Lee Schneider
4 min readApr 19, 2024


Issue 73 — Champions of the Internet

The graphic for 500 Words in black and white.

Issue 73 — Champions of the Internet


Remember when the internet was nice? When I look back to earlier days of the public web (probably through a haze of nostalgia), I recall an online world where people pursued odd conversations about toy poodles and pencils, where silliness was innocent, and the thrill of discovering something new happened nearly every day.

This week, I celebrate a few champions of the web who are working to make the internet a better place for humans, restoring it to its former glory, and also looking ahead to a better future.

Molly White

Molly White observes blockchain and AI with a keen eye. She keeps a WTF log of all the scams, mistakes, and grifts perpetrated by Bitcoin traders and others, and yet remains optimistic about what the web is good for. She wrote about AI recently. Here’s a clip.

I would love to live in a world where the technology industry widely valued making incrementally useful tools to improve peoples’ lives, and were honest about what those tools could do, while also carefully weighing the technology’s costs. But that’s not the world we live in. Instead, we need to push back against endless tech manias and overhyped narratives, and oppose the “innovation at any cost” mindset that has infected the tech sector.

Anil Dash

In 1999, Anil Dash started one of the world’s first “personal weblogs.” He has been blogging ever since. A tech exec, consultant, entrepreneur, and Prince scholar, he is a defender of RSS, the open platform that allows you to listen to a podcast however you want to, and believes that the best internet is a weird internet.

There should be lots of different, human-scale alternative experiences on the internet that offer up home-cooked, locally-grown, ethically-sourced, code-to-table alternatives to the factory-farmed junk food of the internet. And they should be weird.

Rusty Foster

Can you live on an island in Maine and write a newsletter stacked with up-to-the-minute NY media gossip? Yes, says Rusty Foster. His Today in Tabs calls itself “your favorite newsletter’s favorite newsletter.” He is fearless when critiquing the publishing world, but is also comically humble. Today in Tabs is the only newsletter I read as soon as it hits my feed.

I’ve had some tough words for the New York Times in this newsletter over the years, and how do they respond? With an incredibly thoughtful and generous #longread about me in Styles today. It’s actually pretty passive-aggressive, if you think about it? Just what you’d expect from the Times. I am glad that someone finally wrote that I’m “something of a Zelig-like figure in internet history.” That’s not for me to say, of course, but it’s true …

Meredith Whittaker

Keeping watch over the ethical lapses of AI companies is a job that could keep her busy full-time, but Meredith Whittaker is also president of the Signal Foundation (the secure and private messaging app), and chief advisor to the AI Now Institute. She was a core organizer of a worldwide walkout of 20,000 Google employees protesting Google’s lapses in handling sexual harassment cases, pay inequality for women, and workplace diversity. She resigned from Google in 2019. She is a leading voice for data privacy and AI ethics.

Timnit Gebru

When she was the co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence team, computer scientist Timnit Gebru co-authored a paper on the risks of LLMs (large language models). (LLMs provide training data for ChatGPT and other chatbots). When Gebru and her five co-others submitted the paper for publication, Google management said she had to withdraw it or remove the names of all the authors employed by Google, claiming that the paper omitted recent research. Gebru threatened to resign; Google responded by firing her. She is a co-founder of Black in AI, a community of Black researchers working in AI, and the founder of the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR).

Matt Mullenweg

You can’t talk about blogging without mentioning Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress and the founder and CEO of Automattic. Automattic has a big footprint online. It owns Woo Commerce, Longreads, Tumblr, Day One (the journaling app), Pocket Casts, and Texts (an app that unifies your messaging feeds). Automattic is a distributed company, with nearly 2,000 employees working in 93 countries. People talk about “democratizing” this and that, but Mullenweg has created and supported the tools to enable global storytelling.


ElevenLabs has a deal with HarperCollins to make audiobooks for the publisher’s foreign markets. Instead of hiring humans, they’re going to have AI synth voices narrate the audiobooks. This is bad … but it could be good?

Audio narration is a skilled profession. Its top practitioners command high fees for their storytelling authority and acting talents. Can a machine do all that? No way. Or not yet, anyway.

But the HarperCollins partnership covers audio versions of books in the publisher’s deep backlist. A backlist book doesn’t get much love, so creating an audiobook version might revive some titles and boost deserved sales. Neglected, but deserving, books might be rediscovered. I sell more audiobooks than print books, so I know the power of this market.


AI isn’t useless. But is it worth it?

The Internet Is About to Get Weird Again

Wherever You Get Your Podcasts is a Radical Statement

From a Tiny Island in Maine, He Serves Up Fresh Media Gossip

Signal Foundation

Black in AI

Distributed AI Research Institute

HarperCollins and ElevenLabs AI to create audiobooks for foreign titles


500 Words takes full responsibility for the overuse of all caps to render expressions such as WTF, LLM, AI, and RSS, but IDK, LOL, the world is becoming an abbreviated place and IDC, because this is how we express ourselves now. Also, there is no PITR to stop me.



Lee Schneider

Writer-producer. Founder of Red Cup Agency. Publisher of 500 Words. Co-founder of FutureX Studio. Co-founder of 3 children. Married to a goddess.