All posts by Dylan

What Uber tells us about tech startups vs. journalists

We know this much: Uber has a huge public relations problem on its hands.

On Monday, Buzzfeed reported comments made by a senior vice president on Uber’s team, Emil Michael, at a private dinner. Michael’s comments suggested that he felt Uber would be justified in hiring an opposition research team to dig up dirt on journalists, such as Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy.

Lacy has been pretty vocal in her criticisms of Uber and other representatives of what she rightly calls Silicon Valley’s “asshole culture.” She called out Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick as an example of the kinds of “assholes” who may be abrasive, but also cultivate a culture of abrasiveness, jerkiness, and — in Uber’s case — misogyny. Lacy wrote that she no longer felt safe riding in Uber cars, because the company had done too little to vet its drivers and cultivated a culture that seemed to treat women as sex objects.

So you can imagine that Uber might be feeling a little uncharitable toward Lacy. But digging up dirt on a journalist in order to get even with her — well, that’s just not something most companies would contemplate.

Read the rest on VentureBeat, and find out what this all means for Uber — and for tech journalists and tech PR people.

Hundreds of people, including NYC’s former mayor, plan to protest the Met’s production of “Klinghoffer.” Protests! Against an opera — an art form that, for most Americans, is completely dead.

I enjoy opera quite a bit, but I’m used to it trafficking in stories that — while offensively bloody (Lucia di Lammemoor) or shockingly amoral (Carmen) are distant enough in time and space that people just smile and listen along. The fact that this has provoked such outrage, while critics consider it a musical triumph, suggests that there’s still a spark of life there.

This really makes me want to see this production, by the way.

Why I’m using blind auditions to recruit journalists for VentureBeat

Orchestras in the U.S. used to be 95% to 100% male.

But after instituting blind auditions, with the applicants performing their music behind a screen so they can only be heard, not seen, that ratio changed dramatically.

According to one study, the number of women in top orchestras rose from less than 5% to 25% after those orchestras implemented blind auditions starting in the 1970s and 1980s. One quarter to one-half of that change, the study found, is attributable to the blind auditions, which force auditors to focus on what they’re actually hearing, not what they see.

Recently, people have started suggesting that Silicon Valley needs to make a similar change. Startup guru Eric Ries made a similar experiment by removing names, gender, and ethnicity from resumes.

So I thought we’d try an experiment: Conduct blind auditions for job openings at VentureBeat.

We have several openings for ambitious, motivated tech journalists. (Plus we’re looking for a copy editor.)

If you want to apply, fill out our online applicationIt might feel a bit impersonal but this gives us the ability to review all applicants based on the quality of their content — not their name, gender, race/ethnicity, or how well-designed their portfolio site is.

We’ll take all the applications, reformat them from an unreadable Google Spreadsheet into a clean-looking Google Doc (using this handy script), remove the names, and evaluate them that way.

For URLs of published clips, we’ll use Instapaper to reformat the articles into a neutral, readable design and paste them into Google docs, minus their bylines and publication names.

Will this make a difference? I don’t know. Ultimately my goal is to make hiring decisions based on excellence and ability. Anything that lets us focus on the quality of an applicant’s writing and reporting — not his or her background, name, or face — seems like a good start.

Image Credit: afagen, https://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/5133070639/

How to make Facebook work better for you: Quit the ‘Like’

The “Like” button on Facebook seems harmless enough: It’s an easy way to express your appreciation of something.

But as some people are discovering, that innocuous little like has some unintended consequences.

Wired writer Mat Honan found out what happens when you like every single thing that shows up in your Facebook feed. The results were dramatic: Instead of his friends’ updates, he saw more and more updates from brands and publishers. And, based on what he had liked most recently, Facebook’s algorithm made striking judgements about his political leanings, giving him huge numbers extremely right-wing or extremely left-wing posts. What’s more, all that liking made Honan’s own posts show up far more in his friends’ feeds — distorting their view of the world, too.

But Medium writer Elan Morgan tried the opposite experiment: Not liking anything on Facebook. Instead of pressing like, she wrote a few thoughtful words whenever she felt the need to express appreciation: “What a gorgeous shock of hair” or “Remember how we hid from your grandmother in the gazebo and smoked cigarettes?” The result, as you might guess, is just the opposite of Honan’s experience: Brand messages dwindled away and Facebook became a more relaxed, conversational place for Morgan.

While far from conclusive, these two personal experiments are highly suggestive. Facebook’s algorithm is tuned in a way that makes it respond to likes by giving you more of what it thinks is related — and those suggestions are usually driven by brand marketing. Stop liking things, and Facebook eases off the marketing messages, letting your friends’ updates come to the fore.

“Once I removed the Like function from my own behavior, I almost started to like using Facebook,” Morgan wrote, concluding:

Give the Like a rest and see what happens. Choose to comment with words. Watch how your feed changes. I haven’t used the Like on Facebook since August 1st, and the changes in my feed have been so notably positive that I won’t be liking anything in the foreseeable future.

Not so secretly, I think the humanity and love, the kinder middle grounds not begging for extremes, that many of us have come to believe are diminishing in the world at large are simply being drowned out by an inhuman algorithm, and I think we can bring those socially vital experiences back out into the light.

Would you quit the like? I’m going to try it. If you do, too, please use the comments section below to let me know what happens.

Originally published on VentureBeat.

What to Think, Ep. 14: Talking big data with Hilary Mason

What to Think, Ep. 14: Talking big data with Hilary Mason
Image Credit: J. O’Dell / VentureBeat

In this episode, Dylan Tweney and Jordan Novet catch up with data science maven (and New York tech scene fixture) Hilary Mason about her new startup, Fast Forward Labs, and how it will help companies solve their data science problems.

Read more about Fast Forward Labs on VentureBeat.

And we also tell you what to think about:

Listen below, and subscribe to What to Think on iTunes.

You can also right-click/control-click to download the MP3 of this episode.

Or listen to us on Stitcher – or get the What to Think RSS feed for the podcast player of your choice.

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