The End of Internet History and the Last Ad

People make bad predictions all the time. Getting them wrong is not the problem, some are bound to be wrong. A source of bad predictions is often inherent to the enterprise; things are unpredictable. In almost any field, chaos reigns over order. In some sense, our economic system in the Western world, capitalism brought on by free enterprise, is designed to maximize this chaos and to reap its benefits. You might even call this innovation. Continue reading “The End of Internet History and the Last Ad”

An internet with an elephant memory

Turns out I always had a penchant for run-on sentences. I have counted over 3 of them in a college application essay I wrote in 2004. It is sitting there, on my Dropbox account, where I moved my “important” documents to from an old Yahoo! email. It’s been there, untouched, seemingly for eternity. Barring a catastrophic event, like Dropbox going out of business or me getting hacked, I suspect it’ll be there for at least 15 more years. Continue reading “An internet with an elephant memory”

What Facebook did was probably legal. But that’s the problem.

Yesterday I had a quick interview with BBC Newsnight about the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica debate. In one of my answers, I mentioned that I think what Facebook did was probably legal. The text in the tweet is missing the rest of my answer, but I regardless stand by what I said. As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer.

Continue reading “What Facebook did was probably legal. But that’s the problem.”

A breach by another name? There is probably more coming. We need to prepare.

Imagine a data scientist working at Facebook. Let’s call her Alice. As part of her assignment, Alice collects a couple hundred thousand Facebook users’ profile, stores on her laptop. The data contains not just what users entered into Facebook, but what Facebook gathered and inferred about them. Alice is excited. Users whose data is being used largely trust Facebook to be good custodians of this data.

But Alice’s boyfriend, Bob, has another idea. He knows that the user data Alice has on her laptop can be sold to some data broker. He’s been unhappy where their relationship has been going anyway, his startup going through down rounds while Facebook stock just keeps going up and up.

Continue reading “A breach by another name? There is probably more coming. We need to prepare.”

Reading things on Twitter hasn’t changed for years. It is time for some new ideas.

I have been using Twitter for a better part of a decade. I have taken somewhat public breaks from it, but for better or worse, it’s become a big part of my life. I’ve met people through it, found jobs and clients through it (though suspiciously never paid for either of it). It’s where I go to ramble, and where I go for cheap laughs, depressing news, and dank memes.

What’s really remarkable about Twitter is how little it has changed over the years. They have added a (rounded) corner here and there, changed likes to hearts, maybe added a feature or two. But the core Twitter experience, a timeline, has been the same. I used to think it’s a good thing, but now I am not so sure. Continue reading “Reading things on Twitter hasn’t changed for years. It is time for some new ideas.”

Books for Software Engineers switching to Technical Product Management

As I’ve decided to switch over from being an software engineer to technical product management, I found my theoretical knowledge lacking. Having worked in software companies big and large, I knew the basics. Agile this, MVP that. I knew how prioritize things, and how to get things out the door. But largely, I was repeating what I’ve seen to have worked. The lack of a mental framework left me unprepared for novel problems where I’d need to make ad-hod decisions. I never failed miserably, but it seemed imminent. Continue reading “Books for Software Engineers switching to Technical Product Management”

Developing Shared Code with Principles

One of the most high-leverage work in a technical organization is building shared libraries or frameworks. A common library, a piece of code that can be used as is, or a framework, a system that codifies certain decisions and allows further work to be built on top, has the opportunity to benefit many people at once. Not only that, they also institutionalize shared knowledge, put knowledge that’s in people’s head in code for future employees. And of course, there are other benefits such as possibly open-sourcing such work, which comes with its set of benefits to hiring and on boarding. Continue reading “Developing Shared Code with Principles”

Planning for Agile

One of the main tenets of agile methodology is working software trumps extensive documentation. You get something to work, and then iterate based on the quick feedback. It sounds great in theory, and in my experience, works reasonably well in practice. All software estimates are wrong, so agile is also wrong, but it produces software and does it without inflicting too much damage on those who build it.

But how do you square this way of working with a long term vision? If an organization is aligned towards a vision, there has to be a roadmap that people follow. And a roadmap, by definition, is a long term plan. It guides what needs to be done months, and sometimes years in to the future. Continue reading “Planning for Agile”

Goodbye, Twitter.

I am done with Twitter, for a while at least, if not forever. I will still read tweets, and might even occasionally tweet, if anything to keep my account alive or for major announcements, but I decided to cut it out my life.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know that I use it a lot. It is the only social network I use. I have met people through it, made professional connections, and I generally have fun reading it. Unlike the tamed, manicured, creepily synthetic feel on Facebook and Instagram, Twitter feels raw. I loved Twitter. Continue reading “Goodbye, Twitter.”

Re-engineering News with Technology

Years ago, in college, I went to a presentation by a big internet company, as part of a recruitment event. At the time, I was working at the college newspaper, and the talk was about their “front page”. They said it was the biggest news site at the time, so I was excited.

The bulk of the talk was technical. But the presenter mentioned that one of the biggest challenges was keeping abreast of what they called the “National Enquirer effect”. The problem, as she described, was this. The main goal of the front page is to drive traffic to other properties; and the system was always optimizing both the selection of content on the front page and its ordering based on raw clicks. He said, while no one admits to it, content with the best-clickthrough rate was always “bikini women”, so left alone, algorithms would turn the front page into National Enquirer. Ironically, this means that no one would visit them, over a long enough period. They said they were trying to fix this by some longer term optimizations, but for now, there was essentially a team for each locale that monitored the site, and kept it “clean”. Continue reading “Re-engineering News with Technology”