June 6, 2016
When Alistair Duff, professor of information society and policy at Scotland’s Edinburgh Napier University, checked out Silicon Valley, he identified several disturbing aspects of the prevailing tech scene. The Atlantic’s Kevah Waddell interviews the professor in, “The Information Revolution’s Dark Turn.”
The article reminds us that, just after World War II, the idealistic “information revolution” produced many valuable tools and improved much about our lives. Now, however, the Silicon-Valley-centered tech scene has turned corporate, data-hungry, and self-serving. Or, as Duff puts it, we are now seeing “the domination of information technology over human beings, and the subordination of people to a technological imperative.”
Waddell and Duff discuss the professor’s Normative Theory of the Information Society; the potential for information technology to improve society; privacy tradeoffs; treatment of workers; workplace diversity; and his preference that tech companies (like Apple) more readily defer to government agencies (like the FBI). Regarding that last point, it is worth noting Duff’s stance against the “anti-statism” he believes permeates Silicon Valley, and his estimation that “justice” outranks “freedom” as a social consideration.
Waddell asks Duff what a tech hub should look like, if Silicon Valley is such a poor example. The professor responds:
“It would look more like Scandinavia than Silicon Valley. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t develop the tech industry—we can learn a massive amount from Silicon Valley….
“But what we shouldn’t do is incorporate the abuse of the boundary between work and home, we should treat people with respect, we should have integrated workforces. A study came out that only 2 percent of Google’s, Yahoo’s, and a couple of other top companies’ workforces were black. Twelve percent of the U.S. population is black, so that is not good, is it? I’m not saying they discriminate overtly against black people—I very much doubt that—but they’re not doing enough to change things.
“We need the best of Silicon Valley and the best of European social democracy, combined into a new type of tech cluster.
“There’s a book by Manuel Castells and Pekka Himanen called The Information Society and the Welfare State: The Finnish Model, which argues that you can have a different type of information society from the libertarian, winner-takes-all model pioneered in Silicon Valley. You can have a more human, a more proportioned, a tamer information society like we’ve seen in Finland.”
Duff goes on to say that the state should absolutely be involved in building the information society, a concept that goes over much better in Europe than in the U.S. He points to Japan as a country which has built a successful information society with guidance from the state. See the interview for more of Professor Duff’s observations.
Cynthia Murrell, June 6, 2016
May 20, 2016
I avoid the Kardashians and other fame chasers, because I have better things to do with my time. I never figured that I would actually write about the Kardashians, but the phrase “never say never” comes into play. As I read Vanity Fair’s “Marissa Mayer Vs. ‘Kim Kardashian’s Ass” : What Sunk Yahoo’s Media Ambitions?” tells a bleak story about the current happenings at Yahoo.
Yahoo has ended many of its services, let go fifteen percent of staff, and there are very few journalists left on the team. The remaining journalists are not worried about producing golden content, they have to compete with a lot already on the Web, especially “Kim Kardashian’s ass” as they say.
When Marissa Mayer took over Yahoo as the CEO in 2012, she was determined to carve out Yahoo’s identity as a tech company. Mayer, however, wanted Yahoo to be media powerhouse, so she hired many well-known journalists to run specific niche projects in popular areas from finance to beauty to politics. It was not a successful move and now Yahoo is tightening its belt one more time. The Yahoo news algorithm did not mesh with the big name journalists, the hope was that their names would soar above popular content such as Kim Kardashian’s ass. They did not.
Much of Yahoo’s current work comes from the Alibaba market. The result is:
“But the irony is that Mayer, a self-professed geek from Silicon Valley, threw so much of her reputation behind high-profile media figures and went with her gut, just like a 1980s magazine editor—when even magazine editors, including those who don’t profess to “get” technology, have long abandoned that practice themselves, in favor of what the geeks in Silicon Valley are doing.”
Mayer was trying to create a premiere media company, but lower quality content is more popular than top of the line journalists. The masses prefer junk food in their news.
