The slideshow listicle: When metrics win and common sense loses

Telegraph listicle

As an avid Arsenal supporter, I’ll read almost anything the UK newspapers write about them. I’ll read The Guardian, Telegraph, Times and even papers I otherwise try to avoid like Metro and the Evening Standard. Of all these papers the Telegraph has some of the best sports writers around, which makes one particular feature of their online presence even more annoying: The slideshow listicle. The Slisticle?

A listicle is an article that’s actually just a list. List + article = Listicle. Like Buzzfeed’s 28 Most Middle-Class Things That Happened In 2014. A slideshow listicle is the same except every entry is a slide so you have to click “next” each time you want to see a new item. Like The 50 Greatest Sci-Fi TV Shows Ever. Great content – horrible user experience.

Why does the Telegraph and other outlets publish content as a horrible, unusable slideshow? Probably because they count every click as a new pageview. Each time you click, the banner on the right reloads and shows a new ad. And banners are usually paid for by impression.

It’s a classic example of people focusing on the metrics, in this case impressions, and forgetting to think about the experience. Slideshows don’t even have to be bad. Techniques like pre-loading can make them absolutely tolerable. But there are a lot of bad slideshows out there used only to generate pageviews.

I never thought I’d say this but: Bring back the listicle.


Mapping the fortunes of Silicon Valley

Silicon valley

The Economist did a great piece on Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago and along with the article they posted an excellent interactive map on their website.

The map shows the geographic location of lots of companies based in Silicon Valley and the size of the bubble (no pun intended) is the value of the company.

Sometimes a map like the one above can tell such an interesting story, this one being the story of the world’s biggest cluster of tech companies. The map shows Apple, Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Dropbox, Electronic Arts, LinkedIn, PayPal, Adobe, EBay, Netflix,, Twitter and Stripe to name but a few – all located within a 30 minute drive of one another.

It looks like a very exciting place to be for a tech founder. But it also looks like a place where it’s hard to find development talent to work on your startup without paying through the nose. The map also has a “play” button that shows how the companies have evolved from the start of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Check it out and click “play”.

Hadley Wickham: The statistics celebrity and R programmer

Yes we can (plot)

Hadley Wickham is famous.

The kind of famous where people at statistics conferences line up for selfies, ask him for autographs, and are generally in awe of him.

Sureley that’s the best kind of famous. Or at least the next best kind. Dan Kopf posted an interview with Wickam recently titled Hadley Wickham, the Man Who Revolutionized R on Pricenomics (discovered via Data Elixir).

It’s a great read both for R enthusiasts like myself (this blog’s most popular post on Google, the heatmap of London school inspection results was done in R) and also as a general interest story.

What’s it like to be a rock star in a narrow field, in this case, R programming?

It’s utterly utterly bizarre … To be famous for writing R programs? It’s just crazy.

Not that crazy. Wickham is probably the single most prolific contributor to R and his code is being used at Google, Facebook, Twitter and even the New York Times. If I run into him at a conference, I’ll most definitely try and go for the celebrity selfie.

Facebook has 113 open data positions

Screenshot 2015-08-02 11.51.56

If you’re interested in data you should subscribe to the Data Elixir newsletter, curated by Lon Riesberg (@lonriesberg). He recently highlighted Facebook’s career page for Data and Analytics folks.

Facebook have a whopping 113 open positions for ads, finance, IT, Instagram analytics, monetization, product analytics and growth, to name a few. It’s just one of the indicators of how important data analysis is for every aspect of running a major company.

Women in tech: It’s not just a pipeline problem

Rachel Thomas, math PhD, software developer and instructor at the Hackbright Academy recently wrote an article about women in tech titled “If you think women in tech is just a pipeline problem, you haven’t been paying attention“.

According to the Harvard Business Review, 41% of women working in tech eventually leave the field, compared to just 17% of men. In the post, Dr Thomas tries to identify why:

I’d rather wake up early than stay up late, and I was already thinking ahead to when my husband and I would need to coordinate our schedules with daycare drop-offs and pick-ups. Kegerators and ping pong tables don’t appeal to me. I’m not aggressive enough to thrive in a combative work environment. Talking to other female friends working in tech, I know that I’m not alone in my frustrations.

So, it’s not only a matter of encouraging women to go into tech and creating role models (Ada Lovelace Lego figure anyone?) but also a matter of retaining those who actually do join.

If you would have asked me yesterday I probably would have talked about women in tech being more of a pipeline problem. I didn’t realise the retention statistics were so poor. Last time we hired a developer in Iceland, only one (very promising) application we received was from a woman. When we asked her to come in for an interview someone else had already snapped her up. But even if there is a pipeline problem, the post highlights that there’s also a culture problem that those of us in tech should be aware of when we do manage to snap up the female talent in the field.

Pitch deck collection

Screenshot 2015-07-30 16.21.13

I came across this via the private Seedcamp Slack channel and it’s been very useful recently. It’s a collection of pitch decks various different companies have used when they have been fundraising.

Alexander Jarvis’ Super Awesome Pitch Deck Collection

It includes pitch decks from LinkedIn, AirBnb and Foursquare. One of my favourites is from MixPanel, who raised $65M from Andreessen Horowitz recently. MixPanel state their problem more succinctly than most:

Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.

