About Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.


Latest Posts by Tom Foremski

Original & Unique Ideas Come From Original & Unique Experiences…

July 17, 2014 by  

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I’m adamant that San Francisco shouldn’t be allowed to be made into a bedroom community for Silicon Valley’s business parks. Original ideas require original experiences and companies should take advantage of that and not force their staff onto a bus and ship them to a central holding facility for the day.

San Francisco offers a treasure trove of original experiences. Silicon Valley staff should be told to stay off the bus, telecommute, and get out and about. It’ll generate new experiences and possibly new ideas. The same experience every day, waiting for your cubicle to pick you up, won’t generate anything new.

Why do we have hundreds of To-Do list apps, Email managers, calendars, get-food-delivered apps…? There’s a cornucopia of mundane and me-too apps. Original ideas come from original experiences. Watching the world on Youtube or from a bus window doesn’t work. You have to be in it which is a good thing.

By staying off the bus the tech workers become integrated into their neighborhoods. If they stay off the bus their neighbors might even get to know them.

City or Company Culture?

Inclusion works better for communities than division. The techn workers might even notice some city problems and come up with an app for that.

Separation works better for establishing company culture and that’s why Google and the others do it. It never used to be cool to be seen as a “company man” or woman. Eating at the company store and hanging with the company all day, and only using company services. That’s a cultural win for Google et al, because that was not considered remotely cool for many decades.

Can the needs of corporate culture trump community culture? Maybe, but in the long term community needs will always win out over the demands of company culture and that’s what city officials will ultimately choose. Because company culture is in its very nature and reason for existence, divisive and not inclusive. That’s not a good thing especially for a city, where every kind of people have to live together and learn how to sort out problems together.

[London is an excellent example of how the culture has managed to teach people from so many countries, how to peacefully live together, marry together, and create a future together. The UK media deserves much of the credit.]

Please see:

San Francisco’s Incredible History Of Media Innovation -SVW

San Francisco’s Culture War With Silicon Valley’s Cubicle Culture -SVW

San Francisco: An Epicenter Of Creativity -SVW

Here is a needlessly long post by Bryan Boyer. I love the sub-head [The big innovations of Silicon Valley are not technical but social]. This bit at the end echoes my views about San Francisco.

Re-engaging with the public realm is the most fundamental tool that companies (and groups of companies) have to connect with the public, to understand needs more holistically, and to convert that understanding into longterm public and private value.

…Seclusion may make it easier to develop technology, but it’s a barrier to deeper innovations in how we live together as a society. Pop the bubble, come out of that garage…

 

 

100 Ceramic ‘Archivists’ are Celebrated in San Francisco

June 12, 2014 by  

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The Internet Archive is housed in a wonderful San Francisco building that used to be a Christian Science church. In the pews along both sides of the large, skylight-lit auditorium, there is always a congregation: half-sized ceramic figures representing 100 ”archivists” — people that contributed at least three years of service to the non-profit organization.

A recent reception honored Nuala Creed (above), the California artist, who created the figures over a five-year period. They were commissioned by Brewster Kahle (above), founder of the Internet Archive, following a visit to China and seeing the famous terra cotta warriors.

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The 100th ceramic figure is that of Aaron Swartz (above), a brilliant young software engineer, co-founder of Reddit,  and political activist, who took his own life last year following prosecution by the US government. It stands in the front pew next to the figure of Brewster Kahle.

The text on the computer screen reads:

Be curious. Read widely. Try more things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.

Aaron Swartz 1986 – 2013

- – -

Please see:

To Those That Would Martyr Aaron Swartz: Where Were The Activists When He Needed Them? -SVW

Aaron Swartz Memorial in SF – Our First Digital Liberties Martyr? -SVW

 

Founded in 1996, the Internet Archive has an historical web collection (the Wayback Machine) of over 150 billion web pages, about 240,000 movies, over 500,000 audioitems (including over 70,000 live concerts), over 1,800,000 texts, 1600 education items, and over 30,000 software items.

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Non-ceramic audience (above).

