April 22nd, 2013
A telling vignette from Businessweek's article about Eve Online:
[A number of prominent Eve Online players...] were in Iceland's capital to meet with executives from CCP Games, the company that created Eve. The seven make up the Council of Stellar Management (CSM), a group elected by other Eve players and flown by CCP to Iceland every six months or so to discuss how the game should evolve. It's a kind of super-user focus group, but also a channel for players' complaints. In 2011, when CCP rolled out some controversial changes, the company summoned the CSM members to Reykjavík for an emergency meeting in an effort to stem a user backlash. "At the time, I had been dating a girl for only three weeks and was terrified," says Joshua Goldshlag (Eve name: Two Step), a 35-year-old CSM member and computer programmer from Massachusetts. "I certainly did not want to mention that I had been elected as an Internet space politician."
April 2nd, 2013
How People Sit in Meetings and What it Really Means. So accurate.
Unicorn 1030s Pupil Posture
I'm facing you, sitting straight, with no internet, and I'm actually paying attention to you. Nobody has sat this way in a meeting in 20 years.
I promise you it's not just the words. The illustrations of each type are pretty wonderful too. Go see.
[Via Pop Loser]
December 28th, 2012
OrgOrgChart is a graphical representation of four years in the life of Autodesk Inc.: how it shed and gained staff, and how it reorganised itself as it acquired new companies and moved staff from one manager to another. It's hypnotic stuff:
At first glance, that looks like a company spending four years doing little but reorganising itself. I would imagine that if you dug into the details of the individuals involved, you'd see that quite a lot of the changes lighting up parts of the graph are a result of an individual manager moving on and another manager coming in to fill the same post – not really changes in the organisational structure, so much as changes in who is running a particular team or department. At least I hope so.
It's be interesting to see a version of the animation that reflected only changes in the responsibilities assigned a particular role, so as to reveal just how much time the management were spending redrafting their org charts rather than just writing in new names here or there as individuals progressed from one job to the next.
[Via Flowing Data]
December 20th, 2012
A visit to Father Christmas, or When Little Johnny's address was omitted from the Service Specification. Not a pretty sight.
July 8th, 2012
The world's biggest corporate fines, visualised in proportion to each company's annual income.
Really puts the Barclays LIBOR-fixing fine into perspective.
June 30th, 2012
James Bridle, on Amazon's seductively convenient mix of books and infrastructure:
The great fear of the Internet is that we will be washed away in a tide of information, that the sheer scale of everything will overwhelm us, and that that everything is inferior, condemning us to wallow in the mud at the foot of an ever-receding Parnassus. And yet one of the many things the Internet has taught us is that surface quality of media comes a poor second to access, whether it's typographically inhibited self-published fan fiction or barely discernible YouTube camera-phone films.
What makes the Kindle unique is what makes Amazon unique: its physical presence is a mere avatar for a stream of digital services. In the spirit of its parent, it is more infrastructure than device. And it is as infrastructure that it disrupts, as its biblioclastic name intends.
June 18th, 2012
I swear this sort of thing makes me want never to set foot in an Apple Store again:
Beneath all the chillness and chirpiness [of an Apple Store] is a consumer destination whose whimsy is the result of painstaking calibration. Think Disney World's underground tunnels, except with all the draconianism out on display and integral to the whole aesthetic. The products placed on blond-wood tables at precisely measured intervals. The reservations-only appointment system at the Genius Bar. The Five Steps of Service. The fact that Jon's beard is trimmed to a uniform three inches. It takes a lot of work to stay this relaxed.
Turns out, though, that there's one more bit of precision required to make the Apple Store so Apple-y. The notebook computers displayed on the store's tabletops and counters are set out, each day, to exactly the same angle. That angle being, precisely, 70 degrees: not as rigid as a table-perpendicular 90 degrees, but open enough — and, also, closed enough — for screens' content to remain visible and inviting to would-be typers and tinkerers.
The point, explains Carmine Gallo, who is writing a book on the inside workings of the Apple Store, is to get people to touch the devices. [...]
June 10th, 2012
From McSweeney's: Prospectus for Silicon Valley's Next Hot Tech IPO, Where Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong.
An investment in Ponzify involves significant risks.
A significant portion of our income is derived from advertisers who still buy this whole "clicks" and "page count" business. Thus, we plan a vigorous defense of our current metrics while making up new ones with impressive-sounding names. For instance, KonBuy (short for "Konfirmation Bias") scores the popularity of apps and websites based on whether their titles are intentionally misspelled portmanteaus.
