19 October 2014

Twitter, Capitalism, Hate, #gamergate

Note: I'm not going to go into the whole history of #gamergate. I'm going to assume you're already paying attention.

In many ways we should be glad that this whole fucking mess has happened. It's shining a bright light into some very dark corners of our society and we're seeing some ugly, ugly shit that we need to fix.

But while I would be proud to be called a Social Justice Warrior, I don't have a lick of credibility on the subject (being a highly privileged straight, white, upper middle class, educated male working in tech and all). So I'll leave that to the folks in the trenches like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu and Laurie Penny.

I do, however, have some credibility when it comes to tech - and in particular to the role that Twitter has played here.

Let me be very clear here....

Without Twitter's indulgence and implicit permission there would be no Gamergate. 

For many of us, Twitter is a service and a utility. The fact that Twitter is also a publicly traded commercial entity is of little to no interest. The problem is that Twitter the company is an unprofitable publicly traded commercial entity that is currently valued at at something like 130x next year's projected earnings.

As you can imagine, running business stuff at Twitter right now is probably highly stressful.

Twitter, the company, has been getting beat up for a while now about some of its metrics. In particular, investors are worried about their MAU (Monthly Active Users) count. More critically, investors are also worried about their Engagement Rates.

So right now those in charge of Twitter are highly, highly motivated to do things that will increase user activity and engagement - and are even more highly motivated to not do anything that would decrease these metrics.

As you can imagine, the whole misogynistic cesspool that is gamergate has almost certainly been a huge win for Twitter when it comes to these core business metrics. Four related hashtags have been top trending terms and I'm confident Twitter's TLV/MAU (their core Engagement KPI) has improved materially.

This is why a publicly traded utility is a terrible idea.

Twitter is putting the best interests of their shareholders ahead of the best interests of their users - and of society. Twitter is, in fact, doing harm to many users (and thus to society) through their inaction.

Without Twitter's enablement, the couple dozen core gamergate douchebags would still just be sitting around writing one-handed rape fantasies on some forum that no-one ever sees.

15 July 2014

Minimum Actionable Dataset

By this point, all thinking humans have come to accept that there are ethical problems with the current ungoverned way businesses, governments and organizations capture, store, use and monetize data.

I'm not going to debate the ethics themselves, or suggest any systemic or social methods for addressing the ethical failings that have created this problem (other than to suggest that ethics really needs to be a required course in both CS programs and MBA ones). Instead I'm simply going to suggest a new philosophical guideline.

Introducing the Minimum Actionable Dataset (aka MADs)
When defining the dataset your application, site or service is going to capture, store and use - start with the minimum set of data needed to make critical product and business decisions. Only add additional data when it is required to make these decisions.
While it is no longer acceptable to capture any and all data, and then later on figure out which stuff is valuable and which you want to analyze and use -- it's also unrealistic (and stupid) to not use data. We need the data we need to make good decisions on what customers and users want, value and need out of our products and services. We need the data to be able to run our businesses effectively, responsibly, sustainably and professionally. 

A little analogy....

Lazy developers, when working with a relational database, will often do a "SELECT * FROM" query in order to pull all data into the app, and then manipulate, sort, find the needed data from within that full set within the app logic itself. 

This is a Bad Thing.

It is equally bad (and lazy) to do this exact thing with your data capture.

Defining Your MADs

One of the reasons why I identify laziness as a root cause is my acceptance that for many developers, it's easier to simply capture all the data than define the Minimum Actionable Dataset.

Defining this dataset is a collaborative activity - and is one that involves multiple points of view and individuals within the organization. And that is messy, interpersonal and difficult. You need to define the data that is required by Product to make appropriate decisions around customer and user needs, desires and wishes. This obviously should be defined by Product. You need to define the data that is required by the Business to make appropriate decisions around business strategy, tactics, pricing, capitalization, partnerships, etc etc etc. 

So you just capture the requirements from both those stakeholders, merge them and voila, right?

No. Wrong.

This is how we got to the "capture it all and let god sort it later" mentality. Both Business and Product have a vested interest in raising the threshold of what is considered "minimum" in this case. So you'll need a counterbalance. You'll need someone who is the "keeper of the threshold."

Most companies do not have a Head of Privacy or a Head of Data Policy. If you do... this is your counterbalance and this person should be part of the decision-making and should have veto power (though, obviously, they can if needed be over-ruled by the CEO). In this context, their role isn't to "protect the user" or "keep us in legal compliance" as much as it is to "defend the minimum threshold." 

In other words... their job in this process is to be the one who challenges every new data point captured and requires a justification for why the business and the product couldn't be run effectively without that data.

Why MADs?

The tech industry has lost the trust of our customers and our users.

And we have not - and are not - stepping up to take the lead on fixing this.

We have to. And quickly.

If we don't.... Winter is coming (and by Winter... I mean Regulation).

It's time.

30 June 2014

SF.... Love it (and Hate it)

This last weekend perfectly illustrated for me all the greatness that was (and sometimes still is) San Francisco. And sadly - it brought moments that also perfectly encapsulated what has gone wrong.

Illustrating The Good

Walking up Market St between 16th and Castro and sashaying (quite literally) down the sidewalk towards me comes a shirtless bear on a 49er flag bedecked Segway blasting easy listening R&B from a boombox. The crowd goes wild.

All the smiling happy (sunburned) faces at the Pride Parade (which has truly become a celebration of love and welcoming - as well as an awesome party).

The trans-woman who I bumped into and apologized to in the Mission (it was CROWDED), who turned to me and said, "Honey... this is the one weekend a year you don't have to apologize for shit. It's all love baby!"



