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How the Social Tech Bubble Is Different 388

Posted by samzenpus
from the history-repeating dept.
theodp writes "Tech bubbles happen, writes BW's Ashlee Vance, but we usually gain from the innovation left behind. But this one — driven by social networking — could leave us empty-handed. Math whiz Jeff Hammerbacher provides a good case study. One year out of Harvard, 23-year-old Hammerbacher arrived at Facebook, was given the lofty title of research scientist and put to work analyzing how people used the social networking service. Over the next two years, Hammerbacher assembled a team that built a new class of analytical technology, one which translated insights into people's relationships, tendencies, and desires into precision advertising and higher sales. But something gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google, and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,' he says. 'That sucks.' Silicon Valley historian Christophe Lecuyer agrees: 'It's clear that the new industry that is building around Internet advertising and these other services doesn't create that many jobs. The loss of manufacturing and design know-how is truly worrisome.'"
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How the Social Tech Bubble Is Different

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  • Every time is different, right? Isn't that what they always tell us??
    • by Surt (22457) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:45PM (#35850120) Homepage Journal

      Yes, but to be clear, they are saying that this one is not only going to bust, it is going to be worse because there is less fundamental real value.

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:50PM (#35850138) Homepage

        My fear is that Silicon Valley has become more like Hollywood," says Glenn Kelman, chief executive officer of online real estate brokerage Redfin, who has been a software executive for 20 years. "An entertainment-oriented, hit-driven business that doesn't fundamentally increase American competitiveness

        Movies. Microcode. Pizza Delivery.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:12PM (#35850282) Journal
        At least the internet ad-clicking business should be able to implode relatively neatly into a pile of its own worthlessness, rather than blowing up outward and taking a nontrivial chunk of the real economy with it, like our last adventure in letting smart people produce nonsense for money. Plus, Facebook doesn't quite enjoy Goldman-Sachs levels of regulatory capture, so we might even avoid paying the people who fucked it up. Progress!
      • by russotto (537200) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:02PM (#35850534) Journal

        Yes, but to be clear, they are saying that this one is not only going to bust, it is going to be worse because there is less fundamental real value.

        Less fundamental value than pets.com and drkoop.com? That's quite a bar to meet.

        • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma i l . com> on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:43PM (#35850796) Journal

          Ya know, I really think we outta give credit where credit is due, and I don't see how these young 'uns will ever be able to top the level of worthless in Cuecat. I mean get VCs to pay for scanners to be passed out so folks can go to the trouble of hooking it up, installing a buggy driver that spied on you AND all for the "privilege" of scanning AN AD so you could be hit with ads on your PC? that is sheer genius levels of worthless right there pal, I don't see FB or any of these kids being able to top THAT nuclear powered failure!

          I think the bigger question than "what happens when this bubble bursts" is the much more fundamental question of "What do you do when you don't have a use for people anymore?" Because as it is we are ALL playing IQ musical chairs with less seats for a bigger population every. single. day. and the next to go WILL be the entire service industry. what then?

          You think MickeyD's bitches about having to pay minimum wage now, which frankly in America one can't live on and actually keep from going under, what do you think they will do when they can replace the ENTIRE workforce with machines? hell there really isn't anything that can't be done in your average fast food joint that assembly line automation couldn't do better, more accurately, and 24/7 without breaks, the only thing keeping them with humans is cost, but what happens when the robot is cheaper? you can't expect to hire everyone part time at $6 an hour when gas is $6 a gallon and a bag of groceries costs them $60, so what then?

          I'd say you have a good 60% of the population that are working C and D level jobs that WILL be either shipped overseas where there is no working regs and you can run sweatshops and pollute the entire area, what are we gonna do with them? Execute them? lock them up? make up bullshit jobs (BTW currently government employs MORE than manufacturing, farming, fishing, forestry, mining and utilities combined source here [wsj.com]) so now what?

