It’s hard to write a story without a protagonist, but here goes. In the past week, Tinder’s former VP of Marketing Whitney Wolfe filed a complaint with the California courts claiming that she was sexually harassed and discriminated against at work, stripped of her co-founder title, and unfairly pushed out of the company.

The challenge in telling this story, as is very common with startup origin stories, is that the truth may be far murkier than it seems.

Text-message evidence presented in the complaint appears to show abhorrent behavior from Tinder co-founder and CMO Justin Mateen, who has since been indefinitely suspended from the company. Mateen declined to cooperate with TechCrunch on this story.

It doesn’t matter to me whether Justin and Whitney were in a relationship, friends, broken up, or merely coworkers; there is absolutely no excuse for the things that Justin said in those text messages. And that’s not the only time we’ve seen bad behavior from him.

But without defending his actions, it’s important to look at the different pieces of this puzzle, especially as the case involves accusations against not just Justin, but also Tinder as a company and its majority shareholder IAC.

I’ve spoken to numerous sources who were present at the beginning stages of Tinder, most of whom wish to remain anonymous because of the lawsuit. (Tinder officially declined to comment on this story.)


At the end of 2011, Sean Rad had just left Adly and was starting to think about what he wanted to do next. He and and his best friend Mateen called then Adly CEO (and Sean’s former partner) and current Polyvore CRO Arnie Gullov-Singh to discuss various options for their next venture. They asked Gullov-Singh’s advice on marketing tactics for different ideas.

In late January 2012, Sean was hired into the Hatch Labs incubator (funded partially by IAC and partially by Xtreme Labs) as general manager under CEO Dinesh Moorjani. He was tasked with building out Cardify, a loyalty app that rewarded users points for swiping credit cards. At the time, Justin was selling off his own company SiteCanvas and looking for a new project himself.

About two weeks after Sean started work, he participated in a hackathon within Hatch, where Moorjani paired Sean with Joe Muñoz, a developer who was also working at Hatch.

Muñoz was working on an interest graph back-end that helped match people and local shops based on interests. Sean, meanwhile, had been talking about potentially building out a dating product for a while, so the two were paired together based on the compatibility of their two passion projects. Over the course of the hackathon in February, they built the first prototype of Tinder.

TechCrunch has obtained the original pitch deck from that presentation, where Tinder (then called MatchBox) was presented to Hatch Labs executives and entrepreneurs in the program. It’s dated February 16, 2012.

MatchBox Deck (02/16/12)

The man pictured in the presentation is a close friend of Sean’s, and the woman in the presentation is a close friend of Justin’s.

Whitney Wolfe wouldn’t be hired into Hatch Labs until May, and she wasn’t assigned to work on MatchBox or Tinder in any official capacity until September 2012, according to my sources.

After the hackathon in February, the Cardify/MatchBox team grew. Jonathan Badeen was hired in March to take on front-end duties, and Chris Gulczynski joined about a week later to help with design. All four of these people were working on the Cardify loyalty app at the time. Like Tinder — especially its first prototype MatchBox — Cardify’s design was inspired heavily by a deck of cards. Still, however, no swipe.

From March through April, the team often worked out of Justin’s personal office, as the Los Angeles-based Hatch offices didn’t offer the same level of resources as their NY counterpart. Justin was not a part of the Cardify team; he just provided working space.

By May 2012, Cardify was ready to be presented. Hatch and Sean were in the midst of hiring a sales team to get merchants and vendors on board, and Sean hopped onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2012 to unveil the app to the world.

One hitch: Apple wasn’t so keen on Cardify, and it took about three weeks to approve the app.

“They didn’t want to sit around and twiddle their thumbs,” said one source who had spoken with Sean at the time. “He wanted to keep working on things, and had been trying to find the time to build out MatchBox, so he and Dinesh and Adam decided to put the development team on it.”

During the waiting period in May, Muñoz, Gulczynski, Badeen and Rad all went heads down to build out MatchBox. However, they still needed marketing contractors to sell Cardify to merchants for when it was finally approved.


Right around this time, Justin met Whitney. “She was friends with a girl that Justin had been hooking up with,” a friend of Whitney’s tells me. Whitney had a long friendship with Alexa Mateen, Justin’s younger sister, who also knew Sean and was interviewing to help with sales for Cardify.

According to one source, Justin’s decision to introduce Whitney to Sean and set up Whitney and Alexa as Cardify sales reps was one of his first moves as a leader at the company, despite the fact that he wasn’t officially working on the project.

As Whitney and Alexa went out into the field to rep Cardify to merchants, Rad, Badeen, Gulczynski and Muñoz focused on MatchBox.

Whitney claims that after beginning work in May 2012, her responsibilities were focused on college campus marketing for Tinder. However, early Hatch employees claim that she was rarely even in the office where Tinder was being worked on, but rather in the field focusing on Cardify sales.

Contrary to the complaint filed with the courts, Sean and Badeen were bullish about MatchBox, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Through June and July, Tinder began to take shape. Because MatchBox was too similar to investor IAC’s nomenclature, the team went to work thinking up a new name. It was a Hatch-wide project, meaning that everyone working out of Hatch LA was in on the exercise. That included folks like Hatch Labs manager of engineering Ryan Ogle, Hatch co-founder Adam Huie, co-founder and Hatch CEO Moorjani and the Cardify sales team.

The Tinder flame had already been designed by Gulczynski, so the key was to keep the focus on the flame. FLRT was an option, and MatchBox was still in the running as a backup. Multiple sources disagree on who came up with the name, with Munõz, Wolfe, and Badeen all listed as possibilities.

On August 2, the app was ready for prime time. Tinder soft-launched into the App Store, and Sean started the process of bringing on Justin officially. At first, he was contracted temporarily to lead marketing efforts around the launch for two months.

As one of his first moves, he lobbied to have Whitney and Alexa shift focus from Cardify and help him with his marketing plan for college campuses. They were currently reporting to Yvonne Orillac, who was Cardify’s sales lead, who also declined to comment on the story.

In the complaint, Whitney claims she then left on a marketing trip to her alma mater, SMU, and Utah, where she grew up, to “unveil” the Tinder app. A friend of hers at the time tells us that the trip was primarily to visit someone Whitney had been romantically interested in, not to market Tinder.

In either case, Whitney alleges that Justin, who had just been hired, bumped into her before she left on her business trip and announced he had recently joined the team. However, according to our sources, Justin had already been working on the marketing of Tinder, which included the reassignment of Whitney herself.

“I had a long string of emails with Justin about Tinder marketing in early September,” said Gullov-Singh, the same person that Sean and Justin had gone to for advice before Cardify even existed. “He was excited about implementing a plan around guerrilla marketing and hitting college campuses for events, just like he had done in college.”

When Sean and Justin were attending USC, Justin ran a company called MW Entertainment. He and his partner Jaspar Wier threw parties, booked entertainment, got brand sponsors and charged admission tickets; it ended up being a pretty profitable business.

“Justin and I were partners in a promotion business in college, putting on events across Los Angeles for USC students,” said Wier. “Justin developed and executed a marketing strategy that would target and engage the influencers. For us, this meant individually approaching the fraternities and sororities at USC to announce each event, and personally reach out to anyone we considered ‘influential.’ This was done with the intent to gain exposure and popularity amongst the people we considered to be ‘early adopters’ who would bring everyone else to the events.”

