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robertogreco : middlemen   8

the three hot trends in Silicon Valley horseshit – Freddie deBoer – Medium
"For a long time I told the same basic joke about Silicon Valley, just updating as some new walled garden network replicated long-existing technology in a format better able to attract VC cash and, presumably, get them ad dollars.

2002, Friendster: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2003, Photobucket: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2003, Myspace: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2004, Flickr: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2004, Facebook: At last, a way to connect with friends on the internet!
2005, YouTube: At last, a way to post video on the internet!
2006, Twitter: At last, a way to post text on the internet!
2010, Instagram: At last, a way to post pictures on the internet!
2013, Vine: At last, a way to post video on the internet!
2013, YikYak: At last, a way to post text on the internet!

You get the idea. An industry that never stops lauding itself for its creativity and innovation has built its own success mythology by endlessly repackaging the same banal functions that have existed for about as long as the Web.

It seems, though, that SnapChat will be the last big new player in “social” for awhile, at least until the kids get their dander up for something new. What’s the new hotness in an industry that exemplifies 21st American capitalism, in that it’s a cannibalistic hustle where only the most shameless hucksters survive? As someone who rides the New York subway every day and is forced to look at its ads, let me take you on a journey.

[1] Give Away the Razors, Make Your Money on DRM-Infected Blades

Juicero deserved all of the attention it got and more — it was so pure, so impossibly telling about the pre-apocalyptic American wasteland. It was also just one of a whole constellation of companies that now operate under an ingenious model: take some banal product that has been sold forever at low margins, attach the disposable part to a proprietary system that pretends to improve it but really just locks pepole into a particular vendor, add a touch screen manufactured by Chinese tweens, call it “Smart,” and sell it to schlubby dads too indebted to buy a midlife crisis car and too unattractive to have an affair. As the Juicero saga shows us, you don’t even really have to honor the whole “make the initial purchase cheap” stage. Just ensure that you market your boondoggle to the kind of person who stood in line to buy an $800 “smartwatch” that poorly duplicates a tenth of the functions already present in the phone in their pocket. (You know, those dead inside.) Then get them “locked into your ecosystem,” which means “get their credit card number and automatically charge them every month for your version of a product that can be purchased at the supermarket for a third of the price.” Profit, baby, profit.

Are you the kind of person who is so worn down by the numbing drudgery of late capitalism that you can’t summon the energy to drag a 2 ounce toothbrush across your gums for 90 seconds a day? Well, the electric toothbrush has been a thing for a long time. And that means that it’s not good enough. After years of deadening your limbic system through psychotropic medication, video games, and increasingly-extreme internet pornography, you need something new. Enter Quip, the company disrupting the toothbrush. Quip wants you to know that its product is inexpensive, despite the fact that it will charge you $40/year for for its “refill plan” and I just bought 5 perfectly functional regular toothbrushes for $1 in the most expensive city in the country. Of course, you’re also buying the convenience of automation — who wants to run down stairs to the bodega for a toothbrush when you can hand over your banking info to a toothbrush company? Bonus points to Quip for emphasizing simplicity while hawking a product that employs an engineering team to innovate the concept of a brush.

[2] I’ve got one word for you, Benjamin, just one word: rents.

It’s one thing to take a product that is already cheap and just fine and replace it with a vastly more expensive version that locks people into exploitative proprietary systems for years in exchange for giving them a 15 second hit of dopamine derived from Going Digital. I mean, Quip and Juicero and whatever Silicon Valley dildo company is selling dongs with DRM-equipped replaceable heads are actually fundamentally selling you a product. It’s a horribly, uselessly expensive product that could only be embraced by chumps, but it’s a tangible thing. The real next level is just inserting yourself into someone else’s transaction and collecting a % while offering nothing. (When this is a job, we call it “consulting.”) Why charge a lot for the blades when you can charge a lot for literally nothing?

RentBerry is useful here because the word “rent” is literally in the name. Here’s the value proposition that RentBerry offers. For landlords who are already raking in record profits, RentBerry provides a chance at making even more, as potential tenants must set upon each other in a dystopian nightmare auction system that compels them to ask, how much am I willing to pay to avoid sleeping in the park, really? For tenants, RentBerry offers… well, the opportunity to pay more in a pre-existing housing crisis, the chance to make the process of finding an apartment an even more horrific exercise in stress and disappointment, a reason to hate faceless strangers with even more intensity, and more reason to view city life as a ceaseless Nietzschean struggle from which they will never escape. What RentBerry gets in return is, eventually, a % of your already hideously overpriced rent, for the duration of the lease. I bet you can’t wait to know a portion of your rent check is going not just to the landlord you hate but also to a company that did nothing beyond giving him the ability to take more of your money! Of course, if you live in New York, your “landlord” might very well be a hedge fund that also funded RentBerry! Sweet, right?

