Tag Archives: tech

The “Facebook of Money” That Wasn’t

To paraphrase Tolstoy, every struggling startup struggles in its own way. Except they all seem to feature extravagant soirées, hazy business plans, and round after round of beer pong on a SoMa roof deck. At Fast Company, Ainsley Harris charts the decline and fall of Tilt, a social-payments platform billed as the “Facebook of Money.” Joining other examples in the emerging genre of schadenfreude-laced startup postmortems, it offers an almost-wistful glimpse at Silicon Valley culture at the precise moment when easy funding became a thing of the past.

Over time, Beshara’s leadership alienated some of Tilt’s more experienced hires, who chose to move on rather than challenge their rookie boss. Meanwhile, Tilt continued to attract young talent barely old enough to join the company’s happy hours.

“There was too much focus on culture and creating this nirvana of a company. This is not a fraternity, this is a business,” says a former manager. Beshara seemed determined to keep the party going until the bitter end. Last September, for example, with a cash crunch imminent, he pressed forward with Tilt’s final Lake Tahoe retreat. Only a small group of employees had any idea that a sale was already in the works.

Looking back now, Beshara acknowledges the imbalance. “I feel very strongly that you want to end up on the side of human connection, human relationships,” he says. “But I think you can index too far on that and really miss the importance of really high standards.”

Read the story

Amazon’s New Stores Aren’t Happy to See You Either

It’s come to this: We’re now eulogizing giant corporate retail chains. Suburban D.C. will lose one of its largest bookstores when the 20-year-old Barnes & Noble flagship in Bethesda closes at the end of this year. Rumored to be one of the largest and highest-trafficked Barnes & Noble locations, second only to New York’s Union Square, the store was at the center of the development of Bethesda Row, an avenue of retail outlets that now includes a Kate Spade, Sur La Table, and The North Face, making professorial Bethesda into the kind of suburb that commands $10.5 million for a “downtown” penthouse. The Barnes & Noble was the beginning of this transformation, and now it has come to the end. Read more…

What Happened When You Invited Steve Jobs to Your Product Demo

Steve Jobs

“I think it’s coming along,” said Tim, “though we expect—” “I think it sucks!” said Jobs.

His vehemence made Tim pause. “Why?” he asked, a bit stiffly.

“It just does.”

“In what sense?” said Tim, getting his feet back under him. “Give me a clue.”

“Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic,” said Jobs, ticking off three of his design mantras.

You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.” The last word delivered like a stab. Doug Field and Scott Waters would have felt the wound; they admired Apple’s design sense. Dean’s intuition not to bring Doug had been right. “There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of,” Jobs continued, “things that would make you shit in your pants.”

An excerpt from the 2003 book Code Name Ginger, the story behind Dean Kamen’s Segway scooter. Steve Kemper recounts the time Kamen introduced his invention (code-named Ginger) to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. They immediately foresaw problems with the product. (via The Browser.)

 
Read the story
 

When a YouTube Video Almost Made the Modular Smartphone Happen

Failure stories come in two distinct flavors: “We almost had it all!” and schadenfreude. At VentureBeat, Harrison Weber’s tale of Google’s suspended project to build a modular smartphone is distinctly of the first type. It channels the excitement of the people who tried to make it happen — and the wistfulness of those who find it hard to let go. More than anything else, though, it shows how hard it to translate a cool, lightbulb-moment idea into a viable product.

“I had an old camera that I broke and I couldn’t really fix it. So I took it apart and I noticed all the components were still pretty good, except for one thing.”

“I thought: Isn’t that weird that we throw everything away just because one part is broken?” said Hakkens.

“At first, I wanted to make a phone that lasts 100 years. But then I realized, I kind of like technology — that it evolves, that it gets better. The only downside is that after it gets better, we throw everything away. I started looking into it, and it generates a lot of e-waste… I mean now we have some devices, but in the future it’s thermostats, fridges, microwaves — everything will be connected. So what if a chip breaks in your fridge? Do you just throw the entire thing away?”

The Phonebloks story spread like wildfire. Gadget blogs covered it en masse, hordes of supporters signed up to support, tweet, and share the idea with a viral marketing tool called Thunderclap, and developers fired back, saying it couldn’t be done — that it was impossible to build. Perhaps they had a point.

