Tag Archives: Tech

Means Towards an End

Working in the tech space, I come across a lot of  ideas for using technology to solve issues which I feel overshoot and miss a point of the role of technology. Two examples off such which come to mind are proposals I have seen for using technology to solve housing shortages in some American cities and using technology to solve public sector corruption in some developing nations.

Tech startups and technology companies are no different from all businesses which have been formed in the past 2000 years. They all aim to serve some pressing consumer and social need and do this by figuring out how to use whatever resources are available at the time. Towards this end, understanding the target consumer market and bidding for the resources to create value for them is key .

Tech startups and technology companies are no different in this fundamental regard. Their success depends on their ability to identify a need, identify who their customers are and validate or invalidate all their assumptions,  and bid for and deploy societies scarce resources in meeting these needs.

But all that differs with tech startups and technology companies is the means used to meet these ends. In their case, they use cutting edge contemporary technology to meet such needs. The fact that they use advanced technology does not relieve them of the task of understanding who their customers are and figuring out how best to serve them.

Technology does not magically create market demand or conjur up consumers!

Statistically,  tech startup failure is in the 90% range. Yes, many of these ideas are more high risk than tested and known ideas and industries. Thus, a high level of failure is part of the game. But  a lot of this failure might have a lot to do with a lack of not appreciating that technology is only means towards and end.

An appreciation of this insight would help in reducing waste of resources which have alternative uses.  For example rather than investing millions of dollars into using technology to reduce housing shortages in some American cities, the solution could be as simply as repealing zoning and land use laws in some of those cities. And rather than doing the same to tackle chronic public sector corruption in developing nations, the solution could be as simple as massively reducing the size of the public sector.

The Twitter Character Limit Expansion

Today, Twitter announced that it would begin experimenting with increasing its character limit from the current limit of 140 to 280. The current 140 limit reflect the SMS roots of when Twitter was first launched over 10 years ago.

While this is a great move and one which I have wondered for a long time why Twitter had not done, a couple of things need to be considered.

The rationale for this move is that English language users need more characters to express themselves than users of language like Japanese. For example, 9% of English users hit the world limit and need to reorganize their train of thought while such only happens to 0.4% of Japanese users.

In a way, the word limit is what makes Twitter exciting and creates legendary back-and-forths; some which can get very nasty and mean at times. One has to wonder how relaxing such constraints would affect user creativity. As humans, for some reason when faced with constrains and pressure we tend to get creative and produce amazing results.

Most importantly, the financial position of Twitter has to be examined. Over the years, Twitter has taken in billions of dollars in venture capital but is yet to return any profit. Talk of how Twitter is unprofitable, always comes up in tech circles. With this new move, Twitter should consider how it can use this to change its financial state.

Over the years, I have wondered why Twitter does not offer two kinds of packages. The first package will be basic and comprise of everything people currently get on Twitter. The next package (or packages) will give users a greater word limit at a fee. In order to to drive people off with a fee (nothing drives people off faster than having to pay), Twitter could simply charge a flat fee of $5 a year. Assuming Twitter is able to capture a quarter of its 300 million user based, that $375 million per year in extra revenue.

Whatever the results of this new move, this move is probably going to change the direction of the company and could end up being a make a break decision.  But maybe, after all Jack Dorsey is simply setting a bait for everyone after which if this move proves to be wildly popular and one users cant do without, he will roll out some kind of fee for using more characters.