Facebook: Fine Thinking

September 26, 2020

I read “Former Facebook Manager: We Took a Page from Big Tobacco’s Playbook.” The main idea is that a former Facebook professional revealed how the gears meshed within the Facebook distributed intelligence machine. For me, the allegedly truthful revelations add some color to my understanding of what I call high school science club thinking.

The write up quotes the actual factual testimony of Facebook’s former director of monetization (good title that), quoting a certain Tim Kendall as saying:

“We sought to mine as much attention as humanly possible… We took a page form Big Tobacco’s playbook, working to make our offering addictive at the outset.”

What’s interesting is the way in which Ars Technica approached the story. The article lets Mr. Kendall’s own words and some facts about Facebook’s fine manager-employee relations beef up the write up.

What’s interesting is the way in which Ars Technica approached the story. The article lets Mr. Kendall’s own words and some facts about Facebook’s fine manager-employee relations beef up the write up.

Facebook continues to capture the attention of the savvy US elected officials. The social media company opened for business in 2004. That works out to more than 15 years ago. Now after controversies with alleged “co-founders”, the pompous Etonian, and interactions with the clear-minded European union officials, Facebook is getting scrutinized by the US government.

What if Mr. Kendall is making Facebook look different like a reflection in a fun house mirror? What if Facebook is a happy, happy place? What if Facebook has contributed to social comity?

What if Facebook is the best thing one can say about 2020?

Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2020

Facebook and Digital Partitioning

September 18, 2020

I am no expert on managing the Gen X, Y, and millennials creating must have services for thumbtypers. The services, like the young wizards, puzzle me. I don’t worry about it, but for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, he worries and tries to remediate what seems to be a management Sudoku.

“Facebook Issues New Rules on Internal Employee Communication” explains new principles “to guide debates and conversations within Workplace. This is Facebook’s social network for employees. The article points out that Google moderates its internal message boards.

I live in rural Kentucky, but it seems to me that “principles” and humans who are digital content guards are an interesting development. The approach is even more interesting because Facebook has expressed a keen desire to facilitate social interactions.

I noted this passage in the CNBC write up:

The company will also be more specific about which parts of Workplace can be used to discuss social and political issues. This change will be so that employees do not have to confront social issues during their day-to-day work. Facebook’s new principles also ask that employees communicate with professionalism and continue to debate about the company’s work but do so in a respectful manner.

How does partitioning work in day-to-day communication? In computer speak, a partition is a chunk of a storage device. That data space is a separate logical volume. In a house, a partition divides one space into smaller spaces; for example, a big house in San Jose may have a “safe room.” The idea is that a person can enter the separate area and prevent an intruder from harming the individual. In the case of the storage device, a person or software system operates as the decision maker. the partition is created. The “user” gains access to the storage under certain conditions, but the user does not decide. The user just gets rights and lives with those rights.

The safe house is a different kettle of intentions. The safe room is entered by an individual who feels threatened or who wants to escape a Zoom call. The user locks the door and prevents others from getting into the safe room.

What’s the Facebook partition? Who decides? These will be interesting questions to answer as Facebook pushes forward with what I call “imposed adulting.” The partitioning of Workplace is an interesting step by a company which has been less than proactive in making certain types of decisions about social behavior within the Facebook datasphere.

A related question is, “How does partitioning work out in a social setting?” I napped through lectures about historical partitioning efforts. I vaguely recall one of my history professors (Dr. Philip Crane) expounding about the partitioning of Berlin after the second world war. My recollection is very fuzzy, but the impression I can dredge up from the murky depths of my memory is that it was not party time and pink balloons.

Net net: Partitioning a storage device is a god mode function. Partitioning in a social space is a less tidy logical operation. And when the computer partitioning meets the social partition? Excitement for sure.

Stephen E Arnold, September 18, 2020

Google: WFH Engineers with Zero Hands On Real World Knowledge Are an Amusing Group

September 17, 2020

The Google thing is a meh to me. The dumpster fires at YouTube are a source of amazement. Odd ball behaviors in Gmail allow email to appear and disappear with merrie abandon. So be it. We noted “Google, Nobody Asked for a New Blogger Interface”, an interesting essay which tackles a facet of Google we have not paid attention to for years — Blogger.