“From our sophomore year to our senior year, Justin would hold these huge parties and it was really impressive,” said an old friend of Justin’s in college. “He made a lot of money doing it, too.”

After Justin’s sister Alexa told him about Whitney’s trip, he gave her advice to employ the same strategy he had used in college. According to friends, Justin gave Whitney clear instructions for the SMU marketing blitz: get 10 girls on the app before ever going to a sorority, so that they see that other attractive people are on the platform.

At the time, Tinder already had a couple of thousand users because of Justin’s assault on his friends, according to a source very familiar with the company at the time.

“I remember one night, a few weeks before Tinder’s big USC launch party, he text messaged three hundred of his friends in a single night and told them to download Tinder,” said a friend of Justin.

An article in GQ confirms this: “Justin ran individual campaigns to encourage people to sign up. He would text each person personally. He targeted what he called ‘social influencers,’ avoiding the ‘awkward crowd’ of people probably most in need of a new way to make friends.”

Screenshot 2014-07-02 17.15.38After returning from her trip to SMU and Utah, Whitney attended the official Tinder launch party referenced above. It was planned by Justin, and held at his parents’ house on September 29. His younger brother, Tyler, was still in attendance at USC and helped get a big group to show up. Hundreds of people flocked to the pool party, complete with inflatable water slide and a massive Tinder sign hanging off of the roof. And all of them were armed with the Tinder app. That was the only way to get in.

One source who was in attendance told us that Whitney left “about halfway through.”


Similar to Whitney’s claim, multiple sources agree that her relationship with Justin began around or after the holiday season in 2012. And by the end of 2012, Hatch had shuttered as planned and Tinder had begun to stand on its own two feet. The company incorporated in April of 2013, which is when equity was split among employees, just as Whitney states in her claim.

“They were in love,” said one source familiar with the couple. “Even early on, she was talking about wanting to end up with him.”

In the complaint, Whitney claims that Justin pursued a relationship with her. However, multiple sources indicate that she expressed interest in a relationship with Justin before they started dating.

Obviously, the company continued to grow. Quickly, too. Media outlets all over were interested in the hot new dating game called Tinder. Sean and Justin took plenty of interviews. And so did Whitney.

In one interview that was published more recently (the same GQ article referenced above), both Whitney Wolfe and Justin Mateen discuss the origins of Tinder together, and from the article itself, it seems that both played an instrumental role in the marketing of Tinder on college campuses. It’s almost as if they were a tag team. Still, the same article credits Justin with the experience and know-how of event marketing on campuses, as well as hiring reps from local areas.

Inspired in part by the path of Facebook, which launched first at elite colleges, Justin turned not just to the Ivy League but to schools known for their good parties. After seeding USC, Justin and Whitney traveled to schools like SMU in Dallas. Whitney might stand on a table in a fraternity and announce that there were 200 hot sorority girls on the app waiting for the men to sign up, then run to the sorority and tell them the reverse. They left a trail of stickers behind them—in the best campus bars, in the most exclusive nightclubs.

One Tinder employee tells me that Justin and Sean regularly wove in the names of Chris Gulczynski and Jon Badeen as co-founders of the project — Muñoz (who didn’t respond to request for comment) had already left the company to pursue other things.

When Whitney did interviews, she repeatedly asked Sean to let her go by “co-founder,” claiming that the press would take her more seriously if she had that title, according to people in the office.

According to my sources, Sean and Whitney were incredibly close friends (after all, she was dating his best friend and they all worked together) and he did, in fact, give in a number of times.

“Sean knew she wasn’t a founder… we all knew she wasn’t a founder,” one source said on the phone. “But he wanted to help her career, and he knew that having female representation in the press could only be a good thing for the company.”

I personally saw a message from June that Whitney sent to a colleague wherein she says she’ll be using VP of Marketing on her business card, without mention of the title co-founder.

Still, Whitney’s claim includes a business card with the co-founder title on it. According to sources, the business cards were handled by junior designer Sarah Mick, who emailed the company asking for everyone’s titles. I’m told by a Tinder employee that everyone, save Chris Gulczynski, responded to Sarah Mick directly (without CC’ing the rest of the employees) to give their title information.

Whitney Wolfe business card

One employee even recounted an instance in which Whitney said that she knew she wasn’t supposed to be using “co-founder” in her email signature, but would continue to do so until Sean found out.

Shortly after, other members of the early Tinder team also wanted co-founder titles. Folks like Chris Gulczynski and Alexa Mateen, who had been there just as long if not longer than Whitney, were wondering why they didn’t have the same designation, according to an early Tinder employee who wishes to remain anonymous.

The icing on the cake was the actual article Whitney cites in her claim, where Harper’s Bazaar calls her “the woman who invented Tinder.” According to multiple people on the Tinder PR team, Whitney secured coverage for that article on her own and misled the journalist to the point where the PR team had to repeatedly ask for corrections to the article. It has also been confirmed that Whitney went behind the backs of other leadership at the company with the publication of that story.

Correction: After a quick call with my source on this, Whitney did not secure the Harper’s Bazaar story on her own, though did push Tinder PR to get her connected with the media outlet.

Meanwhile, employees recount Jonathan Badeen, who had been there from the very beginning and was rarely mentioned by the press, seeming noticeably discouraged by the article.

One employee, who was present in a meeting between Sean and Whitney, says that after the Harper’s Bazaar article and a couple of others like it, Sean explained that Whitney should not have been using the term co-founder in the press because it was causing confusion with the media and internally at Tinder.

“It was never part of her actual title within the company, on business cards or email signatures,” said the witness to the meeting. “At least it shouldn’t have been. He thought it would be good for Whitney and for Tinder, but once it started causing problems for so many people, I guess he realized he should have never let it happen in the first place. Even just for the press.”

That same witness says that Whitney sent a series of messages to Sean shortly following the article’s publication in which she expresses that she knew she wasn’t supposed to be going by co-founder for that article.


Throughout most of 2013, Whitney and Justin were dating as the app grew like wildfire. At first, the relationship was a secret to most of the company, but employees found out officially at a company event in June.

“I was a little bit worried about Justin and Whitney, just because I wasn’t quite sure if they should be dating while they’re working together like that,” said a close friend of Justin’s. “But Justin was so happy, and Whitney told me how much she loved him and that she wanted to end up with him and have babies with him. They looked happy, so I left it alone.”

As Whitney suggests in the complaint, the relationship runs into turbulence in the fall of 2013.

Friends of both Whitney and Justin say that the couple had issues with the amount of time Justin spent focusing on Tinder. An employee at a lunch near the Tinder office in October heard Justin say to Whitney that Tinder would always come first.

Still, the details around any official breakup are unclear. Whitney’s complaint states that they were completely over as of December 12, 2013, though friends of Whitney tell me that they continued sending romantic messages alongside hateful ones (the same type you see in the complaint evidence). According to a friend of Justin’s, they continued to have sex fairly regularly through February of 2014.

According to one friend, Whitney said over text messages that she loved Justin and couldn’t stop thinking about him. This was also in December.

