My stance on covering the latest Silicon Valley rumor fest

There are a lot of rumors going around about a certain blog founder. My take is that most of it is completely unfounded and comes from people with an obvious interest in discrediting him. So for now, VentureBeat is not covering this “story.”

After I posted this note on Facebook, I got asked: Are we afraid to cover this story because we’re afraid of blowback from the accused guy? And would we treat this story differently if it had to do with a true Silicon Valley bigwig, like Apple CEO Tim Cook?

I can answer with some concrete examples. Keith Rabois, COO at Square, left his company after accusations that he sexually harassed an employee. We covered that, because A, he really left the company, and B, he wrote a post about it. We also covered a sexual harassment case at VC firm CMEA, and last year, we covered the sexual harassment case at Kleiner Perkins.

VentureBeat has been one of the few (if not the only) tech blogs to cover all three big sexual harassment cases in Silicon Valley in the past year. In all three cases, we didn’t hesitate to take on a story about someone powerful and/or friendly with us. (Rabois has been a speaker at VentureBeat conferences, for instance, and KP is obviously hugely powerful in the valley). In all three cases, we stuck to reportable facts but didn’t pull any punches.

So to answer the question: Say Tim Cook gets accused of harassment. We’d cover immediately if there was a civil or criminal action. But suppose it’s all rumors and hearsay, and thanks to mob mentality all the other tech blogs start covering it. In that case we’d probably weigh in with a post saying “Here’s the rumor that everyone is talking about, but there is no evidence for it at all.” Because at that point, the chatter itself is newsworthy, and the absence of evidence would be the most salient, reportable fact.

Back to our competing blog founder: We’re staying away from the story because of lack of evidence, not fear. But also we have a special reason to be reticent, which is that he founded a competing site. I know from experience that we care more about our competitors than our readers do. Readers really aren’t looking to VentureBeat for stories about our competition, and they get annoyed when we get sucked into blog wars. So we have a special reluctance to cover competitors for that reason.

We’ll override that reluctance if there’s anything material to talk about. But for now, I see no reason to publish anything.

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

- Roger Ebert

via Susan Barnett

Ebert obituary from the Chicago Sun Times

Ebert’s last tweet

What is wrong with HTC’s Android sync service?

I’ve had several HTC phones, and I never seem to learn. The latest is an HTC One V. They all start out great — excellent hardware, seemingly fast and snappy interfaces — and turn into useless, molasses-slow junk within a few weeks.

I think I’ve isolated the source of the problem: It’s something to do with HTC’s approach to contact syncing and, in particular, the Contacts Storage app. I have about 3,000 contacts in one Google account and 700+ in the other, so I might represent a minority case, but it seems to me that this isn’t an inordinate number of contacts. Somehow it gets incredibly bloated on the phone, though: 62.7MB at the moment. I’ve tried deleting the data file and letting it re-sync, and it quickly zooms back up to the same gigantic number.

By contrast, when I export my contacts to a CSV for backup, both sets combined take less than 3MB of storage. So HTC is somehow increasing the storage needed for my contacts by 20X.

This causes a huge performance hit. Any app that needs to access contacts gets incredibly slow to open. Just opening the phone dialer can sometimes leave me staring at a blank screen for 30 seconds. Mail is the same story. I can get notifications about incoming text messages, but tapping on the notification to actually open the message itself will put the phone into a wait state that lasts two or three minutes.

It seems to be worst if the phone is actually syncing data (indicated by the “sync” icon in notifications). Over a 3G network, this sometimes takes ages — even when there are no significant changes to my contacts.

On top of that, a previous HTC phone littered my contacts’ notes fields with strange HTC codes. It’s as if some HTC engineers decided that people never use their notes fields, so they might as well just throw sync tokens in there. It’s disconcerting and rude behavior.

But rudest of all is the notion that the phone, when it’s syncing, is too busy to respond to me. That’s a fundamentally broken UI. Computers should always be immediately responsive to humans, and should always be interruptible. There is no reason a sync operation could not be stopped so I could make a freaking phone call.

Why I’m fed up with Game of Thrones

Hot nude action, medieval style. Painting of "Adam and Eve" by Lucas Cranach the Elder, from 1533.

Hot nude action, medieval style. Painting of “Adam and Eve” by Lucas Cranach the Elder, from 1533.

Personally I don’t mind the gratuitous boobage in Game of Thrones. Any shape or size: I am a fan. But if those boobs are accompanied by a complete absence of relevance or character, it starts to feel a bit empty.

Throw in loads of violence — especially when that violence seems to have no point other than its own empty shock value — and it becomes disturbing.

