money, technology

Whither Flickr?

Several months ago:

A friend then remarked that Flickr’s URLs were annoying (yes), and I added:

Well, Mat Honan at Gizmodo has made me feel a bit better about myself. Turns out, it’s probably not my fault. But I also now feel quite bad for Flickr and all of us who’ve been using it for so many years. As Mat portrays it, the post-acquisition Flickr history is a sad story of personality conflicts and crushing bureaucracy, one that turned a place on the internet that I loved going to into a ghost town—or a Potemkin village in which the activity of your Flickr friends, if they are active at all, are auto-postings done via Instagram or IFTTT. Who’s fault? It’s Yahoo! what done it.

Or not done it, as the story emphasizes—when opportunities to turn Flickr into something better, maybe bigger, came up, Yahoo just kind of stepped on the thing, placed its brand, it’s identity, it’s heavy bureaucratic Yahoo stamp on it.

Indeed, it was the first social network that I really engaged in. Yes, I did sign up for Friendster and added like eight pictures, and I might have a MySpace page that I never did anything with, so I’m actually not sure if I do have one. But Flickr was the one I invested in—and still invest in, paying for the Pro account so as not to lose the accumulated uploads and the comments and favorites and stats that have stuck to them like so many barnacles. Fortunately, there is the tiniest glimmer of hope at the end of the story that maybe Flickr will still be…something. I hope so, anyway.

Is the Flickr case a cautionary tale about what could happen to your startup when somebody bigger swallows it up, which seems to be the preferred exit for many tech entrepreneurs these days? Or just a cautionary tale about how screwed up things at Yahoo can be, even outside the boardroom? (The answers are “yes”, and “sure, why not,” respectively.) Either way, Mat’s story is worth a look:
How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet

history, money, technology

Tesla and Morgan

From the Echoes of History Dept:

Around the turn of the last century, Nikola Tesla went to JP Morgan, hat in hand. He needed money to fund this idea he had for wireless technology. Depending on the source you consult, he wanted to communicate wirelessly, or he wanted to actually transmit energy wirelessly. Morgan and some other investors gave him some cash. It was about $150,000 and wasn’t nearly enough. Tesla built a huge tower on Long Island that never really worked. Meanwhile, Marconi broadcast the first trans-Atlantic radio signal. After a few years, JP Morgan wouldn’t give Tesla any more money and the project fell apart. Tesla is supposed to have had a breakdown. Years later Tesla turned over the property to the owner of the Waldorf Astoria, where he had been living. The tower was destroyed and sold for scrap in 1917.

In 2011, an analyst at Morgan Stanley rated Tesla Motors stock as “overweight”, boosting its price about 20 percent. Later that year, Morgan Stanley changed its mind, and the analyst declared that these electric cars were “not ready for prime time.” Tesla stock plunged, erasing the year’s gains. (But, to be fair, only briefly; the stock has rebounded nicely.)

It’s almost purely coincidence, though I supposes there are only so many history-making robber baron bankers whose name can be on the letterhead, and so many crazy pioneers of electricity to inspire the name of your electric car company.

And the lesson, if one can be squeezed from this whisp of nominal historical parallelism, may be that just as Morgan giveth, Morgan taketh away.


Below: A 1917 issue of The Electrical Experimenter. On Page 7 is an article on the destruction of the tower, stating that the tower was removed due to worries that German spies were using the structure.


The Quick Flip

We’ve discussed the affordance of paper in this space before—the unique abilities that the medium gives you: you can shuffle pages, mark up and highlight, fold down corners, etc. One of my favorite affordances is the ability to flip quickly between two pages at once, which is not so easy with digital texts. In light of that, this video from researchers at the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology is pretty interesting.

[KAIST ITC] Smart E-Book Interface Prototype Demo – YouTube.

The gradual adoption of the affordances of paper for digital readers makes us wonder which will be next, and which are so unique they can’t be replicated in some way.

[Video via Jeremy Rue]


Whatever Happened to the Paperless Office?

Over at Slate, Jack Shafer wrote about reading the news online versus on paper. After publicly swearing off of the NYT’s print edition, Shafer admitted that he’s back on print, and loving it (or, at least, accepting it). It’s a nicely considered piece, as he talks about how print offers certain advantages, such as how it’s easier to remember what he’d read about, and easier to avoid distractions and make it to the end.

In one respect, what he’s describing are affordances, inherent traits of an object that enable you to do something. The concept of affordance comes up a lot in research on how we choose what we use, such as reading print or reading online. Paper has certain affordances (permanence, easier to control, you can scrawl in the margins, etc), while digital has its own (Shafer points out that you can search easily and read news from far away). It gets really interesting when one technology starts to borrow affordances from another, such as the Kindle’s enabling readers to make notes or highlight text.

