A Week’s A Long Time Vol. 9

Well, it’s nearly over and there’s only a few more medals to be won. And then the Premiership kicks off. Woo hoo! But what’s been happening outside the Olympics?

Security & Sexism

There was an interesting post about how tech journalists, such as those working at the likes of The New York Times and The Guardian, who are journalists who specialise working in tech, rather than technologists who happen to write, cover stories relating to online security.

The author, a security expert called Christopher Soghoian, suggested that tech journalists don’y really understand what they’re writing about. This wouldn’t necessarily matter except that if they’re writing about online security, and their readers believe them, those readers might take risks that they shouldn’t.

He highlighted his point by discussing Cryptocat, a tool that purports to allow people to have secure online chats without having to install any software. The tool was covered by Wired, amongst others, and Soghoian takes apart with some relish.

At best, this is bad journalism, and at worst, it is reckless. If Cryptocat is the secure chat tool for the tl;dr crowd, burying its known flaws 27 paragraphs down in a story almost guarantees that many users won’t learn about the risks they are taking.

That would normally be that. But an editor at Wired took massive exception to the post and wrote a response accusing of being patronising, sexist and hypocritical.

Soghoian says we failed our readers and put their lives at risk because Cryptocat is made for the “tl;dr crowd”. For those who don’t know, tl’dr means “Too Long; Didn’t Read” and is used online to dismissively signal that a story is too long, but often it just demonstrates a person’s intellectual laziness.

It’s a very telling assumption about Wired readers and Cryptocat’s users. In Soghoian’s view, a simple encryption tool that focuses on user experience is meant for those who are lazy and stupid and who can’t be bothered to read a longish story. It’s a convenient way to elide longstanding criticism of security tools for being too difficult for even decently tech-savvy users to configure and install.

Guess what? Soghoian didn’t like this, and has written a response to the response. He makes a good case against the argument that he’s sexist, but doesn’t, to my mind, counter the point that he’s hypocritical in putting burdens of proof on cryptocat that he doesn’t put on things he likes. Either way, the three of them were an illuminating look inside the worlds of journalism and security, and well worth a read.

All Fun & Games

Not long after being hyped by many as one of the most forward thinking companies in the world, Zynga is having a bad time of it.

Its share price has been tanking for some time, but this week things got even worse. The COO left, with immediate effect, which could be a good or a bad thing (most people seem to think bad). They’re also being sued for copying another company’s game, though this should hardly be a surprise, as a recent profile/interview with founder Mark Pincus highlighted:

A year after the YoVille acquisition, Zynga launched FarmVille, its defining title…This would be the beginning of the developer’s reputation as a serial plagiarist, happy to benefit from the innovation of other studios in order to boost its portfolio

And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, someone claiming to be a former employee has used Silicon Valley’s favourite confession box, Q&A site Quora, to explain how horrible it is to work for Zynga:

People willing to play the politics game were given ‘rockstar’ status, quarterly bonuses and promotions. Project direction and goals shifted daily, innovation of any kind was difficult – we were constantly forced to hew our game closer to the Farmville/Cityville playbook. Six weeks before shipping the studio was flown out to San Francisco to launch our game – 12 hour days seven days a week, free of the distraction of friends, wives and girlfriends. I watched alcoholism and substance abuse skyrocket, relationships crumble (including my own), people slept on office couches, two developers got divorced, one nervous breakdown. They attempted to smooth this over with more stock, free food and t-shirts. Free food doesn’t do you much good when you’ve lost fifteen pounds from not eating.

Where do I apply?

Yahoo Serious?

Finally, over at Yahoo!, new CEO Marissa Mayer is wasting no time in making herself busy. Just after a week after the interim CEO, who Meyer replaced, left, it seems like she might be trying to bring in some staff of her own, which might well force out some other people currently working at Yahoo! Apparently she’s after a former colleague who’s now at Twitter, and is unlikely to stop there.

But in a move that has raised more hackles than any hire is likely to, she has suggested that she may not give all of the money raised from a sale of some of Yahoo’s Chinese assets back to shareholders. Unsurprisingly, this went down with shareholders like the proverbial bag of cold sick, and the share price plunged. But then, as shareholders have shown more than once before, they’re more interested in short-term pay-outs than the long-term health of the company.

However, whilst not doing things to keep shareholders happy isn’t a bad thing, what she intends to do with the money might be. According to some, she might be about to go on a buying spree, with suggestions that she might use the cash to buy foursquare, Zynga or Flipboard. And some pretty clever people think that could be a bad move:

Perhaps we are too unimaginative, but given the challenges above and the nature of the competition it faces, from much larger and well-resourced businesses such as Google or Facebook, we have a hard time seeing how today’s Yahoo! could acquire a significant (emerging) Internet or media property, or multiple mid-size businesses, and create value. We see the downside risk of destroying value by overpaying and/or by hampering a rapidly growing but still relatively immature business with the burdens brought about by integration with underperforming Yahoo! as much higher than the upside potential


Interestingly, just as these reports are emerging, an academic has released a report showing that Acq-hires (where start-ups are purchased, simply to get hold of their staff), make no business sense. Here’s hoping Mayer has read it.


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