3rd January 2023
Charity Majors (aka @mipsytipsy), writing over on Twitter:
I read something that made me really fucking angry. I’m not going to go look it up, but it was something like how most tech CEOs are watching closely, and privately rooting for Elon’s changes to pay off and make Twitter a profitable business.
It had some anecdotes about how excessively generous and solicitous companies have had to be to compete and retain tech workers, including the chestnut about a FB worker asking about toilet paper in the weekly all hands.
It’s gone too far! CEOs are practically powerless now! 🙄
I won’t embed the full thread here, so click above if you want to read the whole thing. But here’s a few highlights:
And while I don’t really want Twitter to die, and neither, I think, do most of them, there would be something INCREDIBLY satisfying and validating if it did.
However, I don’t think that’s a very likely outcome. I’ll say more in a sec, but I think the likeliest outcome by far is one where Twitter survives and Elon claims victory, or at least saves face.
It took the work of thousands of world-class engineers, designers, support, security, lawyers, accountants, etc over 15+ years to build Twitter. They built it to be resilient.
Charity is absolutely correct here, and she clearly has the authority to speak on large scale systems given her background. Twitter has far too many people invested, both in literal terms, but also in a influential sense to let it simply die. It’s the medium of choice for a great many groupings of traditionally powerful people, from journalists to politicians to venture capitalists. It’s not going to just stop working one day, and Elon isn’t just going to actively destroy it, he’s sunk too much money into it.
I’ve mumbled before about the over hiring and bloat that seems endemic at tech companies. But the engineers who are left are likely to be able to keep the lights on.
(How much forward product investment they can muster is the real question mark.)
The way he dismissed people isn’t some kind of 3D chess he’s playing, it’s plain old ignorance of the complexity of a system he doesn’t understand. He has no experience running a large scale social network, but there’s at least enough people left in Twitter HQ (until the get kicked out of the building anyway) who do know enough to keep the service running.
I don’t think anyone would argue that Twitter had exactly the right number of people, but when you cut as many people as he did, in the fashion that he did, you’re going to lose people that have a lot of important institutional knowledge. And that’s going to make it harder to iterate on the product in a coherent way.
If you look at the features that Twitter is shipping lately, there doesn’t seem to be any logic beyond “what Elon wants”, which is going to run out of momentum at some point.
On CEOs and tech workers
When CEOs call their own employees lazy, coddled and opinionated, and openly long for the days when they could just fire their critics (like Elon did!)…what they’re really upset about is the fact that their workers have more relative power than they used to.
They want a say in things, and they’re not trapped here; they have options. So YOU have to compete to keep THEM happy here, instead of them all trying to keep you happy.
To wrap up… If Twitter recovers, there will likely be a push to credit authoritarian leadership, mass layoffs, and treating workers like shit.
CEOs need to learn that “everything would be great if everyone would just do what I say 😩” is neither true, nor an appropriate thing for a grown ass adult to think. Having other stakeholders with power may be personally inconvenient, but usually yields better outcomes.
I think when the current chapter of Twitter comes to an end, assuming the result isn’t a complete and utter failure, fans of Elon Musk and/or his tactics will point to what little regard he had for the people who worked at Twitter and say that he was right to act how he did.
But there’ll be more than a little selection bias in that. They’ll ignore the possibility that Twitter could have been fine if he hadn’t done anything, and maybe given a different style of leadership where the staff were treated with a modicum of respect and dignity, Twitter would have been even better.
And if this is the final chapter of Twitter, they’ll say he had no choice, he did what he could, and that if he couldn’t save it, then clearly no-one could.
Because just like Trump did, Musk manages to create a reality distortion field amongst his followers that Steve Jobs would have been envious of.
1st January 2023
Robert Burnson, reporting for Bloomberg:
Twitter hasn’t paid rent on its headquarters, or any of its other global offices, in weeks, the New York Times reported on Dec. 13. The company was also sued earlier this month for refusing to pay for two charter flights.
Twitter potentially getting kicked out of offices mere weeks after insisting everyone has to return to the office full time is about as hilarious as it is sad.
This is in addition to reports that Musk has cut things like cleaning services at the offices, leading to employees bringing in their own toilet paper.
I have to imagine the combination of forcing people back to offices and not cleaning those same offices is ripe for a constructive dismissal case, in EU member states anyway.
31st December 2022
Monique Judge, writing for The Verge:
In the beginning, there were blogs, and they were the original social web. We built community. We found our people. We wrote personally. We wrote frequently. We self-policed, and we linked to each other so that newbies could discover new and good blogs.
