“We work in a world now where fast isn’t good enough. Where quantity is fairly regularly getting edged out by quality. You shipped twelve just-good-enough things this year? You’re about to get smoked by folks who shipped three of those things thoughtfully and holistically. Where you cut corners on twelve projects to get them out the door, someone else crafted three focused experiences and left themselves little-to-no design or technical debt.”—Cap Watkins, Just Ship* (via wka)
Couldn’t agree more. I’m really tried of the “Fuck it, ship it” mentality in the startup world. Yes, being pragmatic and consistently shipping is extremely important, but it’s not the only value that matters in the equation. As usual with glib startup advice, the reality of things is a lot more nuanced and complicated than the aphorisms lead people to believe.
“I have a tiny little secret hope that, after a decent period of silence and prose, I will find myself in some almost impossible life situation and will respond to this with outcries of rage, rage and love, such as the world has never heard before. Like Yeats’s great outburst at the end of his life. This comes out of a feeling that endowment is a very small part of achievement. I would rate it about fifteen or twenty percent. Then you have historical luck, personal luck, health, things like that, then you have hard work, sweat. And you have ambition. The incredible difference between the achievement of A and the achievement of B is that B wanted it, so he made all kinds of sacrifices. A could have had it, but he didn’t give a damn. The idea that everybody wants to be president of the United States or have a million dollars is simply not the case. Most people want to go down to the corner and have a glass of beer. They’re very happy. In Henderson the Rain King, the hero keeps on saying, “I want. I want.” Well, I’m that kind of character. I don’t know whether that is exhausted in me or not, I can’t tell. But what I was going on to say is that I do strongly feel that among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it, Titian and others, but mostly you need ordeal. My idea is this: The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business.”—Paris Review - The Art of Poetry No. 16, John Berryman
“If you are anywhere apart from the States, WhatsApp is the de facto standard for messaging. Here in Rwanda, it has far more penetration than Facebook, it is used by literally everybody who has a capable device. That came about not by having some edgy new user interface, or by a gimmick around disappearing messages, but by providing real value, value that can be measured in the pocketbook of a market that is massively under served. So the next time you are thinking about “putting a dent in the universe”, maybe you should look a bit farther, and maybe, just maybe you should start with a J2ME app.”—Your Path to a $16B exit? Build a J2ME App - TextIt Blog
“Feasible or not, gamification is the object of desire of contemporary capitalism and, as such, deserves attention because it prefigures trends to come. It’s the fantasy of measurement of the unmeasurable (lifestyle, affects, activism, reputation, self esteem…), as measurement is a precondition for commodification. It’s the new frontier in the rationalization of our lives.”—Videogames and the Spirit of Capitalism | Molleindustria
“For me, that means servant leadership. It’s really the only sane way to run an organization. See, the pointy-haired boss? Bill Lumbergh? He’s the default. He’s what you get if you don’t take management and leadership seriously and skeptically. He’s what you get when your managers are eager, rather than reluctant, to manage. And you can implement all the holacracy you want, but Lumbergh is always out there. A flat organization is a hundred-dollar bill laying on the sidewalk to these people. To a charismatic sociopath, or a good old-fashioned schemer, an organization without good servant leaders is like a field of wheat to a locust. Good management culture is your immune system against douchebags. (There, I said it.)”—Be a Manager — Servant Leadership — Medium
“Larry Tesler wound up at Apple, too, where he rose to the role of VP and stayed until 1997. Tesler’s love of simplicity was responsible for the one-button mouse that became synonymous with the Mac. The legacy of his dislike for computer modes (he often wore a t-shirt reading “Don’t Mode Me In” and his California licence plate read “NO MODES”) can, meanwhile, be seen in the wording of the iPhone text selection patent…”—
“This is the anti-path/fb Paper approach to design. They’ve gone ahead, curated, and built the whole shebbang. With perfect pixels and manicured swipes, the apps look great (I’m actually extremely envious of their design team talent!), but I’ll never use them again. There’s no room for me to make it mine.”—
“The rate at which web users consume and discard new apps is accelerating. Proof of that is clear: Chatroulette was popular for around nine months before users lost interest in its often-lewd content. Turntable.fm, which exploded in the summer of 2011, peaked that fall before people tired of its novelty interface. It was popular for long enough to raise $7 million in venture funding before finally shutting down late last year. Draw Something, a game which took off in early 2012, climbed the App Store rankings for just six weeks before Zynga (ZNGA) acquired its parent company, OMGPop, for $200 million. Almost immediately after the deal, the app began losing users. Recent viral hits which the jury is still out on include Snapchat, Vine, and Frontback, a photo-sharing app which gained traction over the summer but has been quiet since. The moral is: The majority of viral apps and companies have ended up as losers.”—
I post this because it’s something I’ve noticed from another direction: discussions around popular apps losing younger users.