          So I'd say that is the bigger question we are facing. If the top 25% have everything while the bottom 75% starve society will collapse, crime will be rampant as they try to survive, yet at the same time we simply don't need the labor of more and more people on this planet. What do we do with these jobless masses? Blowing more bubbles doesn't change it, neither does pushing the "education!" meme that politicians keep harping about while ignoring that more and more that graduate from all these colleges and trade schools have nothing to show but debt they can't pay, because in the end machines will do it better.

          And before anyone pops in with the capitalist meme of "wages will go down and they'll balance!" I'd like to point to what the race to the bottom gets us, aka the the Halliburton clause [huffingtonpost.com] where more and more of our precious water is being contaminated and being rendered unfit for use by those that want to make money NOW and screw later. Meanwhile the super rich just got a giant tax break [yahoo.com] thanks to outright bribery, so trying to beat the third world at who can be the most polluted and corrupt probably ain't the right way to go, that is unless you like the idea of paying $10 for a bottle of drinkable water and having your kids wear masks just to go outside.

      • by N1AK (864906)
        I'd say the opposite is true. Digital services like Google allow us to be more effective, social services like Facebook are beginning to utilise our networks to provide us with an added layer of filtering for the near endless information now available via these tools.

        In essence, although facebook etc can just be used as a way to play crap web games. The combination of vast amounts of readily available data, and information on our, and our social groups, preferences is allowing us to find what we need and
      • by hoppo (254995) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @07:16PM (#35850974)

        Yes, but to be clear, they are saying that this one is not only going to bust, it is going to be worse because there is less fundamental real value.

        From what are you deriving your analysis that the tech industry of today has less fundamental real value than in the first dot com era? Given that it's /., I'm guessing your statement is rectally-originated, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

        The real difference of today is that a lot of these companies actually DO have real value. 9- or 10-figure IPOs in 1999 were not unheard of, and they were happening for businesses that not only had no revenue streams, but had no plans for making revenue. The scale on which these companies operated could not be justified with the size of the potential customer base -- the number of millions of people online at the time could be counted on two hands, which makes selling a billion dollars of pet supplies in a year a rather daunting feat. The industry has changed, drastically, since then. Most of the money is around online marketing, which has a good reach, now that potential audiences are measured in billions, not millions. Microtransactions are now capable of supporting a multi-billion dollar operation. This was unheard of over 10 years ago.

        This is not to say there won't be another tech bubble. It is legitimately scary when you consider the exuberance around a handful of companies whose path to money is sketchy at best. However, we'll see how severe the bubble is -- there is less investment money to go around, IPOs aren't popping out of thin air, and a very healthy portion of the companies in the general sector are at a minimum cash-positive.

  • Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:36PM (#35850076)

    "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads" - Has there ever been a brief description that describes so well the technological time we live in? Hammerbacher should write a book or two.

    • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cyber-vandal (148830) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:54PM (#35850168) Homepage

      And the easily annoyed minds are finding ways to turn the ads off.

    • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Surt (22457) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:54PM (#35850172) Homepage Journal

      The best minds of his generation are not, in fact, thinking about how to make people click ads. He's just so far from that tier that he doesn't even know a single person in it.

    • Re:Amen. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:57PM (#35850196) Homepage Journal

      Or a poem. You know...

      "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Facebook, intellectually starving hysterical,

      dragging themselves through the focus groups at dawn looking for a fiscal algorithm,

      angelheaded codesters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry cache in the motherboard of night,

      who wealth and splendid raiment and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of luxury flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating more..."

      • Awesome.

      • I am not allowed
        To ever come up with a single original thought
        I am not allowed
        To meet the criminal government agent who oppresses me

      • by gmhowell (26755)

        Why did I waste my mod points last night?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The best minds of Ginsberg's generation were working to break the sound barrier and put a man on the moon.

        American academia chose the beat poets' masturbatory pyrotechnics over technology - onanism over aerodynamics.

        50 years later America is a nation of under-employed attorneys, marketing guys and lumpen-consumers.

    • Re:Amen. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mcover (1653873) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:16PM (#35850304)

      "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads" - Has there ever been a brief description that describes so well the technological time we live in? Hammerbacher should write a book or two.