None of my sources, a number of Justin and Whitney’s friends as well as Tinder employees, can agree on even a general time that Justin and Whitney broke up. One member of the media, who interviewed Whitney for a story, remembers Whitney saying repeatedly that Justin had broken up with her in the fall of 2013. Some agree on a period around December or January where they were not together, and one even recounts talking to Whitney while she was on a trip to Aspen for Christmas.

The friend said that she was excited Whitney was moving on from Justin now that she had met someone new in Aspen, a man named Michael Herd, with whom she continued a romantic relationship. Michael Herd is the grandson of Bob Herd, and the vice president of Herd Producing Co., an oil company that owns and operates over 400 wells in Louisiana and East Texas.


Justin Mateen, Jonathan Badeen, Sean Rad and Whitney Wolfe at a party thrown by Glamour magazine for Tinder.

Though few sources agree on a definite breakup date, many do agree that one of the last times that Justin and Whitney had sex was on February 3, after a Tinder party thrown by Glamour magazine. Witnesses at the party say that Whitney was heavily intoxicated, notably interested in Justin, and even stating out loud: “I’m going to fuck you tonight, Justin.”

A friend of Justin’s who drove Justin home from the party recounted the story to me:

Whitney called Justin and said that people were harassing her or robbing her apartment or something. She said she needed help, so Justin made me drive all the way out to her house to see what was going on. When we got there, nothing was wrong. She didn’t know I was there, and she opened the door naked waiting for Justin. He stayed there that night.

Between February and late March, the status of the relationship between Whitney and Justin was still slightly unclear. One employee remembers an instance in which Whitney approached Justin in a very heated manner and began discussing personal issues in the office.

“Justin kept telling her not to do this in the office, but she wouldn’t let up,” said the employee. “Eventually, Alexa Mateen stood up and told Whitney to not to discuss personal drama in the office. Whitney told her that if she ever got involved again, she would kill her.”

In another instance during this period, Whitney claims that she experienced inappropriate treatment from Justin in front of Josh Metz, the new marketing manager. According to employees at the company, Whitney was later asked about the incident in front of Josh, Justin, Sean and a couple other employees at a marketing meeting and admitted to all of them that she had lied about the fight entirely, realizing that Metz wouldn’t corroborate her story.

Whether Whitney actually lied about the incident, or simply felt pressured to say that she did, is unclear.

Between February and March, two separate sources say that Whitney was considering taking legal action. Whitney’s lawyer, David Lowe, would not comment on whether or not Michael Herd is one of his clients, but he did say unequivocally that Herd is not footing Whitney’s legal bills.


On the evening of the Tinder Malibu party on April 6, friends of Justin say that he had just found out about an affair Whitney had allegedly had with another man while they were together. Whitney knew that he had found out, and was anxious about attending the party, according to one of her close friends.

“When Whitney arrived at the party, she walked through the house flailing her arms and being very boisterous,” said another witness. “She was inside and I was outside so I couldn’t hear her, but there were big glass walls so I could see her coming. Once she was outside, she was screaming about how they were all conspiring against her and talking shit about her.”

By “they,” this witness is referring to a small group of people who were talking in the grass in the backyard, including Sean, Justin, Alexa Dell (Sean’s girlfriend) and Alexa Mateen.

“Alexa Dell and Alexa Mateen went inside and then Whitney started getting physical with Justin,” said a separate source who witnessed the fight. “She was yelling, and then finally Sean tried to separate them.”

None of the four sources who witnessed the scene ever saw or heard Justin call Whitney a “whore,” as she alleges in the complaint. If he did it, he did it quietly. Eventually, Sean asked Whitney to leave the party after Justin removed himself from the situation, and as Whitney was exiting, she stopped in the kitchen.

No one is clear on how the altercation escalated, but Whitney ended up pulling the hair and clothing of Sean’s girlfriend, and to “get free of Whitney,” she spit at her, one witness tells me.

“Whitney kept saying ‘I’m done with all of this’ and ‘I’m done with all of you,’” said another witness at the party.

By all accounts, that is remembered by the majority of the Tinder staff as the night Whitney quit. In her complaint, she claims that she was forced out by CEO Sean Rad, though it seems like her actions on the night of that party in April were taken as a resignation.


As I said at the very beginning of this long story, we have no real protagonist.

There is no excuse for the language attributed to Justin within those text messages in the complaint. No matter the status of their relationship throughout any of it, my opinion is that it was irresponsible to date a subordinate and even less responsible to let the dramatic unfolding of that relationship’s implosion fizzle into the company they both helped to build.

Whatever might have been instigated by Whitney, it’s my belief that, as the superior in the professional relationship, dealing with the personal side of their situation was his responsibility.

From the dozens of stories I’ve heard over the past week, it seems clear that Whitney Wolfe and Justin Mateen had a turbulent, emotional and dramatic personal relationship. Whether she was cheating on him, provoking him or otherwise, I can’t personally show any tolerance whatsoever for Justin letting that relationship potentially affect the workplace. He was, after all, the superior.

Meanwhile, Sean Rad seems to have made his own mistakes. It appears that he got too close to employees on a number of levels. There have been some statements from early employees like Muñoz that indicate Sean’s friendship with Justin affected the latter’s role at the company. But multiple sources expressed that Mateen played an important role in the early success of the app, despite their friendship.

Still, the decision to let Whitney use the term co-founder in the press was probably a bad one. The decision to take it away, as Whitney states in her complaint happened, is potentially even worse. Information from multiple sources, as outlined above, indicates that she may not have contributed as much to Tinder’s early success as she suggests. There’s also evidence pointing to the fact that she may have used the term co-founder behind the backs of other founders and against their wishes, which adds even more fog to the situation.

To bestow the title and take it away again (in any capacity) might have been a mistake that Sean made out of naivety or even good intentions, perhaps to have a female representative of the company out in the press or to help foster Whitney’s career, but it seems like a rookie mistake that may have very grown-up consequences.

Another core complaint that Whitney has against Tinder is the inaction of Sean Rad in response to complaints about Mateen’s behavior. Whitney provides no actual evidence within the complaint that shows inaction from Rad. In fact, within the complaint, she mentions to a friend on April 1 that she has yet to talk to Sean about problems with Justin. That was five days before the Malibu party.

Whitney Wolfe’s complaint paints a picture of a company led by sexists who never wanted her to succeed. According to the accounts I’ve heard, that simply isn’t the case.

I spoke to more than a dozen sources for this story. Not one told me that Whitney spearheaded a campaign to shift focus from Cardify to Tinder. Not one could say definitively who came up with the name. Not one ever told me they saw Sean Rad (or Justin Mateen, for that matter) treat her inappropriately or with disrespect in the office. Most importantly, not one told me that she should be considered a co-founder of Tinder.

With the co-founder claim, there is quite a bit to consider. In many ways, the term co-founder doesn’t mean much. It’s not always the person who comes up with an idea that brings it to fruition. Just ask Reggie Brown or the Winklevii. And in the case of Tinder, Sean Rad actually did come up with the idea. Co-founder isn’t a legal term included in term sheets and equity documents. In essence, it’s a marketing term.

However, legally speaking, if Whitney were a rightful co-founder who was stripped of that title without reason or cause, then Tinder could be in for a world of hurt.

