Plausible social deniability (Ricky Weekly #37)

This is where I share 3 things every week with my friends and anyone else interested.

A picture from my life:

This moment of pure joy was from yesterday when Blue Team beat Red Team in a game of Codenames.

Thing on my mind:

Wow, Ricky Weekly…more like Ricky Monthly! I have never skipped four weeks ever since starting the newsletter. Last year when I was funemployed it was pretty easy to take one of the few interesting thoughts I have during the week, organize it a bit in writing and just send it out to friends. But ever since starting a new company this year, I’ve been working at a much higher level of intensity so it feels like I’m exposed to way more interesting ideas during the week, but with way less time to process them, let alone write about them. But that intensity is why I love startups, so I hope this is a fluke and that the newsletter can still fit into my routine as a founder because it’s really rewarding!

I’ll tell you what my life is like these days. Like you all, I’ve been sheltering in-place. The transition to WFH was seamless because David and I are lucky that we work in tech and we don’t have kids. Instead of coffee shops, we just have a persistent Zoom going all day. We sync up our Pomodoro sessions like we do in real-life so we don’t end up talking too much. I’ve been enjoying cooking more and bought exercise bands so I can have better workouts at home. The Peloton app 90-day free trial is pretty good and I’ve also found great YouTube videos to keep me honest during my workouts. I was never much of an outdoorsy person, but these days I try to go outside before the sun sets for a walk or run. I’ve been living in the same place for more than four years and I just discovered two amazing parks and some wonderful looking houses in the neighborhood!

There are days when I feel particularly lonely during SIP, but fortunately David and I are working on social products so I get to experiment with various ways of connecting with people. One thing that’s been really cool this past week was a toy project we made to bring back the “status update” for small groups. It’s led to me feeling more connected with old college and high school friends. My high school friends even decided to do a Zoom because the status updates brought everyone together again! Even experiments that weren’t as interesting like short catch-up calls with friends gave me excuses to rekindle lost connections. I find that once you’ve rekindled a lost connection in a meaningful way, you’re back on top of each other’s minds and connecting gets easier for a period afterwards. How might we design products to provide us more meaningful opportunities to rekindle connections?

Speaking of small groups, I’ve been describing the group chats we’re in as organized around “historical accidents.” You may be in a group chat with high school friends who hung out by the cafeteria, college friends who lived in the same dorm, friends who all went to that surprise birthday party or camping trip, or just a group of friends that someone in the group arbitrary decided to circle together as his/her “crew” and we just went with it. These groups may approximate the real group of people you care about, but never perfectly. Instead of “historical accidents,” one of my investor calls it “plausible social deniability,” and I think that’s a better way to think about it. It’s extremely uncomfortable to circle people into a group so you need “plausible social deniability.” If 5 people work together at the same company but only 4 are in this group chat, it feels awkward to exclude the last person unless you can say something like, “these 4 are the 4 people that always go to Costco for lunch on Tuesdays.” Basically you want to have an excuse for excluding people that doesn’t make you the bad person. Solving problems for consumers is tough because the language is less precise. My thinking is much clearer now that I’ve been introduced to “plausible social deniability.” Do you have concepts like that about human social behavior that you’d want to share with me?

Piece of content I recommend:

Some Good News with John Krasinski

For the past five weeks, I’ve been watching Some Good News with John Krasinski and I cry happy tears every time. Why is John Krasinski so good at making me cry? My friend Jessica has the answer:

Anyway, if you haven’t seen SGN, watch it and know that I’m sending virtual virus-free hugs your way. 🤗

As always, you can find out what I’m thinking in more real-time on Twitter and my essays are on my website. My latest essay is called From Socialcam to TikTok: How we figured out video social in a decade