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Unmasking Startup L. Jackson (bloomberg.com)
357 points by jackgavigan on Mar 17, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments



Previous unmasking (without naming him) based on screenshots from his account:

https://syrah.co/joshdickson40/5604e5e10fc1786b0152a51a


So was he right?


Yeah, I'm surprised by how many people still ask me this. There's proof in the piece, but I also write long so I don't blame you if you missed it :)


Great article.

I have to commend you on your sleuthing, but even more so for not unmasking Thompson when you had the chance.


I just read it. Great writing - appreciate it. Very ingenious to look at the wallpaper to find the answer.


Your blog post which I assume is connected to aproduct would have gotten a lot more traction is you had actually outed him.


It might have, but I don't think it would have been the right type of attention. I think outing would have been wrong, and even if I didn't feel that way, I think a lot of tech folks would have really come down hard on me in the future. The tech world is amazingly small and insular in my experience, and as someone trying to break into that world, the last thing you want to do is give everyone a reason to never take your call.

I somewhat regret the appearance of a conflict of interest on my part there (that would not have been present if I had put it on Medium, for instance), because it really did look like a growth hack on my part, and I can't stand when people do things like this for traffic. It was certainly nice to see the traffic, but that's not why I did it.

Syrah - the site that it's on - was sort of an engineering proof of concept for me. I wanted to design something a little like Medium so I could better understand what was involved, and that's what it is. It was a pretty major effort to do it all on my own and I definitely learned a lot. I wanted to take that experience and use it for another, much larger project, where we built a CMS that could power websites, apps, etc, and let people white label it for their own use (sorta think Wordpress, but for more than just websites). Ultimately YC didn't take us and I ended up falling into another project that I'm working on now. I'd love to revisit someday, but for now, I just use Syrah to write things because I put so much time and love into it. Sometimes they are large (I broke a lot of the Tango issues: https://syrah.co/joshdickson40/565f62f40eaac8b79f519b17), sometimes they are not (https://syrah.co/joshdickson40/56aead844b23e3498c0392a1).


Nice to see someone with ethics though.


Can you please tell now the proof in your piece? Pretty please!



Yes - in the article he shows tweets from Startup L. Jackson that feature their conversation.


Why? I mean why is it important to identify who's behind something that doesn't hurt anybody? Can't we just enjoy the art?


A fair question :/

Unfortunately your answer is this thread itself. As I am writing this comment it is Link #1 on HN. That is to say that people love this kind of content and it drives pageviews, so media outlets are incentivized to write about it. We have only ourselves to blame :/


People are just curious by nature. In this case, appears that the guy just wanted everyone to know who he is; bit ironic to me.


In this particular case? Because SLJ himself decided to. In TFA, it mentions that a) SLJ hasn't posted since December 31, and b) voluntarily gave an interview.

> Now that Startup L. is retired, Thompson doesn’t mind the secret getting out.


@raphman_ posted this link which directly addresses this question: https://syrah.co/joshdickson40/5604e5e10fc1786b0152a51a

I hadn't seen this, good read if you haven't either.


I am not talking my own book here because I was looking into it for other reasons mentioned in the linked piece - but, you can absolutely make the case that because the account's influence had grown so large, there was significant potential for conflict of interest that the public ought to know about. That sounds crazy, but that's also how big the account got.

Now, I obviously disagree with that opinion, but I'm also not a member of the media. It was also apparent after looking into it that there was absolutely no COA that would have justified outing him at the time.


I've found @DEVOPS_BORAT to be funny too. Kept seeing his tweets for over a year or two; humorous ones about devops, from an imaginary Armenian devops guy with broken English. Seems to have stopped tweeting a while ago.


When it comes to devops on twitter I've found @fart's stuff to be pretty great. Particularly this: https://medium.com/weird/why-i-am-the-most-important-devops-... - a little sample below:

"This data is encapsulated in what are called “Data Beans” which are stored on the hard drive as zeroes (Optimal bean or “prime bean”) and ones (Flatbean or “bad bean”). These Data Beans are stored magnetically and retrieved as necessary. If a user requests too much data at one time they can suffer from data poisoning.

The computer’s RAM also stores Data Beans in the cloud. No one knows how this is done or why "


Also, @fart (aka Jon Hendren) pulled off one of the best examples of trolling the media I've ever seen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WqCj_3U0Lc


Here is a super interesting article about a troll - http://priceonomics.com/the-hoaxster-who-revealed-sad-truths...


Oh when you posted a YouTube link I thought it was the Star Wars script "leak" - but yes you're right that Edward Snowden video is absolutely excellent!


Isn't he the dude that trolled himself with the 'Smashmouth eat the eggs' thing and the consequences thereof.


That may have been @arr - David Thorpe (edit: you were right actually)


Both of them are/were contributors to Something Awful's frontpage media

David's also really talented at trolling (though in this instance, the show was in on the joke): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdUHDDj7fhk


Oh, beans from a fart, wow, though it should really be the other way around ...


