• December 6, 2016
  • Denis-PombriantI swear I was getting through this and trying to move on. She wasn’t my favorite candidate but when you consider the alternative she looked like George Washington in a pantsuit. Like many people I had moved on from denial and anger to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ next stage in the grief pyramid called bargaining. He can’t be that bad…they can tame him…I’m going back to work, he can’t chase me there…I’ll be okay.

    But noooo! A brief story in the New York Times today says Donald Trump, incipient POTUS is planning to hold a technology conference next week. It’s right here under this headline, “Trump Plans Technology Conference With Silicon Valley Executives.” The article by David Streitfeld, Maggie Haberman, and Michael D. Shear covers a lot of ground what with Trump also seeming to have cancelled the next generation of Air Force One today, which is also in the piece.

    Says the article, “The list of those being invited was not immediately clear, but they could include Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Timothy D. Cook of Apple and Sundar Pichai of Google.” Sure, that’s right, Silicon Valley CEOs have nothing scheduled that far out so of course they’ll all trudge over to Trump Tower. Whatever it is, when a president asks for your time, he’s doing it in the name of all the American people so you more or less have to attend.

    The one saving grace in all this might be (and we really don’t know all the details yet) the fact that these are all consumer technology mavens so far. Maybe Trump has a punch list of social media enhancements to go over or maybe he intends to build a wall between our electrons and the rest of the world. Or maybe Trump just wanted to call a fly-in for rich guys to compare private aircraft. His is bigger, you know.

    Regardless, I’ll withhold judgment on Trump’s tech chops until I know if this is just show and tell for social media or if he really wants the skinny on what to expect in areas like machine learning, AI, the IoT, and a half dozen other techno-wizbangs that will rock his world soon. I’ll begin to worry when Ellison, Benioff, and Gates get summoned.

    Published: 1 year ago

    In Cambridge, Massachusetts, my home turf, there is a good-natured intramural rivalry between Harvard and MIT.  Each may be a bastion of higher learning but they are very different places with different cultures.  The rival taunts go something like this: Harvard people are good with letters but not so much with numbers.  The engineers down the road only use letters but, then, only in equations.

    I thought about this the other day when I learned that Harvard wizkid Eduardo Saverin, a Brazilian native, had cashed in his U.S. citizenship in an attempt to out wit the taxman.  You might recall that Saverin was the kid who co-founded Facebook, according to his successful lawsuit against his former friend Mark Zuckerberg.

    The wonders never cease.  Severin was naturalized when he moved to this country as a kid because his wealthy parents were afraid that he could have been kidnapped and held for ransom in his native Brazil.

    In context for this story, Severin has an estimated four percent of the company and what’s really mind numbing is that he’s moving his mailbox to Singapore just to avoid paying tax on the stock when he sells it.  One must wonder if international kidnapping has been quelled over the years making it safe for the ultra rich to consider such strategies.

    Many people have already commented on the shallowness of stiffing his adopted homeland and about the absurd luck this kid had in landing as a room mate one Mark Zuckerberg.  But no one, to my recollection, has mentioned the fact that life gets a tiny bit harder than that once you leave Cambridge.

    No one has remarked on the stupidity of this logic either.  Life is a game of base hits.  Very often you strike out, rarely you hit a home run but to win games you manufacture runs, one at a time with base hits, stealing a base and getting walked.  I feel bad for someone who thinks his life’s ambition was met in college.  There is something inversely Gatsbyesque about this story.  Severin’s move should have been to take some money off the table, pay some taxes and move on to the next big idea, assuming he had one.

    This failure to appreciate the logic of the base hit and the impetuousness of cashing in his citizenship, are what reminds me of the Harvard-MIT rivalry.  I can’t imagine an MIT person doing this.  Maybe I am naïve but my reading of the culture at MIT is that they truly like making things and finding solutions and most of the people I have met from MIT would do what they do regardless of the pay simply for the thrill of it.  Money matters but beyond a certain point, meh?