The write up explains interface changes and behaviors of the editor. Most Blogger users may not care. The author of the TenFourFox Development essay does. As a result, there is a believability and emotion in the write up. Here’s an example:

By switching into HTML view, you lose ($#@%!, stop indenting that line when I type emphasis tags!) the ability to insert hyperlinks, images or other media by any other means other than manually typing them out. You can’t even upload an image, let alone automatically insert the HTML boilerplate and edit it. So switch into Compose view to actually do any of those things, and what happens? Like before, Blogger rewrites your document, but now this happens all the time because of what you can’t do in HTML view. Certain arbitrarily-determined naughtytags(tm) like <em> become <i> (my screen-reader friends will be disappointed).

There’s more, including the clunky workaround the TenFourFox Development author has figured out.

Welcome to the new and improved Google?

Several observations:

  1. Changes at Google often emerge before someone with actual hands on experience is aware of the changes. Don’t you love those rippling changes across time zones from Google search professionals? Same deal. Make a change. Go forth. Catch up later? Maybe. Maybe not.
  2. With less human-to-human Foosball interaction, advice is not shared casually. Consequently young entitled wizards do things and without rules or effective management, stuff happens. Case in point: The introduction of changes without considering 360 degree impacts. What 21 year old thinks beyond a single point of focus: Hey, this works. Not many.
  3. When managers are involved, those individuals often have their sights set on the next big thing; that is, a lateral arabesque to a task that will deliver fame, glory, and a bonus or a promotion. The utility of a change from a user’s perspective is not part of the job description.

For that reason, YouTube throttling, ad injection, and irrelevant search results seem to be the new normal. Don’t you love entering a query with a phrase in quotes. Google happily displays results with a required word excluded from the results list. Hey, those are really unhelpful fixes in my opinion. The policies burn through the ad inventory and annoy “customers”, don’t they? No. I think I understand.

Net net: DarkCyber has concluded that work from home engineers with zero hands on, real world knowledge are an amusing group. Just another task for the affable Google senior management to tackle. Unfortunately disconnects in Blogger are examples of an interior deterioration of bits and basics. That’s not amusing.

Stephen E Arnold, September 17, 2020

Palantir: Planning Ahead

September 4, 2020

I read “In Amended Filing, Palantir Admits It Won’t Have Independent Board Governance for Up to a Year.” The legal tap dancing is semi-interesting. Palantir wants money and control. I understand that motive. The company — despite its sudden interest in becoming a cowboy — has Silicon Valley roots.

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What’s fascinating is that the company was founded in 2004, although I have seen references to 2003. No big deal. Just a detail. The key point is that the company has been talking about an initial public offering for years.

The write up explains that after submitting an S-1 form to the Securities & Exchange Commission, Palantir submitted a revised  or amended S-1. For a firm which provides intelware and policeware to government agencies, planning and getting one’s ducks in a row seem to be important attributes.

Did Palantir just dash off the first S-1 at Philz Coffee? Then did some bright young stakeholder say, “Yo, dudes, we need to make sure we keep control. You know like the Zuck.”

After 16 years in business and burning through a couple of tractor trailers filled with cash, it seems untoward to submit a revision hard on the heels of an SEC S-1 filing.

Careless, disorganized, or what the French call l’esprit d’escalier strikes me as telling.

Observations:

  1. The resubmission suggests carelessness and flawed management processes
  2. The action raises the question, “Are these Silicon Valley cowboys getting desperate for an exist?”
  3. For a low profile outfit engaged in secret work for some of its clients, public actions increase the scrutiny on a company which after a decade and a half is not profitable.

Interesting behavior from from Palantirians. Did the seeing stone suffer a power outage?

Stephen E Arnold, September 4, 2020

Amazon: Employee Surveillance and the Bezos Bulldozer with DeepLens, Ring, and Alexa Upgrades

September 4, 2020

Editor’s Note: This link to Eyes Everywhere: Amazon’s Surveillance Infrastructure and Revitalizing Worker Power may go bad; that is, happy 404 to you. There’s not much DarkCyber can do. Just a heads up, gentle reader.

The information in a report by Open Markets called Amazon’s Surveillance Infrastructure and Revitalizing Worker Power may be difficult to verify and comprehend. People think of Amazon in terms of boxes with smiley faces and quick deliveries of dog food and Lightning cables.

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Happy Amazon boxes.

The 34 page document paints a picture of sad Amazon boxes.

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The main point is that the Bezos bulldozer drives over employees, not just local, regional, and national retail outlets:

A fundamental aspect of its power is the corporation’s ability to surveil every aspect of its workers’ behavior and use the surveillance to create a harsh and dehumanizing working environment that produces a constant state of fear, as well as physical and mental anguish. The corporation’s extensive and pervasive surveillance practices deter workers from collectively organizing and harm their physical and mental health. Amazon’s vast surveillance infrastructure constantly makes workers aware that every single movement they make is tracked and scrutinized. When workers make the slightest mistake, Amazon can use its surveillance infrastructure to terminate them.

