Silicon Valley’s myopia

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If you thought people lived in their own filter bubbles, echo chambers, etc., it might be because the people building those tools reside in their own world: tech-centered Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley makes the tools we all love to hate. Smartphones and the internet are simultaneously essential and unbearable, a facilitator of instant global communication yet a hijacker of attention and job-thief. The likes of Amazon and self-driving cars and trucks mean signal the end of retail and truck drivers, “one of the few decent-paying jobs that doesn’t require a college diploma,” writes Om Malik.

Silicon Valley is the new Wall Street, the myopic one percent that controls attention and manipulates the way common folks live and work. Perhaps they’d benefit from seeing how the other half lives, not just in Africa (Re Zuckerberg’s Manifest Destiny), but in their own country’s backyard. The Valley’s parochialism seems to grow wider every every year, along with its ballooning housing prices.

“The lack of empathy in technology design isn’t because the people who write algorithms are heartless but perhaps because they lack the texture of reality outside the technology bubble.” — Om Malik

One is you can get rich, that’s pretty good. But the newer part of it culturally seems to be that you’re like a hero. Steve Jobs is the epitome. You’re an artist. You’re a visionary. You’re a hero. You’re a billionaire. You have a tremendous amount of power … It’s like the fame of a rock star, but more power and more money. It sounds pretty good.

Ev Williams, on why young people want to become entrepreneurs.  

Techies in Silicon Valley are the new rock stars, or Wall Streeters. 

Twitter IPO: Social network files for initial public offering of stock.

Like Facebook, Twitter makes its money primarily by selling ads, which gain a lot of their value from the advertiser’s ability to target specific groups of users. Twitter’s disadvantage relative to Facebook is scale: It has on the order of 200 million users, while Facebook has some 1.15 billion. But its advantage lies in timeliness and topicality. People check Facebook casually, when time allows. Twitter users tend to use Twitter quite actively, and in conjunction with specific events, like TV shows, rallies, concerts, and breaking news. So advertisers can craft ads tailored not only to a Twitter user’s general tastes and demographic profile, but to what that user is doing at the very moment they see the ad.

Twitter’s advantage is speed and hyper-relevancy, not to mention the people you follow are way more interesting than your friends in Facebook. You can also treat it like an RSS feed if you wish.

Twitter is really multidimensional because it grew up on the mobile phone, the reverse of a majority of all the other social networks minus Path. It’s not a desktop product by any means.

Give me some stock.

My Time at Lehman

One day when I got to work, I left my book on my desk, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. My boss saw it and asked “What the fuck is this?” I told him that it was a book I was reading. He replied, “Well get it the fuck out of here. We’re here to make markets and money. And nothing else.” And he was right. There was no place for that book there. There was no place for my weird self.

There’s art and there’s commerce.  Both can be intertwined except when you’re trying to screw people over. 

Facebook, Just Like American Soccer

Curiosity and experimentation create innovation.

Innovation gets rewarded, at its peak today with the Facebook IPO.

But Facebook’s innovation all seems kind of robotic. Nothing truly innovative has really come out of Facebook the last couple years. All its innovation is copied (e.g. check-ins) and brought to its masses or simply bought.

Questioning the modus operandi is not in Facebook’s blood. It reminds me of an article I read this morning about an American soccer playing trying to make it in Brazil.

As we spent the next hour taking turns at bending kicks at an imaginary target, I was amazed at how enthusiastic he was about all the ways to strike the ball. The curiosity he had was startling. While I ran extra drills to sharpen certain movements, young Brazilians were always thinking of new moves that nobody had seen before. And because of that constant exploration, they never got tired of the game.

The key to success is doing the everyday things well but more importantly trying new stuff with enthusiasm. Boredom and emulation are the enemy.

Apple and Google enjoy the beautiful tech game more than Facebook. They are thinkers and pioneers bettering the world through product and interconnectivity. Facebook’s thinking is stale.

The real value in Facebook is having fun and acting unpredictably creative. And that starts with thinking differently.

Facebook Fortitude

Word on the street says that mobile threatens Facebook’s future. The mobile screen is way smaller and difficult to insert ads without disrupting the whole user experience.

The Facebook app is janky as it stands with bugs and slow response. That needs to get fixed first. One thing that Instagram taught all app developers is that speed is key to growth. No one wants to wait to see content. Instagram starts uploading user images even before the filter gets selected.

But have no fear, Facebook will figure it out. Zuckerberg feels the heat and is fiercely persistent. He’ll keep adding companies to his portfolio until he figures out how to create the ultimate mobile experience that keeps advertisers on board.

Every time we doubt Facebook it proves itself again. It could disappear one day like MySpace but we should remember that it still has Instagram just like Microsoft has the Xbox. It also knows more about us than our parents.

Facebook has enough manpower to come up with innovative solutions for its users and advertisers. There’s no quit.

People love to hate Facebook and use it at the same time. That part won’t change.