    So let’s recap the Facebook founding mythology.  Facebook was founded in a dorm room at Harvard by some of the most privileged kids on the planet.  Zuckerberg turned out to be not exactly a boy scout, then the Winklevoss twins asserted their rights to Facebook, in court, repeatedly, and now Severin can’t stick around to do the honorable thing.

    If the engineers at MIT like making things, I wonder what motivates the kids at Harvard other than whining.  Is it just the art of the deal, going in for the kill?  Is it addictive?  Does it take more and more to keep you sane?

    These are things I will likely never know.  But  in the age of the 99 percent, I have a new sense of where the .01 percent come from.

    Published: 6 years ago

    “Day-to-day adult supervision is no longer needed.” So wrote Eric Schmidt CEO of Google, one of the most successful digital economy companies ever, in a Tweet today.  When he was brought in by the founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin to run things in 2001, Schmidt acquired that moniker in part because the founders were so young.

    As has been typical in Internet related industries youth and a new way of looking at things has often been enough to launch iconic brands and mind-boggling wealth.  Google may have been the poster child for youthful innovation but the industry is full of people from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg who fit the mold.

    So now what?  Co-founder Page becomes CEO as well as president of products while co-founder Brin remains president of technology.  The company is clobbering its numbers and despite a challenge from Facebook and continues to print money for its shareholders.

    I do not understand why the shakeup occurred.  According to Google this change will make communication channels cleaner but it’s hard to see how from outside.  The trio appears to still be friends but perhaps a decade at the helm has sated Schmidt.  Or possibly the two still youthful co-founders have a second act.  But if that were the case, it is hard to believe they could not have acted from their previous positions as mere presidents.  We may just have to watch as this company continues to evolve.


    Published: 7 years ago

    My favorite scene in The Social Network is when Mark Zuckerberg’s character has an epiphany that Facebook’s screen should have a field to designate a user’s status, as in relationship status or availability.

    Wait, I didn’t give something away did I?  You’ve seen the movie, right?  No?  Go see it.  I’ll wait.


    Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, is depicted as a computer savant lacking in social graces immediately in the first scene.  But at this point we are not sure if his rudeness and sarcasm reflect his youth or something else.  As the movie progresses we discover a character who is what some professionals would describe as “on the spectrum,” not autistic, not asperger’s syndrome, perhaps, but clearly not the gregarious party animal that he becomes surrounded by either.

    That Zuckerberg would need this epiphany might just be creative screen writing to advance the plot.  But its effect is to depict Facebook as the elaborate creation by a gifted young man on the spectrum, of a social filter that can potentially help him navigate through the social life at Harvard and beyond.  Thus the importance of the epiphany — people socialize for nookie, among other things.  Who would have thunk it?

    Social media is a filter that most people don’t need but happily use to increase their number of manageable contacts in what is becoming a social arms race.  That’s an important message for the rest of us who, in our outgoing and youthful exuberance, use social media to spam the details of our oh-so-important personal lives.

    Social networking is a listening tool but you might miss that message from the movie and actual use but not if you study Zuckerberg’s character.  There’s enough other information in the movie to question the character’s ethics and temperament — I guess strange things happen to you when billions of dollars suddenly occupy an important part of your life.  My impression is that the guy is misunderstood.

    But the film also gives some perspective on social media’s adoption by business.  To date most of the attention received by social media has been for its ability to reach out to so many people quickly and inexpensively.  It is the same appeal that email marketing had but also direct mail and broadcasting before that.  The implicit assumption is that you simply need to get your message to lots of people and that a few will self-select and respond.

    It’s an idea that has always worked but the movie depicts an underside worth noting, namely that a jerk with a Facebook account can play the game but not necessarily win.  Ok, maybe a billion dollars will help even the playing field for a jerk but that’s not the reality for the vast majority.

