Weekend news round-up: the Mac at 30; the method behind Snapchat’s madness

27 Jan 2014

An early incarnation of Apple's Macintosh computer

In our round-up of tech news from the weekend, the rise of Snapchat and the convergence of tech, media and telecoms are analysed, and anecdotes about the creation of the Mac 30 years ago from the people who built it are revealed.

The Mac at 30 – everything went OK

The 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer from Apple dominated this past weekend.

Folklore put together a brilliant compilation of anecdotes from the original team of Apple workers who developed the iconic computer. One such anecdote read: “The first demo program for the 68000-based Macintosh was written by Bud Tribble, as part of the original boot ROM. It filled the screen with the word ‘hello’ in tiny letters, more than a hundred times. When the Mac was switched on, it performed some hardware diagnostics, filled the screen with ‘hello’, and then listened to its serial ports for commands to execute. The ‘hellos’ told us that everything was working OK.”

The method behind Snapchat’s madness

Messaging service Snapchat is constantly running in the opposite direction of business norms – despite 400m users worldwide and having no apparent revenue stream, it turned down a US$3bn offer by Facebook.

Re/code attempted to analyse Snapchat’s logic in a piece entitled A Grand Theory of Snapchat, as Constructed by Snapchat, with a link to notes by co-founder Evan Spiegel.

Here’s one of his insights: “The selfie makes sense as the fundamental unit of communication on Snapchat because it marks the transition between digital media as self-expression and digital media as communication.”


How ignorance leads to bliss

A blog post that arrested people’s attention across the tech universe at the weekend was that of Andreessen Horowitz’ Benedict Evans, who attempted to draw a line under the long forecast convergence of technology, media and telecoms. He pointed out that often founders and visionaries’ ignorance of prevailing wisdom is the secret ingredient for seismic shifts transforming these great industries.

“The problem is, this sort of ignorance and misunderstanding is often how we get true disruption – people are so ignorant that they don’t know something can’t be done and won’t work, so they go and do it, and it works. Dropbox and PayPal are particularly good examples of this, while Bessemer’s ‘anti-portfolio’ is a fun look at the sensible reasons why some amazing companies would never work. The challenge of venture investing is that the model depends on investing in things that are laughable, because those are the only things that can make billions of dollars from zero in a few years. So you kind of want people to laugh at you and think you don’t understand the sector. You just have to be sure that you understand why they’re laughing.”

Class tensions

Another posting over the weekend that had garnered a lot of attention but had people scratching their heads was a letter to the Wall Street Journal by venture capitalist Tom Perkins, co-founder of Perkins Caufield and Byers.

Perkins likened the backlash against the 1pc of mega rich people in the US and San Francisco peoples’ anger at privileges like free use of bus lanes for tech workers to that of Germany’s war against Jewish people in the 1930s in a letter entitled Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?

He asked: “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive radicalism unthinkable now?’

Like I said, a lot of people were scratching their heads at Perkins’ chosen metaphor.

OK Cupid, love does add up!

Wired reported how a maths genius hacked into matchmaking website OKCupid in order to find love.

“McKinlay, a lanky 35-year-old with tousled hair, was one of about 40m Americans looking for romance through websites like Match.com, J-Date, and e-Harmony, and he’d been searching in vain since his last breakup nine months earlier. He’d sent dozens of cutesy introductory messages to women touted as potential matches by OKCupid’s algorithms. Most were ignored; he’d gone on a total of six first dates.

“On that early morning in June 2012, his compiler crunching out machine code in one window, his forlorn dating profile sitting idle in the other, it dawned on him that he was doing it wrong. He’d been approaching online matchmaking like any other user. Instead, he realised, he should be dating like a mathematician.”

Bieber exposes Twitter’s Achilles heel – recency trumps relevancy

The New York Times reported how the antics of pop star Justin Bieber last week exposed Twitter’s Achilles heel.

“The psychology of crowd dynamics may work differently on Twitter than it does on other social networks and systems. As a longtime user of the service with a sizable audience, I think the number of followers you have is often irrelevant. What does matter, however, is how many people notice you, either through retweets, favourites or the holy grail, a retweet by someone extremely well known, like a celebrity. That validation that your contribution is important, interesting or worthy is enough social proof to encourage repetition. Many times, that results in one-upmanship, straining to be the loudest or the most retweeted and referred to as the person who captured the splashiest event of the day in the pithiest way.

“As a result, recency trumps relevancy, which is how a single, relatively insignificant news event can exasperate much of an entire community over the course of a day.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years