All posts in “Policy”

Working backwards to uncover key success factors

If you’re a SaaS business — you’re likely overwhelmed with data and an ever-growing list of acronyms that purport to unlock secret keys to your success. But like most things — tracking with you do has very little impact on what you actually do.

It’s really important to find one, or a very small number, of key indicators to track and then base your activities against those. It’s arguable that SaaS businesses are becoming TOO data driven — at the expense of focussing on the core business and the reason they exist.

In this article, we’ll look at focusing on metrics that matter, metrics that help form activities, not just measure them in retrospect.

Most of the metrics we track, such as revenue growth, are lagging indicators. But growth is a result, not an activity you can drive. Just saying you want to grow an extra 10% doesn’t mean anything towards actually achieving it.

Since growth funnels are generally looked at from top to bottom, and in a historical context — a good exercise can be the other way around — go bottom-up, starting with the end result (the growth goal) and figure out what each stage needs to contribute to achieve it.

You can do this by looking at leading indicators. These are metrics that you can influence — and that as you act, and see them increase or decrease, you can be relatively certain of the knock-on effects on the rest of the business. For example — if you run a project management product, the number of tasks created is likely to be a good leading indicator for the growth of the business — more tasks created on the platform equals more revenue.

TikTok downloads banned on iOS and Android in India over porn and other illegal content

TikTok, the user-generated video sharing app from Chinese publisher Bytedance that has been a global runaway success, has stumbled hard in one of the world’s biggest mobile markets, India, over illicit content in its app.

Today, the country’s main digital communications regulator, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ordered both Apple and Google to remove the app from its app stores, per a request from High Court in Madras after the latter investigated and determined that the app — which has hundreds of millions of users, including minors — was encouraging pornography and other illicit content.

This is the second time in two months that TikTok’s content has been dinged by regulators, after the app was fined $5.7 million by the FTC in the US over violating child protection policies.

The order in India does not impact the 120 million users in the country who already have the app downloaded, or those on Android who might download it from a source outside of Google’s official Android store. But it’s a strong strike against TikTok that will impede its growth, harm its reputation, and potentially pave the way for further sanctions or fines against the app in India (and elsewhere taking India’s lead).

TikTok has issued no less than three different statements — each subsequently less aggressive — as it scrambles to respond to the order.

“We welcome the decision of the Madras High Court to appoint Arvind Datar as Amicus Curae (independent counsel) to the court,” the statement from TikTok reads. “We have faith in the Indian judicial system and we are optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by over 120 million monthly active users in India, who continue using TikTok to showcase their creativity and capture moments that matter in their everyday lives.”

(A previous version of the statement from TikTok was less ‘welcoming’ of the decision and instead highlighted how TikTok was making increased efforts to police its content without outside involvement. It noted that it had removed more than 6 million videos that violated its terms of use and community guidelines, following a review of content generated by users in India. That alone speaks to the actual size of the problem.)

On top of prohibiting downloads, the High Court also directed the regulator to bar media companies from broadcasting any videos — illicit or otherwise — made with or posted on TikTok. Bytedance has been working to try to appeal the orders, but the Supreme Court, where the appeal was heard, upheld it.

This is not the first time that TikTok has faced government backlash over the content that it hosts on its platform. In the US, two months ago, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that the app violated children’s privacy laws and fined it $5.7 million, and through a forced app updated, required all users to verify that they were over 13, or otherwise be redirected to a more restricted experience. Musically, TikTok’s predecessor, had also faced similar regulatory violations.

More generally the problems that TikTok is facing right now are not unfamiliar ones. Social media apps, relying on user-generated content as both the engine of their growth and the fuel for that engine, have long been problematic when it comes to illicit content. The companies that create and run these apps have argued that they are not responsible for what people produce on the platform, as long as it fits within its terms of use, but that has left a large gap where content is not policed as well as it should be. On the other hand, as these platforms rely on growth and scale for their business models, some have argued that this has made them less inclined to proactively police their platforms to bar the illicit content in the first place.

Additional reporting Rita Liao

Journalist Carole Cadwalladr says ‘the gods of Silicon Valley’ have broken democracy

On the same day that she became a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her work bringing the Cambridge Analytica scandal to light, journalist Carole Cadwalladr took the stage at TED to “address you directly, the gods of Silicon Valley.”

Cadwalladr began her talk by recounting a trip she took after the Brexit referendum, back to her hometown in South Wales.

She recalled feeling “a weird sense of unreality” walking around a town filled with new infrastructure funded by the European Union, while being told by residents that the EU had done nothing for them. Similarly, she said they told her about the dangers of immigration, even though they lived in a town with “one of the lowest rates of immigration in the country.”

Cadwalladr said she began to understand where those sentiments were coming from after her story ran, and someone contacted her about scary, misleading ads about Turkey and Turkish immigration that they’d seen on Facebook . Cadwalladr, however, couldn’t see those ads, because she wasn’t targeted, and Facebook offered no general archive of all ads that had run on the platform.

Eventually, the pro-Brexit campaign was found guilty of breaking British election laws by breaching campaign spending limits to fund ads on Facebook. And Facebook subsequently began building that archive of ads.