      His statement might be flawed: Maybe so that many bright minds of our generation work for these companies, but these companies don't just "make people click ads". It might be at their business's core, however, they provide services which many of us embrace while they last and it helps us be more productive (exceptions exist), which in turn contributes to the overall achievements we will see in the following years. That is only that. Many of these companies also have people in employment who work, full time, on open-source software, do research and publish academic papers, etc. If ads fund these, by all means, go ahead. His argument can be somewhat justified if the business's ONLY operations surround "making people click ads".

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by causality (777677)

        "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads" - Has there ever been a brief description that describes so well the technological time we live in? Hammerbacher should write a book or two.

        His statement might be flawed: Maybe so that many bright minds of our generation work for these companies, but these companies don't just "make people click ads". It might be at their business's core, however, they provide services which many of us embrace while they last and it helps us be more productive (exceptions exist), which in turn contributes to the overall achievements we will see in the following years.

        That is only that. Many of these companies also have people in employment who work, full time, on open-source software, do research and publish academic papers, etc. If ads fund these, by all means, go ahead.

        His argument can be somewhat justified if the business's ONLY operations surround "making people click ads".

        I personally took it to mean that someone else noticed one fact about Facebook: they aren't doing anything now that wasn't technologically possible ten years ago. The Flash games might be a bit more complex than ten years ago but that's about all. No real innovation has taken place. They haven't invented anything of significance. They aren't facing problems of scale that weren't already tackled by the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo and Google.

        Facebook is a database backend (and those have been around a l

    • Has there ever been a brief description that describes so well the technological time we live in?

      Considering how poor of a description that is, I would say that the answer would have to be "yes." The best minds of our generation are tasked with determining strategies for financial companies (a non-trivial problem), or they are in research labs in either private industry or universities. Some are working on getting people to click on advertisements, but it is by no means the be-all and end-all of jobs that attract skilled mathematics and computer science graduates.

    • by grcumb (781340)

      "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads" - Has there ever been a brief description that describes so well the technological time we live in? Hammerbacher should write a book or two.

      Wow, if the measure of a man's literary talent is the ability to bastardise the poetry of a latter-day Walt Whitman wanna-be, then we surely are seeing an intellectually lost generation.

      (Bonus points to anyone who spots allusion to Gertrude Stein, and double-bonus points to anyone who realises that the statement was a description of one of the most energetic and fascinating group of writers in American history.)

  • well no shit. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:37PM (#35850078)

    Manufacturing is dirty and nasty and you don't ever want to do it. It's for the dummies. It's buggywhips.

    That's what's pounded into the heads of everyone going through school that scores above 100 on IQ. As Mike Rowe said at TED, there's a war on work that's been going on for 40 years.

    --
    BMO

    • Re:well no shit. (Score:5, Informative)

      by bmo (77928) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:43PM (#35850102)

      To follow up, here's the video.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRVdiHu1VCc [youtube.com]

      --
      BMO

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      Manufacturing is dirty and nasty and you don't ever want to do it. It's for the dummies. It's buggywhips.

      That's what's pounded into the heads of everyone going through school that scores above 100 on IQ. As Mike Rowe said at TED, there's a war on work that's been going on for 40 years.

      --
      BMO

      Longer than that. Was it the Book of Common Prayer that refers to "Dark Satanic Mills?"

      • No. But in those days manufacturing was very dangerous and paid very badly. Much like it is now in countries that don't have any inconvenient laws requiring factory owners to treat their staff like human beings.

        • by vlm (69642)

          paid very badly

          Paid a heck of a lot better than migrant farm worker, miner, sailor, or pretty much anything else at their level of educational and economic sophistication. Its very telling that manufacturing, in general, rarely if ever had to rely on prison labor or slavery, unlike, say, agriculture.

          As in all fields, there is a range of pay and working conditions. At one side, the guys just above the level of sweeping with brooms, whom get paid just a little more than a typical broom pusher... And at the other end of pa

    • Re:well no shit. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MoonBuggy (611105) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:00PM (#35850222) Journal

      While you may be right about the psychological issues, they are overlaid by more distinctly practical ones. I can start a moderately large website with nothing but good ideas and $100 worth of hosting; a musical prodigy (or a tone-deaf teenager) can be heard by millions of people simply with a webcam, a mic, and a YouTube account.