Read the story

Longreads Best of 2015: Business & Tech

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in business and tech.

* * *

Read more…

Can a Company Really Disrupt Itself? Roger Hodge on Zappos and Holacracy

zappos

Roger Hodge went inside Zappos for his October 2015 in the The New Republic, investigating CEO Tony Hsieh’s radical decision to eliminate management and fully embrace the concept of Holacracy at the online shoe retailer.  Read more…

Cashing In On Tech’s Spiritual Awakening

Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that many tech workers in San Francisco turn to psychics for a glimpse of the future. Or that psychics, in turn, are rebranding themselves as spiritual therapists, executive coaches, and corporate counselors. The trend is common enough to be spoofed on HBO’s Silicon Valley, where the show’s fictional tech CEO confers with a spiritual guru. Meanwhile, real-life tech execs are increasingly candid about their spiritual hygiene: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff endorses yoga; LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner advocates mindful meditation; and the late Steve Jobs, a student of Buddhism, was mentored by a Zen priest.

The San Francisco Yellow Pages list 128 psychics and mediums in the city; there are 141 listings for astrologers (with some overlap between the categories). In the Bay Area at large, psychics are keen to cash in on tech’s spiritual awakening.

Jeremy Lybarger writing in San Francisco Weekly about the astrologers and mystics who minister to Silicon Valley’s elite.

Read the story

How Apple’s Transcendent Chihuahua Killed the Revolution

Ian Bogost | from The Geek’s Chihuahua | University of Minnesota Press | April 2015 | 22 minutes (5,539 words)

 

The following is an excerpt from Ian Bogost’s book The Geek’s Chihuahua, which addresses “the modern love affair of ‘living with Apple’ during the height of the company’s market influence and technology dominance,” and how smartphones created a phenomenon of “hyperemployment.”

***

Think back to 2007, when you got the first iPhone. (You did get one, didn’t you? Of course you did.) You don’t need me to remind you that it was a shiny object of impressive design, slick in hand and light in pocket. Its screen was bright and its many animations produced endless, silent “oohs” even as they became quickly familiar. Accelerometer-triggered rotations, cell tower triangulations (the first model didn’t have GPS yet), and seamless cellular/WiFi data transitions invoked strong levels of welcome magic. These were all novelties once, and not that long ago.

What you probably don’t remember: that first iPhone was also terrible. Practically unusable, really, for the ordinary barrage of phone calls, text messages, mobile email, and web browsing that earlier smartphones had made portable. And not for the reasons we feared before getting our hands on one—typing without tactile feedback wasn’t as hard to get used to as BlackBerry and Treo road warriors had feared, even if it still required a deliberate transition from t9 or mini-keyboard devices—but rather because the device software was pushing the limits of what affordable hardware could handle at the time.

Applications loaded incredibly slowly. Pulling up a number or composing an email by contact name was best begun before ordering a latte or watering a urinal to account for the ensuing delay. Cellular telephone reception was far inferior to other devices available at the time, and regaining a lost signal frequently required an antenna or power cycle. Wireless data reception was poor and slow, and the device’s ability to handle passing in and out of what coverage it might find was limited. Tasks interrupted by coverage losses, such as email sends in progress, frequently failed completely.

The software was barebones. There was no App Store in those early days, making the iPhone’s operating system a self-contained affair, a ladleful of Apple-apportioned software gruel, the same for everyone. That it worked at all was a miracle, but our expectations had been set high by decades of complex, adept desktop software. By comparison, the iPhone’s apps were barebones. The Mail application, for example, borrowed none of its desktop cousin’s elegant color-coded, threaded summary view but instead demanded inexplicable click-touches back and forward from folder to folder, mailbox to mailbox. Read more…

The Russian Information War

“The point is to spoil [the internet], to create the atmosphere of hate, to make it so stinky that normal people won’t want to touch it.”

Adrian Chen, in The New York Times Magazine, on Russia’s massive troll army—and their plot against him.

Read the story

A Brief History of AOL

A short reading list on the many lives of AOL, which will be acquired by Verizon for $4.4 billion. Fifteen years ago, AOL acquired Time Warner for $165 billion.  Read more…