Silicon Valley is an amazing place of innovation. It’s a geek Mecca, a destination for professional nerds — the technology capital of the world.
Silicon Valley is the only district in the world where people know more about the Wojcickis than the Kardashians, are more likely to have an elevator pitch than a committed relationship, and are more familiar with Github than with snow.
So many of the products and services that have transformed our world for the better were cooked up here. Today’s smartphones, social sites, search engines and app-centric sharing economy services like Uber and AirBnB were all dreamed up by young visionaries in towns like Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, San Jose and San Francisco.
Despite the best efforts of city planners around the world, Silicon Valley cannot be replicated. The Silicon Valley miracle is not the product of incentives, zoning, universities or planning. It’s the product of culture — a perfect blend of utopian, hippy, business, researcher, hacker, inventor and imperial mindsets.
But this mindset has a dark side. And now that tech has gone so thoroughly mainstream, the dark side is more apparent and affects and annoys more people.
Here are the seven things Silicon Valley needs to stop doing in 2017.
1. Stop using the ‘D’ word (disrupt)
Silicon Valley moguls and entrepreneurs talk about “disruption” as a primary goal for their businesses.
Here in Silicon Valley, the word “disrupt” is code for fixing something.
The assumption is that something out there is deeply flawed and by applying Silicon Valley pixie dust — apps, algorithms or artificial intelligence — that flawed thing can be fixed with a better way to do things.
Outside Silicon Valley, the word “disrupt” is code for breaking something.
People own or work for businesses that have or could be targeted by some tech company for “disruption.” If you own a small trucking company, and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur starts talking about “disrupting” the trucking industry, he’s talking about crushing your business and taking away your livelihood to make himself a billionaire.
Silicon Valley, stop trying to transfer wealth from the many to the few. Stop trying to do a scorched earth on traditional industries. Instead seek out win-win business that benefit as many people as possible.
2. Stop pretending you’re not a media company
I’m talking to you, Facebook, and all you companies out there with Facebook-envy. If users publish or share content on your site, and you do anything to that content — algorithmical sort or filter it, delete it for objectionable themes or offer “top stories”-type favoritism, guess what? You’re a media company. You’re not like the phone company. You’re like a newspaper company, with all the attendant social and editorial responsibilities thereof.
Facebook is the leading hypocrite in this realm. It’s an aggressive filterer of News Feed content, showing you a fraction of the posts sent by friends using secret criteria designed to boost “engagement,” and in the process, determining which of your relationships you tend and which you abandon. It strongly censors posts based on its values or, barring that, the values of its critics who have shamed them in the court of public opinion.
Facebook is the biggest source of news in the history of mankind. But when confronted with its role in the spread of fake news, it first threw up its hands and said, “hey, we’re not a media company.”
(After public pressure Facebook backtracked, and announced that it will work with FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, ABC News, the Associated Press and Snopes.com to fact-check stories, then label fake stories as such.)
Too many Silicon Valley companies want it both ways. They want to “disrupt” or displace traditional media organizations and gain all the influence, power and money, but then claim to bear no responsibility for the quality of information delivered to the public.
I say: Stop pretending you’re not a media company. Step up and take responsibility. Or get out of the content distribution business.
3. Tech journalists: Stop pretending you’re better than your audience
Access journalism has tech journalists rubbing elbows with the seats of power, so to speak, and Silicon Valley arrogance is contagious.
I read too many tech posts and listen to too many tech podcasts that refer to their audience as “normals” — which is a condescending euphemism for “people who aren’t awesome enough to be tech journalists.” Some tech journalism these days reveals a cringe-worthy superiority complex among bloggers, podcasters, reviewers and writers — especially among newer, less experienced publications and podcast companies.
Here’s the problem: Tech journalists get access, junkets, review units, invitations and a modicum of notoriety, then confuse all that for personal achievement. From that vantage point they view the priorities of their audience — you know, people who actually have to buy stuff and deal with the consequences — as flawed.
Here’s what newer tech journalists need to learn, and quickly: Among your audience are people who are better at what they do than you are at what you do. There are people who are more technical than you, too. They probably know less about the subject of your article in part because they have better things to do than obsess over the minutiae of every new app or smartphone. So they turn to you for help, information and perspective, not condescension.
Stop doing this, Silicon Valley tech journalists. Be suspicious of your own technology priorities and take the priorities of your audience as gospel. View your audience as a partnership for mutual learning.
4. Stop launching copycat products
It seems like most of the new software startups these days are launching products that copy apps that have been around for years, with no differentiating feature set.
I love Product Hunt. It’s a great way to discover the newest apps (and other things) and put your finger on the pulse of Silicon Valley software. For every unique, useful, powerful and interesting new app on Product Hunt, there are several boring, copycat, been-there-done-that apps.
Really? It’s 2017 and you’re living in a two-bedroom apartment with eight people in Silicon Valley to make a yellow sticky note app, a minimalist online writing site or a consultant time-tracking app? Those app ideas have been tried and have failed a thousand times. Think of something new.
5. Stop naming your product or company with an “LY” on the end
So you have an outline app. Do you have to call it Outlinely? Does a customer service app have to be called Customerly? And I don’t even want to know what Zittly is. (I’m not kidding. These are the actual names of apps that have emerged in the past month or so.)
If you want more advice, I’ll create an app called Advicely.
6. Stop acquiring companies and products just to kill them
Silicon Valley companies tend to acquire promising startups. Sometimes they unceremoniously kill them off — not because they’re failing but because they’re succeeding.
In some cases, the enthusiasm for the product is so high a grassroots effort emerges to simulate or open source it. But these rarely succeed in the market.
Some of the greatest apps and sites ever created were acquired as they were rising in popularity, then terminated. Remember Posterous, Pownce, Dodgeball, reMail, Nextstop and Friendfeed? These were all innovative, powerful, well-designed apps or services that were terminated on purpose because they were so good.
Stop it, Silicon Valley. Stop using your billions to crush innovation for your own gain.
7. Stop taking away great features users love
In the past few years, major Silicon Valley companies have taken brilliant features that everybody was enjoying and unceremoniously killed them off.
Google Photos is a great example. When Google started stripping Google+ for parts, the photo features were removed and spun out as the separate Google Photos service.
Google also “improved” it by neutering the photo-editing features. Now, you can hardly do anything to pictures using the editing tools beyond cropping, adjusting “light,” “color” and “pop” or choosing one of their ugly filters. Ironically, Google owns Snapseed, which is by far the best mobile photo-editing tool.
The website hosting and design company Squarespace used to let you send blog posts via email. This was a fantastic and convenient feature (pioneered by the aforementioned Posterous). Recently, the company announced the termination of this great feature.
Another example is the Apple MacBook Pro. One of the best and most beloved features on Apple laptops in recent years was Apple’s patented MagSafe connector, which used a magnet to attach the electrical cord. If somebody kicked the cord accidentally, it would disconnect without destroying your laptop.
The latest MacBook Pros plug in with a USB-C charging cable. Apple removed a great feature to pursue its obsession with minimizing holes in the laptop.
Stop it, Silicon Valley. If you’re good enough and lucky enough to come out with a feature everybody loves, don’t kill it.
It’s 2017. Just stop already.