Data Sheet—Examining Facebook’s Strengths and Blind Spots
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We may never precisely know why Boston lost out to New York’s Long Island City and Virginia’s Crystal City in the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes. Lack of sufficient tech workers was supposedly one reason. But even without Amazon’s mega-office, Boston seems to be doing quite well in attracting tech companies.
Amazon previously said it’s adding at least 2,000 workers in Boston, and could add twice that number based on real estate options in the city’s hot Seaport district. Google is building an 18-story, almost 400,000-square-foot building in Cambridge near MIT. In the same neighborhood, Boeing recently leased 100,000 square feet to base its autonomous flight unit, and Microsoft just redesigned its digs with nearly the same total square footage.
This week, it was Facebook’s turn to highlight its Boston presence, opening a state of the art, 130,000-square-foot workspace on three floors in the same MIT neighborhood where most of the other tech companies reside. Facebook, of course, started life as TheFacebook web site based in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in 2004 at nearby Harvard, but famously left for California early on.
Five years ago, a handful of engineers led by Ryan Mack re-formed a Boston office, though it was a cramped space by a Dunkin Donuts in South Station. Facebook has since grown in Boston to 200 employees, who work on projects including the company’s Wi-Fi finder and safety check mobile app features. In the new office opened to the media for a tour on Wednesday, there’s room for 400 additional workers.
The company’s recent struggles and controversies seem far away at headquarters in Menlo Park. COO Sheryl Sandberg appeared at the tour only via video screen and didn’t hang around—virtually—to answer any questions. Not that many questions were being raised. “More jobs is music to everyone’s ears,” explained Damon Cox, an assistant secretary in the administration of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who attended the event on the governor’s behalf. The kinds of hardcore programming projects related to infrastructure and connectivity done in the Boston office are also a long way from the content moderating and data sharing efforts that are at the center of the storm.
Still, even this distant outpost has many of the amenities that make non-tech workers drool, including La Spaziale espresso machines on every floor, an IT help desk on site staffed by actual humans, and free breakfast, lunch, and dinner served in the company cafeteria. The kitchen there has its own pizza oven and a smoker for smoking meats—a favorite of former trendy restauranteur and now the office’s corporate chef, Barry Maiden. It’s obviously a fun place to work, helping Facebook attract top engineering talent in the competitive Boston market.
The decor was also super techie, with programer jokes like a conference room called “Matt Daemon Never Dies” and a sculpture in the shape of Facebook’s trademark letter “F” made from old computer parts. In one oddly Mad Men design touch, a library-themed conference room had a door disguised as a book shelf. Behind the secret door was a hidden room dubbed “Smuggler’s Cove,” outfitted with comfy chairs, a hammock, and copious amounts of expensive alcohol on hand. (And it’s not like Facebook is immune from the problems of sexual harassment.)
In an homage to the local slang, some employees were wearing tee shirts with a twist on a popular Facebook motto: “Move wicked fast.” It’s an apt approach for programming, but maybe needs an overhaul with the company’s higher-ups now that they’ve moved so far beyond their dorm room origins.
Flat tire. Less than three years after buying the ride sharing shuttle service Chariot, Ford has decided to shut it down amidst a broad cost-cutting effort at the automaker. The commuter van service—operated in 10 U.S. cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, plus London—had provided customers with more than 3 million rides.
Questions at the top. Android creator Andy Rubin departed Google last year with a reported $90 million payout, despite allegations of sexual harassment against him. Now some investors are suing the board of Google's parent, Alphabet, saying that directors failed in their duties by approving the arrangement.
Upgrade-itis. Apple is again planning to release three new iPhone models later this year, including a high-end model with three cameras on the back, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing Asian sources where the iPhones are manufactured. Apple, you will be shocked to learn, declined to comment. Meanwhile, the company is said to be discounting prices of current models in China to stimulate sales. Rival Samsung said Thursday it would debut its next gen Galaxy S10 model on February 20 in San Francisco.