April 20, 2016
I think that the Huffington Post is part of America Online, which is part of Verizon, which is supposed to be interested in buying poor old Yahoo.
I thought about that chain of dependent clauses right after I read “The One-Time Ruler of the Web Has Lost More Than Its Mojo — A Lesson for Us All.” The write up does a good job of pointing out that Yahoo has been lost in space for a long, long time. I highlighted this statement:
One researcher tracked Yahoo!’s “boilerplate,” the block of text that describes a company’s self-description found at the bottom of most press releases. In 24 years the boilerplate changed 24 times!
What’s interesting in this mélange of popular and academic statements about the home of the Yahooligans is that the company has lacked vision. Ah, the vision thing. This argument is supported by a statement allegedly made by Helen Keller:
It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.
Yahoo strikes me as an interesting company. One could argue that Yahoo did try to change to adapt to technology, competitors, and market opportunities. The effort, unlike Google’s approach, lacked the steady flow of cash produced by Google’s online advertising model.
Where did that Google online advertising model originate? GoTo.com which became Overture. Overture became a Yahoo property. The Google was “inspired” by that model. Perhaps one can view Google as a sibling of Yahoo, just a younger, sighted relative?
Stephen E Arnold, April 20, 2016
April 14, 2016
The article on VentureBeat titled As Tumblr’s Value Head to Zero, a Look at Where It Ranks Among Yahoo’s 5 Worst Acquisition Deals pokes fun at Yahoo’s tendency to spend huge amounts of cash for companies only to watch them immediately fizzle. In the number one slot is Broadcast.com. Remember that? Me neither. But apparently Yahoo doled out almost $6B in 1999 to wade into the online content streaming game only to shut the company down after a few years. And thusly, we have Mark Cuban. Thanks Yahoo. The article goes on with the ranking,
“2. GeoCities: Yahoo paid $3.6 billion for this dandy that let people who knew nothing about the Web make web pages. Fortunately, this was also mostly shut down, and nearly all of its content vanished, saving most of us from a lot GIF-induced embarrassment. 3. Overture: Yahoo paid $1.63 billion in 2003 for this search engine firm after belatedly realizing that some upstart called Google was eating its lunch. Spoiler alert: Google won.”
The article suggests that Tumblr would slide into fourth place given the $1.1B price tag and two year crash and burn. It also capitulates that there are other ways of measuring this list, such as: levels of hard to watch. By that metric, cheaper deals with more obvious mismanagement like the social sites Flickr or Delicious might take the cake.
Chelsea Kerwin, April 14, 2016
April 7, 2016
The Dark Web has been seen as a haven by anyone interested in untraceable internet activity. However, a recent article from Beta News, Tor Project says Google, CloudFlare and others are involved in dark web surveillance and disruption, brings to light the potential issue of Tor traffic being monitored. A CDN and DDoS protection service called CloudFlare has introduced CAPTCHAs and cookies to Tor for monitoring purpose and accusations about Google and Yahoo have also been made. The author writes,
“There are no denials that the Tor network — thanks largely to the anonymity it offers — is used as a platform for launching attacks, hence the need for tools such as CloudFlare. As well as the privacy concerns associated with CloudFlare’s traffic interception, Tor fans and administrators are also disappointed that this fact is being used as a reason for introducing measures that affect all users. Ideas are currently being bounced around about how best to deal with what is happening, and one of the simpler suggestions that has been put forward is adding a warning that reads “Warning this site is under surveillance by CloudFlare” to sites that could compromise privacy.”
Will a simple communications solution appease Tor users? Likely not, as such a move would essentially market Tor as providing the opposite service of what users expect. This will be a fascinating story to see unfold as it could be the beginning of the end of the Dark Web as it is known, or perhaps the concerns over loss of anonymity will fuel further innovation.