      If I have a brilliant manufacturing idea I have little choice other than to lay down thousands on machinery and materials, and since I don't have said thousands lying around, that means I need investment, which means aversion to risk, which means killing many of the radical ideas that might really be something special. It's not always the case, and rapid prototyping/on-demand manufacturing is helping, but there are still orders of magnitude between the start-up costs of an 'information' business compared to a physical one (assuming that you've got the skills in the field yourself, rather than needing to buy them in from outside).

      It's why we're seeing billionaires coming from nowhere in the tech field - near-zero barrier to entry means the market decides (for better or worse) fairly directly on the products that survive. In manufacturing, the gatekeepers with the capital have their say long before the consumer does.

      • by Toze (1668155)
        Rapid prototyping is starting to change that, to an extent, though. Or at least the initial "Here's the physical object" prototyping stage is getting easier to enter.
    • Re:well no shit. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mbkennel (97636) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:12PM (#35850280)

      "Manufacturing is dirty and nasty and you don't ever want to do it. It's for the dummies. It's buggywhips.

      That's what's pounded into the heads of everyone going through school that scores above 100 on IQ. "

      Not exactly.

      It's more like, You Will Never Get a Job in Manufacturing Unless You Are Chinese So Just Freaking Get Over It.

      And the executives running the enterprises---and their financiers---demand that they make it so.

      Real world example. An MIT professor invented a pretty cool new technology for better lithium-ion batteries. He wanted to set up a company and manufacture them in the USA and started doing so. When he needed more money he went to the VC's---they demanded that he close down the US factory and re-open it in China before he gets any money. He did.

      BTW, the professor was ethnically Chinese from Taiwan.

    • by npsimons (32752) *

      Manufacturing is dirty and nasty and you don't ever want to do it. It's for the dummies. It's buggywhips.

      That's what's pounded into the heads of everyone going through school that scores above 100 on IQ. As Mike Rowe said at TED, there's a war on work that's been going on for 40 years.

      If your job can be done by a robot, expect it to. Not that I have anything against hard work, or even working with your hands. I think far too many people don't realize the pleasure in crafting something, working hard on it, a

      • But coops don't scale to the level of producing cars, or computers. They're great for situations in which a small number of people work together to share expenses (professional groups come about because it's advantageous to share office space, Internet service, secretaries, etc., among several people), but they'll never build the Golden Gate Bridge. The workers may be the ones who build it, the engineers may design it and make it safe, but it's the CEO who makes sure that it can be done at a profit. CEOs ar
    • by Jawnn (445279)

      Manufacturing is dirty and nasty and you don't ever want to do it. It's for the dummies. It's buggywhips.

      Not quite. Wrong metaphor. Buggy whips are the product that is no longer in demand because of a technological shift that renders that product relatively useless and thus, without a market. Manufacturing is the business of making products for which their is a demand. The only thing that's changed is that we've allowed the people own the factories to profit more by moving them to wherever labor is cheap. Nevertheless, that change is having a profound effect, literally destroying the middle class in the U.S.,

  • Most American companies are about the marketing anyway. Fast food, candy bars, cars. Lots of fancy colors. Sell as much crap with a fancy wrapper. Don't see what got lost, maybe we are better off :)

    • by OrangeTide (124937) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:44PM (#35850106) Homepage Journal

      Unless you can manufacture the candy and soda efficiently, no amount of marketing is going to save your ass.

      • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:54PM (#35850170)

        I just went to an event yesterday sponsored by Monster Energy. I imagine the profit margins on a $5 can of non-carbonated pop is *at least* 500%.

        There is a *LOT* of room for manufacturing inefficiency in such a product. But the marketing which produced literally thousands of people paying money to wear a hat or sweater emblazoned with your logo is by far the greater accomplishment than the product.

        It's a product that tastes like shit, is grossly over priced and really only exists because of its successful marketing campaign and lifestyle association.

