The transatlantic controversy over Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal is really just starting to unfold. I have no doubt that in the coming days/weeks/months, similar stories will emerge of other third-party applications that have inappropriately saved, shared or misused Facebook user data – CA is far from the first (or last) to do so, however egregiously.
While a lot of the attention right now is around possible regulation of Big Tech (which is good), the underlying issues at play are actually much bigger and more fundamental. Particularly for us in the United States, the fundamental questions are about personal data, our notions of privacy, and how (or whether) we want to prepare legally for the next couple of decades. And I fear that, already, policymakers are thinking much too small about the role of data sovereignty and the balance of power between citizens and a tiny number of corporations that control the information our societies run on.
Continue reading “Facebook and data sovereignty”
(This is a re-write of a much earlier post of mine on Medium.)
I’m going to write something shocking here that I need to prepare you for first. Bear in mind that this comes from a total sci-fi geek – I have, at various times in my life, owned not only a toy phaser, but a tricorder and communicator to boot. I have seen every episode of Star Trek ever made (really) and love Battlestar Galactica. I can have an informed discussion about the relative merits of visions of the future embodied by the Foundation series, the Culture, or the Hegemony of Man. I love this stuff.
Yet any way I approach it, one conclusion seems inevitable: manned spaceflight is mostly a waste of resources, and we should put a stop to it. Hear me out.
Continue reading “The Bread and Circuses of Space Exploration”
I’m thrilled to announce that Building Products for the Enterprise is now on sale on Amazon. Ebook versions can be downloaded immediately, and hard copies have begun shipping:
Ben and I wrote this book because we thought it needed to be written. In it, we’ve tried to make a worthwhile contribution to the product management literature out there. We hope you agree that it lives up to that goal. If you do, would you mind leaving a good review? They help. Thanks a lot!
I’m a millennial dad in my 30s. I’m mostly still figuring things out as I go, but here are a couple of “life tip” things that I wish I’d known in my 20s.
Continue reading “Ten Things I Wish I Had Known in My 20s”
As I mentioned on Twitter the other week, our family is leaving New York City and going home to North Carolina. Our plan was to try living here for a year or two, and we’ve done that now. We bought a house back in the Triangle (that’s the Raleigh/Durham area for anyone unaware) for a small fraction of what a crappy 1BR costs anywhere in the New York metro area, and we’ll be there for the foreseeable future.
Continue reading “We’re outta here”
One of the biggest cultural megatrends happening in America today also happens to be the least-reported: American Christianity is collapsing.
While 61% of the white population 65 and older identifies as mainline Protestant or Catholic (and 26% of those as “evangelical”), only 22% of those 18-29 do. There is a steady and sustained shift towards identification as “Nones” – respondents who report no affinity for a given faith, or indeed, any faith at all.
This tracks with a lot of prior research that demonstrates that younger Americans are increasingly turning away from traditionally organized religion. And while many of these people do report being “spiritual” in less traditional ways (professing belief in an abstract higher power and/or praying daily, for example), more than a third do not. In fact, there’s research that suggests that as many as 10-20% of Americans are actually atheists, and simply eschew the term because of stigma.
It’s not axe-grinding to observe that the core of those self-professed Christians who remain are, on the whole, generally more ideological than in the past. Indeed, the term “Christian” itself has taken on a distinct and recognizably political tone in the culture, rather than as primarily a rubric of moral guidance. A perfect example of this is the arc between two generations of leadership in American Christianity: the late reverends Billy Graham (“America’s pastor”) and Jerry Falwell, and their respective sons.
Continue reading “Losing Faith”
Something I spend a lot of time thinking about is how you’d break open and decentralize the social web.
Today, every social network operates by enticing users with some sort of flashy product feature set (Facebook: engaging content; Snap: ephemeral messaging; Twitter: hot takes; etc.) in order to get them to add their names and behavioral data to a giant database, which the company then sells advertising against. The results are pretty clear: the incentives of this model have led to invasive tracking and loss of user privacy, harassment and abuse, and the gaming of algorithmic feeds to spread conspiracy theories and fake news; Not to mention that Facebook’s manipulation of the content in their News Feed has dealt a body blow to the business model of journalism itself.