Meanwhile, Cadwalladr said her interest in these issues led her to Christopher Wylie, whose whistleblowing about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook user data helped prompt broader scrutiny of the social network’s privacy practices.

Cadwalladr described Wylie as “extraordinarily brave,” particularly since Cambridge Analytica repeatedly threatened them with legal action. The final threat, she said, came a day before publication, and it came from Facebook itself.

“It said that if we published, they would sue us,” Cadwalladr said. “We did it anyway. Facebook, you were on the wrong side of history on that, and you are in the wrong side of history in this.”

The “this” in question is what she characterized as a failure by the social media platforms to fully reckon with the extent to which they’ve become tools for the spread of lies and misinformation. For example, she pointed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal thus far to appear before parliaments around the world that have asked him to testify.

Calling out executives like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Alphabet/Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey (who’s scheduled to take the stage tomorrow morning), Cadwalladr insisted that the stakes could not be higher.

“This technology you have invented has been amazing, but now it’s a crime scene, and you have the evidence,” she said. “It is not enough to say that you will do better in the future, because to have any hope of stopping this from happening again, we have to know the past.”

She went on to declare that the Brexit vote demonstrates that “liberal democracy is broken.”

“This is not democracy,” Cadwalladr said. “Spreading lies in darkness, paid for with illegal cash from God knows where — it’s subversion, and you are accessories to it.”

And for those of us who don’t run giant technology platforms, she added, “My question to everybody else is: Is this what we want? To let them get away with it, and to sit back and play with our phones as this darkness falls?”

7 steps to building an engineering competency matrix

Every engineer deserves a clear growth path so they can understand, plan, and execute on meaningful career growth. Providing a framework for this growth (we call ours a competency matrix; it’s also known as a career ladder, or professional development ladder) is important work, and the responsibility of any organization that wants to nurture and grow its employees.

Back at the beginning of 2018, we had 32 developers and a plan to double throughout the year, we already had a competency matrix, but it was woefully outdated. It focused on our more junior levels, maxing out at a level which some developers had already reached. It was also misaligned with the skills our organization had grown to value, which meant in practice, we often ignored it. It was time for a re-design.

Building a new competency matrix was a learning process, and a lengthy one, taking about eight months to complete. Along the way we discovered things we valued, as well as what the keys steps to building a career ladder are (and which ones are wasteful). While every matrix is different, and will reflect the values of the organization that wrote it, the process of producing a succinct career ladder to guide your team is consistent.

When we published our new Engineering competency matrix in December, we received many emails from teams saying they were working on similar systems. Because of this feedback, I want to share the steps we went through, and the lessons we learned, to help teams reach a productive conclusion with much less waste, and in much shorter time, than trying to figure it out from scratch.

If you want to provide your employees and reports with a clear, agreed-upon, and well-defined path for growth within your organization, then this is for you.

Image via CircleCI

Step 1: Make this someone’s top priority

In retrospect, this was the biggest factor in our lengthy redesign process. I had initially taken on this project as one of my many side projects. The only time I had to dedicate to the matrix were early mornings, late nights, and weekends. This was a passion project for me, and I loved working on it, but I was not able to give it the care it needed.

Trump, FCC unveil plan to accelerate 5G rollout

In a press conference today in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, the President laid out a number of initiatives focused on helping accelerate the U.S. role in the 5G race.

“This is, to me, the future,” Trump said, opening the press conference flanked by Ajit Pai, Ivanka Trump and a room full of communications representatives in cowboy and hard hats.

“It’s all about 5G now,” Trump told the audience. “We were 4G and everyone was saying we had to get 4G, and then they said before that, ‘we have to get 3G,’ and now we have to get 5G. And 5G’s a big deal and that’s going to be there for a while. And at some point we’ll be talking about number six.”

The apparently off script moment echoed Trump’s recent call on Twitter for the U.S. to get 6G technology “as soon as possible.” There’s something to said for the spirit, perhaps, but it’s probably a little soon to be jumping the gun on a technology that doesn’t really exist just yet.

Trump used the opportunity to downplay earlier rumors that the government might be building its own 5G network, instead promoting a free market method, while taking a shot at the government’s capabilities. “In the United States, our approach is private sector driven and private sector led,” he added. “The government doesn’t have to spend lots of money.”

In recent months, however, both the administration and the FCC have been discussing ways to make America more competitive in the race to the soon-to-be-ubiquitous cellular technology. Earlier today, the FCC announced plans to hold the largest spectrum auction in U.S. history, offering the bands up to wireless carriers. The planned auction is set to kick off on December 10.

“To accelerate and incentivize these investments, my administration is freeing up as much wireless spectrum as needed,” Trump added, echoing Pai’s plans.

Earlier today Pai and the FCC also proposed a $20.4 billion fund design to help connect rural areas. The Chairman said the commission believes the fund could connect as many as four million small businesses and residences over the course of the next decade.

The focus is understandable, of course. 5G’s value will go far beyond faster smartphone, providing connections for a wide range of IoT and smart technologies and potentially helping powering things like robotics and autonomous vehicles. The technology will undeniably be a key economic driver, touching as of yet unseen portions of the U.S. workforce.