  • Disturbing Trend? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:39PM (#35850082) Homepage Journal

    A deliberate move.

    Concentrate power and wealth for very few, at the cost of all the others... Then? Castigate the losers in this scheme as stupid or non- adaptable.

    This is the new America. It's the perfect cesspit for breeding Zuckerbergs.

    • by cosm (1072588)
      No kidding, I am considering changing majors from my current STEM track to a TsD, or a Doctorate of Turdshinology.
    • by khallow (566160) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @07:36PM (#35851090)

      This is the new America. It's the perfect cesspit for breeding Zuckerbergs.

      Zuckerbergs wouldn't exist in this dystopia. He didn't start with all that wealth and power. He'd merely be another would-be upsurper shutout of capital, subject to onerous, regulatory burden, and whatever other ploys your dystopia has to keep wealth with the wealthy.

      Great wealth only came to him as the result of creating something of value (sure, I think Facebook is overvalued in the markets, but it still has considerable inherent value).

  • by Raffix (1875856) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:40PM (#35850088)
    I use two facebook accounts; one polished and clean for my parents and family, and one for my friends that has very little personal information(for instance i only use initials and dont link to my employer or even my city. I never spent a dime on any apps or services on facebook and I never will. The sad thing isn't the folks at facebook, google or twitter trying to get us to click on ads or buy fake gold for some facebook game, it's the ones of us that do click or buy fake gold. Website advertisement would not exist if it didn't work. This article warms me up and gives me hope that once all the baby boomers will be retired ... the IT workers and advertisement gurus of our generation might finally embrace better values than the ones brought on by capitalism.
    • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:00PM (#35850224)

      I use two facebook accounts; one polished and clean for my parents and family, and one for my friends...

      I have *ONE* Facebook page because I've long ago decided that my parents know who I am, and I don't care to work for people I have to lie to.

      • by bmo (77928)

        I have one facebook page.

        I'm choosy who I let connect to it.

        I don't friend work or family. Ever. And it's sure as hell not world-readable.

        --
        BMO

      • by causality (777677)

        I use two facebook accounts; one polished and clean for my parents and family, and one for my friends...

        I have *ONE* Facebook page because I've long ago decided that my parents know who I am, and I don't care to work for people I have to lie to.

        I am happy to work for people who don't really care what I do when I'm off the clock. It's not their business and they aren't trying to make it their business. I come in, I do a good job, I get paid, I clock out. That sums up my involvement with them. Anything I do off the clock is done as a private individual and not as a representative of the company. There is no grounds for anyone to expect anything different. They don't go around trying to dig up dirt on anyone. They don't go snooping through Fac

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ever.

    Groupon, which e-mails coupons to people, may be the fastest-growing company of all time. Its revenue could hit $4 billion this year, up from $750 million last year, and the startup has reached a valuation of $25 billion. Its technological legacy is cute e-mail.

    Groupon is going to crash and burn like you've never seen.

    1. Barriers to entry are pretty much zero and as such, competitors are cropping faster than ever.

    2. The merchants are disillusioned with them: all they get are the people looking for deals and no repeat business and in the meantime, the business they get form Groupon hardly makes any money and most of the time, it's at a loss.

    HPs, Oracles, SUN, the Slashdot hated Microsoft all created products - not easily duplicated services that are basically

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:45PM (#35850116) Journal

    Yes, this guy is in advertising. He is the b-ark but for some reason, he figured it out. Well? Advertising has been around for a long time and has always about getting people to buy more widgets they don't need. There really is no difference between the guy who came up with Soaps to sell soap and the guy who invented the monkey gif ad.

    If this guy hates his job, there are plenty others. It is hardly as if the whole world is just working for facebook.

    If ANYTHING, this guys attitude "my job is just selling ads, therefor the entire world is about selling ads" is the problem. No, the whole world is NOT you. Don't throw a hissy fit because you found out you work in advertising. Oh and the guy in the example? Now runs a data analysis company. Gosh, he was so upset about this job selling advertising he went into data mining. Two guesses what he mines for.

