Silicon Valley’s youth problem
In start-up land, the young barely talk to the old (and vice versa). That makes for a lot of cool apps. But great technology? Not so much.
Full article on the New York Times.
Found Things is a compendium of curiosity.
Are bankers paid too Much? And if so, what about technology CEOs?
Big pay days on Wall Street often come under laserlike scrutiny, while Silicon Valley gets a pass on its own compensation excesses.
Why the double standard?
The typical director at a Standard & Poor’s 500 company was paid $251,000 in 2012, and according to Bloomberg News. Eric Schmidt - Google’s CEO - is above that range by over $100 million.
Take the example of Jamie Dimon’s pay for 2013, given the many regulatory travails of his bank, JPMorgan Chase. The bank’s board awarded Mr. Dimon $20 million in pay for 2013, $18.5 million of which was in restricted stock that vests over three years. For one, the outsize pay for Schmidt doesn’t square with Google’s performance. Putting aside the fact that he is not even the chief executive, Google had net income of $12.9 billion last year. JPMorgan was higher at $17.9 billion.
Maybe the bigger question is why is CEO pay so entirely disconnected from company performance?
Full article on the New York Times.
How Twitter could challenge Amazon and eBay in e-commerce
The reported but still-unconfirmed news that Twitter is moving into e-commerce - first broken by Re/code - is baffling to most people.
There were unconfirmed reports of Twitter partnering with a New York-based startup called Fancy - where Jack Dorsey is an investor - and there was something about Twitter using Stripe for payments. These reports are also still unconfirmed, but they have been picked up by mainstream media.
Twitter has been in the spotlight after their first quarterly report as a public company (as we reported here), so one can take the company’s lack of denial as a reasonable indication there might be some truth to these reports.
Something was going on here, but what? This seems like an incredible stretch for a firm that’s currently known as the leader in real-time news; tracking celebrities, politics and stocks all make sense on Twitter, but buying shoes? Really?
Full article on readwrite.
Twilight of the brands
It’s a truism of business-book thinking that a company’s brand is its “most important asset”, more valuable than technology or patents or manufacturing prowess.
But brands have never been more fragile.
Twelve months ago, Lululemon Athletica was one of the hottest brands in the world. Sales of its high-priced yoga gear were exploding; the company was expanding into new markets; experts were in awe of its “cultlike following”.
As one observer put it, “They’re more than apparel. They’re a life style”.
But then customers started complaining about pilling fabrics, bleeding dyes, and, most memorably, yoga pants so thin that they effectively became transparent when you bent over. Lululemon’s founder made things worse by suggesting that some women were too fat to wear the company’s clothes. And that was the end of Lululemon’s charmed existence: the founder stepped down from his management role, and, a few weeks ago, the company said that it had seen sales “decelerate meaningfully”.
We are living in charmed times. The Internet has exploded consumer choice and the world is opening up and coming together as a single, huge market. Has there ever been a better time to start a new business?
Full article on The New Yorker.
Your 60-hour work week is not a badge of honour
We’ve all had to deal with long, tough work weeks, whether it’s working over the weekend to meet a project deadline, pulling all-nighters to resolve a crisis, or the steady accretion of overtime in a death march.
It’s fairly common in the tech sector for employees to hold these tough weeks up as points of pride; something good they achieved or survived.
Jeff Archibald thinks that this is the wrong way to think of it. And he’s right.
"If you’re working 60 hours a week, something has broken down organisationally. You are doing two people’s jobs. You aren’t telling your boss you’re overworked (or maybe he/she doesn’t care). You are probably a pinch point, a bottleneck. You are far less productive. You are frantically swimming against the current, just trying to keep your head above water.
"We need to stop being proud of overworking ourselves."
Russia bans Bitcoin outright
Russia has banned digital currency Bitcoin under existing laws and has dubbed the use of the crypto-currency as ‘suspicious’.
The Central Bank of Russia considers Bitcoin as a form of ‘money substitute’ or ‘money surrogate’ (here’s statement, in Russian) which is restricted under Russian law.
However, unlike the use of restricted foreign currencies, Bitcoin has been banned outright.
Surprised? No. After all, this is the country that believes homosexuality and pedophilia to be interchangeable.
UK government plans switch to open source from Microsoft office suite
Ministers are looking at saving tens of millions of pounds a year by abandoning expensive software produced by firms such as Microsoft.
Some £200m - ! - has been spent by the public sector on the computer giant’s Office suite alone since 2010.
But Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude believes a significant proportion of that outlay could be cut by switching to Open Source software.
Document formats are set to be standardised across Whitehall to help break the “oligopoly” of IT suppliers, and improve communications between civil servants.
About freaking time. Full story on the Guardian.