Our CEO, CFO, COO and a bunch of other acronyms were all born after Nirvana released "Nevermind".
Did you watch that two-part Frontline special on PBS about the inside story of the global financial crisis? We did. We were like "Dude, that's like what we're doing!"
[Via The Browser]
February 11th, 2012
Adam Curtis recounts the story of how the cruise ship industry adapted to the era of mass leisure travel:
On many ships thousands of workers below deck work often 7 days a week, sometimes for fourteen hours a day. They are paid two to three dollars a day – depending entirely on tips to earn a living wage. The work most of them are asked to do on their shifts is impossible for one person to complete, so they in turn have to pay others to help them.
And a weird underground economy often results.
In his history of the industry, Kristoffer Garin has described how many of the workers also have to pay bribes to others elsewhere in the complex hierarchy of the ship – waiters have to bribe the cooks to make sure the food is hot, the cabin cleaners have to bribe the laundry chief to get clean sheets on time.
January 30th, 2012
Reflections by danah boyd on her first visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos:
Comparing WEF to any other event is hard, but I cracked a smile when Nick Bilton remarked that WEF is a lot like Burning Man. In so many ways, he's right. A lot of people overwhelm one extreme weather location and battle non-normative conditions (Davos is crowded, covered in ice, and extremely difficult to navigate) to interact with others. In both events, there are so many different kinds of communities colliding – sometimes interacting and sometimes not. And both cost gobs of money to attend, thereby excluding all sorts of people.
January 19th, 2012
Form letter template for acquired startups:
We are excited to continue our core mission of connecting people with solutions at our new home. Please realize that this is so vague a statement as to be completely meaningless. But we just made so much money that at the moment we genuinely believe this horseshit.
[Via Electrolite (Sidelights)]
October 15th, 2011
Evgeny Morozov finds Jeff Jarvis' latest paean to the wonders of the internet deeply flawed, and rather unserious:
Why are we so obsessed with privacy? Jarvis blames rapacious privacy advocates – "there is money to be made in privacy" – who are paid to mislead the "netizens," that amorphous elite of cosmopolitan Internet users whom Jarvis regularly volunteers to represent in Davos. On Jarvis's scale of evil, privacy advocates fall between Qaddafi's African mercenaries and greedy investment bankers. All they do is "howl, cry foul, sharpen arrows, get angry, get rankled, are incredulous, are concerned, watch, and fret." Reading Jarvis, you would think that Privacy International (full-time staff: three) is a terrifying behemoth next to Google (lobbying expenses in 2010: $5.2 million).
"Privacy should not be our only concern," Jarvis declares. "Privacy has its advocates. So must publicness." He compiles a long and somewhat tedious list of the many benefits of "publicness": "builds relationships," "disarms strangers," "enables collaboration," "unleashes the wisdom (and generosity) of the crowd," "defuses the myth of perfection," "neutralizes stigmas," "grants immortality … or at least credit," "organizes us," and even "protects us." Much of this is self-evident. Do we really need to peek inside the world of Internet commerce to grasp that anyone entering into the simplest of human relationships surrenders a modicum of privacy? But Jarvis has mastered the art of transforming the most trivial observations into empty business maxims.
Contrary to Jarvis' protestations, Morozov's review doesn't read to me as a personal attack – more a clinical, brutal dismantling of a collection of shallow cliches in support of the argument that we shouldn't worry about the way pretty much every commercial entity we deal with online seeks to hoover up as much personal information about our use of the internet as it can because the (somewhat nebulous) benefits outweigh the potential problems. So long as you respect your cultural norms, you'll be fine.
[Via The Awl]
September 20th, 2011
Abroad: they do things differently there…
Swiss animal lover Priska Küng runs a kind of matchmaking agency — for lonely guinea pigs that have lost their partners. She lives with around 80 of the furry, squeaky little creatures, in addition to six cats, a number of rabbits, hamsters and mice in the village of Hadlikon, some 30 kilometers from Zürich.
Küng, 41, rents out her guinea pigs, a service that has been in high demand in the Alpine nation ever since animal welfare rules were tightened up a few years ago. Switzerland has forbidden people from keeping lone guinea pigs because the animals are sociable and need each other's company.
As a result, the sudden death of a guinea pig, shocking enough in itself, can also place the hapless owners outside the law if they only had two of the pets. [...]