The Internet Archive is housed in a wonderful San Francisco building that used to be a Christian Science church. In the pews along both sides of the large, skylight-lit auditorium, there is always a congregation: half-sized ceramic figures representing 100 ”archivists” — people that contributed at least three years of service to the non-profit organization.

Gray Area Arts Link the Tech & Art Worlds Together

June 3, 2014 by  

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I happen to be a fan of and support the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts (GAFFTA) and its projects, which generally try to link the art and tech worlds of San Francisco, along  with an awareness of the challenges facing urban residents of all incomes and backgrounds.  GAFFTA has found a new home (2665 Mission Street, above) after several exhausting short-term moves. Co-founder Peter Hirschberg announced on Facebook:

This Saturday night: come party at Gray Area’s new home in San Francisco. The former Grand Theater, a fabulous 1940s movie house in the Mission, is being reborn as the Gray Area Art and Technology Theater.

We’ll share our plans for the future, and immerse ourselves in DJ sets and generative art.Our new Art and Technology Theater is 10,000 square feet of possibilities. There will be classrooms to learn, a cinema to experience and share, a large open space to meet and collaborate, desks and studios to move forward.

As an organization that was almost priced out of San Francisco, we are passionate about bringing this historic cinema back to the artistic community at a critical time in the city’s history.

Tickets and details here: https://grandpre.splashthat.com

The May 31 benefit dinner is $250 but the after party at 9.30pm is a sliding scale from $10 to $30 and features international artists and DJs.

One of the projects GAFFTA will be installing is a $100,000 experimental 3-D sound theater designed by Naut Humon, a legendary sound artist and founder of San Francisco’s Recombinant Media Labs. I met Naut Humon recently (below, right) and he showed me a version of his experimental sound theater, Cinechamber, which has been installed in Berlin, Moscow, and other places. I’m looking forward to experiencing it at GAFFTA.

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The Fading Social Fashion Of Google Glass

April 17, 2014 by  

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Sarah Slocum’s recent experience at Molotov’s, a lower Haight Street bar where an irate drinker snatched her Google Glass off her face, did a lot to boost her popularity as TV and newspapers covered the incident. But the association with someone who called the incident a hate crime,  has not been good for Google Glass.

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A bouncer outside Molotov’s

Several prominent Google Glass enthusiasts I know have started to leave their digital goggles at home, and I’ve heard others are doing the same. They don’t want to be associated with Slocum even though they like the wearable technology.

It’s not just the Slocum effect: there’s a sense of manners related to the use of any camera in public that requires people to ask permission.

You can generally see if someone is pointing their phone at you yet it’s difficult to tell if a Google Glass wearer is taking photos, or shooting video. This is especially true in the latest version of Google Glass where the bright tiny screen is now very visible to outsiders and is clearly on even though it might not be recording.

This makes it creepy to talk with wearers and their owners are noticing this and are becoming self-conscious. It has become very gauche to wear Google Glass in social contexts and people are leaving them at home.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm for wearable technologies these days. It’s worth noting that anything wearable is a fashion item and subject to a fickle world of constantly changing styles. Fashion is a social phenomenon and when the masses decide something is not cool anymore there’s nothing much you can do about it.

Sarah Slocum: the infamous face of Google Glass – SFGate

Her assertion that she was the victim of a hate crime was ridiculed. And her past came to light, including a series of restraining orders filed against her – one for video-recording people through an open window of their home.

Critics have said Slocum is not someone who deserves sympathy but is a pushy pioneer in the art of privacy invasion at a time of growing concern about public surveillance…

Slocum’s promotion of the exclusive Google Glass may have backfired… “Companies normally love early adopters of their products. They’re so passionate,” said David Mitroff, a marketing consultant and founder of Piedmont Avenue Consulting in Oakland. “The problem is that those people can go overboard…”

Is Technology Making Us All Autistic?

February 9, 2014 by  

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This ad for  Autism Speaks at a San Francisco bus stop reminded me of an excerpt from an article written by Curt Woodward, senior editor at  Xconomy, about the lack of eye-contact within Google’s top echelon:

During Schmidt’s decade as Google CEO, before co-founder Larry Page took the helm, there was a standing rule for one senior-executive meeting: No computers, no smartphones, and talk to each other face-to-face for one hour per week.