    A company that uses social media to spam, and doesn’t have a billion dollars to make itself look attractive, might suffer a different fate.  It gets back to listening, the Zuckerberg character builds Facebook more or less to help filter reality and that makes it a powerful listening tool for all of us if we choose.

    The thing that’s different about social media in business is the impact of analytics.  In your personal life your brain does a kind of personal analysis of everything that comes in.  Some things you trash others you keep but in business it’s not so simple.  In business you need analytics to help sift through everything that comes in so that you can arrive at statistically meaningful information.

    But it all starts with listening and asking the kinds of questions that show you are interested while encouraging people to open up.  Facebook makes some things easy because it has a field to capture a specific data item like status.

    The current rage for social media is a normal part of a product lifecycle.  It’s the stage when people apply a new solution to every conceivable problem to see what happens.  Sometimes, the results are utter nonsense.  Eventually, though, things will settle down and social networking will seem as boring as a telephone and that is when it will make its greatest contribution.

    Published: 7 years ago

    The Face of Facebook

    There’s an interesting article in the September 20 issue of The New Yorker on Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook.  Written by Jose Antonio Vargas it is a synopsis of a short life that includes a partial Harvard education — Zuckerberg dropped out a la Gates to run Facebook — and a whirlwind thereafter.  With the movie The Social Network coming out on Friday I thought it provided a good back story to the founding and evolution of this social networking site.

    The main thing that struck me is how young one is as a college sophomore.  I had forgotten that, though I am sure those close to me would vouch for the fact that I have not progressed much from that point.  College is like work release from childhood for most of us.  We’re out in the world, more or less, but still tethered to a more or less structured life of classes, projects, friends, music, parties and the usual anxieties — Does she like me? Will I get into grad school?  Find a career?  Follow my dream?  What is my dream?

    So getting a peek at Zuckerberg as a precocious programmer and accidental entrepreneur is sobering.  It is more sobering than understanding the exploits of another famous Harvard dropout, Bill Gates, who left to found Microsoft.  It’s one thing to build, buy or steal an operating system that will, if it runs well, be the equivalent of computer wallpaper and quite another to build and be the front man for a social networking application.

    Unarguably, both men and their inventions changed the world, but it seems that Gates had just a little bit more space-time between him and the rest of reality in which to mature as a person before taking on the persona of a public titan of industry, or whatever you might call it.

    While the article is, I felt, balanced and the writer interviewed Zuckerberg for the piece, the same can’t be said for the movie coming out.  The article indicated that the movie and the book on which it is based used no interviews with Zuckerberg to gather source material and it is unauthorized.  Now, I know this kind of thing happens all the time, but it makes one just a bit more sympathetic for Zuckerberg.

    The article (and probably the movie) tracks the ups and downs of Zuckerberg’s odyssey from baby nerd programming applications for his father’s dental practice (his mother was a stay at home mom and psychiatrist) to Harvard kid helping other students develop a site that would become the progenitor of Facebook.  The article and the movie get into the lawsuits over the IP too.

    That’s where I said, “Whoa horsey!”  I suppose there are plenty of people out there who are conniving enough to steal an idea from a fellow college student, but how many turn it into a franchise that, if the company ever goes public, will make him one of the richest people on the planet well before his thirtieth birthday?

    Facebook’s founding is murky — who had the idea and who programmed it are largely established but what about the influences each had on others as the idea got hammered out?  Critical questions because they go directly to how much each should receive in a settlement.  Would the product be as successful with a different constellation of characters or different relative amounts of contributions from each?  Would it even have gotten off the ground?

    The Face of Facebook is interesting because it brings these issues to the forefront, but it also is a tale of the very early twenty-first century when almost any idea can be commercialized and the time horizon on youth is shrinking.  It’s ironic that our culture, which celebrates youth, could now be forcing kids into adulthood almost before they’re ready.

    Published: 7 years ago