XX in Tech
The elevators to the BuzzFeed office are magnificently slow. Each fits about six people comfortably, and they trundle and groan up to the 11th floor, where the company’s ops, tech and marketing people sit. “Considering how fast the company moves, it’s amazing how slow its elevators are,” quipped one dapperly dressed man as we all awkwardly waited for the doors to open.
Betabeat was visiting the BuzzFeed office for the first time to attend a real-life roundtable. Hosted by Branch cofounder Josh Miller, the event included beers and mingling among some of New York’s prolific tech reporters and entrepreneurs, as well as a discussion with Twitter cofounder Ev Williams and BuzzFeed’s own cofounder Jonah Peretti.
On Twitter, judgement is swift–and vociferous. Minutes after Jack Dorsey tweeted out a photo of lunch with Square’s summer interns, users (of the service he cofounded) notice a glaring absence of any XX chromosomes at the table. “Looks more like a sausage party, than a ham & cheese party,” quipped designer Jody Ferry.
Update: Forbes reports that Pop Chips ran this same campaign in the UK before launching in that market. The British reaction to it was exactly the same and the spot was pulled after public outcry. “The reasoning seems to come straight from Oscar Wilde and P.T. Barnum (if he actually said “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”),” says Forbes. Wonder if that’s the advice Ashton is giving his startups.
Correction: Just kidding, Pop Chips PR representatives just confirmed to Betabeat that the Forbes report was wrong. The ad went was only released in the U.S. market. The Forbes blogger read the dates wrong, as well as the country. And yes, as you suspected, no one is going to come out of this looking good. Including bloggers!
Yesterday, Pop Chips unveiled its latest advertising campaign. It involved having spokesman Ashton Kutcher play a variety of characters, including an Indian immigrant named “Raj,” for which Mr. Kutcher painted his face brown and affected an over-the-top accent. Last night, shortly after Anil Dash pointed out that using brownface to hawk bags of potato chips in 2012 was a sign of ingrained racism–and criminally cheeseball–Pop Chips founder and CEO Keith Belling issued an apology on the company blog.
“our team worked hard to create a light-hearted parody featuring a variety of characters that was meant to provide a few laughs,” Mr. Belling wrote in all-lower case. “we did not intend to offend anyone. i take full responsibility and apologize to anyone we offended.”
Can I See Some ID
Prolific tech investor Ashton Kutcher made a major flub in his new advertising campaign for Pop Chips out today, although you wouldn’t know it by reading the industry press. Thankfully, Anil Dash was there to call it like he sees it, as Mr. Dash is wont to do. In the campaign, Mr. Kutcher, who was named Pop Chips “president of pop culture” in 2010, plays four different characters in a series of spots made to look like dating videos. For the Indian character named Raj, Mr. Kutcher is painted up in brownface and speaks in a caricature of an Indian accent.
“Don’t watch it,” Mr. Dash writes in a blogpost condemning the ad. “It’s a hackneyed, unfunny advertisement featuring Kutcher in brownface talking about his romantic options, with the entire punchline being that he’s doing it in a fake-Indian outfit and voice. That’s it, there’s seriously no other gag.”
Silicon Alley High
Google+ caught some flak for its strict real-names policy when it launched. Users who tried to sign up under their hip web handles had their profiles shut down; when that caused an uproar, Google+ said it would give users four days of warning. Locally, blogger-veterans Anil Dash and Scott Beale spoke out against the policy. Then Microsoft researcher and blogger Danah Boyd, who prefers to be referred to as danah boyd, or ‘zephoria,’ the name that got her into a tiff with Tumblr, wrote “Real Names’ Policies Are an Abuse of Power,” explaining how anonymity on the web protects important discourse from minorities, victims and those with other incentives not to speak. “Personally, I’m ecstatic to see this much outrage” over Google’s harsh real-name policy on Google+, she said at the time.
On stage announcing the creation of a Software Engineering Academy this afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg revealed that the high school had the support of Fred Wilson and the city’s tech community. Betabeat has learned a little bit more about how that will work.
According to Department of Education spokesman Frank Thomas, Mr. Wilson has committed to financially supporting the school and to raise money for the school from the tech community at large. We have heard from other sources that Mr. Wilson’s financial commitment will be philanthropic and that the goal is to raise around $1.25 million, although that number has not been confirmed.
Where Did I Put My Data?
Tumblr’s 32.5 million users woke up last week to a vision of a dystopian future. ““WTF,” a frustrated fashionista working on her own startup wrote to Betabeat. “I can’t see any of my god damn archives. UGGGGHHH.”
Logging in to their dashboards, where they browse the stream of posts from the blogs they follow, users were greeted with text and images that were blacked out like the redacted sections of a classified briefing.
Those obscured blogs represented Tumblr’s take on American Censorship Day, a protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was going before a hearing of the Congressional Judiciary Committee that afternoon. The bill would allow companies to sue service providers like Tumblr or Facebook for hosting content like copyrighted music files or movies, a big reversal from the safe harbor provisions which had long defined internet piracy law.
The startup community, both entrepreneurs and the investors who back them, had been raising the alarm for several weeks about their concerns that this bill would cripple their ability to innovate and damage the internet economy. But if SOPA was the first real test of the political muscle of the entrepreneurs and small-business owners who are driving the tech sector, it was a test they would fail. Whether SOPA eventually becomes law or not, the issue provided a clear illustration to many in the startup world that they may be frighteningly unprepared to navigate the dangerous waters of Capitol Hill, where buttonholing trumps beta-testing and hard-nosed lobbying beats “likes.”
“We’ve got all these blogs and these Twitter followers, but when it comes to politics, I worry that we’re the tree falling in the wood and nobody is hearing us,” said Fred Wilson, New York’s most prominent venture capitalist and an outspoken opponent of the SOPA bill.
The Tao of Steve
The public beta for ThinkUp 1.0 came out this week. The service, shepherdedby Gina Trapani, lets users collect, store, search and analyze the reams of personal data they put on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. In that way its a lot like Singly, the open source data locker being developed out West. But Anil Dash had some strong words about what this kind of service means for web users. It’s not just a convenient way to grab all your data. It’s taking a stand against those who use your data for financial gain.
Can I See Your ID
After the news about Apple founder Steve Jobs death broke last night, Betabeat reached out to a few members of the New York tech community and asked them to share their thoughts and impressions of the ultimate CEO. Here’s what they had to say:
Is New York’s start-up community more inclined to appreciate pseudoanonymity on the web than Silicon Valley? Besides Anil Dash and Caterina Fake, Scott Beale of Laughing Squid and Fred Wilson, New York is home to two prominent champions of the pseudonymous social web: David Karp of Tumblr and Chris Poole of 4chan, who has been fashioned by his media advisors into the philosophical foil for Mark Zuckerberg (and apparently, his sister Randi Zuckerberg) who recently said anonymous posting show “a lack of integrity.”
“Zuckerberg’s totally wrong on anonymity being total cowardice. Anonymity is authenticity. It allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, raw way,” Mr. Poole said during his SXSW keynote.