It was so hard to resist the pull of the Web, though, that Schmidt had to walk around the meeting room and look for people hiding their phones under the table, dispensing fines to the offenders.

“Even one hour per week, you couldn’t have a civilized conversation. So when Larry replaced me, he gave up. And now I sit in the meeting, typing away like everybody else, with no eye contact. So, if you like eye contact, I’m sorry–you lost,” he said to laughs.

Schmidt: Google Glass Critics “Afraid of Change,” Society Will Adapt | Xconomy

The lack of eye-contact is pervasive and extends well beyond the Google C-suite. It seems likely that our technologies are encouraging autistic types of behaviors.

We even see it in how tech companies try to use “Big Data” to understand social behavior by customers and communities when empathy is pretty much all you need. It provides insights that data analysis won’t reveal. Lack of empathy towards others is a sign of autism.

There are quite a few tech companies who sit at various points on the autistic spectrum. The disorder isn’t curable but it is treatable and companies with an autistic culture can still lead highly productive lives — they just need some help in playing well with others.

Treatment requires sometimes unplugging from our always-on, always-with-us technologies. Be Here Right Now will be a new mantra and the new manners.

It is derived from the 60s rejoinder but remade for our times, with an emphasis on “right now,” and it implies a real-time environment — a concept familiar to engineers.

We only  have ”now.” But our tech steals it from us constantly with shoals of glittery distractions. Sometimes the price is worth paying but other times our technologies get in the way of meaningful experiences.

There’s no such thing as augmented reality, as Google Glass is often described. There’s something in the way — it’s an occluded reality.

Be Here Right Now is scary and great. It’s a good kind of scary to switch off for a while. It’s great for startups because original ideas come from original experiences. Original experiences are those that are found as unfiltered, and untainted by other people’s opinions, curations, and as un-occluded as possible.

It’ll lead to original ideas — increasingly rare in Silicon Valley.

San Francisco’s Culture War With Corporate Life

February 2, 2014 by  

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The protests over the giant corporate buses that cruise menacingly around San Francisco’s streets is not really about the buses.

It’s a culture war: SF culture clashing with corporate culture.

The conformity of Silicon Valley’s corporate culture is polar opposite to the non-conformist traditions of San Francisco.

The corporate culture demands isolation in guarded enclaves.

The tech workers think it’s cool to be company men and women, to only use the company store, to eat company food, to only know each other.

- They think it’s cool to be picked up early morning and spend all day at work and get a ride home late evening.

- They think it’s cool that their employer mediate 90% of their experiences during their waking hours.

- They think it’s cool to live in San Francisco and be strangers in their own neighborhoods.

- The company cubicle is now a lot larger than it once was, it is campus-sized. And it picks you up in the morning.

Cubicle cults are not cool and SF locals will tell them so — if they know any.

- They’ll tell them that they are being manipulated by their employer; an employer that organized with other Silicon Valley employers (Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel, Adobe, Pixar) to keep their wages down, and feed them free food so that they think they are ahead. Not cool.

- Their employer likes community conflict over the buses and the vocal persecution of its workers because it reinforces an us-and-them division. Nothing builds a passionate culture faster than persecution. Christianity became unstoppable when it discovered the vitality of its martyrs.

- Being a company man or woman is not cool. They’ll tell them that conformity is a dull way to live a young life.

Conformity breeds contempt in San Francisco. And it does nothing to help stem the massive number of failures in Silicon Valley

Successful startups challenge the way things are. Breeding conformity into tech workers is a very bad strategy. (Maybe their employers are keeping themselves safe from being disrupted by their own workers?)

Google has said that telecommuting works and remote teams perform as well as those in the Googleplex. But if Google allowed telecommuting, its workers might start a Google-killer in their spare time, maybe with other company  telecommuters. Best to keep them isolated and strangers in their own neighborhoods.