RentBerry will tell you that tenants might get a deal thanks to the auction system. Of course, it’s landlords who chose to use RentBerry, not tenants, and if landlords thought they were losing money on the deal they’d never use it, meaning the service’s very reason for being necessarily entails grabbing more and more tenant money. Details!

Why is everything so expensive? Because Silicon Valley and Wall Street are taking huge percentages out of transactions they once didn’t. That’s why. The Juiceros make inexpensive and functional products far more expensive and often less functional; the RentBerrys cut out the middleman by just becoming middlemen. Dare to dream.

[3] We Love Doers So Much We Want to Give Them a Hellish Existence of Endless Precarity

This is the type of company that has become inescapable in NYC subway advertising. Not coincidentally the time I spend contemplating stepping in front of the train to enjoy the sweet oblivion of death is also up dramatically. There’s legit dozens of these companies out there.

The basic idea here is that 40 years of stagnant wages, the decline of unions, the death of middle class blue collar jobs, the demise of pensions, and a general slide of the American working world into a PTSD-inducing horror show of limitless vulnerability has been too easy on workers. I’m sorry, Doers, or whatever the fuck. The true beauty of these ads is that they are all predicated on mythologizing the very workers who their service is intended to immisserate. Sorry about your medical debt; here’s a photo of a model who we paid in “exposure” over ad copy written by an intern who we paid in college credit that cost $3,000 a credit hour. Enjoy.

The purpose of these companies is to take whatever tiny sense of social responsibility businesses might still feel to give people stable jobs and destroy it, replacing whatever remains of the permanent, salaried, benefit-enjoying workforce with an army of desperate freelancers who will never go to bed feeling secure in their financial future for their entire lives. These companies are for people who think temp agencies are too coddling and well remunerative. The only service they sell is making it easier to kill minimally stable, well-compensated jobs. That’s it. They have no other function. They valorize Doers while killing workers. They siphon money from the desperate throngs back to the employers who will use them up and throw them aside like a discarded Juicero bag and, of course, to themselves and their shareholders. That’s it. That’s all they are. That’s all they do. They are the final logic of late capitalism, the engine of human creativity applied to the essential work of making life worse for regular people.

Our society is a hellish wasteland and I am dying inside.
freddiedeboer  siliconvalley  business  internet  society  technology  capitalism  middlemen  technosolutionism  precarity  finance  2017  juicero  subscriptions  drm  rent  rentseeking  latecapitalism  inequality  realestate  housing  socialresponsibility  stability  instability  economics 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Hullabaloo: Rewarding failure by design?
"For the investor class, it is a tragedy of the commons when they don't get a cut from it. That's why, for example, they are so hot to see a middle man in every middle school."



"David Dayen wrote yesterday at Salon about Sen. Elizabeth Warren's opposition to investment banker, Antonio Weiss, President Obama's nominee for Treasury Department undersecretary for domestic finance. One of Weiss' biggest clients is Brazilian private equity fund 3G. Dayen describes deals that would make Paul Singer blush. (Okay, maybe not.) They seem almost designed to reward failure:
The deals also exhibit the modern hallmark of corporate America: financial engineering. Decisions are made to satisfy shareholder clamoring for short-term profits rather than any long-term vision about building a quality business. The manager class extracts value for their own ends, and the rotted husk of the company either sinks or swims. It doesn’t matter to those who have already completed the looting.
"
capitalism  investment  investors  middlemen  privatization  2014  failure  tomsullivan  us  policy  politics  education  schools  forprofit  infrastructure  commons  bankruptcy  finance  banking  bankers  barrysummers  looting  corporatism  financialengineering  management  roads  tollroads 
december 2014 by robertogreco
The secret to the Uber economy is wealth inequality - Quartz
"There are only two requirements for an on-demand service economy to work, and neither is an iPhone. First, the market being addressed needs to be big enough to scale—food, laundry, taxi rides. Without that, it’s just a concierge service for the rich rather than a disruptive paradigm shift, as a venture capitalist might say. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a large enough labor class willing to work at wages that customers consider affordable and that the middlemen consider worthwhile for their profit margins.