For the weekend it felt like the clock was turned back a bit. It felt like there was a little less homogeneity in the population. It felt less conformist again.

For the first time in years it felt like the culture of SF was once again Urban (rather than today's Suburban values dominance).

It felt like SF again. I'd move here all over again to be part of this San Francisco.



And The Bad

Scene: Three guys waiting for their Sandwiches at Bi-Rite in the Mission.

Guy One: You live near here right? You must shop here all the time.

Guy Two: Nah... not really.

Guy Three: Because it's too expensive?

Guy Two: Yeah... I mean, it's ridiculous. $10 for a turkey and cheese sandwich? Come on.

Guy One: So what do you do for lunch usually?

Guy Two: Oh, we use Instacart at the office and get them to bring us stuff from Whole Foods. It only works out to like $100 a week.





20 May 2014

Income inequality in SF is greater than in Rwanda


25 April 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

The other day I got on MUNI...

Wait, I think some context is needed.

So I have a broken hand. A recently broken hand. A displaced fracture of the 5th metacarpal to be exact.
Painful.
It is in a cast / splint / sling thing that is quite visible.






















So I got on MUNI light rail.
As I stepped on to the train a bearded younger guy in an Uber hoody and artisanal hat who was sitting in a seat looked up at me. Our eyes met. He looked away, putting his sunglasses back on, reached down, picked up his longboard and carefully placed it on the (empty) seat next to him.

I sighed.

At that point a hispanic kid wearing big Beats headphones looked at me, raised his eyebrows and offered me his seat.


And you wonder why so many of us are unexcited about the tech industry's impact on our city and our lives.

And you wonder why so many of us would prefer a different future. A different city. A better SF.

20 February 2014

How To Be Human, Part III

Note that this is a slight tangent in my series on teaching new entrepreneurs how to behave like decent humans. 

Everyone loves a winner, right?

Well... not so much. Everyone loves a good winner, yes. But trust me - there are more ways to lose by winning than you can imagine. And one of the easiest ways as an entrepreneur to turn your win into a loss is by fucking over the people who helped you win.

Sharing your successes with the people who helped you succeed is just basic human decency. But it's also a good practice. I'll explain through a little story telling...

About 15 years ago or so I helped out a few entrepreneurs in a very small manner. I was writing content for developers on Netscape's website, and I wrote about a very cool Web Application Server product. When ATG eventually went public, Joe Chung and Jeet Singh did something very cool. They threw a few friends and family shares my way to thank me.

Because it's The Right Thing.

It's the right thing to do as a decent and ethical human - but also because it's the right thing to do in business. This is a small industry, you never know when you might need someone in the future, and it's always good to earn some favors due. In fact, since then I've done all I can to help and support their future businesses - because they are the kind of decent people (as demonstrated here) that I want to see succeed.

I feel like every entrepreneur knew this 15 or 20 years ago.

Now contrast that with a more recent story.

An entrepreneur I know sold his start-up. A few of their employees were not desired by the acquiring company, so they were terminated at the deal. Many of these employee also hadn't been at the company for a year and thus hadn't vested any shares.

The entrepreneur cut loose these employees, who had helped the business grow to the point where it was desirable enough to be bought, without any sort of pay out.

So the entrepreneur just had a big win - which was not fairly shared.

Now... was this something the company had the right to do? Well... I'm not a lawyer but I'm confident in saying of course they had the right. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

So now this entrepreneur has some potentially pissed off former employees who feel screwed over. And it's a fucking small industry. And people talk.

This is wrong.
And it is stupid and short-sighted.

I was involved in the acquisition of an agency years ago. As with many agencies, the only shareholders were the owners of the business. But when the deal closed, they made sure that every single employee got paid something. Now... in some cases the payouts were not big or anything, but that's not the point. They shared the win.

I bet if you talk to any of those employees they're loyal to those owners to this day.
I bet if you talk about the agency in the market - you hear nothing but good to this day.
And I bet if you talk to those owners - they haven't regretted sharing that win for one fucking second.

Because being a decent person is more important than being a successful entrepreneur.

07 February 2014

How to be a Human, Part II

In my ongoing attempts to teach the modern startup entrepreneur how to be more human (or at least better at faking that they're not an alien from planet douchehat), here is part two in the new series.

I know that from your perspective it's hard to tell the difference between "confident creative out of the box thinker who rejects the status quo" and "arrogant fucking asshole who thinks that they've got nothing to learn from anyone" but for normal humans the difference is fundamental and profound.

In addition, while the former is actually the kind of person who is valuable to the long-term success of a start-up, the latter is (in general) largely fatal to such companies. Sure... there are asshole arrogant halfwits who have had startup success - but to be clear... that's luck. So unless you're the kind of person who truly believes that this week you're going to win the lottery... you should not count on luck for your success.

Without further ado... here is how to be the right kind of human in this case. It's quite simple and it consists of some simple self-questioning.


  1. When someone disagrees with you, is your first reaction to want to know why they disagree (or is it to immediately write them off as morons)?
  2. How many times a week do you realize you were wrong about something? Once a day or more (or never or at most one time a week)?
  3. Do you believe that doing something new/ different / innovative is a good means to the desired end (or the end in and of itself)?
  4. Do you try as much as possible to hire people smarter and more experienced than you (or is there no-one out there who is better than you)?
  5. Do you respond to people who provide constructive criticism by bringing them tighter into your circle (or by rejecting them from it)?


In each of the cases above - the first option means you're probably at least able to fake being human whereas the second answer means you might be from Planet Smarmysociopathassface.

So... if you failed the above, it's time to change. Because let me tell you... even the VCs are starting to get sick of dealing with people like you.