Several observations:

  1. Amazon is doing what Amazon does. Just like beavers doing what beavers do. Changing behavior is not easy. Evidence: Ask the parents of a child addicted to opioids.
  2. Stakeholders are happy. Think of the the song with the line “money, money, money.”
  3. Amazon has the cash, clout, and commitment to pay for lobbying the US government. So far the President of the United States has been able to catch Amazon’s attention with a JEDI sword strike, but that’s not slowed down Darth Jeff.

Net net: After 20 plus years of zero meaningful regulation, the activities of the Bezos bulldozer should be viewed as a force (like “May the force be with you.”) DarkCyber wants to point out that Amazon is also in the policeware business. The write up may be viewed as validation of Amazon’s investments in this market sector.

Stephen E Arnold, September 4, 2020

Facebook Management: The High School Science Club Method Reveals Insights

September 3, 2020

An online publication called The Daily Beast published “Facebook’s Internal Black Lives Matter Debate Got So Bad Zuckerberg Had to Step In.” How accurate is the write up? DarkCyber does not know. It is not clear what the point of the “real news” story is.

The write up seems to suggest that there is dissention within Facebook over what employees can on the Facebook internal communication system. The write up makes clear that Mr. Zuckerberg, the Caesar of social media, involved himself in the online dust up. Plus the article describes actions that are just peculiar; for example, this quote:

“[L]et me be absolutely clear about our stance as a company: systemic racism is real. It disadvantages and endangers people of color in America and around the world,” Zuckerberg posted. Zuckerberg added that while it was “valuable for employees to be able to disagree with the company and each other,” he encouraged Facebook staffers to do so “respectfully, with empathy and understanding towards each other.”

What’s the dividing point between an opinion and a statement which is out of bounds? Does Mark Zuckerberg referee these in bounds and out of bounds events?

Several observations:

  1. Facebook may be able to deal with pesky regulators in Europe and remind the government of Australia that the company has its own views of news, but managing a large company is a different category of problem. Dissention within an organization may not be a positive when regulators are keeping their eyes peeled for witnesses
  2. Employees within Facebook are manifesting behaviors associated with views and reactions to those views on the Facebook system itself; Facebook is a microcosm of the corrosive effect of instant, unchecked messaging. Will these messages be constrained by humans or smart software or both?
  3. Mr. Zuckerberg himself is offering a path forward that seems to suggest that a certain homogeneity of thought amongst employees is desirable; that is, disagree within boundaries. But what are the boundaries? Is it possible to define what crosses a shades of gray line ?

Net net: The high school science club management method which has gained favor among a number of Silicon Valley-centric companies is being pushed and pulled in interesting ways. What happens if the fabric of governance is torn and emergency fixes are necessary? Expulsion, loss of market momentum, de facto control of discourse, or insider threats in the form of sabotage, leaks, and unionization? That puts a different spin on social, does it not?

Stephen E Arnold, September 3, 2020

Facebook: Trouble Within?

September 2, 2020

How did my Latin teacher explain this allegedly accurate management method? As I recall, a member of the Roman army who dropped the ball would be identified. Then his “unit” would be gathered. According to Mr. Buschman, every tenth person was killed. The point of the anecdote was to teach the “meaning” of decimate; that is, every tenth or in 1958 lingo, destroy. Was Mr. Buschman on the beam? I have no idea, nor do I care. My recollection of decimation emerged as I read “Facebook Employees Are Outraged At Mark Zuckerberg’s Explanations Of How It Handled The Kenosha Violence.” The Silicon Valley “real” news outfit reported this allegedly accurate quote:

“At what point do we take responsibility for enabling hate filled bile to spread across our services?” wrote one employee. “[A]nti Semitism, conspiracy, and white supremacy reeks across our services.”

To quell what seems to be some dissention in the ranks, is it time to revisit Rome’s method of focusing a cohort’s attention?

A modern day Caesar might find inspiration in the past. The present and immediate future may not be doing the job.

Stephen E Arnold, September 2, 2020

Google: High School Science Club Management Method Disclosed

August 28, 2020

Navigate to “Unredacted Suit Shows Google’s Own Engineers Confused by Privacy Settings.” I remember my high school science club in 1958. Quite a group of bright, entitled, arrogant, and clueless individuals. Of course, I was a member, and I had zero idea why the seniors wanted to set off stink bombs in the chemistry lab, splice into the loud speaker system to play rock and roll at 7:45 am, and rig the auditorium microphones to generate chuckle inducing feedback. Ho, ho, ho.