It’s easy to imagine how a for-profit social network could be better managed, but at their root, they have to make money, and that will typically mean selling ads. A social network run as some kind of non-profit foundation (like Wikipedia) is one option, but I think there’s a better way: open-source, decentralized social. This is what I’d do if I were a bored billionaire.
Continue reading “Open Source Social”
The first phase of enterprise SaaS was taking all the stuff that used to run on-premises, putting it in the cloud and changing up the billing/business model. This has unlocked a tremendous amount of flexibility, innovation and improvement in enterprise software, ranging from design to security to cost-effectiveness. Enterprise SaaS product managers have long used product data and analytics to improve those products, but it’s often been surprisingly difficult to do so. I should know. Getting usage analytics on pretty much all of the cloud products I’ve ever managed has been way harder than it should be.
But that’s changing, and there’s a whole new crop of PMs out there using new tools that make it easier than ever to both get product analytic data and to put this user feedback to direct use in honing their products. In fact, I increasingly see similarities between where product managers are today and where marketers were about ten years ago. Marketing’s adoption of digital analytics tools holds a ton of important lessons for enterprise SaaS product managers today to learn from, particularly in terms of how to consume and properly derive insight from those tools and make their outputs actionable.
In this blog post, I decided to call in some outside expertise who’s participated in that evolution in marketing firsthand. I asked Nancy Koons, who is something of a celebrity in the digital analytics world, to talk about some of the lessons she’s learned applying analytics to marketing, which I find highly transferable to product. We traded emails on this for a while, and I’ve distilled our exchange in the points below.
Continue reading “What Product Managers Can Learn From Digital Analytics”
Today’s post will feature another veering-off into a pet interest of mine.
Roughly 75,000 years ago, one of the earth’s most massive “supervolcanic” eruptions ever occured. It’s called the Toba Event by researchers today, and while its potentially dramatic effects on the human race are still debated, its staggering impact on the planet is not. Toba’s ejection was powerful enough to cover all of South Asia in up to 6 inches of volcanic ash. Toba’s resulting crater lake can clearly be seen from space. The gases and ash it sent into the atmosphere probably cooled the entire planet significantly, and possibly accelerated a larger global cooling trend that lasted almost 1,000 years. The global climatic effects of Toba had a major effect on where early humans (and other hominids, like the Neanderthal and Denisovans) migrated, how they interacted, and which populations survived (or didn’t). Earlier research suggested that Toba’s eruption even caused a genetic bottleneck for early humans, dramatically altering our very evolution as a species (though that theory is still controversial).
Yet despite being arguably one of the most important events in the history of the human race, most people have never heard of the Toba volcano. And that’s bonkers.
Continue reading “Big History”
For a couple of weeks a while back, there was a brief bubble of media personalities pressing the case for “breaking up” Big Tech. In a current events cycle dominated by news of Russian hacking, institutions under siege, “fake news” and the like, the GAFA companies’ ascent to global dominance is now seen by some as a precursor to an episode of Black Mirror, rather than the sunny tech-optimistic future we all enjoyed in the mid-aughts.
But when you get into the details of what such a “breakup” might actually entail, things get murky very quickly. What would breaking up Google or Facebook actually look like? Amazon is not AT&T; Google is not Standard Oil. A breakup based on, say, geography is nonsensical on face for an internet company. Moreover, these consumer-facing companies are dominant mostly on the basis of consumer choice, not simply lock-in, like a Microsoft Windows/Internet Explorer sort of scenario. (No one uses Google Maps because Apple Maps just isn’t accessible. Google’s product is just demonstrably superior.) In any case, public support for breaking up Big Tech isn’t very high anyway.
Instead, a more practical, and probably effective, approach to protecting consumers, citizens, markets, our political system and society at large would be through plain, old, boring regulatory action, both through existing statutes and feasible new ones. Here are four possible ways to do that.
Continue reading “Four boring ways to regulate Big Tech”