    But there are still countless companies doing real work, just as they have been doing while advertising agencies have been around.

    Just accept, most of us lead utterly meaningless lives. The b-ark better be really big.

    • by geek (5680) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:58PM (#35850208)

      Advertising has alway existed, but it's never existed on this scale. We're seeing a type of advertising now that dwarfs even the insane propoganda put out during rival governments during war time. You can't go anywhere, do anything without ads everywhere. In movies, buses, signs, TV, radio. Hell even my place of employment covers the walls with ads for products because they get kick backs from the vendors. I walk down a hallway every day with coca cola and apple plastered over the walls.

      To say it's always existed is like saying viruses always existed while everyone around you is dying of AIDS. At no other time in history have we been so over come with bullshit. That is the point.

      • by EvilAlphonso (809413) <meushi@slashdot.gmail@com> on Monday April 18, 2011 @02:53AM (#35852930) Journal

        Advertising has alway existed, but it's never existed on this scale. We're seeing a type of advertising now that dwarfs even the insane propoganda put out during rival governments during war time. You can't go anywhere, do anything without ads everywhere. In movies, buses, signs, TV, radio.

        While it may be true in the US of A, there are still places where you don't get exposed to that many ads. For example, on this side of the Atlantic I don't see a single ad panel on the way to work (or back), BBC is still advertisement free (and for everything else there is MythTV commercial skipping), AdBlock+ and noScript filter out most of the crap on the web, there are so many freely available interesting podcasts or university lectures that I only tune in the radio for the news. I can't comment much on movies as I haven't set foot in a theater for the last 2 years.

        To say it's always existed is like saying viruses always existed while everyone around you is dying of AIDS. At no other time in history have we been so over come with bullshit. That is the point.

        Then do something simple about it... turn off the dumb box, stop consuming the mind-crushing drivel that passes as entertainment nowadays. Pick a hobby, any hobby that doesn't require you to sit for hours in front of a screen after spending your entire work day sitting in front of one.

        If you really "need" to watch TV, consider watching it time-shifted using a PVR that is able to strip commercials.

    • by cosm (1072588)
      karma whoring, had to look up b-ark [geoffwilkins.net], good analogy btw
  • by cosm (1072588) <thecosm3 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:45PM (#35850118)
    Fox & Friends: "Mr Cosm, how would you describe the modern American economy?"
    Cosm: "Well, we have primarily shifted to a PTE based model."
    Fox's Token Blond: "What's that? Is that like China?"
    Cosm: "Polished Turd Economics, you should be quite familiar with it by now."
    Snide Male Co-Host: "You mean like the democrats?"
    Cosm: "...well..kind of...that would make the Republicans unpolished..."
    Blond: "[winces] Hey now....We'll be back folks after this commercial break."
    commercial fade-in: "The new iPad 4G from....fades off..."
  • No easy answers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spike_gran (219938) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:46PM (#35850122)

    I think the real question from TFA is if we all do pointless crap like market analysis, marketing, branding, and search engine optimization like the guy in the article, are we going to someday have a future where these skills can no longer be converted into food and shelter through the magic of the market.

    For a while now, I've been wondering what the purpose of the USA economy is.

    There are the basics, of course. I work so that I can have food, water, clothing, shelter, free time, fun. But it is through the magic of the world economy that I get those things by writing software specifications and unit tests. The economy somehow figures out how many lines of code I need to write to buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk.

    I suppose I don't worry too much about the fact that most of the work we do is of dubious importantance, so long as it is still convertible into food and shelter. But there is a tipping point somewhere. If everyone in the USA worked making click-through ads, we'd reach a point where no amount of work could be converted to food and shelter.

    • by macraig (621737)

      You make me want to return to subsistence farming ASAP. Know anybody who has a couple milk cows and some chickens for sale?

      • I read on the intarwebz that you need 0.1 acres to feed a person. So if I'm going to give up my software job and become a subsistence farmer here in LA, I just need to buy a couple of houses so I can farm.

        So all I need is $500k in startup capital and I'm good to go.