“It’s not about the validity of the position of co-founder as much as it’s about the perception that she might have been demoted,” attorney Eric Broutman from the Abrams Fensterman law firm told TechCrunch. “The term co-founder brings more prestige, so if it was taken from her unfairly then the claim may be valid.”

Yet, it seems that Whitney was well aware that her use of the term co-founder was for the purposes of doing press for the company and not because she actually co-founded the company. Why else would she ask once to use the title co-founder, all the way back in January of 2013 (as shown in the evidence attached in the complaint), and then again sometime after June when iOS 7 was released?

That’s not to say her early contributions around marketing Tinder with Justin and Alexa Mateen weren’t important to the success of Tinder, but the fact that these conversations played out adds some gray area to the question of whether or not she was unfairly stripped of her title.

It’s easy to see the story of Whitney Wolfe vs. Tinder as yet another cut-and-dried case of alleged sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. But it’s far more nuanced than that.

The case merges two relatively separate issues — discrimination and harassment allegations against Mateen and unfair termination and discrimination allegations against Tinder — making it that much harder to untangle the truth of what happened.

But from what I’ve learned, a few things are unmistakably clear: From the very beginning, Tinder appears to have fostered a company culture that left employees in incredibly close, personal relationships. Rather than maturing as the company grew, the line between professional and personal in this culture apparently became increasingly thin.

Putting the bad behavior of any parties aside, this alone can destroy a company. And it’s unclear in Tinder’s case whether this fire will eventually burn it down.

IMAGE BY Shutterstock

Read more: Burned

WordPress: A Simple Beginner’s Introduction

Is WordPress easy-to-use? So many people I talk to ask me this question. They’re concerned that there’s no possible way they could ever learn to edit their o…

See more here: WordPress: A Simple Beginner’s Introduction

Scan Makes A QR Identity Play

Scan, a company that’s trying to link physical businesses to users with QR codes, is stepping into the identity and payments space.

The new version of Scan’s app adds a ‘Code Wallet’ that can be used to store codes you scan or use a lot. It can also store your personal identity code, which you can generate on the device.

In fact, every user of Scan, over 75 million of them so far, will have a personal QR code available to them once they’ve updated the app. This code effectively acts as an identity that they can use to direct people to social media profiles, Instagram accounts, personal webpages and more.

Scan founder Garrett Gee says that this should lower the barrier for people who may have never understood that they could use QR codes to create an easily transferrable identity before.

And incorporating the scan-to-pay technology they debuted late last year, users will be able to offer that code to others to accept payments directly. Friend owe you a couple of bucks? Just have them scan your code and shoot you the money.

As an example, here’s the Scan page of Serena Martineau, a freelance photographer using Scan to promote her business and accept payments directly. Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 9.13.38 AM

Scan has raised a total of $15.2 million from Entree, Menlo Ventures, Google Ventures, Charles River Ventures, Start Fund, Social + Capital Partnership, Transmedia Capital, Ludlow Ventures and angels Ariel Poler, Naval Ravikant of AngelList, Jim Pallotta of Raptor Group and Troy Carter.

Scan is still one of the most popular code readers in the App Store, and sees around 50,000 new installs a day. Scan introduced its business pages in 2012 and now sees 150,000 of them using its website to create and manage codes. There are around 80,000 codes used on the site daily. Though Scan also reads barcodes for price checking, Gee recently told me that around 65 percent of the scans on iOS devices were of QR codes.

Each of those codes is linked to an action of some sort, which is really at the heart of what Scan has been bringing to the table. There have been countless misuses of QR code technology, but some of the most egregious mistakes have resided in not giving people a discrete action to take upon scanning.

If you scan a code and are dumped out onto a website with no focused purpose, you’ve already been failed by the creator of that code. By creating a framework for businesses, and now individuals, to deliver users to a focused experience, Scan is putting QR tech’s best foot forward.

Scan has its work cut out for it if it wants to be an identity provider of any sort. But it’s a space that’s ripe for innovation, so I’m interested to see how this pans out. Digital identity is one of the biggest unsolved issues we have and I expect that pretty much all of the majors will make a play for the space very soon. Dabbling in trying to figure that out — and pushing forward its philosophy of linking digital and physical spaces — seems like a good direction for Scan.


Ironically, one of the best things that could happen to a company like Scan is for someone like Apple to include code-reading functionality in the stock camera. Being Sherlocked could actually boost Scan’s business enormously. Scan’s secret sauce, after all, is in how it handles the actions after scan, not necessarily the scan itself.

Of course, there are other opportunities here, given the proliferation of beacons driving hyper-local, contextually accurate interactions. Gee says that Scan is working with beacon technology but doesn’t have anything to share at the moment.

And, it’s important to note, beacons don’t have the years of misuse behind them that have contributed to making QR codes such a technological punchline.

The app is available for both iOS and Android here.

Read the original: Scan Makes A QR Identity Play

Yahoo Does A “Summer Cleaning,” Shuts Down Its Xobni Acquisition, Plus Other Under-Performing Products

Yahoo’s spring cleanings have extended into the summer months, the company announced today, detailing a series of product changes and closures, many of which are nearly obsolete, obscure, or just unpopular. But among the more high-profile of these closures is Yahoo acquisition Xobni, the maker of smart email and contacts management apps that were acquired last summer.

At the time of the acquisition announcement, Yahoo said people using Xobni’s products would be able to continue to do so “indefinitely.” However, in today’s post, the company points to a FAQ on the Xobni website, implying that the product’s total shutdown was previously announced. That may confuse the handful of remaining Xobni users who may have thought that as long as they had the Xobni Smartr app installed, for instance, it would continue to work even though it was no longer being actively developed or supported.

But according to this new post, today is Xobni’s last day.

Says Jay Rossiter, Yahoo SVP, Cloud Platform Group, Yahoo has instead “incorporated many Xobni-like features into Yahoo Mail” including compose auto-suggest and people-centric mail search.


Yahoo buys then kills a startup? That’s not really news, I suppose. And at least Xobni’s complete and total death was held off for a full year.

Other products getting the boot (or that already got the boot and you didn’t notice!) include a virtual makeover tool called Newlook, Yahoo Finance’s “research reports” feature,, Yahoo People Search (bundled into Yahoo Search), Yahoo Toolbar on Chrome (replaced by Yahoo’s Chrome extension), Yahoo Shine (replaced by new magazines, Yahoo Beauty and Travel), Yahoo Voices, and the Yahoo Contributor Network. The last four in that list have yet to close, with the Toolbar dying off on July 22, while the remaining products will live until the end of the month.

It’s not surprising for Yahoo to cut its non-performing products, as the company is trying to “further its focus” on core experiences – Search, Communications, Digital Magazines and Video – as it says today. This is also not the first time Yahoo has made the decision to eliminate items from its overly large lineup – it did the same in March and April 2013, today’s announcement also notes.

See the original post: Yahoo Does A “Summer Cleaning,” Shuts Down Its Xobni Acquisition, Plus Other Under-Performing Products

Uber Turns Gay Marriage Into A Marketing Stunt

In honor of Pride weekend in San Francisco, Uber is cheapening the whole concept of marriage by letting you order a wedding on demand. Uber will pick up you and your significant other and rush you through the legal paperwork and ceremony, all in under an hour. The company might mean well, and the experience might even be fun, but the whole thing reeks of opportunism. Delivering kittens to cuddle is one thing. Marriage is just a wee bit more serious.

