Twitter is a chatroom, and the problem that Twitter really solved was the discoverability problem. The internet is a big place, and it is shockingly hard to otherwise find people whose thoughts you want to read more of, whether those thoughts are tweets, articles, or research papers. The thing is, I’m not really sure that Twitter ever realized that this is the problem they solved, that this is where their core value lies. Twitter kept experimenting with algorithms and site layouts and Moments and other features to try to foist more discoverability onto the users without realizing that their users were discovering with the platform quite adeptly already. Twitter kept trying to amplify the signal without understanding that what users needed was better tools to cut down the noise.
Twitter, like many technology companies, fell into the classical trap by thinking that they, the technologists, were the innovators. Technologists today are almost never innovators, but rather plumbers who build pipelines to move ideas in the form of data back and forth with varying efficacy. Users are innovators, and its users that made Twitter unique.
Sunday, May 1st, 2022
Thursday, November 25th, 2021
Any application that could be done on a blockchain could be better done on a centralized database. Except crime.
I’m not alone in believing in the fundamental technical uselessness of blockchains. There are tens of thousands of other people in the largest tech companies in the world that thanklessly push their organizations away from crypto adoption every day. The crypto asset bubble is perhaps the most divisive topic in tech of our era and possibly ever to exist in our field. It’s a scary but essential truth to realise that normal software engineers like us are an integral part of society’s immune system against the enormous moral hazard of technology-hyped asset bubbles metastasizing into systemic risk.
Wednesday, September 29th, 2021
Innovation on the Clearleft podcast
At the beginning of the episode, I think you can hear the scorn in my voice. Y’see, innovation is one of the words—like “disruptive”—that gets thrown around a lot and everyone assumes it only has positive connotations. But words like “innovative” and “disruptive” can be applied to endeavours that are not good for the world.
Bitcoin, for example, could rightly be described as innovative (and disruptive) but it’s also a planet-destroying ponzi scheme—like a lovechild of the trolley problem and the paperclip maximizer designed to generate the most amount of waste for the least amount of value.
So, yeah, I’m not a fan of innovation for innovation’s sake. But don’t worry. For this episode of the podcast I set my personal feelings to one side and let the episode act as a conduit for much smarter people.
The whole thing clocks in at 25 minutes but I think this episode might have the widest range of contributors yet. There are snippets from an internal Clearleft discussion, soundbites from a panel discussion, extracts from conference talks, as well as interviews with individuals. From Clearleft there’s Chris How, Andy Thornton, Jon Aizlewood and Lorenzo Ferronato. From the panel discussion there’s Janna Bastow, Matt Cooper-Wright, Dorota Biniecka and Akshan Ish. And from UX Fest there’s Radhika Dutt, Teresa Torres and Gregg Bernstein.
I happily defer to their expertise on this topic. Have a listen and hear what they have to say.
Monday, August 2nd, 2021
Businesses focus on efficiencies—doing the things that net them the most money for the least effort. By contrast, taxpayer-funded public programs are designed and expected to cover everyone—including, and especially, the most marginalized. That’s why they’re taxpayer-funded; so they don’t face existential risk be eschewing profit-driven decision-making. Does this work perfectly? No. But I think about it a lot when people shit on the bigness and slowness of government. That bigness & slowness is supposed to create space and resources to account for the communities, that a “lean,” fast approach deliberately ignores.
Sunday, July 25th, 2021
There is zero evidence that crypto is creating any technical innovation connected to the larger economy, and a strong preponderance of evidence it is a net drain on society by circumventing the rule of law, facilitating tax evasion, environmental devastation, enabling widespread extortion through ransomware and incentivizing an increasingly frothy ecosystem of scams to defraud the public. Nothing of value would be lost by a blanket cryptocurrency ban.
Thursday, December 31st, 2020
If you make an improvement, it’s not going to be to the industry as a whole — it’ll be specific. And actually improvements have always been specific; it’s just that the industries have since multiplied and narrowed. Inventors once made drops into a puddle, but the puddle then expanded into an ocean. It doesn’t make the drops any less innovative.
Tuesday, May 29th, 2018
The transcript of a talk that is fantastic in every sense.
Fans are organised, motivated, creative, technical, and frankly flat-out awe-inspiring.
Thursday, December 21st, 2017
The transcript of a terrific talk on the humane use of technology.
Instead of using technology to replace people, we should use it to augment ourselves to do things that were previously impossible, to help us make our lives better. That is the sweet spot of our technology. We have to accept human behaviour the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be.
Saturday, March 4th, 2017
An alternative history of technology, emphasising curation over innovation:
We start to see the intangibles – the standards and ideologies that help to create and order technology systems, making them work at least most of the time. We start to see that technological change does not demand that we move fast and break things. Understanding the role that standards, ideologies, institutions – the non-thing aspects of technology – play, makes it possible to see how technological change actually happens, and who makes it happen.
Saturday, December 17th, 2016
Run from data-driven companies. In thrall to semi-science and blinded by their dogma, they’ve lost the ability to see intelligent alternative perspectives on their business, their products, and the world. Embrace instead data-informed companies. This isn’t mere grammatical pedantry – a company genuinely informed by data understands the risks of datafication and adopts sophisticated, balanced approaches to strategy that blend quant, qual, and even some of that unfashionable prediction and intuition.
Thursday, May 19th, 2016
The newest Kirby Ferguson video looks at remixing through the lens of the newest Star Wars film.
Saturday, October 4th, 2014
How the printing press led to the microscope, and chlorination transformed women’s fashion—Steven Johnson channels James Burke.
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
This sounds like it’s a going to be a good: a new TV series by Steven Johnson on the history of technology and innovation. Sounds very Burkian, which is a very good thing.
Monday, August 5th, 2013
A terrific long-zoom look at web technologies, pointing out that the snobbishness towards declarative languages is a classic example of missing out on the disruptive power of truly innovative ideas …much like the initial dismissive attitude towards the web itself.
Tuesday, October 4th, 2011
A rallying cry from Neal Stephenson for Getting Big Stuff Done.
Monday, March 28th, 2011
Apparently I’m the anti- David Cameron. I’ll take that.
Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Space stasis: What the strange persistence of rockets can teach us about innovation. - By Neal Stephenson - Slate Magazine
An excellent historical overview of rocketry by Neal Stephenson.
Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010
Bobbie documents the work of Jan Chipchase, currently looking into the design decisions behind counterfeit goods on sale in Shanghai.
Monday, November 29th, 2010
An absolutely fantastic write-up of Science Hack Day San Francisco ...as seen through the lens of Stephen Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From.
Monday, October 18th, 2010
Stephen Johnson wrote a book. Frank Chimero did a doodle.