Younger users are quick to jump onboard with trending apps. But they are not the biggest online spenders—that’s baby boomers—and they are very likely to quickly discard an app once it’s perceived as less cool. (Just a guess here, but likely it gets ‘less cool’ when the older, financially solvent user segments come along.)
In short: apps are currently being evaluated and funded based on their popularity with a cash-poor, fickle user segment. VCs and financial analysts are not only aware of this, but have decided those are ideal metrics on which to base their investments.
Clearly it is to their advantage to invest in a briefly very popular app rather than an app with a smaller, more stable user base. Which begs the question: why even pretend most popular apps have a future?
Not much to add to Timoni’s spot on analysis beyond: I’ve had similar thoughts.
Update: for an interesting counterpoint and some thinking on how the “short shelf life apps” situation may evolve in the direction of a Hollywood studio model (something I’ve also wondered about from time to time), check out Rick Webb’s response.
“Strict management, in love with Gantt charts and schedules and documentation, was reduced to “stakeholders” and “users,” and then abstracted away into “user stories.” It’s common now for me to get involved in a project that seems to have no adult supervision. Surprisingly, left to themselves programmers don’t revert to cowboy coding—they adopt or create methodologies stricter and more filled with ritual than anything I experienced in 1980. In fact programmers today can be much more rigid and religious about their methodologies than they imagine a 1970s-era COBOL shop was. I now routinely get involved with projects developed by one or two people burdened with so much process and “best practices” that almost nothing of real value is produced.”—Typical Programmer - Why don’t software development methodologies work?
“As for the content of the Q&A itself? My distrust of excessive power will show itself here (note: Soviet childhood), but I can think of Mark Zuckerberg only as a tunnel visionary. He wants Facebook to connect all the people in the world & have a personalized theory of mind for each user. As far as he sees, this is for the good. Some of the questions asked by the incisive audience were polite versions of “What are the dangers of having this much data about so many people?” and “What does Facebook as a company do to help society?” These Zuckerberg dodged so expertly that by the time he was done “answering” (with a hefty & convincing confidence), I had forgotten exactly what the question was.”—explain my data: NIPS and the Zuckerberg Visit
For Hofstadter, [verbal errors are] clues. “Nobody is a very reliable guide concerning activities in their mind that are, by definition, subconscious,” he once wrote. “This is what makes vast collections of errors so important. In an isolated error, the mechanisms involved yield only slight traces of themselves; however, in a large collection, vast numbers of such slight traces exist, collectively adding up to strong evidence for (and against) particular mechanisms.” Correct speech isn’t very interesting; it’s like a well-executed magic trick—effective because it obscures how it works. What Hofstadter is looking for is “a tip of the rabbit’s ear … a hint of a trap door.”
In this he is the modern-day William James, whose blend of articulate introspection (he introduced the idea of the stream of consciousness) and crisp explanations made his 1890 text, Principles of Psychology, a classic. “The mass of our thinking vanishes for ever, beyond hope of recovery,” James wrote, “and psychology only gathers up a few of the crumbs that fall from the feast.” Like Hofstadter, James made his life playing under the table, gleefully inspecting those crumbs. The difference is that where James had only his eyes, Hofstadter has something like a microscope.