On Saturday from noon to 6pm in SF, no matter your sexual orientation, you’ll be able to order one of these abominations. Uber will provide vows if you don’t bring them, which I imagine go something like “I take you to be my husband, through standard fares and surge, with or without complimentary bottled water, and promise to give you 5-star service until death do us part.”

Friends can meet you at the ceremony, where a violinist will play the wedding tune as you’re “surrounded by flowers from Bloom That and candles from bella j. After you both say ‘I Do,’ we’ll celebrate with dessert from SusieCakes, cheers with champagne from Iron Horse and you’ll receive a gift bag from L.” Afterwards, HotelTonight and Alaska Airlines will hook up a free honeymoon.

In other words, Uber won’t have to pay for much. But the stunt will get even more people looking at the Uber app during the middle of the hectic Pride weekend when the company stands to make UberSUV-load of cash on surge pricing.

From one perspective, UberWeddings seems cute. The company appears somewhat earnest when it writes: “We’re thankful to be based in San Francisco, a city that recognizes love doesn’t have to look any certain way. In honor of Pride week, we’re celebrating the inclusive idea that love is love with something that lasts a lifetime.”

But I can’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t the point of the fight for marriage equality. You should be able to express your love however you want, but is the lure of a free wedding worth having the momentous occasion swallowed up by a brand?

I plainly asked a few friends who identify as gay what their thoughts were of the campaign, with no leading questions.

“Yeah, pretty gross,” Matt Conn, founder of Midboss and the GaymerX conference, told me. “While it’s nice they’re giving away free trips to people who want to tie the knot…it seems like a very gross way to enter into what should be a lifelong commitment. It seems like a way to get people who are using their app to be like ‘Oh, Uber supports LGBT people, they’re great.’ It’s a very see-through attempt by straight folks to try to capitalize on the ‘hot’ trend of gay rights. It’s just disrespecting marriage.”

Another friend who asked to remain anonymous said: “Seems a bit pandering from Uber’s perspective, but they’re not exactly know for being subtle.”

Paul Mauer, an excellent photographer, was more blunt: “I think it’s contributing to the popular notion that gay relationships aren’t as serious or deeply felt as their heterosexual counterparts. It’s kinda fucked up.”

On Twitter, some people found the idea delightful, but others were upset:

Uber has delivered barbecue, mariachi bands, and ice cream, but this is different. It seems ill-advised to muscle in on Pride week with marketing schtick that’s tone-deaf to the significance marriage has to some people.

I get that Uber is trying to grow its business by whatever means necessary, but it shouldn’t be surprised if crossing the line this way leads to chants of “Divorce Uber.”

Link: Uber Turns Gay Marriage Into A Marketing Stunt

Facebook now lets marketers include up to three products in a single ad

Facebook today announced new multi-product ads that let businesses include three of their products when placing desktop or mobile ads on the platform. Each product will get its own image, description and target.

Here’s what the new ad unit looks like on the iPhone:

10173498 1390258581213170 603360832 n Facebook now lets marketers include up to three products in a single ad

The multi-product option is arriving first in Facebook’s ads API, but the company plans to bring it to its other offerings later this year.

Facebook also added to its Custom Audiences settings to allow marketers to tailor audiences based on people that had visited certain Web pages and people that hadn’t visited in a while. Businesses can specify audiences based on purchase and activity history on their websites.

10333107 306715409495763 1124699074 n Facebook now lets marketers include up to three products in a single ad

New Direct Response Features [Facebook for Business]

Facebook diversity report: “We have more work to do”

Read more: Facebook now lets marketers include up to three products in a single ad

Apple Might Finally Solve Photo Storage Hell

Editors Note: Brenden Mulligan is a co-founder and designer at Cluster, a web and mobile app which enables users to create private social networks around interests and experiences. 

We take a bazillion photos with our phones and digital cameras. The digital images mostly just sit, clogging up our hard drive(s). This has been a problem for as long as digital photography has existed and it’s getting worse. Camera resolutions are getting bigger and with it, the file sizes of our digital photos are growing.

Although many companies have taken a crack at this problem, I think Apple’s upcoming iCloud Photo Library could be the perfect solution — if they do it right.

Photo storage is still a mess

I currently have a 100GB iPhoto library on my Macbook Air’s 250GB hard drive. I look at the photos approximately never. But I’m not going to delete them. They’re my memories, and even though I don’t look at them often, I want to preserve them.

I could move them to an external drive or cloud storage, but keeping an iPhoto library on an external drive can be messy. I have them backed up through Backblaze, but that requires I still keep them on my computer. Same with Dropbox (without more advanced configuration).

The point is, there isn’t a turnkey solution to:

  • preventing these photos from clogging up my hard drive
  • making sure these photos are safe
  • being able to access them whenever I want

Sure I could design a complicated storage solution for myself, but most users won’t do that.

People have tried to solve this problem

Over the past four years, a bunch of startups have tried to solve part of this problem. Everpix had a nice solution but went into the deadpool last year. Snapjoy was scooped up by Dropbox early and is now Carousel. ThisLife was acquired by Shutterfly. And a few more never made much of a splash.

In my opinion, no one has done it right.

I once started to work on this problem

In 2011, I prototyped a solution. It was called Photobank. It worked by:

  1. uploading the photos from your device(s) to the cloud
  2. removing the local high-resolution versions from your device(s)
  3. replacing the local versions with low-resolution copies
  4. allow any device to access the photo library and download high-resolution versions.

The business model was simple: Users would pay for the service according to how many photos they saved.

I was so compelled by the idea that I put a concept pitch together and sent it to some friends. The feedback on the idea was positive. People agreed the problem existed and this would be a great solution to it, but ultimately I decided to not build Photobank for the following reasons:

People wouldn’t pay. I don’t think people are willing to pay for photo storage on top of their normal file storage. That led me to the conclusion that if anyone was going to solve this problem, it had to be Apple, Google or Dropbox.

Too much upfront load. Users need to understand value from a service in order to pay for it. Dropbox and Evernote users experience the magic of the services slowly and usually only need to pay when they’re already hooked (because they’re using it so much they run out of space). With Photobank, users wouldn’t get it until their entire photo library was imported. This is a huge load for the service for each user and would be really hard to scale.

Crowded space. There were already enough players in the space and I wanted to see how things shook out over the next few months before diving into the idea.

I wanted to focus on collaboration. Personally, the most compelling part of Photobank was the collaboration aspect. But the way I wanted collaboration to work would only happen if a user’s social graph was already storing all their photos on Photobank. That kind of saturation would take a long time, and I didn’t want to wait for that hurdle for users to access the collaboration features.

Instead, I co-founded Cluster to focus purely on aspects of photo collaboration and left solving the storage problem behind.

Apple might finally have a solution

At WWDC 2014, Apple announced a big upgrade to its Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, a service that claims to be the ultimate backup system:

This sounds amazing, but it sounds like it’s limited to iOS devices, which doesn’t solve the problem of my computer being full of photos. However, Apple also announced a new Photos app for OS X, which seems like it’ll eventually be an iPhoto replacement for the desktop. This has me hopeful that they might be closer to building something actually worth paying for.