If the information in the referenced article is accurate, a similar approach is operative at the Google. I suppose one could view the statements about confusing interfaces, words that mean one thing to a normal human and something else to a wizard, and the panic which sets in when the Science Club is caught in a dark pattern.

I’m not amused. The article documents how running a company which controls information behaves… just like a high school science club. Ho ho ho. Isn’t this amusing? Actually. No. The Twitter clown car may be pulling into the drive in front of the Google dinosaur skeleton right now.

Stephen E Arnold, August 28, 2020

Apple Learns: There Can Be Knock Ons from Zoomified Congressional Hearings

August 21, 2020

What happens when high school science club “on the fly”, “we can do what we want” decision making is revealed in Zoomified Congressional hearings? “News Publishers Join Epic Games in Asking Apple for Lower App Store Fees” is an example of the strong reaction to special deals. Now Apple’s partners want the same “deal” extended to the Bezos bulldozer. Here’s the key statement from an online news service:

publishers including the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNET parent company ViacomCBS, want that 30% fee dropped to 15%.

Thus, it seems Apple and Amazon worked out a deal different from the one imposed on lesser Apple partners.

Digital Content Next offers this observation in a letter to Apple’s management:

Sometime in 2017, Apple and Amazon, two giant platform companies, struck a deal where Amazon Prime Video would be available on Apple TV and Apple products would be available on Amazon. As part of the terms of that deal, Apple would reduce its fee for consumers who subscribed to Prime Video from 30% to 15%. For existing Prime Video subscribers, Apple agreed to completely waive its normal 15% fee. The cherry on top for Amazon was that they could use other payment systems outside of Apple.

Apple now has to fancy dance its way around what looks like a problem.

Apple wants to do what it wants. Don’t like the changes in our operating systems? Well, that’s Apple doing its thing. Don’t like the fees? Well, that’s the way we operate. Take it or leave it. Don’t like the deal we worked out with Amazon? Well, too bad.

Despite the love many have for the Apple ecosystem, the time has arrived for those with different views to grouse out loud.

So what? This looks like another example of situational decision making. A deal with the Bezos bulldozer may grind slowly around and start rolling back to the digital orchard.

To sum up: High school science club are now playing Fortnite in real life or IRL. Battle royale? Yep. Those Zoomified hearings make it clear that the democratic processes generate useful information and cause an action-reaction demonstration. The game, however, is not a digital fantasy.

Stephen E Arnold, August 21, 2020

The Flywheel Thing

August 21, 2020

About a year ago, a marketing person asked me, “Why don’t you talk about the Amazon flywheel?” I replied, “Flywheel. What flywheel?” Sure, I knew about the Bezos buzzword, but that does not mean I have to use it when I write about the world’s largest online bookstore. I prefer jazzier words and phrases; for example, cat’s pajamas, wizards, and high school science club manager, etc.

Question Everything or the Strange Loop Principle” seems to come down on my side of word choice. The essay asserts:

First, let’s see how Collins himself describes what he calls the Flywheel Concept. For that, I’m going to borrow from Collins’ own Turning the Flywheel: a Monograph to Accompany Good to Great. But first, we have to discuss Collins’ word choice and the mechanics of an actual flywheel. He picks “Flywheel” for a reason: he believes flywheels accurately describe the sort of dynamics he identifies in some very successful companies that go from being average – “good” – to being leaders – “great” –.

Now the flywheel in business:

So whatever Collins wants us to understand about great businesses, he thinks a flywheel is a good shortcut to get there.

The there is growth, maybe exponential growth. One problem:

Therefore, flywheels are great at describing something that holds a lot of momentum, but not something that behaves exponentially, or that self-reinforces itself.

Now Amazon:

I think Amazon is a great example of something I can’t quite point at but that seems to reinforce itself (I have no evidence that it’s exponential in any way. Just that it seems to go on and on forever without the need for more energy). As it sells more, it’s able to sell cheaper, which leads it to sell more, which leads it to be able to sell cheaper, and on and on. Businesses that find such self-reinforcing “mechanics” have something strong going for them.

The bottom line:

Here’s this guy who’s arguably the new Peter Drucker, revered by entrepreneurs, world leaders and executives alike, not only basing a huge part of his knowledge production on a shaky concept that’s named and explained with a shaky mix of words and examples applying it all in a very shaky way to his own life.

Yep, imagine that. Management thinking which is shaky. Nope, no flywheels for me.

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2020

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