March 16th, 2014
A Preliminary Phenomenology of the Self-Checkout is long, but totally worth it:
III. The Ghost in the Machine
You have bought a greeting card, you indicate. Why, then, can't I feel its heft in my bagging area? Is it because of the appalling taste you have? I will not abet this item. I will never detect it, for you are unscrupulous and depraved. This disingenuous gesture will not cause your niece on the occasion of her birthday ("Time to celebrate!") to feel any particular tenderness. Welcome to the new phase in human history that my presence has inaugurated: soon, greeting cards will no longer be available for purchase. So, too: yarn, cotton balls, postcards, feathers, stickers, and some seasoning packets. In their stead, you might dare enjoy communing with your fellow man.
Also features a man who pays a terrible price for trying to game the Machine for the sake of saving money on half a dozen lemons, and Karl Marx chatting with John Locke about the price of lemons (among other things.)
February 4th, 2014
From McSweeney's: Son, It's Time We Talk About Where Start-Ups Come From.
[...] I realize it's awkward, discussing these adult matters with your father, but have your buddies asked you to join a start-up? Be honest – Dad knows the HTML. Seriously, have you already started a start-up in the attic? I see you moved the family computer up there.
[Via Pop Loser]
January 5th, 2014
Los Angeles Times reporter David Lazarus, prompted by a tip-off from a reader, tried registering with a UPS service that offered more control over parcel delivery schedules and found that UPS already knew quite a bit about him and his family:
In my case, UPS wanted me to name the city I'd formerly lived in. San Francisco, where I resided before moving back to Los Angeles, was on the list.
The next one was a trick question. It asked me to name the street I'd once lived on or "none of the above." The answer was "none of the above."
The third question asked me to name the city I'd never lived in. The list included three Connecticut cities I'd never visited and the one where I was born. Since you could pick only one answer, I picked "all of the above."
The UPS site then said it would need more information to verify my identity and asked for my birth date. Maybe this was just a glitch. Or maybe it was a sneaky way to get me to cough up this most important of data points.
I provided my birth date and was presented with a trio of much more specific questions. The first asked the month that my wife was born, and it included both the correct month and her full name.
The second one again identified San Francisco as my former home. The third question included the street in San Francisco that I lived on.
Like Miller, I was completely creeped out.
I'm not sure what's creepier about this: the notion that data mining lets companies know this much about potential customers, or the idea that they might have gathered incorrect information and there's no practical way for me to correct it because I don't know where they got it from.
[Via RISKS Digest Vol. 27, Iss. 65]
October 30th, 2013
Tom Morris updates a classic:
It has now been fourteen years since the Cluetrain Manifesto. I have updated it to reflect contemporary reality and society.
- Markets are conversations in much the same way as the school bully picking on the disabled queer kid is friendship.
- Markets consist of human beings. Smelly, horrible human beings who we want to fuck over.
- Conversations among human beings sound human. Conversations with social media marketers sound like people attempting to sound human.
- One of the problems with the market is that people make stupid decisions based on a lack of information. This is not like Twitter at all.
- Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. But NSA wiretapping subverts hyperlinks, so we've got that covered.
[Via The Null Device]
September 25th, 2013
Susan Faludi in The Baffler, on Leaning In:
The scene at the [Lean In event addressed by Sheryl Sandberg at the] Menlo Park auditorium, and its conflation of "believe in yourself" faith and material rewards, will be familiar to anyone who's ever spent a Sunday inside a prosperity-gospel megachurch or watched Reverend Ike's vintage "You Deserve the Best!" sermon on YouTube. But why is that same message now ascendant among the American feminists of the new millennium?
Sandberg's admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women's equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women's equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right. In embodying that contradiction, Sheryl Sandberg would not be alone and isn't so new. For the last two centuries, feminism, like evangelicalism, has been in a dance with capitalism.
August 31st, 2013
Tom Slee is unimpressed by an attempt to hijack the 'sharing economy' for the benefit of venture capitalists:
So a couple of months ago Douglas Atkin, head of Community and E-staff Member at AirBnB, took to the stage of the Le Web conference in London (video) to announce the formation of Peers: "a grassroots organization that supports the sharing economy movement." I like grassroots organizations and I like the co-operative impulse, but this… Well here is his speech (in quotation marks) in its entirety with comments from yours truly.
Now why should you do this? Well it's the right thing to do. We literally stand on the brink of a new, better kind of economic system, that delivers social as well as economic benefits. In fact, social and economic benefits that the old economy promised but failed to deliver. As Julia, an AirBnB host, told me just last night, "the sharing economy saved my arse".
The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it's the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money. Jobs become "extra money" just like women's jobs used to be "extra money", and like those jobs they don't come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits – none of that old economy stuff. But hey, you're not an employee, you're a micro-entrepreneur. And you're not doing it for the money, you're doing it for the experience. We just assume you're making a living some other way.
Well worth reading in full.
July 11th, 2013
Former Palm and Apple executive Michael Mace has written a perceptive exploration of the question of Why Google Does the Things it Does:
"What does Google want?"
A favorite pastime among people who watch the tech industry is trying to figure out why Google does things. The [...] topic also comes up regularly in conversations with my Silicon Valley friends.
It's a puzzle because Google doesn't seem to respond to the rules and logic used by the rest of the business world. It passes up what look like obvious opportunities, invests heavily in things that look like black holes, and proudly announces product cancellations that the rest of us would view as an embarrassment. [...]
But in Google's case, I think its actions do make sense – even the deeply weird stuff like the purchase of Motorola. The issue, I believe, is that Google follows a different set of rules than most other companies. Apple uses "Think Different" as its slogan, but in many ways Google is the company that truly thinks differently. It's not just marching to a different drummer; sometimes I think it hears an entirely different orchestra. [...]
July 11th, 2013
Terms And Conditions May Apply:
6) In Exchange for These Services
a. In exchange for visiting this website, you have agreed to publish a post stating that you have visited this website on Facebook. Failure to do so may result in legal action.
b. Furthermore, and with the same applicable penalties, you have also agreed to watch the film "Terms and Conditions May Apply", in any or all of the following mediums: Theatrical, VOD, SVOD, DVD, airplane, cruise ship, hotel, or building wall.
Clause 6a. will in future be known as the Jay-Z clause.
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)]