My iCloud Photo Library dream

Knowing that Apple is moving in the right direction, I wanted to put together a brief wish list for the iCloud Photo Library. As you’ll see, my hope is that the service isn’t much different from what I initially envisioned for Photobank. Here’s how it would work:

  1. I would connect my iPhone, iPad, or Mac (through iPhoto or the new Photos app) to the iCloud Photo Library.
  2. iCloud would move all of my original photos off of my connected device and onto iCloud servers. They would leave a much smaller version of the same photo on my device (optimized for the device, so low res for iPhone wouldn’t be the same as low res on my laptop). If I wanted, it would also save this low resolution version to my other connected devices.
  3. When I opened my photo library on my device, I would instantly see the local, low resolution versions of my photos. I could scroll, swipe, and pinch to my heart’s desire without accessing the network.
  4. If I needed a higher resolution for printing and editing, it would then — and only then — pull down the larger image from the iCloud servers. Once I was done with it, it would save the edited version to iCloud and get the large image off my device.

If they set it up this way, photos would no longer clog up my hard drive, always be safely backed up, and completely accessible whenever I wanted. A dream come true.

As for the expense, Apple has already announced very reasonable new iCloud pricing; $50/year for 200GB is great. For comparison, Dropbox is $200/year for 200GB.

This is my hope for iCloud Photo Library. I have a feeling it’ll be a fraction of this at first, but over time grow into the service I’ve always wanted. Although this would obviously only work for people who have adopted the Apple ecosystem, I think it could be one of the most straightforward, turnkey solutions that could exist, and would be very appealing to Apple’s entire customer base.

View original post here: Apple Might Finally Solve Photo Storage Hell

Someone Made A TechCrunch Parody Site And It’s Hilarious

Something odd popped up in my Facebook Newsfeed over the weekend:

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 2.15.13 PM

Notice the link in this post says “” Someone went and launched an Onion-like imitation of our site., a clear parody to TechCrunch, claims in its WhoIs tagline to be, “Breaking technology news from verified sources.”

The site was registered just 10 days ago by someone who might live near the Lower Nob Hill portion of San Francisco. Just follow this link and you can get a contact for the person behind the site (we’ve reached out via email and are waiting to hear back to verify. Update: Verified).

There are just 5 articles up on the site so far, with silly titles like “Facebook Launches Hey, A Disruptive Simple App” and, “Popcorn Time Now Delivering Popcorn.” The style and content of the site are clearly poking fun at TechCrunch. The latest, that aforementioned “Hey” article, seems to be a jab at our “Yo” coverage storm this last week.

According to inner sources, Hey was designed and coded overnight by Mr. Zuckerberg himself. It’s dead simple: click on a friend’s name and he instantly receives a notification saying “Hey” from you. Hey. That’s all.

Trapcrunch even incorporates the same green and white colors and layout as us. Just look at the “T” and “C” in the TrapCrunch logo. It’s practically the same but with the colors reversed..

TechCrunch is pretty much synonymous with what people think of Silicon Valley and tech blogging. Even HBO’s Silicon Valley refers to us throughout the show. Producers replicated an entire conference in studio that made plenty of folks wonder if they’d actually filmed the show at Disrupt:hbo-silicon-valley-techcrunch-disrupt_large

This is not the first time we’ve seen copy cats to our site, of course. Some of you may recall a mirror spoof that fooled a lot of people into thinking Andreesen Horowitz bought Y Combinator a few months back.


We also have a TechCrunch Onion parody on Twitter.

However, TrapCrunch is the most elaborate form of imitation we’ve seen so far. Personally, I have to applaud their effort. Satire is not as easy as it seems and there are plenty of failed Onion-like imitations out there to prove it.

We could take this imitation as a blatant dig on what we do here. But you know what “they” say – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery you can get.

See the original post here: Someone Made A TechCrunch Parody Site And It’s Hilarious

The Ring Of Fire: Of Pirates, Popcorn Time And Dynamic Pricing

Editor’s note: Razmig Hovaghimian is co-founder and CEO of Viki, Inc., a global TV streaming site with crowdsourced subtitles. He’s also Global Head of Video for Rakuten and former SVP of NBC Universal’s international division. This article reflects his opinions and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of either Viki or Rakuten. 

At 36,007 feet up in the air, somewhere between Alaska and Russia, with the Aleutian Islands someplace below us, my child and I are sharing a blissful moment.

My one-year-old is sleeping peacefully and I finally have an opportunity to catch up on Game of Thrones. I’m four episodes behind, and I need to see what happened in that trial by combat. I would pay dearly for each episode during this rare window of time, high above the Aleutians, but that’s not even an option. It should be, though.

It’s high time to bridge the gap between the needs of passionate fans and business. It’s not a zero-sum problem, so:

Dear Studio Heads:

I know you’re not fans of disrupting your tried and tested distribution model: international geo-blocks and distribution holdback windows for releasing new TV shows and movies. I don’t blame you. After all, a whole industry was built on carefully parsing out content rights.

But technology and passionate fandom can be punishing, and it has led to an MPAA reported $20+ billion a year piracy problem for the top U.S. studios alone. Twenty-five percent of all Internet traffic now goes to piracy — 5X growth in the last five years — and that pace of growth is picking up fast.

You’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ad campaigns teasing out your latest releases, and you’ve left us fans needing our fix. Your stuff is good! But instead of embracing pirates as fans, some of you turn to intimidation, threats of 10 years in jail, crackdowns, raids, eclipse attacks, hijacking browsers of paying customers, and on and on. Fun stuff. Pretty much all of your content is available online within a five-minute search anyway. Before bringing out the big guns, why not at least give fans the option to pay? The idea is simple: Think Popcorn Time, with dynamic pricing.

What if we give fans a choice to access what they want, when, where, and how they want it, but pay what you want to charge them?

I won’t get into how Apple nailed it or the headway that many other startups in the space are making, but it’s clear by now that access means a drop in piracy, and net growth in sales. Let’s briefly look at the possible macro implications of working with fans.

An NBC Universal-funded study with NetNames discovered that 432 million people worldwide “explicitly sought” copyright infringing content online. This was in January 2013, when the Internet population was a third smaller than it is today. Adjust for Internet adoption and about 10 percent growth in piracy every year, and we could be looking at 750 million fans a month. This doesn’t include those who searched for illegal content but didn’t go through with it. 750 million. And growing. That’s a third of the global online population. You don’t even have to find them. They find you. That’s the beauty of treating “pirates” as fans: untapped and concentrated demand. Beautiful.

Now assume you convert 5 percent of them to pay users (some would argue that the number is closer to 50 percent). Besides the NBCU study, a great deal of data shows that pirates would consider paying if they had a reasonably priced option, Australia aside as of now—don’t ask. That’s 37.5 million people. We’re talking about the size of Netflix here. Now imagine if each of them generates a $5 ARPU (some can pay $1, and some $100) per month, and the revenues go into the billions. Even at 1 percent conversion, it’s huge. Geo-block and leave out the 15 percent of them that are in the U.S., and that’s still huge; and additive, where you don’t trade volume for margin.