Photo: Digitaltrends.com.

San Francisco’s Culture, A Far Cry From Silicon Valley’s Start-Up One!

February 1, 2014 by  

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San Francisco is different from Silicon Valley in very important ways: it has always produced great media content — and the city itself is great content —  starring in movies, photos, books, and songs. It inspires creativity.

Silicon Valley produces the tools that enable others to create but it itself is not an inspiring or creative place. Its architecture is plain; it’s workers dress plainly; and its ambitions are plain dull— to make lots of money.

Silicon Valley’s visionaries are unable to look beyond the tech specs of mass produced consumer goods; and 99% of its companies come and go, leaving no trace, no history.

It has been unable to produce any economist or philosopher to help it understand its place in the world, or understand the global social and political trends that surround it.

When the Arab Spring was in full flow Silicon Valley companies thought they were the revolutionaries, that tweets counted for more than feet on the streets; that a Facebook group is how political change is organized.

Wasted human capital…

Silicon Valley is a large business park attached to two excellent universities, funded by capitalists that live on one road, and who can’t beat the ten-year 8.5% average annual return of an S&P500 Index fund.

More than 90% of their investments fail and this is despite having access to the best educated workforce in the world.

The inability of Sand Hill Road’s VCs to pick and build world-class companies, in the best place on earth to build great companies, is tragic and it sets back the entire world.

Funds are easy

A billion dollar fund is easy to raise but it takes decades to raise tens of thousands of highly skilled engineers. It’s a senseless waste of scarce talent that VCs put them to work inside me-too startups, instead of working on things that matter.

The Internet of Things is aptly named — bland and uninspiring. Things are just things, the Internet of life is what matters.

Silicon Valley has a business park culture that is unsentimental and unaware of itself. San Francisco is fighting to preserve its culture from being sucked into its flat lands and indistinguishable streets.

The streets of San Francisco are dirty and steep but they reach for the sky and have touched and stirred the souls of billions of people.

It’s no wonder that its residents are fighting so hard to defend its unique nature.

It’s a wonder that Silicon Valley employers don’t understand the fuss over their buses, and why they can’t run their corporate culture into San Francisco. It’s an epic clash of cultures.

Sleepy…

It’s sad to see San Francisco gradually becoming a sleepy bedroom community to a business park.  It’s a city of restaurants that close at 10pm and clubs that turn down the music.

I’m hopeful that Silicon Valley companies will see the bugs floating in their Kool-Aid, that using the city as a hostel at night, while isolating their workers all day in campus enclaves, is a bad strategy. It makes them strangers in their own neighborhoods.

Far better to let their workers telecommute from local coffee shops and bars; it’s far better to let them stay close to home and get to know the people and history of this amazing city.

Original ideas come from original experiences. And San Francisco can provide a treasure trove of experiences for Silicon Valley to mine and monetize — instead of running it over with their buses.

Photo credit: NYTimes.com.

Library Of Alexandria 2.0 Asks For Help To Recover From Fire

November 18, 2013 by  

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The Internet Archive in San Francisco is asking for help in recovering from a two-alarm fire that caused more than $600,000 in damage.

The archive often compares its mission to that of the famous library of Alexandria, Egypt, destroyed by fire more than 2,000 years ago. It underscores that connection with banks of mirror servers located in Alexandria.

Sarah B. reporting for RichmondSFBlog:

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said the 7 to 10 office staff that worked in the building will temporarily relocate to their Richmond, CA facility. The damaged building was originally built in the 1940′s and used as a Christian Science reading room.

The former church next door, which also belongs to the Internet Archive, was not damaged in the fire.

Kahle was in remarkably good spirits when we spoke to him around 9am this morning, and was optimistic about their plans to rebuild the office. He said they mostly lost electronic equipment including cameras and scanners, and thankfully no cultural materials were destroyed in the fire. He said he was still waiting for word from the SFFD on what exactly caused the fire.

Part of Internet Archive building badly burned in early morning fire

The fire comes just two weeks after the Internet Archive announced a series of new initiatives, some were in response to NSA snooping.

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