Layer on top of that the most retrograde stereotypes of what women’s roles are; make the women conform to the most Hollywood-esque stereotypes of beauty; add ridiculously outdated and patently coded stereotypes for Irish people, Italians, Danes, and Mongols; and complement that with 47 different finely-shaded subtle variations on English accent sub-types; then completely remove all Jews or Moors from the medieval context, and what you have is … I don’t know what to call it. It bugs me though.

In short: Good god this show is bad. The acting is bad, the plotting is bad, the sex is bad (it’s nearly all rape or prostititution), and it is one of the most sadistic shows I’ve ever seen. Also, I might add, it feels racist as hell. (Is it any coincidence that the Mongol horde is led by a gorgeous blonde Targ-Aryan?)

I had to stop reading the book series for the same reason: The author clearly cares far less about developing his characters or making you care about them than he does about imagining new and horrible ways to make them suffer and off them. I was sucked right into the first book and loved it. The second book, a little bit less so. By the time I got a third of the way through the third book, I was completely nauseated by the endless raping and pillaging. It didn’t help that around the same time as I was reading about heads being put on pikes — a classic trope of medieval fantasy literature — I was reading about schoolkids in Texas who needed special counseling because, when they were living in Mexico, they had to go to school past actual heads stuck on actual sticks. People still kill each other this way, and they still put heads on pikes. It seemed irresponsible to be using this as an offhand trope for “mans brutality against man” in a fantasy epic without at least some recognition that this is also still a reality.

Anyway, that’s really the only inventive thing about the series: How cleverly it imagines death and torture.

It also is very clever in how it uses the old “interwoven multiple narratives” trick to keep pulling you forward through the story, through one cliffhanger after another.

So: Well executed, George R. R. Martin and HBO, you cynical bastards. I watched every single episode of seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon; I couldn’t stop, really. But I’m really looking forward to taking a break now.

 

Dylan’s Desk: Somehow, we’re all stumbling along without Google Reader

Photo credit: Sam Howzit/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/aloha75/8304864237/

Photo credit: Sam Howzit/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/aloha75/8304864237/

My latest column for VentureBeat started off as an attempt to describe how I’ve replaced Google Reader, with a custom-rigged PHP-based RSS news river of my own, supplemented by some IFTTT recipes and a minimalist RSS reader called Skimr.

But it turned into a meditation on impermanence and change. Here’s an excerpt:

With the passing of Reader, I’ve had to build my own alternatives from what’s available. I use IFTTT.com to email VentureBeat’s stories, as they’re published, to my mailbox. For now, Gmail works fine for reading these stories, and it has the offline capabilities I need for my commute. I’ve had some problems with IFTTT’s reliability (and it’s too slow to be a real-time notification tool), but for catching up on essential reading, this works well.

I’m experimenting with a minimalist RSS reader, Skimr, to scan news stories. It’s fast and easy. I’ve also rebuilt my own RSS news dashboard on my personal website (using a PHP-based RSS parser called SimplePie, along with some custom PHP I wrote and a stylesheet I borrowed from Readability a long time ago, back when it was just an Arc90 project) so I can scan my personal “river of news” as it breaks.

And I’ve honed some Twitter lists that I use to give me a real-time heads-up display of the news in Tweetdeck.

I’m cautiously pessimistic about all of these solutions. RSS is an open standard and it’s widely used, but I’m nervous that with Reader’s passing, websites will have less and less incentive to maintain their RSS feeds. Twitter lists are functional, but they’re entirely dependent on Twitter continuing to support and maintain them, and they’re certainly not based on any open standards. Skimr is still in alpha testing. PHP is tricky and error-prone.

So none of these solutions is perfect, and they probably won’t last more than a year or two before I have to replace them or substantially rebuild them.

That’s the price of living on the Internet: Everything changes, nothing remains still. As the philosopher Heraclitus supposedly said, some 2,500 years before the Web, you cannot step into the same river twice.

Read the full story at http://venturebeat.com/2013/03/21/somehow-were-all-stumbling-along-without-google-reader/

Changing the world

apps over austin at sxsw

I went to Austin, and I came back with an excellent orange beanie. I also spent a lot of time talking to interesting people and — when I wasn’t busy producing content for VentureBeat — drinking a bit too much. (And I made a brief appearance on NPR, which made my mom really proud.)

