Tech Work More Sensible with a Few Simple Rules

It’s been a wonderful four years writing the tech column for The Pio. But all good things must come to an end. Since I’m going to be leaving campus and taking them with me, I figured I’d share my rules for understanding and contextualizing the technology industry. I’ve honed these from years of watching companies rise and fall, and they’ve come to serve me fairly well whenever I’m thinking about a new piece of tech. I think you’ll find them similarly useful.

1. If they aren’t charging you, they’re selling you to somebody else. There are two ways that a tech company sells you. The first is through advertising: For example, Facebook doesn’t make money by running Facebook; they make money by selling advertisements that can be targeted to you based on anything in your profile. If a particular product isn’t selling you ads (“monetizing” in industry lingo), then that means it probably plans on building its userbase, and then selling the product to a bigger company, who will then start selling ads based on your personal information.

2. Bad things happen to good products. In the tech industry, longevity is the exception, not the rule. Case in point: Google recently announced that it’s going to shut down Google Reader this summer. Reader is a hugely popular product with a vast userbase. I’m not exaggerating when I say Reader became the RSS reader ecosystem after its launch. Look at Myspace, or Lotus Notes. These are products that are past their prime and in decline. Facebook certainly thinks that it has the longevity, userbase and clout to maintain itself as a force online, but I’m not so sure.

3. Not every product is for you. I’m not the target audience for kids’ software on the iPad. I already know my ABCs, and I’m not looking to become a parent anytime soon. But just because I’m not the target audience doesn’t mean the product is bad. Before dismissing a new piece of tech, try to figure out if you’re the intended user. There’s a chance that product you think is useless is actually a valuable tool for someone who isn’t you.

4. Competition between platforms doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Just as the existence of Coke doesn’t necessitate the annihilation of Pepsi, competing technical platforms don’t have to knock one another out of the market in order to be successful. It’s possible for the Mac OS and Windows to continue competing with one another without one destroying the other. In fact, I’d say that it’s actually better for there to be competition in a given sector because that will drive all of the parties involved to do a better job of innovating. So please, stop bickering.

5. If it hasn’t shipped, take any words with a grain of salt. This industry has no shortage of visionaries with great ideas. Actually taking those ideas and turning them into a shipping product takes an entirely different degree of effort, one which doesn’t always happen. It’s great to get hyped about something that might turn out to be the next big thing, but until it actually shows up in your hands, don’t get too excited.

And there you have it: my five rules for understanding technology. May they serve you well in your travels.




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