About the Team | Star

Star Ford

I have always been fringe in the tech industry – rarely in corporate environments and very uncomfortable there when it was necessary. Instead I found startups and other short term or riskier contracts that allowed me to work independently. I originally wanted to be a teacher and studied education in college; however, software paid more and allowed a lot more room for my need for silence and independence. My Quaker upbringing and my personality made it hard to be a “team player” in corporate-speak. Instead of just agreeing with the person in charge, I wanted to find the best way to do things and failed to keep my judgments to myself on many occasions.

The Quaker religion has a central notion called “Quaker process” which is painstakingly democratic – more so than any system of state governance – and the nurturance of this process sometimes takes the spotlight away from the more traditional theological aspects of the sect. In this version of hyperdemocracy, the initial majority does not always prevail because a single meek voice might have the answer that no one else has yet understood. For that reason the process can drag on and on – and on – until the stubborn have let go of their initial positions, and nearly everyone is united. That’s also a “team” but with very different organizing principles.

Starting with software in the 1980s I didn’t think much about security because there were no widespread networks. With interconnectivity came “netiquette”, a precursor to actual network security that relied on goodwill. Seeing the early troll takeover in the 90s I worked on a collaborative filtering platform for civic engagement called “Chaffaway” – separating the grain from the chaff. A few other low-traction attempts along those lines, and a couple of decades later, I joined the Plug team in 2020. Each of these early trials had an aspect of decision making and collectivism baked in, ideas from the first wave of the internet that are worth keeping.

Quaker process only works when people know each other and it takes place in person, which is also often true of decisions within a family or friend group, and also of the internet’s first wave. Attempts to systematize decision making and convert to an electronic form have mostly reduced goodwill and increased gaming behavior, which is what we have seen in the internet’s second wave. The like-counting microtyrants (moderators and influencers) who won that wave are not helping with any actual unity or relationship-building, and the primitive versions of power distribution in the mass platforms mainly work for them only, leaving some of the rest of us even less connected than we were pre-internet.

My interest in decision making processes, power distribution, economics, and counseling made me a fit for Plug’s philosophy: We don’t want to control what people post, and we don’t want anyone else to have that authority either – but we also don’t want to be overrun with trolls. What we want is on-line algorithms that approximate off-line community dynamics; and also using on-line as a secondary medium that supports real (off-line) communities.