From Pirates to Gladly Paying Fans

Popcorn Time is a manifestation of this massive demand, for what people really want. The platform is clean-cut, with one-click streaming of top shows. The kicker is that all the effort is crowdsourced for the fans, by the fans. You don’t have to search for torrent files or figure out how to play them anymore. It’s simpler than Netflix or HBO Go even. Pirates are even disrupting themselves.

Why not use a Popcorn Time-like technology and add dynamic pricing to create a market-clearing price for your content? At a product level, think of Popcorn Time, but with variable prices and holdback windows that you get to control. Fans just pay for what they want per video stream. No ads, no subscriptions, and you can block any country you want, especially where theatre chains and cable companies still take you hostage. As an out, you can also choose to leave out some of your flagship titles (or recent seasons) until the economics make sense.

If you want to be adventurous, you can even start with content that is already illegally available online and just gate it.

The idea is neither a first nor is it novel. It’s just the right time. Dynamic pricing isn’t that complex, either. Take a page out of the e-commerce playbook and adjust for dozens of variables, from content recency, to country of viewership, to competitor pricing, to social chatter, to the number of torrents seeded or leeched, to the quality of the original video file, among many others. You can also track search terms and adjust prices in anticipation, or even involve the search giants to seed pay users and give them a cut. Both sides would win. You’d need kick-ass data scientists, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you get a world-class team of volunteers lined up to work on it.

Would some fans pay $100 for a season of Game Of Thrones in a country where HBO is not available? Maybe. Would fans pay $50 for a simulcast of a new release if they’re in Asia? Likely. How about $10 for a six-month-old title still not on Netflix? Yeah, for sure. Or two dollars in India? Yes, if not more.

Here’s a fairly fresh example for just one show: BBC’s Happy Valley was the No. 1 global trending topic on Twitter recently, yet one couldn’t see it outside of the UK. Six million people watched it in a week. That’s 10 percent of the UK population. How would it have done had it been available with dynamic pricing, even after the UK broadcast ended, at $30 for the series of six episodes? Probably way more than they will make from the DVD (hint) sales that will be available this week.

Don’t Let Fear Be Your Zugzwang

In order for it to work, when and where you choose to make the content available, you have to go all in — with your latest and greatest shows, starting at the head of the curve. Make some of your long tail shows, which you’re not monetizing anyway, available for free even, so you can up-sell fans on your newer shows. When you fine-tune this model, no part of it would be net cannibalizing to your existing revenue base. Let technology help you reduce theft, reach new fans, and in the process, increase the size of the revenue pie for all involved in making your great content.

There are convenient reasons to say no, from the fear of setting a precedent of negotiating with pirates, to “breaking” what’s working, or creating price transparency. You may even view this as your Zugzwang (in chess terms, as I know you play the long game); you’d rather pass when it’s your turn, than make a move that would put you at a disadvantage. Coming from both the studio and technology sides, let alone as a fan, I worry that the only wrong move here is not moving at all. You are fighting your adoring fans, especially fans that on average pay far more for your content than any other group. You turn them off, and that could be catastrophic.

When we spoke about this in L.A. last month, Mr. Head of Antipiracy at “Studio X”, I felt we agreed, at least privately, that with calculated availability, not only can you eat into piracy, but also unlock significant revenues in the process. You know who you are.

Take the leap, man. Open this up. It may take just one “yes” to start. Okay, don’t open up U.S. rights, and don’t even shrink the international distribution windows for your core markets, but at least give us the rest of the world. I don’t even mind waiting weeks for what I love. Studios and fans *are* actually on the same side. We’ve discussed this for years, and I’ve seen your cards. It’s time. This “winter” is coming.

To the rest of us: keep embracing the madness and connecting the dots.

Signing out from the northernmost part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the Aleutians, Silicon Valley and Hollywood connect.

More here: The Ring Of Fire: Of Pirates, Popcorn Time And Dynamic Pricing

Welcome To Extremistan! Please Check Your Career At The Door.

Will robots and software eat all the jobs? No. Will robots and software eat your job? Yes, probably. Eventually. Rejoice! …for your grandchildren. You and your kids are likely to have a pretty tough time over the next few decades. Sorry about that.

Everybody who’s anybody is talking about technological unemployment, the notion that technology will soon destroy jobs faster than it creates them; a conversation kickstarted by MIT professors Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, authors of Race against the Machine and The Second Machine Age

Earlier this month, Marc Andreessen, who should need no introduction, weighed in with characteristic optimism:

We virtually never resist technology change that provides us with better products and services even when it costs jobs. Nor should we. This is how we build a better world, improve our quality of life, better provide for our kids, and solve fundamental problems … It is hard to believe that the result will not be a widespread global unleashing of creativity, productivity, and human potential … In arguing this with an economist friend, his response was, “But most people are like horses; they have only their manual labor to offer…” I don’t believe that, and I don’t want to live in a world in which that’s the case. I think people everywhere have far more potential.

Many others are far more pessimistic. One one flank, I give you this misanthropic Hacker News comment on Andreessen’s long-term utopian vision:

Look at the future this guy has concocted in his head: The main fields of human endeavor will be culture, arts, sciences, creativity, philosophy, experimentation, exploration, and adventure. …it’s like he’s never met anyone who didn’t attend a top tier university. Here’s reality: The main fields of human endeavor will be copulating, hustling, consuming low-brow entertainment, eating, and the occasional lunatic running amok.

On the other, Alex Payne responds:

You seem to think everyone’s worried about robots. But what everyone’s worried about is you, Marc. Not just you, but people like you … so much wealth and control in so few hands … Owning a smartphone is not the equivalent of owning a factory … It seemed like a lot of people were going to get rich in the “app economy”. Outside of Apple and Google, it turns out, not so much … Unless we collectively choose to pay for a safety net, technology alone isn’t going to make it happen … Instead, you’re kicking the can down the road and hoping the can will turn into a robot with a market solution.

Andreessen argues:

But it seems to me that there’s a (c): many people will contribute, but not benefit from those contributions, because tomorrow’s jobs will increasingly exist in Extremistan, not Mediocristan.

You won’t be familiar with those terms if you haven’t read Nassim Taleb’s brilliant The Black Swan, which you should. Here’s a primer. Briefly, for our purposes: the remuneration for Mediocristan activities is fixed by boundary constraints — the number of hours worked, the number of clients aided, the number of widgets manufactured, etc. By contrast, the remuneration for Extremistan activities — basketball player, musician, messaging-app co-founder — can scale to an arbitrary amount …

…but only for a tiny fraction of those engaged in the activity. Most would-be pro athletes never make it. Most artists never get to quit their day job. Most startups fail. Few people engaged in Extremistan activities ever become successful enough to start referring to what they’re doing as a job.

I submit that technology is slowly dragging us all, economically, away from Mediocristan and into Extremistan.

Consider college professors: Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, edX, etc, allow individual professors to teach hundreds of thousands of students, while legions of adjuncts live in poverty. Consider lawyers: it may be “more cost effective and accurate to utilize software tools to perform many types of legal work” — but the very best attorneys will remain incredibly valuable and expensive.

Consider even doctors: The New York Times warns: “Health care jobs may be safe now,but our sense of what’s safe has been consistently belied by the impact of our technological progress.” Valley legend Vinod Khosla has been arguing for years that expert systems can replace 80% of what doctors do … but at the same time, tech could greatly expand the remit of the best.

