Category Archives: Analysis

Silicon Valley architecture on an upswing?

Just over decade ago I wrote a big article for Salon that asked why Silicon Valley’s vaunted innovation hadn’t extended to its physical environment.

Well, perhaps times are changing. As the LA Times reports today, “Tech companies that have long occupied dreary office parks are planning to build distinctive campuses that reflect their art and soul.”

Frank Gehry is redesigning the Facebook campus. Foster and Partners is adding Apple’s new headquarters to its local portfolio (along with the Clark Center, home of Stanford’s Bio-X program). Samsung, Google and Nvidia plan spiffy new buildings, too.

Reporter Chris O’Brien credits a growing appreciation of design among Valley companies for the change, along with the presumption that working in a ‘building that makes your jaw hit the floor’ might help companies recruit top talent. I think he’s likely right. If he is, we’re still a way off from matching the ambitions of the builders of renaissance Florence (the then-popular comparison that launched my Salon article). But with luck our eyes will have a little more to feast on as we move our very un-virtual bodies around.

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Authenticity and the end of online anonymity

Just over a year ago I wrote a piece in the London Evening Standard that asked if it would soon be all-but impossible to be anything other than your true self online.

Those days, it seems, are fast approaching.  “Upending Anonymity, These Days the Web Unmasks Everyone,” announces a headline in today’s New York Times. Author Brian Stelter picks out several recent examples of people caught doing something unusual, illegal or embarrassing in public and then being swiftly identified through their online activities and social connections.

Another news item from today — detailing the arrest of an alleged member of the LulzSec hacker collective — suggests that even those who know their way around web anonymity are finding it hard to stay hidden.

Since I wrote the Standard piece, the financial information-sharing website that I featured, called Blippy, has gone under. At the time it looked likely to fail because relatively few people had taken their online self-revelations to the extreme that Blippy required to succeed. I was nevertheless interested in how the tell-all culture upon which Blippy was predicated was growing in strength, a development that I predicted would eventually spark suspicion of those who refused to share.

What I didn’t address was the idea that it’s also becoming ever-easier for one’s behavior, both online and off-, to be revealed even when you had an expectation of anonymity. But if we’ve reached that point too, as the Times article suggests we might have, then the same consequences hold: that we’ll likely feel ever greater pressure to be authentically ourselves whether we’re online or off, and that that pressure might in turn have us modifying our behavior in both spheres.

As I said in the article, “Maybe, as a result, we’ll all be inspired to lead more responsible lives in the future, figuring that since so much about our modern lives is searchable, we might as well just be good instead of worrying about looking good.”

The same caveats also hold, however. To live both publicly and safely requires a system that’s law-abiding, tolerant, open and totally accepting of its critics and malcontents. Unfortunately, that’s not something that our shifting ideas of authenticity and anonymity are likely to make it any easier for us to secure.

 

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Metaphorical earthquakes

were my subject this week in an analysis piece for the London Evening Standard. I was trying to make sense of a week of big management changes in three Silicon Valley giants that are all doing pretty well in basic financial terms. So why the need for a shake up?

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The business lessons of political social media blunders

The last week was one in which politicians in general, and Sarah Palin in particular, showed that they are still getting to grips with the impact of social media on how, when and where they should try and connect with voters.

Over the last couple of years, American businesses have been facing the same issues, I reported today in the London Evening Standard.

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Vanity searching in vain

Tom Foremski has an interesting post this week about the apparent shrinking scale of Google’s search results.

It turns out that searches on his own name are yielding fewer and fewer results over time.  That understandably surprised Foremski since he’s both prolific and widely referenced.

Foremski is mostly concerned with the fact that this is happening.  “Clearly,” he concludes, “the number of results that Google claims is bogus.”

“What’s going on?” he then asks, and his commenters suggest a number of likely explanations in response.

But whatever the reason, Foremski’s observation makes clear that Google search statistics have dubious validity as measures of scale. And yet journalists, myself included, use them all the time as a shorthand way of measuring impact.

Our model is citations. These certainly have validity when measured against complete and comprehensively indexed sets of data. An example would be a full archive of a particular newspaper’s articles.  You can clearly state that a particular word was used, say, in the New York Times x times in 2005 and y times in 2010.

Citations are also important in science where they help measure impact of a researcher’s work. It genuinely means something to say someone is the most cited psychologist, for example, in the world.

Google, I’m sure, doesn’t mind us thinking that it, too, offers a pretty-much complete and comprehensive data set along with a true count of the number of citations in that data set.

But both the comprehensiveness of the set and the reliability of the count seem to be in fairly constant flux.

There’s solace here for Foremski — his vanity search results may not truly measure his reach (and, along with it, his impact) online.

For the rest of us there’s a lesson, too: that we need to swallow the citation counts we find on Google with a healthy dose of salt.  And I guess we need to be looking for new kind of vanity index to use from now on.

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Will ‘oversharing’ online come to define human authenticity?

There’s a very good chance it will, I argue, in a look at the new web service Blippy and the idea of ‘living publicly’ as a social norm (published in today’s London Evening Standard).

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Where you are is where it’s at

Location-based social networks are growing in popularity.  Here’s my recent take on the phenomenon — which focuses on how, when it comes to innovation, timing makes all the difference.

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