Step back in time with this lovely short documentary of Teddy Gray’s sweet factory
Established in 1826, Teddy Gray’s has always been a family owned and run business. Five generations have worked and contributed towards the business of keeping the traditional, hand-made methods of sweet making alive.
The film is part of the Black Country Stories body of work commissioned by Multistory to document life in the Black Country by capturing and celebrating the unique mix of communities living in the area.
Amazon: we can ship items before customers order
The WSJ is reporting that Amazon has obtained a patent for ‘anticipatory shipping’, and claims it knows its customers so well it can start shipping even before orders are placed.
The technique could cut delivery time and further discourage consumers from visiting physical stores.
In the patent document, Amazon says delays between ordering and receiving purchases “may dissuade customers from buying items from online merchants”.
Of course, Amazon’s algorithms might sometimes err, prompting costly returns. To minimize those costs, Amazon said it might consider giving customers discounts, or convert the unwanted delivery into a gift.
“Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill”
Considering the problems that can arise when shipping something a customer did not order, anticipatory shipping has the potential to backfire faster than an Amazon drone can deliver.
But I still love the idea.
Porn will be Bitcoin’s killer app
In December, porn.com started accepting Bitcoin for its premium services. The virtual currency quickly grew to account for 10 percent of sales.
At the start of January, a post on Reddit’s Bitcoin subforum boosted that figure to 50 percent, before settling down to about 25 percent.
The tremendous interest has led David Kay, the marketing director at porn.com’s parent company Sagan, to talk very positively about the virtual currency -
"I definitely believe that porn will be Bitcoin’s killer app. Fast, private and confidential payments."
Full story on The Guardian.
So you’ve decided to Open-Source a project at work. What now?
Many companies are starting to investigate and participate in the open-source community, and yet few guides for doing so exist.
Smashing Magazine provides a decent introduction. If you’ve ever thought about going the Open Source way, you should check it out.
Here’s an interesting thought piece for for a Saturday afternoon: why is the term “content” so objectionable?
For Cory Doctorow at boing boing, "Content" has the stink of failure. His observation is centred on the definition of the term.
One of the origins of the term in technical speech is the idea that you can separate the “content” of a web-page from the “presentation”. Now that the Web’s in its second decade of common use, it’s pretty clear that “content” and “presentation” are never fully separable, a lesson that was already learned in other media.
In “Content-free”, Tim Bray makes the point nobody calls Hollywood’s output “content” - they’re movies and flicks. Publishers produce novels and epics; musicians make songs and symphonies.
The point here is that if you’re building something that’s used for communication, and you find that people are using an idiomatic name for what they’re sending and receiving, you’re probably on to something.
But if you’re about “generating content” you’re dead.
Reading the comments on Tim’s article backs up this position: “Content” is an enigma to the collective but to the individual, it is clearly defined.
So it is still a case that “Content is King”. But content clearly includes the “Presentation” of that “Content”.
Who goes to work to have fun?
"ONE of our core values is to inject fun and quirkiness into everything we do", Neil Blumenthal, a founder of the online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, recently told The New York Times. This is a philosophy currently enjoying a resurgence in the tech and retail industries, among others.
Despite the sobering economic shocks of recent years, the Fun at Work movement seems irrepressible. Major companies boast of employing Chief Fun Officers or Happiness Engineers; corporations call upon a burgeoning industry of happiness consultants, who’ll construct a Gross Happiness Index for your workplace, then advise you on ways to boost it.
Countless self-help bloggers offer tips for generating cheer among the cubicles (“Buy donuts for everyone”; “Hang movie posters on your walls, with employees’ faces replacing those of the real movie stars”). It’s all shudderingly reminiscent of David Brent, or of the owner of the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons, who considers distracting attention from the risk of lethal meltdowns by holding Funny Hat Days.
Now there’s nothing wrong with happiness at work. Enjoyable jobs are surely preferable to boring or unpleasant ones; moreover, studies suggest that happy employees are more productive ones.
But it doesn’t follow that the path to this desirable state of affairs is through deliberate efforts, on the part of managers, to try to generate fun.
Indeed, there’s evidence that this approach - which has been labeled, suitably appallingly, “fungineering” - might have precisely the opposite effect, making people miserable and thus reaffirming one of the oldest observations about happiness: When you try too hard to obtain it, you’re almost guaranteed to fail.
Full article on the NY Times.
Inside the box: people don’t actually like creativity
We are raised to appreciate the accomplishments of inventors and thinkers - creative people whose ideas have transformed our world.
We celebrate the famously imaginative, the greatest artists and innovators from Van Gogh to Steve Jobs. Viewing the world creatively is supposed to be an asset, even a virtue. Online job boards burst with ads recruiting “idea people” and “out of the box” thinkers.
We are taught that our own creativity will be celebrated as well, and that if we have good ideas, we will succeed.
It’s all a lie.
This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: most people don’t actually like it.
Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: people are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.
Full article on Slate.