What I Wrote in 2010: a Look Back

Over the weekend I came across the Watchdog series on Stat News, which takes a long investigative view of science, scientific claims and hype. “Periodically in this column, we’ll take a look back at claims made by scientists five years earlier to see how they hold up, and if they were off-target, explore why. Think of it as Five Year Watch,” science journalists Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky write.

What a wonderful idea, I thought. It reminded me of John Gruber’s Claim Chowder series for his Daring Fireball. Meanwhile my good friend and WordPress.com co-creator Matt Mullenweg recently wondered on his blog if there could be a site that covers “the top headlines on Techmeme 6, 12, or 18 months after they happened.” Another capital idea.

These guys have inspired me to apply the Marcus-Oransky approach to my own writing and claims I made in 2010.

Deciding to give an accountability report was the easy part. The hard part was scrolling back to articles from 2010. I don’t know how and when, but the search and archives on the old Gigaom site mutated and are practically impossible to use. Thank God for Google and its “keyword site:url” capabilities to sift through the piles of web information.

The whole searching exercise made me realize that the tech industry’s rigorous focus on the future has left little or no room to think about the past and what it gives as context. Instead, as Nova Spivack told me in 2010, the 21st century is all about the present. “The Now is getting shorter,” Spivack said. “The horizon is getting narrower. Now has gone from days to hours to seconds. Every new service competes for fraction of a fraction of our free time. Or displaces something else which has that time.” Spivack was spot-on: Our now is even more fractional than it used to be.

Anyway, back to the archives. There were quite a few things that happened in 2010: Square readers became available, the Nexus series of devices started to make their way onto the planet, the iPad launched amid a lot of fanfare, AWS started to change the dynamics of startups, the cord-cutting movement gained momentum and, of course, Apple introduced Ping.

I wrote about 100 blog posts over the entire year, and if you discount the news items, that leaves 30-odd pieces that matter. A quick scan made it clear that I was mostly half right and mostly half wrong. Jokes aside, if I were to rate myself, it would be 5.75 on a scale of 10. I am going to continue to do reality checks on my posts from 2010 over the next month or so, but let’s start with just three pieces today.

What I Got Wrong

My early optimism for Ping was much like thinking a team could win the World Series thanks to the trades it made in December. I was not a little off. I was flat-out “what the hell was I smoking” wrong. Apple is even now woefully clueless about social and, to a large extent, modern internet software. Ping is no longer pinging, though Apple keeps trying to push the follow-the-artist idea in its Apple Music.

The idea of applying social discovery to apps is still a distant dream, a lost opportunity that has allowed Facebook to build a multi-billion-dollar revenue stream based on app discovery. Social discovery, not only at Apple but also elsewhere on the internet, has run into the buzz saw of economic realities. Just as search that works too well doesn’t make money, efficient social discovery doesn’t make the billions that keep investors happy.

What I Got Right

Like Apple, Google’s social efforts have been akin to that of a robot. In my piece “Slide, Vic Gundotra and the Un-Social Reality of Google,” I pointed out that the Slide purchase was a dumb idea, Vic wasn’t the man for the job and Google was, well, Google. “It knows how to tweak machines and make them do unfathomable things,” I wrote. “But what it can’t do is internalize empathy. It doesn’t know feelings. It doesn’t comprehend that relationships are more than a mere algorithm.” Five years later, Vic is gone, Google is still un-social and Facebook is still kicking it in the tush.

What I Wish I Had Written About More

I had started WebWorkerDaily as a site that chronicled the trials and tribulations of working anywhere, without any shackles. It slowly evolved into a site about “working connected,” and that led to the all-too-soon conference called the Future of Work. The piece outlining the reasons for hosting that conference — apart from making money — is probably one of my favorite blog posts from 2010. It’s about how connectedness changes the idea of work and the workplace and how it will redefine our understanding of work. Here is what I wrote five years ago:

For the longest time, the concept of work had been be confined and defined by two parameters: space and time. We all used to go to a central location to work. We would work at our nine-to-five jobs, then come home, watch television, read a little, go to sleep, and start all over again.

Just as time would define our work and our life, space or location would define industries. Automobiles blossomed in Detroit. Filmmaking and television flourished in California. Fashion thrived in Paris. Publishing and advertising found a home in New York City and in these locations, business giants of the 20th century attracted hundreds of thousands of workers.

With the rise of broadband, a new factor has come into play: connectedness. Connectedness allows companies big and small to exist as a stateless entity. Today, a startup can offer a new device dreamed up and designed in California, manufactured in China and sold in Europe with support services being in India or the Philippines.

It is not just startups; companies as large as Cisco Systems and Nokia are working across different time zones, accomplishing different tasks and functioning like a beast that never sleeps. Thanks to connectedness, the old-fashioned notions of space and time are soon going to be rendered moot. How can a day end at 5:00 p.m. when half your team is spread across multiple time zones?

The shift to this new work has opened up many new opportunities, including the transition to cloud-based software and services. While I didn’t write about the momentous shift in how we work, I did manage to invest in two companies that benefited from this shift to the connected workplace: Socialcast (which was acquired by VMWare), on behalf of True Ventures, and Slack, as an angel investor.

The shifting notion of work and workplaces continues to be a theme that intrigues me. That’s why I’m exploring it in-depth with Jennifer Magnolfi in my next Pi.co interview.

Nov. 30, 2015, San Francisco

Additional Reading and Links

  1. “The Watchdogs,” Stat News
  2. “Journalistic Accountability,” Ma.tt
  3. Claim Chowder,” Daring Fireball
  4. “The New Now,” Gigaom
  5. “Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce,” Gigaom
  6. “Slide, Vic Gundotra & the Un-Social Reality of Google,” Gigaom
  7. “The Internet’s Next Killer App: Work,” Gigaom

Photo by me: A duck sunning on a deck in Sausalito’s floating houseboat colony. Lucia M-Monochrom with Lecia f2/35mm Summicron lens.