[Via The Awl]
August 26th, 2011
Rui Carmo poses the right question in the wake of Steve Jobs resignation from the post of Apple's CEO:
The real question is not "What will Apple do without Steve Jobs", or even "what will the industry be like without him".
No, the question we should ask ourselves is "Why are there no others?"
Why, short of a handful of people peppered around the industry (some in the unlikeliest of places), are there no publicly recognizable, charismatic leaders driving their own Apples with a laser-like focus?
August 8th, 2011
An Enlightened Look At The Grouponomenon, culminating in Groupon's Plan to Corner the Mexican Drug Trade, Save Mexico, in 1 Week.
[Via The Awl]
August 4th, 2011
Possibly the Stupidest Bank in the World?
Essentially, my bank is asking me to install is a keylogger. Just so they can warn me not to use the same password on suntrust.com and playboy.com.
[Via The Tao of Mac]
July 23rd, 2011
Adrian Hon reckons that Unbound is a Crowdfunding Cargo Cult:
I genuinely admire the sentiment behind Unbound, but there's been a real lack of understanding of what makes for successful crowdfunding. I hope they can fix it soon.
I think that it's far too soon to dismiss the Unbound model. The relatively slow start has caused them to re-think the deadlines they've set for projects, but better that than to drop all the partially-funded projects and start again.
I'm not too bothered about the fact that the Unbound model is a little different, a bit more corporate and perhaps even impersonal that the Kickstarter approach. Unbound is providing a crowdfunding service for a particular type of client. A year or two from now it'll be clearer whether the public are willing to pay for books in this way.
As I observed when I wrote about Unbound the one big difference between Unbound and Kickstarter is that the authors using Unbound were mostly published authors already, with the real test being whether the service is used again by authors after they've managed to get one book crowdfunded. If authors use Unbound primarily to prove the commercial viability of their work so as to snag a deal from a publishing house next time round then Unbound will probably fail. If authors come back for a second or third book then Unbound and Kickstarter could happily coexist for years to come.
July 7th, 2011
Novelist Alex Shakar remembers The Year of Wonders:
"We're closing in on a deal," my agent told me on the phone. "I'm just turning him upside-down now and shaking him for loose change."
It was midday on a Monday in early August of the year 2000. The Nasdaq, rested from its breather in the spring, was sprinting back up over 4,000 toward its March peak. Vice President Gore, demolishing the Bush son's early lead, was pulling even in the polls. TV commercials depicted placid investors being wheeled on gurneys into operating rooms, stern-faced doctors diagnosing their patients with dire cases of money coming out the wazoo.
The previous Friday, bidding on my first novel had reached six figures, then paused for people to track down more cash. I'd later learn one editor spent the weekend trying to reach her boss on his Tanzanian vacation, finally getting through via the satellite phone of a safari boat on the Rufiji river, but that he wouldn't OK a higher bid because he couldn't get the manuscript in time.
I was 32. I'd never made over $12,000 in a year. [...]
June 5th, 2011
Unbound is essentially a UK-based version of Kickstarter aimed at writers. Pay £10, and if enough of you subscribe you get the promise of an ebook edition of the book, your name listed alongside the other supporters in the back of the book, and the opportunity to read progress updates from the author and perhaps get some sneak peeks of the work in progress. Pay £20, and you get a hardback copy of the book too. Pay more, and you get goodie bags and/or an invitation to the launch party.
The biggest difference between Unbound and Kickstarter is that so far all of the writers seeking money through Unbound are published authors:
- Jonathan Meades has written several books, not to mention scripting and presenting umpteen televised essays in his inimitable style.
- Amy Jenkins wrote This Life, then wrote a couple of novels before taking time off to have a family.
- Tibor Fischer was one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Writers back in 1993 and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
- Gavin Pretor-Pinney runs the Cloud Appreciation Society and co-founded The Idler.
- Terry Jones has been writing and broadcasting since before he was a Python.
- Elliott Rose, the only name on the list I didn't recognise, turns out to be a new pseudonym for twice-published author Will Davis.
Not that there's anything wrong with people with a track record turning to Unbound. Given the long, slow death of the midlist, I think it's a positive sign that established authors are turning to the micropatronage model rather than being lost to publishing completely.
I suppose the real test for the system will come as authors successfully complete their first Unbound project. Will they use Unbound to fund their next book, or will it turn out to be a way to convince publishers that they're worth a contract/a decent advance for their next book?
[Via Word Magazine Blog]