Uber was founded in 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the worst financial crisis in a generation. As the ride-sharing app has risen, so too have income disparity and wealth inequality in the United States as a whole and in San Francisco in particular. Recent research by the Brookings Institution found that of any US city, San Francisco had the largest increase in inequality between 2007 and 2012. The disparity in San Francisco as of 2012, as measured (pdf) by a city agency, was in fact more pronounced than inequality in Mumbai (pdf).

Of course, there are huge differences between the two cities. Mumbai is a significantly poorer, dirtier, more miserable place to live and work. Half of its citizens lack access to sanitation or formal housing.

Another distinction, just as telling, lies in the opportunities the local economy affords to the army of on-demand delivery people it supports. In Mumbai, the man who delivers a bottle of rum to my doorstep can learn the ins and outs of the booze business from spending his days in a liquor store. If he scrapes together enough capital, he may one day be able to open his own shop and hire his own delivery boys.

His counterpart in San Francisco has no such access. The person who cleans your home in SoMa has little interaction with the mysterious forces behind the app that sends him or her to your door. The Uber driver who wants an audience with management can’t go to Uber headquarters; he or she must visit a separate “driver center.”

There is no denying the seductive nature of convenience—or the cold logic of businesses that create new jobs, whatever quality they may be. But the notion that brilliant young programmers are forging a newfangled “instant gratification” economy is a falsehood. Instead, it is a rerun of the oldest sort of business: middlemen insinuating themselves between buyers and sellers.
All that modern technology has done is make it easier, through omnipresent smartphones, to amass a fleet of increasingly desperate jobseekers eager to take whatever work they can get."
economics  poverty  inequality  uber  middlemen  2014  leomirani  thomaspiketty  mumbai  sanfrancisco  sharingeconomy 
december 2014 by robertogreco
When Uber and Airbnb Meet the Real World - NYTimes.com
"They subscribe to three core business principles that have become a religion in Silicon Valley: Serve as a middleman, employ as few people as possible and automate everything. Those tenets have worked wonders on the web at companies like Google and Twitter. But as the new, on-demand companies are learning, they are not necessarily compatible with the real world.

The first principle is to be a middleman — or in tech lingo, a platform — connecting the people who post on YouTube with those who watch their videos, or the people who need a ride with people who will drive them. As platforms, the thinking goes, they are just connectors, with no responsibility for what happens there.

For websites, this is codified in law — they are not legally responsible for what their users publish, according to the Communications Decency Act, perhaps the most influential law in the development of the web. That is why Yelp avoids liability when people post inaccurate or abusive restaurant reviews, and why YouTube does not have to remove videos that some find offensive.

The law protects online speech, not actions people take in the offline world. Yet its ethos has permeated Silicon Valley so deeply that people invoke it even for things that happen offline.

“These folks grew up in a world where platforms are not responsible, and then when they go do stuff in the real world, they expect that to be the case,” said Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington law school who studies cyber law.

Take Airbnb’s terms of service. “Airbnb provides an online platform that connects hosts who have accommodations to rent with guests seeking to rent such accommodations,” it says. “Airbnb has no control over the conduct” of hosts or guests, the terms continue, and “disclaims all liability in this regard.”

Yet it is one thing to say a company has no control over the conduct of online commenters, and another when its users are in people’s homes or cars. Airbnb, like others, has been forced to learn the limits of its status as a platform. In response to reports of renters’ damaging and ransacking homes, it added a round-the-clock hotline for people in unsafe situations and a policy covering $1 million in loss or damages.

The second web business principle is to minimize the number of paid on-staff employees. Tech companies have long shunned the idea of hiring lots of sales staffers or call-center workers. Instead they automate ad sales with auction algorithms or offer help forums where other customers offer advice on their sites. When Instagram was acquired by Facebook, it employed 13 people; Kodak, in its heyday, employed more than 140,000.

That mentality may be why new on-demand companies are running into trouble with workers. Most of these companies avoid having employees by using contract workers. But some are wondering whether the companies are pushing the definition of contract worker too far. Uber drivers have filed class-action lawsuits in Massachusetts and California, and advocates are pushing for things like benefits and disability compensation for workers at many start-ups."
siliconvalley  labor  uber  airbnb  regulation  law  legal  2014  homejoy  middlemen  work  clairecainmiller  responsibility  sharingeconomy 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Patton Oswalt’s Letters to Both Sides: His keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012 | The Comic's Comic
"Instead of a straight speech, Oswalt wrote two open letters and read them aloud.