Anyway, Jack’s piece is worth a read. And it reminded me of a short piece that Wired commissioned me to write for the Future That Never Happened package last year (but which, sadly, was bumped for space). Lucky for you, I’ve dredged it up.

Whatever Happened to the Paperless Office?

As businesses started adopting word-processing systems in the late ‘70s, everything about the office was predicted to change. Within just a couple of decades, the modern office would be a paperless one. Or, as futurist Alvin Toffler put it after composing some of his 1980 book The Third Wave on a new computer: “…making paper copies of anything is a primitive use of such machines and violates their very spirit.”

Of course, Toffler copped to printing out his drafts. And we’d all go on to violate the spirits of our desktop helpers on a daily basis as paper consumption rose year after year. (Probably didn’t help that as we bought all those computers, we were also picking up printers.)

The real problem with the paperless office was that the notion was flawed to begin with. Paper can be inefficient at times, but there are reasons we keep coming back.

As the researchers Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper describe it in their 2002 study The Myth of the Paperless Office, paper has some special “affordances.” That is, it isn’t just a container for text, but can be touched, marked, repurposed, displayed, skimmed, and can cling urgently in the form of little yellow sticky notes on the edges of your monitor. While digital has key strengths like storage and distribution, paper has proven useful in other contexts, like collaborating with co-workers.

True, our consumption of uncoated free sheet—what we feed our printers—has started to decrease in recent years, suggesting more of our paper work really is becoming bits in the cloud. But we still bought almost 10 million tons of the hard stuff last year. It’s going to take a long time to shake the habit.

money, technology

Business As Usual, Three Months On

When the economy started its downward spiral in mid-September, the Chronicle asked some Bay Area businesspeople and economists for their perspectives on what was happening. Most struck a note of caution, the wait-and-see stance typical of that moment, since nobody really had any idea of what was happening.

A couple of sources seemed less worried. One, in particular, stood out by virtue of his prominence.

Eric Schmidt CEO, Google Inc., Mountain View

“If as a result of this debacle there is some huge change in the economic situation, that could affect us. My guess is the drama is in (Wall Street) and not here. It’s business as usual at Google.”

Fair enough. The drama was, to a great extent, on Wall Street. The ramifications, though, appear to be global.

Whatever business at usual may be at Google, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say the economy’s recent state isn’t helping. Here is a chart of Google’s stock value, from June 30 to December 26, 2008:
google stock value from june to december 2008

China, cool, really?, talent, technology

The Shanzhai Huaxiangji Question

An unusual video showed up on the Ifgogo blog that’s created a ripple on the internet over the last few days. It’s a video of a Chinese farmer piloting a flying machine that he is supposed to have built on his own. The shanzhai huaxiangji, or little mountain village glider, if the translation’s any good (山寨 滑翔机), has sparked some debate as to its veracity. Here’s the video that YouTube commenters claim is a fake:

Fair enough. It’s hard to know based on the perspective; and I didn’t watch closely enough to tell if there was much inconsistency between the pilot’s bumpy ride and the background. But Ifgogo blogger Aw Guo has updated his post to include more video to back up the story. The YouTube video is helpfully titled “I don’t think the farmer-made plane is fake.”

really?, ridiculousness, technology


Since the screen on my cell phone has been broken for months, that’s been my latest excuse for holding off on signing up for Twitter. No more. So now I’m on Twitter. And what do you know, my first so-called “tweet” is about the last post I put on my so-called blog. And now I’m posting about that tweet. If I do this enough, I’ll create some kind of feedback loop that could perturb my little section of the internet to unknown but probably incredible effect. What hath [choose individual] wrought?

So here’s the link:

I can’t wait to start forgetting to update that thing, too.

P.S.: My phone’s still busted.


Download Firefox Day

is today.

Mozilla is trying to set a Guinness record for most downloads, which the Wall Street Journal notes is a non-existent record. Walt Mossberg says it’s the best browser available, the new Firefox 3. And Jim Fallows points us to what I think is a really cool map showing the number of people in every country who’ve pledged to download the new version. North Korea?

Too bad that, as of this writing, Firefox’s Download Day site is down. Too many downloads?

influence, technology

Meet TED

A couple of years ago, a friend told me about the Technology, Entertainment, and Design Conference, which both of us still can’t afford to go to. Would we even get through the application process? Luckily, Tom Abate (whom I once met and found to be a really nice guy) alerted readers of The Tech Chronicles blog that some of the TED presentations are available online (thanks to BMW).

Great! So, do I watch these online before, after, or during all the Frontlines I’ve missed and that new Moyers series?