I read Roger McNamee’s book Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe the day it came out. While likely uncomfortable for a lot of people, it was excellent, provocative, and challenging all at the same time.
I have not, nor have I ever been, an investor in Facebook. However, I benefited indirectly from, and indirectly contributed to, the rapid rise of Facebook as an early investor in Zynga. I remember being amazed at the pace of growth of both companies and, in an effort to understand it better, went deep on how each company’s product intersected with the psychology of humans.
If you hung around me during the 2007 – 2010 time period when I was on the Zynga board, you would have heard me talk with amazement at how easy it was to manipulate people into spending huge amounts of their time tending their virtual farm on FarmVille. I spoke with pride about the data that Zynga collected on every user, much of which came directly from Facebook and had nothing to do with what Zynga was doing, but was readily accessible to them via the Facebook API. Zynga endured endless Facebook TOS rewrites as they evolved their business model and tried to capture more of the revenue from companies like Zynga, including what I have come to refer to as the Facebook-Zynga Cuban Missile Crisis which ended in
All of this happened a decade ago. I left the Zynga board just before they went public at the end of 2010 (as is my, and my partners’ at Foundry Group’s approach.) I continued to be a user of Facebook, but even that drifted away from me, as I never really felt that connected to it (I was more of a Twitter person.) I wasn’t surprised when the Facebook data privacy scandals started in 2017, but I was surprised at how timid the backlash was. I stopped using Facebook in 2018 and deleted my account in August.
McNamee has a deeper relationship with Facebook, as he was a mentor for Zuckerberg early in Facebook’s life and then an investor (first personally, then via his fund Elevation Partners) while Facebook was a private company. His experience has more emotion in it than mine (both good and bad), but his journey that led to this book started just before the 2016 US Presidential Election as McNamee was concerned that “bad actors” could be using Facebook to manipulate the election.
The book is riveting. McNamee moves between Facebook, his experience as an investor, his efforts to get through to the Facebook leadership team about his concerns, and his subsequent journey to make public his views about the negative impact Facebook is having on society and democracy in general. McNamee is not taking a cynical approach, but rather takes responsibility for his own lack of foresight into the potential problem, and explains his search for understanding and solutions.
I think this book is merely a preamble for what is coming in the next twenty years. As a species, we have little understanding of the complexity that we are creating through technology. This complexity cannot be solved, as complex adaptive systems don’t have a single solution – they adapt and evolve. Instead, we can only interact with them and, when they evolve at a rate much faster than we can understand and respond to, it’s can lead to an untenable situation.
We haven’t really begun to understand the implication of what we are creating. Regardless of the long-gone “Do No Evil” slogans of progressive technology companies, profit and power motives dominate behavior. And, with profit and power comes significant defenses, including denial about second order effects that result, and then the third order effects that result from the efforts to control the profit and power.
McNamee’s book is a taste of this. Read it and start to prepare your mind for what is to come.
My long time friend Alan Shimel has been blogging up a storm on Network World (if you want to hear any amusing story, ask him about the first time he met me.) When Alan started writing his column for Network World he asked me for introductions to a bunch of our portfolio companies that were using open source. Alan is a tough critic and calls it like he sees it so while I knew there was no guarantee that he’d go easy on the companies, I knew that Alan would do an even handed job of highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. I also know that everyone I invest in values any kind of feedback – both good and bad – and they work especially hard to delight their customers so any kind of feedback will make them better.
Earlier today, Alan wrote an article on Standing Cloud titled Seeding the Cloud with Open Source, Standing Cloud Makes It Easy. On Monday, Standing Cloud released their first version of their product (called the Trial Edition) which is a free version that lets you install and work with around 30 open source products on five different cloud service providers. It’s the first step in a series of releases over the next two quarters that Standing Cloud has planned as they work create an environment where it is trivial to deploy and manage open source applications in the cloud. Alan played around with Standing Cloud’s Trial Edition, totally understood what they are doing, and explained why the Trial Edition is interesting and where Standing Cloud is heading when they release their Community Edition at the end of April.
Alan’s also written several other articles about companies in our portfolio recently, including the open source work Gist has been doing with Twitter and a great review of the Pogoplug and how it uses open source.
I believe I’m one of the people that inspired Alan to start blogging a number of years ago. Through his personal blog Ashimmy, the blog he writes for Network World titled Open Source Face and Fiction, and the blogging he does on security.exe (his company CISO Group’s blog), Alan is one of my must read technology bloggers. And he’s often funny as hell, especially when he gets riled up. Keep it up Alan!
I’ve always loved computer games. My Apple II screen had burn marks in it from Olympic Decathlon, Choplifter, Castle Wolfenstein, and Ultima. Recently, I’ve become addicted to several of Zynga’s games online, especially Mafia Wars (I’m level 52 – friend me on Facebook and join my Mafia) and Scramble (I think I’m better than I actually am so it’s endlessly frustrating.)
Zynga’s been cranking on their iPhone apps so most of my Scramble action is now on the iPhone. However, last night Zynga released Mafia Wars on the iPhone and it has immediately moved to third place on my “things to do on my iPhone other than email and call Amy.”
I got a note from Fred Wilson this morning that he’d beat me to the punch on posting about Mafia Wars on the iPhone. Yeah Fred – whatever – you are on the east coast and I’m on the west coast today so time was on your side. Help me neutralize the threat of Fred’s dominance in Mafia Wars by joining my iPhone Mafia – my player ID is 1901 3272 26 – recruit me for your Mafia (I’m level 5 on the iPhone already.)