Not-profit-motivated Services

​I’ve long thought that our society should patronize and develop more services on the model of not-profit-motivated WordPress, Wikipedia, Drupal, and craigslist if we want a better world. I’m not condemning venture-funded  and profit-motivated companies. They’ve done and will do great things; but in a macro sense, it’d be better to develop more companies oriented toward the public good than to maximizing profit. We need to bring the ethos of open source to services that we use day-in and day-out like banking, investing, housing, food production, and transit. Crowdfunding companies such as Kickstarter help this business model have new such opportunities. With the combination the two principles where companies don’t put profit first and where they are crowd-funded, we have a new opportunity to build institutions we can trust to do its users, society, and the planet right.

Web or app-based services like Facebook and Twitter are venture-funded and will likely be ruined by the company’s monetization efforts. As an example, when asked why I don’t use Flipboard, I replied that they are venture funded and don’t give their users a method to export their data. When Wall Street decides Flipboard needs to start actually making money, I want an option to move my list of feeds to which I subscribe. Since they don’t allow export (an OPML file is a standard feed export/import format), I’m not going to use them.

Did Facebook do anything for its customers with the billions it got from its IPO? It seems like they effectively just sold us out. They added ads everywhere. They are worth twice the combined market cap of the Big 3 auto makers largely because they say their ads are targeted and relevant. Have you found the ads they throw you to be relevant and targeted? Are the huge valuations of Airbnb, Uber, and WeWork a good thing?

The founders of WordPress, Wikipedia, Drupal, and craigslist made big money and great reputations. They may not be billionaires like the founders of many of these venture-backed services, but they have enough money. They monetized, but they did not sell out. They institutionalized their corporate culture by exclaiming to their user community and in their corporate documents such as by-laws that they are not going to sell out. That reputation they developed for not selling out is reputational currency in itself. Billionaires make huge money and then often give it back to charity later. Why not be like Craig Newmark of craigslist and decide that a largely-free service, ethically run,  gives him and our society y the highest reward?

There’s a lot to this, and I don’t feel these few paragraphs do the idea justice. And yes, I see the irony (or hypocrisy) of my working with Microsoft’s products and espousing the use of the opposite above. More to follow.

Strategy in Company Location and Technology Choice (or Non-Choice)

​I occasionally look at classified ads of companies seeking employees. In a large number of them, two things stick out as compromising the productivity and competitiveness of firms. Small decisions or non-decisions that lead to failing to change, add up.

First is location. Are you going to get creative employees if you’re located in an out-of-the-way location? How about not being on transit lines? Or being located distant from your desired hires? No. Heard about a non-profit that moved out of Dupont Circle, “Why would I want to stay? There’s no train, no parking, nowhere to eat lunch, and no one nearby to each lunch with!”

Second is technology choice. If you have too varied, legacy, or just plain unappealingly technology in your job descriptions, good candidates are going to look on to ads asking people to work with tools that will better develop their career potential. Cold Fusion and Lotus Notes come to mind. Consolidating on as few technologies attracts competent specialists. When I see an ad looking for someone to maintain a long list of software titles, I think, “Good luck finding someone willing to do that – never mind someone good at it.”

If you think you are saving money by having low rent and retaining old technology, you are likely being penny wise and dollar foolish.

If you get too much email, maybe you should spend more time WRITING each email

If you concentrate on writing clearly and concisely, when it’s your role to weigh in, to only the people who need that information, you and your co-workers will get less email. When someone multi-tasking fires off an unclear email to 8 people, that will often generate 10 more emails rather than settle a matter as intended.

By trying to multi-task you often make your entire organization less productive. I often think, “That email was great for 2 people on the email list and completely confused the other 12. Now, someone is going to spend a lot more time cleaning that mess up.” All the recent studies have shown that multi-tasking is much less productive than deep concentration.

I can’t tell you how often I hear someone say that they can’t get any work done at the office. They have to get their REAL work done at home or on a plane. That’s a corporate communication culture problem that needs to be addressed. I’ll often say. “I don’t think that’s a meeting issue. We can solve that by  email or phone in less time than it would take for us to prep and gather for a meeting.” Death by PowerPoint.

When someone responds to “How are you?” with “Busy” every time, I see that more as a time and lifestyle management problem than a point of pride. Skipping sleep does not make you more productive. All these little behaviors add up.