    • by BoberFett (127537)

      This is something I think about from time to time. The fact that the world economy works at all is sometimes mind boggling. I know I'M certainly not smart enough to understand its intracacies at any rate.

    • A friend of mine just got a job as a research physicist studying fusion, after a few other career moves in real estate, big oil companies etc. In his own words, it is "real science, a real job, and a real pursuit". I'm somewhat inclined to agree with him.

      I'm with you - I build business software applications for a living, and it pays the bills and affords a certain degree of freedom. However, at the end of the day I find myself struggling to answer the question, "what will the lasting contribution of my w

    • by Salamander (33735)
      Thank you for making that point. Marketing and finance and such are all wonderful optimizations of the wealth-creation process, but there has to be some actual wealth-creation to optimize. How many people in the US are actually creating wealth, instead of figuring out how to persuade others to spend some of theirs? It's no wonder we have booms and busts, when 90% of the "wealth" out there is total speculative bovine-excrement. BTW, I do know not all readers here are from the US, but I am referring here
  • by i_ate_god (899684) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:48PM (#35850130) Homepage

    AI and natural language processing certainly benefit from this, and the technology invented goes beyond just ad placements (even if it's the primary motive).

    Not only that, but innovation has taken place just to handle the sheer volume of data created by the "social web".

    the technology and resources to predict trends is something that has come out of this whole social thing, and since this kind of information can be compiled and analyzed by just about anyone, just about anyone can capitalize on that information in many ways that don't involve specifically targeted web ads.

  • They (including "math whiz" Mr Hammerbacher, apparently) have no clue about those who want no part of their little world. Go figure.

    The thing the so-called "whiz" kids are missing is that Google et al are trying to market to people without creating a giant scam network where people are bullied/peer-pressured by their sucker friends into revealing to the rest of the world everything they shouldn't.

    Sure, you can analyze and target people more directly once they've told you everything there is to know about th

  • by Toy G (533867) <toyg&libero,it> on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:53PM (#35850166) Homepage Journal

    "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,"

    ... whereas the best minds of the previous generation were thinking about how to make people put money into insurance policies and the stock market. Look how well that turned out. And, surprise, many of those same yuppies were the hungry children of the generation who worked in manufacturing; their fathers themselves told them to study and stay the hell out of that wretched, inhumane sector.

    If anything, the current "social" bubble is giving us unprecedented insight in sociological behaviour at mass scale. We are leaving behind the world where "sociology scientists" could only run limited and poorly-defined experiments over their own student population; now "social companies" like Facebook have at their disposal an incredible amount of relevant, up-to-date, *exact*, aggregated data. The field will never be the same.

  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @04:58PM (#35850204)

    You now have a large amount of people using the same services, who are giving you a ton of personal information. They're not going to pay for this service.

    How else are you going to make your money? Its just asking to be advertised.

  • Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google, and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,' he says. 'That sucks.'

    I know. It irks me that computing has become a branch of the advertising industry. Each new generation of computer technology produces less significant applications. New CS graduates want to work for Google or Facebook, (or worse, Zynga or Groupon) not iRobot or Autodesk.

    Better advertising technology doesn't lead anywhere. Yes, there's progress on classifier systems, but that technology came from robotics. It's inherently a zero-sum game. There are only so many ad dollars out there to chase.

  • ...wrote in Pattern Recognition in 2002 that "far more creativity these days goes into the marketing of products than the products themselves." I'm a software developer for what is basically a marketing company, and I heartily agree.

  • Google, for example, is doing a lot of things except making people click on ads.

    * Intelligent search, this one day will progress into natural language understanding and even AI * Image recognition, this one day may help robots understand their surroundings * Voice recognition, again, useful * How to efficiently manage massive data centers, great for creating future infrastructure

    Even clicking on ads, requires sophisticated AI techniques which are useful in many other areas
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was going to post about how greed and the collapse of the middle class in the US has caused all of this, how intervention and care could have stopped it, how greed, particularly on the part of the political right in concert with greedy corporate interests have shaped this outcome. But I won't. What their greed has created will come to destroy them. Its been posted on /. for a long time now. There is no converting these people. They need to fall hard, and no amount of reasoning will fix them. They ar

  • by Knytefall (7348) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:07PM (#35850258)

    It's tragic how our era's finest mathematical and technical minds are working on social networking. It's not right that they're wasting themselves trying to figure out how to monetize people sending pet photos to each other!

