This is a (roughly) weekly newsletter experiment containing links to things I’ve written and made, plus links to other interesting articles, reports and essays I’ve come across.
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Thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
My Blog Posts
Nothing new to share this week, but there will be a new Mattermark article next week.
My Quick Take re: Meatware & Cotton Gins
Seattle-based journalist Mark Harris took a deep dive into the world of “crowd-working” in a recent post on Backchannel. Now, it’s been more than a decade since Amazon launched Mechanical Turk to outsource small tasks that couldn’t be performed by a computer, and the growth of crowd-working platforms (run by companies like TaskRabbit, Uber, AirBNB, zCrowd, etc) has only accelerated.
Harris states that in the last three years, between 2012 and 2015, participation in crowd-working platforms has increased tenfold and payouts to crowd-workers increased by a factor of 54. However, for those working on purely digital tasks, like those offered through Mechanical Turk or zCrowd, the work is often grueling and low-paying.
Harris’s conclusion, that this kind of work is not going away any time soon, is bolstered by a post from Greylock partner (and former Mozilla CEO) John Lilly, published this week. Somewhat problematically, Lilly seems to make a comparison between software and the cotton gin, which as we know massively increased demand for (slave) labor. Lilly intended to say that the cotton gin increased demand for labor is analogous to the automation revolution today only insofar as this revolution is unlocking pent-up demand for software. However, when placed up against Harris’s essay, we’re reminded that those tasks which lie just beyond the edge of computational ability need to be done by someone, typically low-paid.
If you’re interested in the nature of work at the lowest end of the digital economy, and the liminal space between man and machine in the race to automate everything, both articles are definitely worth your time.
Other things I found this week
Someone made a list of all the books Marc Andreessen mentioned on Twitter.
Jessica Guzik shares an Illustrated Guide to Using the Sht Out of Your Notebook*.
Stratechery’s Ben Thomson analyses the current state of the podcasting industry and offers his thoughts on the risks that consolidation and “Facebookization” of the space pose to listeners and content creators.
Stanford’s “Hacking For Defense” class had its demo day recently. Steve Blank shares the presentations and reflections on the effort to bring entrepreneurial thinking and methodology into the military and intelligence space.
Tech Trends And Industry Commentary
Those who enjoyed M.G. Siegler’s account of his “magical” experience of being prompted to order an Uber through Facebook Messenger might want to learn more about messaging as a new platform and UX paradigm. Check out a16z partner Benedict Evans’s 2015 essay on “Messaging and mobile platforms” or Evans’s a16z Podcast appearance, recorded just after Facebook’s announcement of the new Messenger platform.
Venture capital pioneer, Thomas J. Perkins, died Thursday at the age of 84.
FastCo Design takes a peek into Alphabet’s project, Sidewalk Labs, and its plan to make 70 American cities smarter. Their claim: previous bespoke solutions for specific cities fall flat, and what cities need is an open “a kit of parts that apply to cities all over the country.”
San Jose blocks a real estate developer’s move to construct new offices in Santa Clara because “[the offices] would add far too many jobs, exacerbating the region’s housing shortage.” (via Vox)
TechCrunch profiles Flexport, a YC-backed startup that’s aiming to optimize the freight forwarding business, part of the trillion-dollar global logistics industry.
Design & Culture
Leah Schnelbach’s essay for Tor.com’s Cyberpunk Week explains how David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash each predicted our cyberpunk present. (For those wondering what “cyberpunk” is, check out Neon Dystopia’s Cyberpunk Project for an overview.)
As a follow-on to the cyberpunk essay, there has recently been a lot of interest in brutalist web design. Inspired by brutalist architecture’s ethic of frank representation of construction materials, brutalist web design embraces the simple HTML and “freeform” graphical expression of the early web. Check out this tumblr’s collection of brutalist websites, Vox’s recent essay on the subject, or listen to Nora Young’s interview with the Fucking Webmaster himself, Justin Jackson, on CBC Spark.
Jerry Cao and Eileen Conway unpack 3M Health’s disciplined user experience design practice for FastCo Design. Lots of interesting notes on their team structure, research process and other methods.
Director Sean Slobodan made a beautiful video: “The Color of California”. Although Chicago (my hometown and where I live now) is really nice, it doesn’t have California’s beautiful landscape, which Slobodan highlights deftly.
Zagat’s Youtube channel profiles small, family-owned specialty salt makers. It’s so engaging to watch people so devoted to doing the simple very well.
Personal Finance / Job Hunting
80,000 Hours aggregates and shares all the best advice it could find on getting a job.