“Indeed, some of the stories coming out of Yahoo bear a striking similarity to those about her tenure at Google. She can still be cold to executives who report to her. One former executive recalls warning team members before they went into a meeting with Mayer that they weren’t going to get what they expected. “Despite the warning, people, very experienced people with decades of experience, walked out and said, ‘That was the worst meeting of my entire career,’ ” this person says. “She will bring a tub of blueberries to a meeting and just stare at you, popping blueberries into her mouth. People feel so dismissed.”—
But the event also demonstrated the seductiveness of digital elitism, which incorporates social consciousness and intellectual discussion. “If we’re going to achieve greatness in the twenty-first century,” Eric Schmidt said, “…we have to start with some Silicon Valley thinking.” He stated that “Ultimately, this world will be owned by an entrepreneur.”
Digital elitism is optimistic, in that technology is positioned as a solution to an array of difficult problems. At the same time, it inculcates an air of superiority and a universality of experience that truly only applies to a very small number of the world’s most privileged individuals.
Digital elitism does not reconfigure power; it entrenches it. It provides justification for enormous gaps between rich and poor, for huge differences between average people and highly sought-after engineers. It idealizes a “better class of rich people” (as Kara Swisher put it) who evangelize philanthropy and social entrepreneurship — but it also promotes the idea that entrepreneurship is a catch-all solution, and that a startup culture is the best way to solve any problem.
DISCLAIMER: As a means of easily explaining these roles, I’m going to express them hierarchically from an org chart perspective. There are entrepreneurial folks out there who are going to shake their fingers vigorously in my general direction, saying, “Keep our orgs flat! Titles are toxic! Why are you forcing bureaucratic power trips on me!”
These folks haven’t seen shit. It’s a good thing – the lack of preconceived notions keeps them mentally and entrepreneurially limber – but they haven’t seen shit. They don’t understand how groups of people organize, nor have they ever attempted to build something with more than a handful of individuals. They have an intense belief in the power of the individual. This is their bias because this is who they are: a handful of bright people with a dream.
“In some respects, Hubbard discovered himself on that unlucky voyage, which he termed a “glorious adventure.” His infatuation with motion pictures first became evident on this trip, although no movies were actually made. Despite the defections, Hubbard demonstrated an impressive capacity to summon others to join him on what was clearly a shaky enterprise. Throughout his life he would enlist people—especially young people—in romantic, ill-conceived projects, often at sea, where he was out of reach of process servers. He was beginning to invent himself as a charismatic leader. The grandeur of his project was not yet evident, even to him, but in the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition he clearly defined himself as an explorer, sailor, filmmaker, and leader of men, even though he failed spectacularly in each of those categories. He had an incorrigible ability to float above the evidence and to extract from his experiences lessons that others would say were irrational and even bizarre. Habitually, and perhaps unconsciously, Hubbard would fill this gap—between reality and his interpretation of it—with mythology. This was the source of what some call his genius, and others call his insanity.”—
“After Twitter and Instagram in 2009 and 2011 respectively, Snapchat posed the latest, real threat to Facebook’s omnipresence. To Mark and Facebook, seeing people stop to post a photo to Snapchat instead of Facebook must have been disturbing, and therefore Snapchat needed to be bought. But the very fact that Facebook needed to buy Snapchat is perhaps why Snapchat needed to say no. In posing a real threat to Facebook, Snapchat proved that it may have that one elusive thing that no money can buy: the ability to change how people behave, to become central to their relationships with one another, to re-architect human contact, to be masters of the human domain. The ability to shape the world’s culture is something that Facebook has and doesn’t want to lose, and as evidenced by the buyout offer and rejection, Snapchat has and doesn’t want to lose either. And this, to a founder of a hot startup, is how 3 billion dollars becomes meaningless.”—Why Founders Don’t Sell — on startups — Medium
As the employees sat, hushed, Dick [Costolo] paced in front of them with the microphone in his hand and told a story about their recent move.
He said that when he had directed the movers to transport the artwork from the old office, he had instructed them to leave one piece of art behind. It had hung in the Folsom Street office since late December 2009. The piece of art was in a black frame with a white border. In a bit of irony, it had been hung upside down. And in bold white letters on a dark background, it made a statement in thirty-six characters: “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.”
