In From the Cold

In From the Cold
The 1965 film version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Well hello there. If you're reading this, you likely (hopefully) signed up to received updates about the project I've been calling "Spyglass" several weeks ago. Or you're one of the many subscribers that I moved over from 5ish, my previous newsletter that I published for a few years on Substack,1 which itself was ported over from a newsletter I ran on Revue.2 Those newsletters are no more, you'll only hear from Spyglass going forward.3 First off, thank you! Second, let's go...

What is Spyglass?

It's pretty straightforward. Spyglass is a link blog, a column, and a newsletter, all written by me, M.G. Siegler. I used to do this for a living, but it was a different era. Newsletters were less of a thing after being one of the original things. Blogs were a thing and now they're less of a thing again. Somewhere along the way, writing on the internet got more professional and decidedly less fun.

My aim here is to merge these concepts into one package. Think of it as sort of a hybrid between what John Gruber has done with Daring Fireball – as in, shorter posts linking out to other sites with commentary, mixed with what Ben Thompson has done with Stratechery – as in, longer analysis in newsletter form. I also draw some inspiration here from what Matt Levine has done with Money Stuff, the newsletter he writes for Bloomberg. Not necessarily the tone, as that's uniquely him and very funny. More so the idea that he came from an insular and insider-y world, in his case, a career as a banker at Goldman Sachs, to be able to use that context to inform his writing. That is to say, he knows his stuff.

After a dozen years in venture capital, I'd like to think I know some stuff in both this field and the general startup and technology ecosystem as well. I don't know everything, obviously. But over the past decade-plus I've found myself very, very annoyed at times after reading things on the internet. The truth is that a lot of it is just uninformed or misinformed bullshit.4 And yet plenty of people, including those that should know better, tout it constantly as a source of truth. Just because it was written and published somewhere. I witnessed this on a daily basis. I feel like I can do better. I know I can't do worse. So there's that.

Anyway, all of the above is to say that none of this is a novel concept, but it feels like we're in a unique place and time for all of this to come together. Xitter, the artist formerly known as Twitter which I refused to call by its new name, has basically killed off the formerly common practice of sharing links (which more or less killed off the aforementioned link blogs). And there are now models that seem to work for individual writers on the web. Models that aren't based around advertising. Which is just fantastic. I do plan to offer a paid tier of Spyglass pretty soon, but for now the content will flow freely, as I get my sea legs back, as it were.

And so I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide, as a writer. A writer who invests, rather than an investor who writes.

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Why 'Spyglass'?

For years I've been dwelling on the above concepts. And I always knew that if and when I did it, I would want to do it removed from the epicenter of the ecosystem. That is, away from the Bay Area. I lived there for 15 years, and for the most part, it was great. Sure, things got a bit dicey towards the end, with the shoplifting and smashed windows and all that, but all-in-all it was just a fantastic place to live. Especially in the era I lived there. I like to think of it as kind of like Paris in the 1920s, with all the artists. Except with apps.

Anyway, again, I knew that if I was going to go back to focus on writing, I would want to do it from afar. As someone who grew up in Ohio, I always thought about that when trying to ground my perspective on tech topics. But the truth is that as I sunk deeper and deeper into the Bay Area soil, I knew I was losing that perspective. And so I aim to gain it again. Have I mentioned that my family has moved to London? Hello from afar!

For a long while, I actually assumed I would call this site "From Afar". But honestly, I didn't love the way the domain name looked in the URL bar. So I was always thinking about tangential ideas for a name. "Spyglass" popped into my head whilst popping into my field of view one day earlier this year in an antique shop. I both love the word and the direct tie in to an old school piece of technology for peering at something from afar.

And while spies don't necessarily use spyglasses, we're going to rope that theme in too. It's my site, I can do what I want. I love all things James Bond. And John le CarrΓ© (who didn't love James Bond). And Spy vs. Spy. Spies Like Us was a movie my dad would always show me when I was a kid. And then there's Spy magazine, a brand I always admired. Of course there was the long defunct Spyglass company which help or hurt the commercialization of the web browser, depending on your perspective.5

All of that is to say that I liked the way the URL looked.6

And so here we are. Day 1 of Spyglass. Something I intend to be doing for quite some time. I have grander plans as well, if you must know. But that's for another day. For now, thank you for being a part of the journey with me. And if you're not yet signed up, feel free to do so! The next post today will dive a bit more into how I envision the content mix, and then I promise it will be off to the races, not just these meta posts.7 Ahoy!

1 A platform which now seems decidedly problematic, to say the least. Though, to be honest, I made the call to go with the service Ghost for this project long ago...

2 Itself another newsletter platform, which Twitter sadly caught and killed back in the day.

3 But what about 500ish, my Medium publication which I've been publishing to sporadically for over a decade now, you may ask? Good question! Consider Spyglass to be its spiritual successor -- including the aspiration to keep things brief and readable. I will, however, still undoubtedly write from time to time on my personal blog, also run on Medium, for content that doesn't make sense here. Like perhaps when I'm next bitten by a poisonous centipede and almost lose my hand as a result? Have I mentioned I moved to London? Fuck them bugs.

4 It is, of course, more complicated than my dismissive snark. The problem stems from the fact that those who hold perfect information have little-to-no incentive to share it -- and often are directly incentivized not to share it! At the same time, those who want to share such information, have little-to-no actual real information or often worse, have biased information without realizing the perverse incentive structure by which they obtained said information. It's really complicated. It's a hard job being a reporter. I was one! That's not my intent here, because there are, of course, things I still cannot talk about per above. But my aim is simple: to provide what information or insight that I can which will be proven right in the end. Hopefully I can point you all in the right direction. A view through a spyglass...

5 Spyglass, the company, of course, was an early foil to Netscape, with both trying to commercialize (different versions of) the Mosaic web browser. After some early success, Netscape clearly was winning that battle, and so Spyglass eventually licensed their tech to Microsoft to launch Internet Explorer... (Which came back to bite them!) Anyway, we're a long way removed from all that, but the web remains, thank you to all who participated!

6 More on the design in that later post, but huge shout out in advance to my friend Josh Williams for his work and patience with me.

7 My wife hates the meta posts. As she's about to tell me yet again...