The collection also features lots of less well known companies, some who have been successful and some who have closed shop. If you’re looking for inspiration for your deck, the Certified Super Awesome Pitch Deck Collection is not a bad place to start.

The Software Paradox – book review

The software paradox

Over the weekend I came across a great book (via Hacker News – where else) being given away for free from O’Reilly media called The Software Paradox.

I always used to recommend Eric Raymond’s excellent, but slightly geek oriented, The Cathedral and the Bazaar to people who asked me about why companies would ever invest in open source software when they would get no direct monetary benefit from said software via licensing fees.

Now I can recommend a new book, The Software Paradox. It gives an excellent historical overview of how people have perceived the value of software and how this perception has changed over time. Why were IBM so relaxed about letting a new company, Microsoft, own the intellectual property of the operating system that powered the IBM PCs allowing Microsoft to eclipse IBM in value in less than 10 years? And after making so much money from selling Windows, why is Microsoft now giving it away for free?

The Software Paradox also discusses case studies from various different companies from well known names such as Microsoft and IBM to lesser known (but sexier) players like Atlassian.

I’m personally not so sure the software market has decreased as much in value as the book contends. Software as a service is still a big and growing business. But the book is a very enjoyable read nonetheless.

The human spreadsheet


Ben Evans paints a vivid picture of technology replacing humans in a recent blog post describing the 60s film The Apartment:

In effect, every person on that floor is a cell in a spreadsheet. The floor is a worksheet and the building is an Excel file, with thousands of cells each containing a single person. CC Baxter is on the 19th floor, section W, desk 861. The links between cells are made up of a typewriter, carbon copies (‘CC’) and an internal mail system, and it takes days to refresh whenever someone on the top floor presses F9. (Shirley MacLaine plays an elevator attendant, so this is actually a romance between a button and a spreadsheet cell.)

One spreadsheet instead of an entire building. I wonder if they unionized?

The post is interesting (and long) and discusses topics like the my pet hate, the innovator’s dilemma (see earlier post) and how new technologies, tools and workflows replace old ones.

For decades, [MS Office’s breadth of features and market] has prompted the idea that if most people don’t need most of the features, a competitor, with fewer features but cheaper or with different routes to market, can peel away more and more of the users, leaving behind only the very core power users. This never really happened, and it seems to me that this may be the wrong way to think about the issue.

Excel replaced entire buildings of people sitting at desks, but who is going to replace Excel?

If you’re interested in Slack, disruptive innovation and technology, it’s well worth a read: Office, Messaging and Verbs.

From the ashes of Nokia rises Realm, a database that runs on 500 million phones


My first mobile phone was a Nokia 3210 which, according to Wikipedia, was one of the most successful mobile phones in history. Nowadays, anyone who is typing “Nokia” into a search engine is probably looking for a Wikipedia entry. Nokia is history.

What happens when a company, that dominated a global high tech industry for a decade, all of the sudden loses its footing? You end up with a lot of very clever people, with intimate inside knowledge of the industry, that have to look elsewhere to fulfill their ambitions.

One year ago two ex Nokia employees launched a new database specifically made for mobile phones, called Realm. According to Business Insider their software is now used on more than 500 million devices.

We witnessed a similar effect in Iceland after the first internet bubble early in this century. The most prominent tech company, called Oz, collapsed when the bubble burst after having raised and spent tons of capital. Analysis done since on the ecosystem that sprung out of all the knowledge that had been accumulated revealed that ex Oz employees were powering a large part of the Icelandic digital ecosystem a decade later.

What happened to Oz? It was resurrected and eventually acquired by Nokia. Note the date on that news item, 30 September 2008. The first Icelandic bank to collapse did so on the 29th of September, one day before that post was published.

I’m betting that out of the ashes of Nokia will rise a multitude of interesting companies both in the mobile space and in other industries. I look forward to reading more stories like the one about Realm.


Dropbox resurrects Clippy


Were you a fan of Clippy, the anthropomorphised paperclip that followed you around with cutesy advice when you were trying to use Microsoft’s Word? If so, you’re in for a treat. Dropbox are so happy with their new collaboration feature, which lets multiple users collaborate on Word documents, they’ve decided to resurrect the little guy. As a Dropbox logo.

searchI was not a fan of Clippy, in case you were wondering. If ever there was a feature that belongs in the toolbar and not hovering over my document, breaking my concentration, it is this. So does Dropbox deserve a nomination for the tech Darwin award? Is Dropbox Clippy a mistake? Probably not.

Storage is being commoditized. Google offers Drive and free photo storage and competing with Amazon on margins is like competing with a fish in holding your breath under water. Dropbox need to create value-add services so that current customers, like myself, stay with them. We already collaborate on documents on Dropbox at Datasmoothie, so this is a useful addition if it works. And Dropbox are right to have it hover over the document, Clippy-style, so that we notice it. Sure there should be a button to relegate Clippy to the toolbar but this is an interesting attempt to differentiate from the competition.

As a user I was annoyed. But in general, I am impressed.