The new office, Dick explained, meant that it was time for Twitter to grow up as a company. To the end of rolling site outages and a long list of other problems that had plagued Twitter’s infancy.
"We’re leaving the motto of making better mistakes tomorrow in the old building," Dick said. "That’s not the type of company we are anymore."
The following day, we were sitting at lunch on the roof of the hotel with the skyline of São Paulo stretching as far as we could see when Mark declared imperially, as he gazed at the view, “We’re going to write a book about Facebook together someday.” That sounds fun, I thought, but then my mind reeled with questions. What would that book even be like? The book I would write about Facebook would be so different from the one Mark would write. It was weird that he assumed I thought the same way he did. My face must have betrayed my doubts and questions, because Mark looked at me with his typical coy smirk, and said, more directly than usual, “I don’t know if I trust you.”
…And that was it. Like the security detail’s van emerging from the tunnel, I felt like I wasn’t locked in anymore. I could finally breathe. If Mark had figured out over lunch that I didn’t believe and that I had a mind of my own, it didn’t matter. Game over. And, who knows, perhaps he knew it all along.
“Voting on highly subjective content, such as the right way to [localize] a complicated concept like poking or the wall, can produce more conflict than agreement. There was often no definitively correct answer but, instead, many different interpretations of a given word. For example, the Spanish translators wanted to know if wall meant the side of a building or something more like a bulletin board (the answer was the latter, though then there were an array of different words for a bulletin board for translators to vote on and choose from). Usually, the voting results produced passable translations, but when there was a translation impasse, I noticed that some engineers placed an almost religious faith in the voting process, and seemed to feel threatened by the idea that the algorithmically decided results might not be perfect. “The voting will fix it,” they said, like a mantra, as the translations rolled in and vied for victory on the page.”—Katherine Losse: The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network
"We’re currently in the middle of an occult revival, says Jesse Bransford, a New York University art professor who co-organized an occult humanities conference earlier this month. He sees a connection between increasing interest in the occult and postrecession anxiety. Magic ‘has always been a technique of the disenfranchised,’ he says. ‘It’s something you do when the tools you have available don’t seem like they’re enough.’"
"Forty years ago, the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker claimed that fear of our own mortality was the fundamental motivator behind all human behavior. But could popularizing death through social settings help it become less scary for the rest of us? Some scholars think so, since prolonged exposure to death in comfortable environments, where dying is viewed as an essential part of living, has shown decreases in death anxiety."
“They were trying to teach graphics as epitomised by the recognised practitioners of the time – a Milton Glaser or a Pentagram. But they’d lost grasp of the moment. The agenda was how to find witty visual puns to summarise a situation: a logo for a restaurant could be a bite out of a plate. Well, to a young person growing up on Roxy Music, that was utterly banal. I won’t spend five minutes thinking down that line. It’s stupid. It tells me nothing about the restaurant… What I learned from style culture was if you dress a particular way, you communicate with like-minded people. I just employed exactly the same technique with graphics. So forget the bite out of the plate. The choice of type alone will tell you what kind of restaurant this is. Get the typeface, size, position, spacing and mood right, and it will tell you. Is it Le Gavroche or is it McDonald’s? It’s the language of semiotics, not of puns.”—Peter Saville. (via e-r-h)
“I knew that if I simply did everything I was told, I would not be of any interest to Mark, who preferred employees who were slightly dangerous…This dissonance between upper and middle management is what happens when you work for a company like Facebook, which is simultaneously about control and the dismantling of control. Facebook wanted to disrupt the market without having its own order disrupted, to perpetually change and break things without allowing its users the same privilege. Internally, it was the same: Engineers were tacitly encouraged to break rules while the rest of the company had to follow them, unless they had some tricks of their own. The people in the company who could get around this paradox were the ones who could social it (the short term for social engineering, or hacking one’s way around something using social means) by breaking the right rules and, above all, remaining popular, and in doing so riding all the inherent corporate contradictions as far as they would take them. Facebook’s work environment, like much of Silicon Valley, and even like the Internet itself, was always about power: about maximizing your own power while conceding as little of it to others as you could.”—Katherine Losse: The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network