Megan Feil, April 7, 2016
April 2, 2016
I read “Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Downplayed the Biggest Threat Facing the Company — and It Could End Up Getting Her Fired.” Another Xoogler management lesson surfaces. According to the write up:
“She [Ms. Mayer, the Xoogler] viewed [Starboard] as a ‘bit player’ because they owned such a small percentage, that this was a standard ploy for them to garner PR and attention,” one person familiar with the matter recounted of Mayer’s attitude to Starboard’s initial criticisms in 2014. “She did not take them seriously, when it first arose.”
What’s with the ignoring of reality? The answer I believe is the concept that when one is smart, the reality the smart person perceives is the operative reality for others. Xooglers are an interesting group. Whether creating new search systems (SRCH2) or planning community journalism (AOL), focusing on Xoogler’s perception of reality can have interesting consequences.
The write up reported:
“She believed that Yahoo was competing with Google and Facebook,” this person said. “She was so passionate about the product, and it created a layer of disbelief she had that anyone would question her.”
How wide spread is this characteristic? I would suggest it is the new black.
Stephen E Arnold, April 2, 2016
March 14, 2016
I recall the good old days at Forbes. The outfit has a stellar information professional. The company decided it did not need a stellar information professional. At that point, I realized that the “real” journalists knew how to formulate questions, obtain information from online resources, winnow the results, and deliver on point summaries germane to the topics the “real” journalists were writing about. That’s when I dismissed Forbes as a source of high value, accurate information. Now when I flip through a copy at the still open Barnes & Noble I have a tough time figuring out what’s fact, what’s opinion, and what’s content marketing or what I am now considering content spam.
Is this Yahoo’s new headquarters?
I did read “The Seven Lessons of Marissa Mayer.” I suppose the information created by a person who describes himself as “the unwritten contract at work” is a “real” journalist, a person with opinions, or a creator of content spam. Let’s look at the analysis of the wild and crazy place which houses the remaining Yahooligans.
The write up makes this point via a quote from Vanity Fair, another “real” journalism publication:
“Most people in (Silicon) Valley want to see Yahoo succeed, if only out of respect for its legacy,” the magazine reported. “And they generally believe that, if anyone can fix Yahoo, it is Mayer. She is an engineer, and engineers are revered in the Valley. She is also a ‘product person,’ which means that she has a track record of designing Internet-based products that people want to use.”
The worm hath turned. I learned a factoid from the New York Times, which is reproduced in the capitalist tool:
“Yahoo is likely to sell for less than all of the money Ms. Mayer spent,” wrote Berkeley Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon in his recent New York Times column. “If she had sought to liquidate Yahoo as soon as she took over and distributed the proceeds, Yahoo shareholders would have fared much better than they will now.”
Let me cut to the cob. Mayer is a loser. But, according to the article, there are lessons to be learned from the Mayer “voyage” to the heart of darkness. Poetry doesn’t make it into the “real” journalism stuff. May I highlight three of the lessons which are, I presume, worth the shareholder value which the current management team has tossed on the bonfire of vanities. (Yikes, there I go again. Poetry.)
Lesson 2 of the seven: Just because there’s a new captain doesn’t mean the ship’s not going to sing. I understand. A flawed design for the Titanic is likely to present some challenges to any captain who sails into iceberg infested seas. (Does this suggest that Ms. Mayer failed to evaluate her engineered RMS Titanic? Quite an error in judgment from the git go, right?)
Lesson 5 of the seven: Rank and yank makes a company tear itself up from the inside. I don’t understand. What’s a rank and yank? Perhaps this is a “real” journalist’s way of explaining that employee reviews resulted in firing people? I understand the jargon “stack ranking,” but the “rank and yank” phraseology is a trigger for some other associations. IBM tries to hide its firing people with the phrase “resource allocation.” Although unseemly, it lacks the connotations of the “yank and rank” lesson. (Does this mean that Ms. Mayer lacks management expertise?)
Lesson 7 of the seven: Employees will support a CEO who has their best interests at heart and turn on one who doesn’t. Yikes, Ms. Mayer, if I understand the lesson, managed to alienate some of the folks who worked for her. So much for the leadership capability of Ms. Mayer. (Does this tell me more about Ms. Mayer than about Yahoo? It sure does.)