That is hilarious! Thanks.


since this has devolved into everyone's favorite tech-related parody accounts, i'll throw https://twitter.com/iamdevloper and https://twitter.com/NeckbeardHacker into the mix.


Also some occasional javascript related gems here: https://twitter.com/realDonaldJS


@sadserver (https://twitter.com/sadserver) and @sadoperator (https://twitter.com/sadoperator) also have a bunch of gems!


Borat is supposed to be from Kazakhstan, not Armenia. Did @DEVOPS_BORAT break canon?


@DEVOPS_BORAT has Kazakhstan[1] listed as the location in their profile, so no. :)

[1] https://twitter.com/devops_borat


Ah, thanks for the catch. I sometimes mix up or forget the exact names or locations of those Central Asian countries, also the ones in the Caucasus and the Balkans. Have to keep googling and looking at maps to get it right. Will get better over time, am still somewhat new to them ...


Yeah, about three years ago now.


And last tweet explained why. I hope found job.


My top five contenders for the author were:

@davemcclure - Dave McClure

@pt - Parker Thompson

@tylerschultz - Tyler Schultz

@supernate - Nate Clark

@dsboulder

I could never narrow it down to one of them. I had a simple theory: in the beginning, Startup L. Jackson's Twitter followers had a higher probability of following the real author's account, and they would have probably followed the author before Startup L. Jackson.

All I had to do was get the list of people following SLJ (which Twitter provides in reverse chronological order), then find who those people followed before SLJ. The people above were followed by at least six of SLJ's first 500 followers, making them prime contenders, but as I said, I never found a smoking gun for any of them.


This was one of the weaknesses that was fixed. You might have noticed that at the time of my post, if you had pulled this list again, @pt ceased following @StartupLJackson.


That shouldn't have mattered much - I assumed the author's real account wouldn't follow their parody to avoid giving clues.

What I expected to find was that, if I looked at who SLJ's first 100 followers followed, I'd find some accounts they disproportionately followed prior to following SLJ. And I did find that - the people followed by the first 100 (prior to SLJ) pointed to a Pivotal connection. Because many of them were following @pt, it wouldn't have made much difference if @pt didn't follow SLJ.

I'm going to try @devops_borat now...


Ah, I misread what you were saying. You're right, that really makes it hard to narrow down. You should have tried cold emailing them all at the same time to see if anyone replied positively!


@PHP_CEO is one of the funniest Twitter accounts I've seen.. example: "IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT SOMEONE CALLED JASON HAS BEEN ENCODING AND DECODING DATA IN OUR APP. PLEASE CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS"


PHP Ceo's response to one of sama's tweets [1] had me literally laughing out loud:

".@sama SO I SHOULD SELL SOFTWARE… AS A SERVICE?

WOULD I DO THIS ON COMPUTERS?

PLS ADVISE

THIS SAGACITY IS SURELY WORTH 10% OF MY COMPANY"

"@sama IF YOU HAVE ANY INSIGHTS ON HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE THIS WOULD ALSO BE APPRECIATED"

[1] https://twitter.com/sama/status/652242405966483456


Do parody accounts now form the most diverting Twitter content? It ain't an endorsement of the medium.

addendum: fair enough; make that "parody | satire".


While PHP_CEO might be distracting entertainment, some of the best accounts, including the ones mentioned on this thread (@StartupLJackson, @SwiftOnSecurity, @internetofshit, etc.) are not parody but satire, which is definitely a worthy use of the medium.


I mostly follow scientists in my field, which is a good way to hear about developments that are relevant but slightly adjacent to my specific interests, and also the politics of science



also check out @DEVOPS_BORAT, hilarious. but sadly no longer tweeting.


https://twitter.com/startupljackson is the twitter site.

We need a list of sometimes anonymous, poignant and politically incorrect twitter feeds for other industries.

For Finance, check out https://twitter.com/ReformedBroker ("Downtown" Josh Brown) and "gselevator" https://twitter.com/GSElevator) (author was also eventually unmasked)

"Teach the coal miners and frackers Python and Ruby."

classic.



I like @Wu_Tang_Finance (https://twitter.com/Wu_Tang_Finance).


this is a bad feed. trust me. here's their only two good jokes: "cash rules everything around me, except when other asset classes offer better risk-adjusted returns" and "straight outta wharton, a crazy n-- in a cubicle" - everything else they tweet is garbage


I've been following @SarcasticRover for a while, do robots count?


"Celebrate 'Pi Day' by being irrational and going on forever."

good! thanks.


In that case: @horse_js


which reminds me of @horse_ebooks kind of off topic but so relevant :)


horse_js isn't a bot, it's several people.

From what I hear.




Why do you think SLJ was politically incorrect? He never said anything rude or ignorant.

