Silicon Valley

Tomorrow’s Technology, Yesterday’s Insights

Jonas Söderström on how Google’s ‘People Analytics group’ goes to extreme lengths to work out how to improve workplace happiness, something Europeans figured out decades ago:

In my view, the dream of “Big Data in the Workplace” thrives in that hole in the American corporate mind where more human ideas – such as decent trade unions, a commitment to conversation and dialogue between employees and management, and empowerment of employees, even giving them some say over how their workplace is designed – should rightly be found.

Give technologists a problem, and they’ll try and solve it with technology.

The Ethics of Digital Design

Cennydd has written a short piece for the Design Council about ethics within the realm of digital technology:

Disruption is Silicon Valley’s current watchword. Startups are optimised for shaking up vulnerable industries rather than assessing the resulting social, legal and ethical impact. Progress itself is the yardstick; whether that progress is in a worthwhile direction is sometimes secondary.

Beyond advocating that designers should have a central role in empowering and protecting users, Cenyydd suggests that we should also push for increased diversity within our product teams as well:

As ambassadors for global userbases, designers know well the range of mentalities and approaches people bring to technology. Homogenous teams are too easily swept up in camaraderie, seeing only exciting gains for people like them, yet blind to potential harm for people not like them. The broad perspective of diverse teams offers better insight on tough choices: early warning of ethical issues that may disadvantage particular groups.

I couldn’t agree more. Go read, it’s a good one.

The Billionaire’s Typewriter

Matthew Butterick’s scrutiny of Medium reveals it to be “a form of hu­man frack­ing”:

In “Death to Type­writ­ers,” Medium in­sists that the type­writer is its “sworn enemy.” In cer­tain ty­po­graphic de­tails, maybe so. But as a de­vice that im­poses ho­mo­ge­neous de­sign, Medium still has a lot in com­mon with the typewriter.

In fact, its ethics are ac­tu­ally worse than the tra­di­tional type­writer. Why? Be­cause Medium’s ho­mo­ge­neous de­sign has noth­ing to do with lim­i­ta­tions of the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy (in this case, the web)… it’s a de­lib­er­ate choice that lets Medium ex­tract value from the tal­ent and la­bor of others.

Convenience always has a cost.

Designer Duds: Losing Our Seat at the Table

Mills Baker:

Much of the work for which we express the most enthusiasm seems superficial, narrow in its conception of design, shallow in its ambitions, or just ineffective.

A necessary critique of the state of design emanating from Silicon Valley. It would seem its best designers are putting lipstick on pigs; adding gloss to products that most people outside San Francisco neither want or need. Also, this:

Design is about solving problems that humans have, not problems that products have.

Bitcoin, Magical Thinking, and Political Ideology

Alex Payne on Bitcoin:

Most charitably, Bitcoin is regarded as a flawed but nonetheless worthwhile experiment, one that has unfortunately attracted outsized attention and investment before correcting any number of glaring security issues.

To those less kind, Bitcoin has become synonymous with everything wrong with Silicon Valley: a marriage of dubious technology and questionable economics wrapped up in a crypto-libertarian political agenda that smacks of nerds-do-it-better paternalism.

Such criticism – that of the selfish logic behind the libertarian ideology prevalent in the Valley – will only grow louder in the coming year. Time to disrupt the disrupters, I say.

Don’t Be Evil, and Get Rich Trying

My short break in California has so far included four hour-long trips on Caltrain as I hop between the cities of San Francisco and Palo Alto. These short periods disconnected from the web, have allowed me to catch up on my reading list.

All the Oxygen Trapped in a Bubble

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Sure, people are being employed, money is changing hands, but come Monday morning, the hangover is that we spent a bundle to build a lot of shit that’s not going anywhere. As a result, we missed out on doing other worthwhile things. All those smart and talented heads, and all those benjamins, didn’t progress the economic base in a way we’re going to care about tomorrow. And that’s a damn shame.

Put another way, “the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads” – that’s the view of Jeff Hammerbacher, an early employee of Facebook.

The Problem With Marc Andreessen

Felix Salmon:

Andreessen’s entire fortune has been built on the greater-fool theory: if you build something trendy enough, there’s probably going to be a huge lumbering company out there somewhere willing to overpay for it.

I know many who would agree with this assessment.

Purge

A number of half-written posts have remained on my hard drive for so long that their incompleteness only serves to annoy me. So I’ve salvaged the pertinent bits and published them here.

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