I’m tired and happy to be home now. But I’m also feeling kind of inspired by the whole event. From the guy in the bar who is making an app to help people commit “random acts of kindness,” to Amanda Palmer’s challenge (at a session about startup communities) for more awareness of the way crowdfunding builds a sense of shared responsibility, to the huge, world-changing ambitions of the Founders Fund partners, there was one common thread for me at SXSW this year (my first): Changing the world.

Here’s an excerpt from my latest column.

AUSTIN, Texas — At South by Southwest, every party had long lines of people waiting to get in, sometimes stretching the length of a block.

Every party except one, that is. I walked down the street last night past a Microsoft Windows event, which not only had no line, it was so empty that a staffer was standing on the sidewalk urging us to come inside.

Maybe Microsoft needed to hire a more exciting band. Half a block further down, and the sidewalk was crowded with young folks hoping to get into a party sponsored by some technology company. I’m pretty sure the headliner wasn’t Robert Scoble.

SXSW is an interesting mashup of a music festival, a film festival, and a geek fest. This was my first year attending, and I was a bit nervous, given that everything I’d heard about it made it sound crowded, noisy, and uncomfortable. But I’m leaving impressed.

Short version: Yes, SXSW is crowded and in many ways a dysfunctional event. No, there’s no real news. But it’s a great experience.

Read more about SXSW, startup communities, Tony Hsieh, and Amanda Palmer in my latest Dylan’s Desk column: How I learned to stop worrying and love SXSW.

How I stay productive

Fast Company asked me how I manage to be productive, which gave me a chance to explain how I use Evernote and Instapaper. Here’s their writeup:

Dylan Tweney, the executive editor at VentureBeat, said Evernote, the popular note-taking and archiving service, is his go-to productivity tool. “I use Evernote to collect everything I might possibly need to save for later, with the exception of emails–Gmail is fine for that. I store all of my important documents–from notes to interviews–in Evernote. I also use Evernote tags as a kind of to-do list: I have a set of tags that I can use to prioritize things that need to happen immediately or that Im waiting for someone else to finish: “1-next,” “2-soon,” “3-later,” “4-someday,” and “5-waiting”. When I get an email that I need to act on but cant respond to immediately, I forward it to my private Evernote address and then prioritize it,” said Tweney. “Finally, I use Instapaper liberally to save articles that I run across during the day, but dont have time to read during the busy hours. It sends stories to my Kindle automatically, so I always have something interesting to read on the train ride home or in the evening. That helps keep me focused on work, even when people are sharing fascinating things on Twitter and Facebook all day.”

via How CEOs Stay So Productive | Fast Company.

Dylan’s Desk: What you need to do to get more women at your conference — or company

panel of investor "sages" at DEMO Fall 2012

Last year, Courtney Stanton organized a conference for game developers whose 12-person speaker roster was half women, and half men.

And she did it without considering the gender of applicants.

In the world of tech conferences, that gender ratio is almost unheard of — let alone getting there without actively saying yes to certain applicants just because you know they’re female.

Stanton is a product manager for a video game publisher. She wanted to put together a conference for game developers, make it accessible — and get onstage speakers more diverse than, as she put it, “the same four straight white men agree(ing) with each other on some panel.”

How did she do it? By actively recruiting women through every possible channel. She attended events and spoke to women. She encouraged women she knew to submit speaking proposals. She recruited online. She met people for coffee and promised to mentor them, review their slide decks, help them brainstorm — whatever it took to get women to apply.

Read the original story at http://venturebeat.com/2013/01/30/what-you-need-to-do-to-get-more-women-at-your-conference-or-company/

Photo credit: Stephen Brashear/Flickr

 

Swipp hopes to make your status updates into collective, global knowledge

Swipp, a new “social intelligence platform,” is trying to bridge the gap between evanescent, useless social data (I ate a B.L.T. for lunch today! Look at this cool mural!) and more lasting, but less personal, knowledge, like the Wikipedia entry on San Francisco.

“We want to create a smarter, wiser planet,” co-founder Don Thorson told me in an interview recently. “It’s like the Borg Collective, with a more compassionate bent.”

The combination depends on an ambitious play: Getting people to share updates with their friends that include a unique 11-point rating, from -5 to +5, through Swipp’s iOS app and website, both of which launch today.

So, for example, you might use Swipp to post an update about the 49ers winning the game last weekend. Like Twitter, there’s a place to put a short note (up to about 250 words long), and you can attach a photo.

But unlike Twitter, the last thing you do before “Swipping” something is give it an emotional rating with a slider at the bottom of the screen. There’s a cute cartoon face that animates from sad/angry to happy as you slide the scale left and right.

Originally published on VentureBeat: Swipp hopes to make your status updates into collective, global knowledge | VentureBeat.