He often tweeted about diversity and inclusion and coined the term "culture debt" for startups.

update: okay I think the words pc and un un pc have become meaningless because they mean too many different things.


I think OP was using "politically incorrect" in its original definition - i.e., speaking in a way counter to what's politically popular/accepted by the elite.

Which in Startup L. Jackson's case was definitely true - he called out a lot of the Valley's cultural myopia, excesses, and failures in a way that he would have been unable to do without the pseudonymity or pretense of satire.

Unfortunately the word has also been co-opted by some to mean "liberal" or "progressive", which is a shame.


Wikipedia: In the early-to-mid 20th century, the phrase "politically correct" was associated with the dogmatic application of Stalinist doctrine [...] In the 1970s, the New Left began using the term "politically correct."


Thereafter, the term was often used as self-critical satire. Debra L. Shultz said that "throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the New Left, feminists, and progressives... used their term 'politically correct' ironically, as a guard against their own orthodoxy in social change efforts."

Everybody always misses that part.


The word has been co-opted as such because the dominant groupthink of the boomers now in power is decidedly progressive.


Err, not really, the "boomers now in power" are the ones complaining about an excess of political correctness. See Donald Trump and his supporters, Fox News, UKIP or Tony Abbott in Australia.


> speaking in a way counter to what's politically popular/accepted by the elite

> Unfortunately the word has also been co-opted by some to mean "liberal" or "progressive"

Because what is tolerated by the elite and what is called "liberal" or "progressive" are two completely separate things, in particular with respect to academic elites, right.


For that matter it is not clear that the term "politically incorrect" has any useful meaning anymore, now that it has been a rhetorical football for so long.


What's politically correct is often both rude and ignorant. Just think of what views were PC about various ethnicities in Germany in the 30s.

Of course nobody in power (or who wanted to be accepted by society) would say those views were rude or ignorant. It was only after politics changed that people would look back and call the formerly dominant ideology what it was.

The question is, what beliefs does society currently enforce that are wrong? Don't answer publicly, since by definition there would be a serious social cost for you speaking what society doesn't want spoken.

Or have we maybe outdone every preceding generation and actually managed to be right about every belief we hold dear?


"Politically incorrect" now means "something which is slightly edgy, and which I like."


What always impressed me was the quality of the humor, like a young Chris Rock unafraid and insightful.


You know the startup community has an ego problem when Bloomberg does an entire puff piece about an anonymous twitter satire profile who happened to be gasp a VC.


Have to be honest, I'm surprised how little effort it took to 'unmask' him. Usually when people try and find out the actual identities of anonymous internet celebrities, it becomes a sort of investigation where they have to put all the pieces together.

But that doesn't seem to be the case here, unless the story is missing a few steps.


Was he unmasked, or did he just voluntarily disclose his identity? Seems like he went to Bloomberg and offered them a scoop.


The story is missing a few steps.


We would really love if you published the piece, an extended version with all the gory details perhaps, that you wanted to but did not! Pretty please with 2 cherries on top!


I was always a big fan of https://twitter.com/hipsterhacker

He's for the most part inactive, but occasionally drips out something acerbically relevant.


Wow.. this guy with 93 tweets has 53k followers... that feels like its the highest followers/tweet I've ever seen. f/t (gotta trademark this)


Highest ratio I've ever seen is from Sean Lock with 2 tweets and almost 95k followers.

https://twitter.com/theseanlock?lang=en


HipsterHacker is always a hoot. I'm reasonable certain the person has a day job, though.


I miss @devops_borat, I don't recall if that person was ever outed but some of his one liners really nailed it.


As far as parody/satire accounts go, I'm a huge fan of @BoredElonMusk. I hadn't even noticed that there haven't been tweets from Startup L. Jackson in months...


I quite like @shit_hn_says


See also: @Actually_HN


This one is still regularly updated, nice.


His advice became a hit for one reason, his handle. Far too often is the name of something downplayed as not being important, but it is. Its catchy, a gimmick, and people love it.


So so many words to say nothing but "someone in the tech industry has a sense of humor, was anonymous for a while"

> “But there just aren’t that many people who are in the industry who will respond to you if you have 500 followers, you know? They’re just like, ‘Who the f--- are you? Leave me alone.’ ”

Ugh, Twitter.


In Silicon Valley, a place he calls “obsessed with status and pedigree,” could someone’s ideas get traction when it wasn’t clear if the speaker was a state-school dropout or someone with a $100 million checkbook?

That sounds very different than the meritocracy narrative. It would explain why women and most minorities are so excluded.

I know the next sentence says he succeeded, but that's just one Twitter account and doesn't represent a broader trend.


Can you expand on what sounds very different? On its face your comment is self-contradictory.


A place "obsessed with status and pedigree" is not a meritocracy. Success depends on status and pedigree and not on merit.




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