    Why just a few short years ago people in that field were really doing great things for the world--like repurposing the Black-Scholes theorem to create increasingly complicated derivative financial instruments. Those instruments powered a revolution that brought prosperity to everyone.

    If we can't get our best and brightest to go back to investment banks and get to work on developing new financial instruments, I don't know what will happen to our fine nation.

    • by mbkennel (97636)

      I think that banking is actually a little more honorable than click ads.

      • by macraig (621737)

        You have a banker as a sugar daddy, don't you?

      • by n8_f (85799) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:08PM (#35850592) Homepage

        I think that banking is actually a little more honorable than click ads.

        Really? Because I don't anticipate having to spend hundreds of billions of dollars of our money to bail out Google and Facebook in order to prevent a global catastrophe. And yet, not only have I had to do that once already in my lifetime for the banking industry, I expect to have to do that again because little has changed since the last time we did it. So, fuck the banks. We're lucky that this bubble is in an industry that is not "too big to fail."

      • Banking is. What bankers do now isn't

    • by aralin (107264)

      The world seems to naturally progress toward more connectedness. Gestures, speech, storytelling, painting, writting, travel, mail, shipping, telegraph, telephone, internet. There are more and denser connections between people and places. It seems only natural that the brightest minds are involved in this phenomena, helping our world to evolve into a higher state of self-awareness.

  • Probably a very interesting article, but I have no time to read it.
    I've got to feed my cows and plant some roses.

  • are using Ad-Block. Or soon will be.
  • by drsquare (530038) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @05:31PM (#35850370)

    What makes you think IT workers are the brightest minds? Because your company that gives you free pizza keeps telling you that?

  • I'm not so sure of that (though perhaps I'm being overly optimistic).

  • by Kanel (1105463) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:13PM (#35850636) Journal

    The best minds of my generation are creating bio-tech startups in Bangalore
    The best minds of my generation design oil rigs for the Santos basin offshore Brazil
    The best minds of my generation can't afford education in Nairobi
    The best minds of my generation divert rivers in China to power cities not yet built
    The best minds of my generation uncover the workings of the brain in a town near the pole
    The best minds of my generation overthrew a dictator in Kairo
    The best minds of my generation enrolled in a militia in Afghanistan
    The best minds of my generation does not read businessweek.com

  • by spasm (79260) on Sunday April 17, 2011 @06:36PM (#35850768) Homepage

    The best minds in the 1860s wasted their lives coming up with new colours of synthetic dyes to allow fabric manufacturers to sell more fabric. The best minds of the 1920s wasted their lives in the new(ish) field of advertising. The best minds of.. The vast majority of the 'best minds' of any generation have ended up taking the stable and well paid jobs associated with working for commercial interests, usually on stuff that won't exactly change the world or make it a better place or anything of the sort. The only thing more depressing is when there's a large war and the best minds of the generation spend years of their lives trying to come up with more efficient ways to kill other human beings. However, in any generation some bright people through accident or design work on things that decades later, in hindsight, are seen to have changed the world in some positive way.

    And sometimes people who do useful things with their lives started off doing something like helping facebook sell ads, and had a sudden realization one day that this was a waste of their life. I hope this guy now goes and has a go at something he thinks will make the world a better place instead of just whining about how facebook is ruining the world.

  • by Tom (822) on Monday April 18, 2011 @10:12AM (#35855126) Homepage Journal

    The loss of manufacturing and design know-how is truly worrisome.

    And the fact that the best minds of our time are being employed to manipulate the rest of us isn't?

    Advertisements has turned evil long ago. The original idea of getting your product out there, letting people know about it so they can come to buy it if they want - how far have we come since? Marketing is psychological warfare on the population.

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