I love the capitalist tool and “real” journalism. Ms. Mintz, Ms. Mintz, how badly does Forbes need you?
Stephen E Arnold, March 14, 2016
March 10, 2016
I read “Marissa Mayer’s Plan to Sell Yahoo but Stay in Charge.” The main point of the write up is that “the company will sell under the condition that she can remain in charge.”
I like this angle.
And everything is just wonderful among the Yahooligans. I learned:
Yahoo C.F.O. Ken Goldman sought to dispel rumors of internal conflict during a Morgan Stanley conference Thursday, saying that the company is aligned and that there is no rift on Yahoo’s board.
I like alignment. Time for another bonus.
Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2016
March 1, 2016
I love it when with it universities analyze businesses. Universities are loan factories, have some exciting management methods in their athletic departments, and dabble in foundations plays to generate some financial loyalty.
Why would a university not be a source of expertise in the analysis of digital businesses?
I read “A Tale of Two Brands: yahoo’s Mistakes vs Google’s Mastery.” The write up is clear and marches through the analysis like General Sherman on his way to Atlanta. Like General Sherman, the march was not exactly what it seemed.
I learned that Google is just a lot better than Yahoo. No disagreement from me. Yahoo’s former chief technology officer complained that I did not have enough appreciation for the work flowing from Yahoo’s research and development units. He was right. I didn’t. I don’t hear from that Yahooligan since he got a job at Google. There is apparently no need to be defensive when one is a Googler.
The write up points out these flaws in Yahoo’s management which look really awful when compared to the wonderfulness of Google’s management:
- Google operates with clarity; Yahoo has an identity crisis
- Google anticipates; Yahoo reacts
- Google has substance; Yahoo is a fashion week poster child.
The problem is that the write up misses one probably irrelevant fact about the Google and its performance.
When Google did not have a revenue business model, the Googlers looked around for a way to make money from search. The answer it found was online advertising. Prior to the IPO, the Googlers settled Yahoo’s patent suit. Yahoo took the money and found itself struggling to serve ads from its ageing infrastructure. The Google had a brand new, nifty infrastructure courtesy of some of the hires from AltaVista’s outfit.
Google’s system served ads more effectively. With more traffic, the Google ad system became a money trickle and then a money gusher.
Poor Yahoo watched as its methods were put to good use on a more efficient ad serving system. End of Yahoo. The company almost immediately began its death march to irrelevancy.
Google’s virtues are easy to see if one overlooks the one tiny fact of Google’s me-too approach to revenue. Clever seemed to be more effective than “management”, but that’s just my opinion.
The university analysis is okay, just not in line with the key event which made Google the one trick pony it is today. More significantly, that trick was someone else’s innovation via the Overture.com (GoTo.com) method.
Refresh your memory is this okay write up from 2004: “Google Settles Yahoo Patent Suit in Anticipation of IPO.”
In this context, the academic write up strikes me as baloney.
Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2016
February 23, 2016
I read “Yahoo Forms Panel to Explore Strategic Options.” I looked past the notion that a committee can come up with options beyond sell this puppy. I did find a gem of a phrase in the write up. Here’s the keeper:
Mayer said in a statement, while emphasizing that everyone at Yahoo wanted to return the “iconic company to greatness”.
I like the notion of Yahoo as an icon. I think directories from the 1990s should be icons. The concept of greatness is a good one. My hunch is that revenue would be a help for whatever Yahoo is going to return to.
My thought is that the Yahooligans and the Xoogler look more like a business school case study for a course covering Touchstones in Internet Successes and Failures. I am debating whether Yahoo is a success or a failure. I have decided. Failure: Geocities, the Google GoTo Overture legal matter, the Semel reign, the CEO with sketchy credentials, the internal squabbling, et al.
Yep, let’s have a committee meeting. Great idea. Thank goodness I have IBM Watson to pick up the slack created by the silliness at Yahoo.
Stephen E Arnold, February 23, 2016