The first letter he addressed to "all of the comedians in the room"; the second, to "all of the gatekeepers" of the comedy business.

Here are those letters."

[To "all of the comedians in the room"]

"Remember what I said earlier about those bulletproof headliners who focused on their 5 minutes on the Tonight Show and when it ended they decided their opportunity was gone? They decided. Nobody decided that for them. They decided.

Now, look at my career up to this point. Luck, being given. Other people deciding for me."

[…]

"I need to decide more career stuff for myself and make it happen for myself, and I need to stop waiting to luck out and be given. I need to unlearn those muscles.

I’m seeing this notion take form in a lot of my friends. A lot of you out there. You, for instance, the person I’m writing to. Your podcast is amazing. Your videos on your YouTube channel are getting better and better every single one that you make, just like when we did open mics, better and better every week. Your Twitter feed is hilarious."

[To "all of the gatekeepers"]

"I don’t know if you’ve seen the stuff uploaded to Youtube. There are sitcoms now on the internet, some of them are brilliant, some of them are “meh,” some of them fuckin suck. At about the same ratio that things are brilliant and “meh” and suck on your network.

If you think that we’re somehow going to turn on you later if what we do falls on its face, and blame you because we can’t take criticism? Let me tell you one thing: We have gone through years of open mics to get where we need to get. Criticism is nothing to us, and comment threads are fucking electrons."
broadcasting  publishing  2012  pattonoswalt  comedy  comedians  creativity  creativefields  criticism  middlemen  gatekeepers  socialmedia  gamechanging 
july 2012 by robertogreco
Hello Etsy Berlin - Douglas Rushkoff on Etsy - Livestream
"Everybody thinks that because they can blog, they should blog."

"Why do I want to scale? The only reason to scale is to get out of the business I'm in."

"What would you rather do? Would you rather do something or would you rather manage people who are doing that thing?"

"perverse corporate capitalism of the 1990's, the Jack Welch, General Electric, Harvard Business School model, which is get out of any productive industry and become more and more like a bank"

"What Jack Welch realized is that Marx was right…whoever is creating the actual value through their labor is the slave"

"what you want to do is get as far away from those guys as possible and get as close to the bank funding that activity as possible."
douglasrushkoff  economics  p2p  work  labor  2011  etsy  currency  slavery  jobs  corporatism  history  banking  finance  digital  exchange  internet  peertopeer  capitalism  karlmarx  meansofexchange  hierarchy  localcurrency  biases  doing  making  facebook  social  advertising  jackwelch  ge  generalelectric  sharing  scale  scaling  growth  business  entrepreneurship  self-employment  creativity  management  middlemanagement  middlemen  addedvalue  localcurrencies 
september 2011 by robertogreco
Varsity Bookmarking Dear Graphic and Web Designers, please understand that there are greater opportunities available to you.
"Dear Graphic and Web Designers, please understand that there are greater opportunities available to you.

You have an inherent need to solve problems, visually and conceptually. There is enormous value in this, but you may be misplacing your talents.

The internet, at this time in history, is the greatest client assignment of all time. The Western world is porting itself over to the web in mind and deed and is looking to make itself comfortable and productive. It’s every person in the world, connected to every other person in the world, and no one fully understands how to make best use of this new reality because no one has seen anything like it before. The internet wants to hire you to build stuff for it because its trying to figure out what it can do. It’s offering you a blank check and asking you to come up with something fascinating and useful that it can embrace en masse, to the benefit of everyone…"
design  web  business  webdesign  benpieratt  graphicdesign  svpply  middlemen  change  gamechanging  making  meaning  purpose  2011  clientservices  webdev 
july 2011 by robertogreco
While you were sleeping, from Berlin (Scripting News)
"I predict a return to blogging as people discover the power of being able to finish a thought, and to link to another site without going through an intermediary. Once again people will discover the power of Small Pieces, Loosely Joined." AND "When you think of news as a business, except in very unusual circumstances, the sources never got paid. So the news was always free, it was the reporting of it that cost. [...] The Internet always disintermediates. Did you see the "media" in the middle of that word? It's the middle that's hurt in the new world. Sorry. The new world pays the source, indirectly, and obviates the middleman."
blogging  davewiner  malcolmgladwell  chrisanderson  news  free  thinking  slow  davidweinberger  smallpieceslooselyjoined  journalism  newmedia  reporting  disintermediation  economics  middlemen 
june 2009 by robertogreco

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