JDR’s Newsletter – #10

Hello there,

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.

In case you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so through Tinyletter. You can find an archive of this and previous issues of my newsletter at news.jdr.fyi.

Thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

My blog posts and articles

This week I wrote two articles for the Mattermark blog.

Series A Rounds Slip In Q2 As Dollar Volume And Deal Velocity Recede (Mattermark)

In line with the title, I find that Series A investing has slowed down significantly in Q2 of 2016 as compared to Q1, both in terms of dollar volume and the number of deals struck.

However, despite this, I also found that the median Series A round size remains basically unchanged since 2014, meaning that the fundamentals of the market for Series A-stage equity remain as strong as they were in the good ol’ days. However, this may change a bit.

Making Sense of Why Series A Investment Is Slowing (Mattermark)

In this post I try to make sense of the declines I identified in the first one. I cite global macroeconomic uncertainty as a likely cause of the slowdown in startup investing, while also delving a little deeper into the historical data on Series A investment over time. (i.e. If you want to see some nice longitudinal charts, this is the post to read.)

On The “Blanding” of Web & Mobile Design: Some Light Reading (jasondrowley.com)

Here I provide some really brief background on “flat” design and links to a couple of interesting articles. I suggest reading Charles Thaxton’s “Whither The Webpage” if you’re not going to click through to look at the other resources.

Against life hacks

Laurie Penny’s critique of life hacks and guilt-inducing “wellbeing ideology” for The Baffler is delightfully (or, depending on your disposition toward this sort of thing, depressingly) caustic but ultimately redeeming. She asserts that the Instagram photos of kale smoothies, post-workout selfies and self-congratulatory proclamations about mindfulness and spirituality is a symptom of a broader social disease, but ultimately ends up echoing the ideas David Foster Wallace touched on in his Kenyon commencement speech, “This is Water” (a full audio recording of which can be found here). The path toward sustainable wellness is not paved with yoga mats and washed with asparagus water, but found in the more quotidian and humdrum activities we perform, like getting out of bed every day to do something that furthers our goals and makes the world a slightly better place.

Other news and links

Best of

DuckDuckGo CEO & founder Gabriel Weinberg posted a list of dozens of mental models he repeatedly finds useful on Medium. The list is incredibly helpful if you’re looking to expand your cognitive toolbox, or to brush up on concepts that you’re a bit rusty on. Weinberg even included a how-to guide for using the list and links each concept to more resources (usually Wikipedia but often to blog content and essays from elsewhere).

Tech industry news & commentary

If you liked the pieces I wrote for Mattermark this week, you should check out Elad Gil’s post, “End of Cycle?” In it, he provides contrasting interpretations of the bloom in variety of companies that are receiving funding from VCs. On the one hand, it could mean that lots of industries are ripe for takeovers by tech companies, but on the other, it could just be a signal of desperation by investors thirsting for the next new thing. There’s a lot more in there, but I don’t want to bury the lede.

Bitcoin’s block reward halved on Saturday, meaning that every ten minutes, half as many bitcoins now enter circulation (12.5 bitcoins now) as compared to, say, Friday and the few previous years. This caused a significant spike in Bitcoin’s exchange rate over the past month or so. But, for one brief moment, Bitcoin was a less volatile currency than the post-Brexit British Pound.

Nieman Lab covers Audible’s rollout of Channels, its new mobile application that features curated audio content in, well, channels like “The Daily Rush”. This appears to be Audible’s first serious foray into the podcasting space, and it will be interesting to see whether its original content is attractive enough to get new subscribers for the Amazon-owned service.

bobg of Lab41 – the interdisciplinary lab in which the US’s intelligence agencies come together to discuss and work on problems related to Big Data – explains why there is a need for a a bullshit detector in conversations about artificial intelligence.

Maybe bobg should read Stephen Merity’s article, “It’s ML, not magic: simple questions you should ask to help reduce AI hype”, which was posted on July 3rd.

This week, The Atlantic revisited a January 2016 analysis from the Wall Street Journal which found that despite Millennials’ celebration of entrepreneurship and startup culture, business ownership by the under–30 set in the US is at a 25-year low. Derek Thomson, the Atlantic journalist behind the piece, concludes that student debt and reduced risk appetite among young people is to blame, but that there are also some bright spots.

In a breezy but informative post, Nidhi Shah explores the evolution of mobile application design from 1994 through 2016 for Growthbug. Major highlights include the lexical shift from “features” to “apps”, the simple but functionality-rich apps of the pre-smartphone era, Apple’s release of the iPhone and App Store and Google’s rollout of Android and Google Play stores, and the evolution of the mobile app and mobile game businesses. Worth checking out if you want a refresher.

Other design stuff

In a time when AI and “conversational UIs” are all the rage, Intercom published their 8 principles of bot design. Among them are the following guidelines: “Don’t pretend to be a human”, “Use [bot] interactions sparingly”, and “provide an escape hatch” (e.g. a human fallback) for when conversation between human and bot inevitably breaks down. (For a case study of good bot design, I recommend checking out X.ai, a scheduling bot I frequently use.)

UCLA designer Perre DiCarlo believes – and proves – that porting paper forms to the web is more complicated than copying and pasting. This is one of the most meticulous case studies of web form design I’ve seen yet.


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