It’s not hard to imagine — whisper it — even software engineering moving into Extremistan. Already, everyone wants the so-called “A-players,” but has only lukewarm interest in second-tier software talent, much less the third tier. The best companies hire the best engineers, who, by definition, are a minority; the best engineers work at, or launch, the best companies; technology increasingly allows the best companies to dominate their markets like never before. Extrapolate that twenty years into the future, and what do you get?

This won’t happen to everyone everywhere, obviously — I’m talking about proportions, not the entire population — but I expect the shift will be significant enough to have enormous consequences. While technology will indeed, as Andreessen points out, create new professions and new fields of human endeavour, the fact that technology is an ever-more-powerful force multiplier implies that those fields will increasingly exist in Extremistan, and be partitioned according to power laws; a few will be enormously rewarded, while the majority scrap for crumbs.

I’ve been writing about technological unemployment for some years now, and whenever I do, commenters always chirp, “we just need everyone to become an entrepreneur!” But of course entrepreneurs have always lived in Extremistan … and most of them fail. Everyone who calls for a future of greater entrepreneurship is implicitly calling for us to move ever deeper into Extremistan.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It seems likely that, considered as a whole, Extremistan is far more creative and productive than Mediocristan. But while its economic pie may be much larger, it is also much more unequally distributed.

I’m not saying this will all happen tomorrow; there will be enormous hurdles en route. (Education, in particular, is as much about context as content, and MOOCs won’t succeed until they figure out a context in which their students thrive.) But it seems apparent to me that the long-term trend is away from Mediocristan and towards Extremistan; in other words, towards a few winners and many losers.

If so, then what will life be like for the losers — by which I mean, the majority? Adjunct professor might not a bad analogy. Poverty wages, supplemented by odd jobs in the TaskRabbit-esque gig economy, while you and the millions of others like you keep knocking on the doors of success, year after year, knowing all along that only a tiny percentage of you will ever be admitted. Or maybe even no wages at all, like artists or interns today.

Now: do I have any evidence that we’re heading this way? Er. Well. The trouble with speculating about the future in a time of rapid change is that the available evidence is almost by definition insufficient. I hasten to admit that I certainly could be wrong.

But there do seem to be a lot of people singing along in tune with this theory. Lawrence Summers, for instance, who writes:

Technology and globalization give greater scope to those with extraordinary entrepreneurial ability, luck, or managerial skill … Most obviously, the best athletes and entertainers benefit from a worldwide market for their celebrity. But something similar is true for those with extraordinary gifts of any kind. For example, I suspect we will soon see the rise of educator superstars who command audiences of hundreds of thousands for their Internet courses and earn sums way above the traditional dreams of academics.

He doesn’t talk about what happens to the other educators. But Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff writes

Until now, our societies have proved remarkably adept at adjusting to disruptive technologies; but the pace of change in recent decades has caused tremendous strains, reflected in huge income disparities within countries, with near-record gaps between the wealthiest and the rest. Inequality can corrupt and paralyze a country’s political system – and economic growth along with it.

Will each future generation continue to enjoy a better quality of life than its immediate predecessor? In developing countries that have not yet reached the technological frontier, the answer is almost certainly yes. In advanced economies, though the answer should still be yes, the challenges are becoming formidable.

Jagdish Bhagwati at Columbia concurs: “technological innovation is driving wages down.” Paul Beaudry of UBC observes, “Many higher skilled workers have moved down the occupation ladder and accepted less challenging employment.”

Federal Reserve economists note the rise in “involuntary part-time employment” which “has led to a concern that there is an underbelly of labor market slack not well accounted for by the overall unemployment rate.” The pay gap between college graduates and non-graduates has increased … but mostly because “the average wage for everyone else has fallen 5 percent” over the last decade.

Meanwhile, “For the first time essentially ever, labor force participation & stock market have totally & wildly diverged.”

…All of which sounds like what we’d expect would happen during the beginnings of a general shift towards Extremistan. (Though of course this is hardly decisive proof.)

It’s obviously hard to tease out how much of this is driven by technology, vs. globalization and economic cycles — but last month I attended a dinner hosted by Silicon Valley VC kingpins Draper Fisher Jurvetson, whose partners all seemed awfully worried that tech is destroying jobs faster than people can be retrained. Vinod Khosla agrees: “Technology concentrates wealth in the hands of the creators of technology and the people who fund them … creates more wealth and jobs for a few and takes away jobs at the bottom end of the spectrum.”

My point: if I’m wrong, I’m certainly not alone.

So, if this is all true — what can most people do?

Erik Brynjolfsson cites three categories of jobs immune to robots and software, for the moment: “creative tasks and inventing new things – ideation, some people call it … [those] involving interpersonal relationships: motivating people, comforting people, caring for people … [and] fine motor control – the kinds of things that a barber or a gardener or a cook or a janitor does.” The first category is classic Extremistan, of course. The second and third are not … but they’re notoriously poorly paid, gig-economy type jobs. And, he helpfully notes, “you can imagine machines getting better and better in all three as well.”

The most pessimistic are arguing:

Unless we intervene, the same economic system that has produced this astonishing prosperity will return us to the Dickensian world of winners and losers that characterised the beginning of capitalism … Our birthright as humans – the ability to produce things by our labour that others find valuable – may become economically worthless … on the output side of our new robot economy, we will have material abundance undreamed of by earlier generations. But on the production side we will have an economy increasingly independent of human labour and so unwilling to pay for it. Hence the crisis … The material abundance being wrought by ever increasing automation makes the affordability and sustainability of a universal basic income more credible.

This is probably a good time to mention that I’m actually an optimist.

My own thesis has long been this: technology is eating jobs as we know them, and that’s good, because when you step back and look at them, jobs as we know them aren’t particularly desirable. We want to be on a slow trajectory towards the utopia Andreessen describes; a low-scarcity society where people mostly spend their time doing what they want to do, rather than “jobs,” which largely consist of people being paid just enough to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t1.

To get from here to there, obviously, we’ll have to shed a lot of jobs … so the devouring of jobs by technology is a good thing, an indicator that we’re on the right path.

Unfortunately, our economic and even, to some extent, our ethical systems are built around the assumption that most able-bodied people have jobs. Those systems aren’t going to change as fast as the economy itself. So the transition, for (probably) you and your kids, is going to be more than a little wrenching — by which I mean, a lot of people who didn’t expect it are going to watch their once-prosperous families sink into relative poverty. But, barring catastrophe, their kids ought to have it great. I hope that’s some consolation.

In the interim, what we need is

Indeed. But if more and more people become unemployed — by which I really mean, fighting to get by in Extremistan — then only one safety-net option will work: a universal basic income. Marc Andreessen is exactly right when he says technology can kindle the kind of economic growth we need; from my perspective, we need it to make a basic income a viable option. I just hope that happens before too many lives are ruined because our politics evolve orders of magnitude slower than our economies, much less our technologies.

1This isn’t true for everyone — many people, including me, actively enjoy what they do, and would continue doing it or something like it for free even if economic utopia descended tomorrow — but let’s not lose sight of the fact that it’s true for most people worldwide.

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