?

I have a lot of feelings and emotions on this. I want these things to be good for artists, and one could argue that I bought the first NFT ever sold. But there’s also so much obvious grifting going on that I can’t get over my negative feelings about much of it. I suppose my short answer is, if they can live up to the ideal, I’ll be glad. My long answer is this whole thing I wrote in The Atlantic.

Are you into any podcasts right now?

I don’t have enough time to listen to podcasts as I’d like, but the official Prince podcast has been doing such a great, thoughtful job of exploring his work, so I’m loving that. Same with Questlove Supreme, he’s doing a wonderful job of getting stories from artists that are different than the same anecdotes they’ve been telling the press for years.

Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?

Yeah I have been a Today in Tabs guy from its original incarnation, and I think I mentioned Tressie’s Essaying. My friend David Yee does an illustrated page every day called The Daily Kona, telling a story of how his young daughter is doing, and it’s got more soul than like 99.99% of everything on the internet.

Do you have an opinion on Clubhouse or its clones, like Twitter Spaces?

I have a lot of issues with how Clubhouse was rolled out into the world. I see fewer & fewer people plugging something interesting that’s happening there. I rarely participate in Twitter Spaces, but they seem like a lightweight, useful addition to the platform, so I’m more bullish on that.

Are you nostalgic for Vine or Tumblr? Why?

Yeah for sure. Some [of it] is the people—I knew some of the creators of the platforms, and early influencers. But also I just like internet stuff that’s more purely expressive, joyful or weird as opposed to maximizing audience and revenues.

Do you consider yourself part of any specific online communities?

That’s interesting. I feel more like an interested outsider in many online communities. Like, I’ve always been adjacent to parts of tech Twitter (I don’t work at a big tech co) or parts of Black Twitter (obviously, I’m not Black) or media Twitter (I don’t work at a media company) as they’re things I care about and have close friends in, but don’t belong to myself. Similarly, I tend to engage with a lot of the YouTube creators whose work I appreciate, but I’m obviously not one of them. That feels fine to me, I like to be a fan of people and communities that do cool things.

Are you regularly in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What are they about?

I’ve dialed way back on all that stuff except a few small group chats on each of those platforms.

Are you a gamer? What are you playing right now?

My son is a big gamer, so he introduces me to stuff. If left to my own devices, I’ll just putter around in Breath of the Wild indefinitely. Something about the design and implementation of that game just seems transcendent to me.

Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?

Never. I don’t mind getting them since they’re infrequent.

Do any of your group chats have a name that you're willing to share? What's something that recently inspired debate in the chat?

I’m very respectful of privacy rules about group chats. :)

What's your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?

🙏🏾💜 together. I don’t know what it means literally, it’s just a vibe.

What's the most specific or niche music playlist that you like?

I do a lot of my writing and other focused work to a chopped & screwed playlist that I’ve been keeping for years. Not sure why hearing the self-titled Beyonce album screwed makes me productive, but it does!

Who topped your Spotify Wrapped last year?

I don’t think I even checked.

If you could only keep Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, or one other streaming service, which would it be, and why?

Would have to be Disney+, for my kid. But for me it’s actually probably Apple TV+.

What's the most basic thing that you love online?

I never tire of “this you?” dunks.

Do you ever comment on or reply to posts?

Not anymore, really.

Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What's a recent thing you've bought or sold?

I somehow had never given myself permission to buy stuff on eBay, like it was forbidden. But I bought a t-shirt that I had had back in the 90s but lost along the way and was delighted to re-find. So now I’m catching on to the joys of eBay, 20 years late.

Is there any content you want that you can't seem to find anywhere online?

Yeah basically all the great pop remixes of the 90s aren’t on any streaming services. It’s wild how much stuff has been lost.

What's one thing you recommend for maintaining a healthy relationship with the internet?

Don’t mistake parasocial relationships for real ones. Don’t rely on anything that contradicts the business model of the platform you’re using.

What's the worst thing about the internet in 2021? How about the best thing?

The worst is how it enriches genuinely bad actors who are making the world worse. The best is the same as always—you can find the other people who share your obsession or passion, and connect with them.

Thanks Anil! Sign up for Glitch, read his writing, and follow him on Twitter. 🙏🏾💜

Read the previous My Internet posts with Folu Akinkuotu, Kyle ChaykaRyan BroderickPatricia HernandezBen SmithRachel Charlene LewisKimberly Nicole FosterMiles KleeConnie WangCat ZhangJosh Gondelman, Andrea González-RamírezRumaan AlamHua Hsu, and Alicia Kennedy.