One door opens as another closes. Telecom giants AT&T and Verizon followed T-Mobile in pledging to stop selling real-time location data of their customers to third parties, after the blockbuster report by Motherboard demonstrated how bounty hunters could get access to the data. Next privacy scandal? The Intercept reports that Amazon's Ring smart doorbell unit gave employees access to customers' video feeds.
Breaking out of the box. A few developments in the ongoing "Future of TV" narrative. Tivo introduced apps to let users watch live TV shifted from their Tivo box to a Roku, Apple TV, or Fire TV box. Amazon's IMDb introduced a free, advertising-supported Internet video service called Freedive featuring dozens of movies.
Flying high. The torrid pace of private investments in space startups slowed somewhat last year, but remains at a high enough level to fuel further development of the burgeoning sector. Investors ranging from VC firms to aerospace and tech companies to prominent billionaires like Jeff Bezos added $3 billion of equity investments, down from $4.6 billion in 2017 but close to the four-year annual average of $3.5 billion, according to data from investment firm Space Angels. Where's all that money going? Elon Musk on Friday tweeted a picture of SpaceX's new rocket that could take astronauts to Mars some day.
On the menu. Food delivery startup Postmates raised $100 million of private capital in a deal valuing the company at $1.85 billion, Recode reports. But the company is still expected to go public in the next six months. And business messaging service Slack is planning to go public this year without using Wall Street underwriters, following the direct listing method used by Spotify Technology.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation’s Biggest Art Heist (The New Yorker)
The skilled climber and thief Vjeran Tomic, whom the French press referred to as Spider-Man, has described robbery as an act of imagination.
How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Shapes a New Political Reality (Wired)
I’ll just say it: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a social media marketing genius, and very likely a harbinger of a new American political reality.
How the Boston Molasses Disaster Ushered in the Era of Modern Regulation (Citylab)
100 years ago, a massive wave of molasses marked one of the strangest industrial disasters in modern history. It also marked a major moment in U.S. public policy.
The Unlikely Resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons Makes Its Way to the Inland Northwest (Inlander)
Nearly 45 years after its creation, a fantasy game played with paper, pencil, and dice is having its biggest year yet in the Inland Northwest and around the globe.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The strong employment market has given new power to workers, at least according to some statistics. The rate of people voluntarily quitting jobs, mainly in pursuit of new, better jobs, reached a 17-year high in 2018. Wall Street Journal reporter Chip Cutter has a piece illustrating the trend, including detailed, personal stories of job switchers, like 27-year-old software engineer Cassidy Williams, who has had five jobs in the past five years:
Ms. Williams left Venmo in 2015 for a job with artificial-intelligence company Clarifai, where she managed two people. In 2016, she moved to Seattle for a senior engineering and development role at L4 Digital, where she oversaw a team of six. L4 Digital is now part of digital marketing-software maker Globant. About a year later, Ms. Williams jumped to Amazon.com Inc. to work on its Alexa project. But after about six months at the online giant, she decided she wanted to work at a smaller company, and hopped again to become a senior software engineer at CodePen, a tool used by designers and developers.
“Because I’ve been given different opportunities at every switch, I’ve grown a lot faster,” Ms. Williams said. “It’s a win-win situation because my new company gets whatever they need, and I get to flex my muscles in different ways.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Bitcoin Tumbles 10%, Ending Nearly a Month of Stable Trading By Kevin Kelleher
Poland Arrests Huawei Employee on Spy Charges By David Meyer
The Billionaire Who Is Trying to Make Dallas Trendy By Sheila Marikar
Why This Venture Capitalist Is Tackling 'Tough Tech' By Renae Reints
A.I. Expert Says Automation Could Replace 40% of Jobs in 15 Years By Don Reisinger
BEFORE YOU GO
We have done a little tidying up in our messy household over the past few years, inspired by the book of the same name by Japanese author Marie Kondo. Now she's got her own Netflix reality show, helping other people tidy up. It's not universally praised, but give it a shot. You may find a few things that need tidying in your own domain.