Screw stereotypes

A recent tweet by Marc Andreessen got me thinking about our culture:

“Silicon Valley is nerd culture, and we are the bro’s natural enemy.”

It got me thinking: what is nerd culture?

An interest in programming? Computers in general? Does it exist anymore? As a guy who could most certainly be viewed as a nerd (I started programming on a Commodore 64 as a kid and I could probably give you the rundown of every single game released in the N64/Playstation era), the whole ‘nerd culture’ thing always kinda jarred with me.

There are cultures around music, sport, film etc. Nerd culture is different to these in that its viewed as an exclusive membership. If you liked computers then you spent Friday nights at home playing Dungeons and Dragons, not out catching a game of ball.

When people learnt you had interest in computers they quickly assumed you didn’t have any interest in pursuits outside of technology.

This is understandable. Computers have only had widespread adoption in the past two or three decades. Tech culture is super young in the grand scheme of things. “Outsiders” built stereotypes due to a lack of understanding.

But my issue isn’t with outsiders pigeon-holing us. That happens for every culture eg. Football fans being seen as yobs, art fans seen as snobs etc. My problem is when we start viewing it this way ourselves.

If we ourselves start labelling each other as either “geeks”, “brogrammers” or whatever then we do a disservice to ourselves, to the person we’re labelling and to our industry.

Why? Because nobody is just one thing. I know plenty of people who are crazy sport fans who make great coders and I know plenty of self-proclaimed super-nerdy types who can’t hack for shit.

Here’s why it’s important to kill off these stereotypes now: because we’re at an important changing point in our industry and our culture. A career in tech is possible for more people (and more types of people) than ever before. The vast, vast majority of people considering a career in tech won’t fit into the nerd/brogrammer archetype.

For some people that won’t matter but for others it will make them reconsider pursuing an interest in which they have a very real passion.

Caricaturing the roles in our industry will reduce diversity and will mean that we’ll miss out on some really talented people who could do special things in technology.

What you can do

1. Realise that stereotypes add nothing positive to anything and try to wipe them from your mind.

2. Don’t fit yourself around a stereotype. Are you a programmer with bad social skills? Well then work on it – becoming a good conversationalist isn’t that hard. Are you a sales guy who just “doesn’t get” tech? Work on it. Again, it isn’t that hard.

3. Encourage as many people as you can towards our industry. The days of programmers being almost exclusively neck-bearded white males are coming to an end, people. This is a good thing.

Screw the stereotypes. Encourage people to code. Watch our industry blossom.

App Store Dollars Don’t Go Further

So Apple are going to start pulling apps that reward social sharing/other app promotion from the App Store.

I’m pretty disappointed to hear this since the social share for extra cash option in my app Hipster CEO was a pretty popular bit of functionality. In the game, if you levelled up you could earn extra cash by sharing your achievement on Twitter or Facebook.

However, the discussion over on Hacker News has been around the suggestion that Apple should ban consumable in-app purchases completely. This topic  seems to split the community into two camps:

  1. iOS Developers who would be unhappy to see a drop in revenue.
  2. Gamers who loath IAPs as its difficult to tell just how much a game will “really” cost them.

I have written about mobile apps’  pricing problem before but its practically impossible to make & maintain a worthwhile app where the customer lifetime value is $1.99. I’m not saying consumable IAPs are the answer – I hate games that offer me the chance to hurry actions up by paying, they just feel kinda hacky to me. I’m happy to say that Hipster CEO has no IAPs but I sure wish I put them in there. The app has made me back the money it cost to develop but it’s not paying enough for me to maintain it (note: I’m building a new version that I hope will change all that). If you paid just under two quid for a game then you really don’t deserve an experience that lasts longer than it takes to drink a beer.

If you bought a second-hand console game and never played it twice, you wouldn’t complain. If you sank five bucks into a game at the arcade in twenty minutes, you wouldn’t complain. And if you paid over a tenner for a movie that sucked then you probably wouldn’t complain. All of these things cost more than the average app but for some reason, a certain group of people feel their App Store dollars should go that bit further.

That being said, I understand the complaint. I don’t think gamers mind handing over cash – its the lack of transparency that bothers them. If an app is marketed as free/cheap but really costs $50+ to get value out of it then it feels like a bit of swindle. Games like Farmville are a perfect example. However, gamers only have themselves to blame. The only alternative I can thing of over IAPs is subscription based models – games like Ultima Online – and they’re all dying out with World of Warcraft being the exception to the rule.

Maybe there’s a better way to monetise – I don’t know. If you’ve any suggestions then leave a comment.

Yahoo and the curated web

It’s been a hectic 18 months that Marissa Mayer has spent in charge at Yahoo. Dodgy workplace restrictions aside, the company seems to be looking towards the future in light of the acquisitions made. So much so, I’m betting that in five years time Yahoo will be an ever present in our online lives just like Twitter/Facebook. Here’s why:

Yahoo is positioning itself in the centre of the curated web.

Obviously, I think the internet is great – it’s changed our lives faster (and possibly more) than any other technology has. Trouble is: there is a ton of noise. De-cluttering your web experience is a skill in itself. I’m not just talking about your social streams; I’m talking about news sites, shopping recommendations, etc. As a geek I’m able to figure out how to lower the noise pretty well (or, in the worst case, cancel an account altogether – I’m looking at you, Google+) but your average Joe Soap ain’t no nerd.

The web is still a really young technology that we’re only beginning to figure out and up until about now it’s generally been geared towards quantity over quality. This is fine for teenagers or anyone with a lot of time on their hands but adults generally want to cut to the meat and bones of what’s happening or what they’re looking for. Enter: the curated web.

The difference between today’s web and the curated web is quality – and this is where I beliebe Yahoo is going to nail it.

Facebook is a great place to see friends’ photos but they’re mostly lousy pictures. Flickr is generally used by professionals or amateur photography enthusiasts which guarantees a higher quality. Since Mayer joined, Yahoo is turning Flickr around.

Twitter rules. It’s great for connecting with people and viewing shared articles but sometimes I prefer to read the traditional news. Unfortunately, the best news sites are generally geared to the long-form which means that it’s hard to absorb the gist of an article by reading five or ten lines. Basically, I want quality and brevity and recent Yahoo acquisition Summly does just that.

In addition to these, Yahoo has bought up a raft of social recommendation services which means their very keen to learn about what blows your hair back.

At a time where most web companies are trying to get you to spend as long on their site as possible, Yahoo’s USP is giving you just (and only just) what you need in a faster way.

Should be an interesting 48 months.