I remember keeping a blog in my teens, including on GeoCities, and I do wonder if the argument above will be my generation’s “It was better in my day”. Every generation since mine has grown up on the web, so it’s only natural that when we get nostalgic for the past, it’s going to be about some aspect of our online experiences.
And honestly, I do remember the internet being, I dunno, friendlier back then. There’s still pockets of it to be sure, but by and large discussions on the internet can sometimes be more stress than it’s worth these days.
Regardless, this article really resonated with me and is a far more eloquent description of why I started to move almost all my writing here and off things like twitter threads.
29th December 2022
I must get a notification like this from LinkedIn at least once a week. Perhaps it’s the result of a notification job triggering that requires such a complex data fetch to display the actual intended message that it’s more efficient to simplify notify me that something is waiting for me on LinkedIn, but I cannot help but assume that a team somewhere in LinkedIn has a metric they’re goaled on which tracks the conversion rate from pushes sent to app opens, and this notification is absolute rocket fuel for that metric. And when it comes to metrics, you’ll always get the behaviours you reward, even if they’re not the behaviours you want.
Notification abuse is commonplace
The reality is that whilst this is a standout example of clickbait style notifications, LinkedIn is far from the only culprit. Almost every app considers notifications as a “growth” channel and not as a tool to notify users of important or time-sensitive information. Just last week, Instagram felt, at 11pm local time, that I urgently needed to know “Check out some of the most watched reels in Ireland today 🇮🇪”. I’m sure that’s true, but I’m also sure that I can find that information for myself if I want to and there’s no way it was time-sensitive.
Uber has even gone so far as to put literal ads into their push notifications. Apple updated their guidelines in 2020 to explicitly allow promotions, so I’m not sure this is even a violation of their own rules, but it’s still a pretty egregious example of how notifications are being abused.
Less is actually more
The funny thing is that a recent piece of research by Meta, who probably in total send more of these notifications than any other company on the planet, suggests that fewer and better notifications will actually lead to higher engagement and lower churn.
We discovered that the initial loss of visitation from fewer notifications gradually recovered over time, and after an extended period, it had fully recovered and even turned out to be a gain.
The problem is that it takes a long time to get to that point. Meta ran that experiment for a year. Most companies don’t have the patience to wait that long, and so they just keep sending notifications, hoping that one day they’ll get it right.
It’s time for some self restraint
So if spammy notifications provide short term gain, and it’s so common that even the platform owners themselves have done it, then what can we do about it?
Honestly, when it comes to punitive actions, there’s nothing we can do. Clearly Apple is okay with this behaviour so they’re not going to update the App Store Guidelines, but I don’t know that I’ve ever met a user that is excited about notifications like these.
What’s really missing is a way for users to provide actionable feedback to developers to say that specific types of notifications are not useful to them. Being able to identify valuable types of notifications like that is how Meta knew what to keep and what to trim in that year long experiment, but there’s very few companies who have the resources to do that kind of research.
Until the platforms build that kind of capability, or we’re all willing to invest in building it app by app, all we can really do as people who work in the industry is ask ourselves if the notifications our apps send are valuable for a metric we’re chasing, or valuable for user receiving it, but honestly, we’ve shown that those two things are not always the same thing
At the end of the day, shouldn’t we always be optimising for the latter?
29th December 2022
From the Workplace Relations Commission in Ireland:
From 1 December 2022, the Payment of Wages (Amendment) (Tips and Gratuities) Act 2022 introduces new rules as to how employers have to share tips, gratuities and service charges amongst employees.
I’d noticed signage in various businesses recently which outlined how tips were disbursed, so I assumed legislation was coming, but apparently it’s already in effect.
I lived in California for a few years, and even though that certainly felt like a state with some modicum of worker’s rights (from the perspective of an EU citizen anyway), it still had scenarios that felt bizarre to me, like tips being used for a worker’s basic pay instead of the employer paying them directly. This legislation specifically outlaws that practice here in Ireland. It also specifcally calls out gig worker style arrangements and how tipping should in that situation.
A ‘contract worker’ is a person who carries out work other than as an employee, including on a contract for service. ‘Platform workers’ who are engaged in contracts for services will benefit from tips and gratuities. Those who use contract workers to deliver services will be required to display a contract workers tips and gratuities notice.
It’s great to see progress here, and also means I no longer have to clarify how much my server is going to get if I pay by card.