How Far to the Right Will Tech Tilt?


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

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It may be time to retire the oversimplified notion that the tech industry is inherently liberal, progressive, or pro-Democratic Party. As Thomas B. Edsall lays it out in The New York Times, the corporate political action committees (PACs) that funneled money from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon to congressional candidates gave more to Republicans than Democrats in 2016.

It could be that these companies see their interests better represented by tax-cutting Republicans, or it could be that these donations always end up favoring the incumbent party. What hasn’t changed is the sympathies of the employees at these and similar companies, whose donations heavily favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump last year.

Tech leaders and workers alike are generally in sync with Democrats on social issues but more hostile to unions and business regulation. As the unpredictable political realignments that the Trump presidency promises begin to kick in, watch closely for signs of a split between the top ranks of tech companies and the rank and file. Alignment between execs and workers has long been one of the industry’s strengths, and a divide there could spell trouble.

Integrity Makes Peter Thiel Yawn

As Trump’s most prominent supporter in Silicon Valley, Peter Thiel is now in a unique position to influence the incoming president and shape his tech policies. Maureen Dowd (The New York Times) sat down with him for an extended interview that provides an impressive, chilly portrait. Thiel comes off as somebody who hopped on the Trump train because he liked the idea of watching institutions get blown up and didn’t worry much about what might replace them. He’s candid about his contrarian reflexes: “Maybe I do always have this background program running where I’m trying to think of, ‘O.K., what’s the opposite of what you’re saying?’ and then I’ll try that.”

You can read that as a kind of intellectual agility. But it also looks like a species of unprincipled amorality. If Thiel has any ethical core or heart, it’s not on view here. In a line that won’t soon be forgotten, he dismisses the value of the Obama administration’s scandal-free record with a wave of his hand: “There’s a point where no corruption can be a bad thing. It can mean that things are too boring.”

What Ever Happened to BitTorent?

BitTorrent the protocol, a software tool that makes it easy to move and share large files across the internet, is alive and well. BitTorrent the company, a startup that has struggled for years to build a business around the technology, is another story: It has sputtered and floundered for more than a decade without ever finding a way to make money.

In Backchannel, Jessi Hempel details the latest twist in the BitTorrent saga, in which a pair of late-inning investors swooped in with promises to turn the company into a hot video distributor, spent a lot of cash, then exited, leaving things a shambles. Some companies win quick and others die fast, but BitTorrent has been trapped in an unhappy interdimensional void — it’s a “zombie startup.” Maybe the mistake lay in assuming that any software as clever and useful as BitTorrent simply had to be turned into a venture-backed company. As Hempel puts it, “Sometimes technologies are not products. And they’re not companies. They’re just damn good technologies.”

Startup Terms Sheets Could Lay Out Values, Too

Terms sheets are where investors and founders get down to brass tacks and define the essentials of the relationship whereby a chunk of investment cash will be used to start a new company. Traditionally, they’ve centered on matters of money and control. What if, asks James Joaquin (World Positive), you added a page to the term sheet that laid out the core values of the new company?

The idea is simple but powerful. It could head off disastrous misalignments between founders and their backers — and give both parties something to fall back on and refer to when the inevitable crises and tough calls arise. Joaquin offers a template to show what he’s talking about, but notes that every startup is unique and will have its own way of talking about these questions.

We Can Fix This F*cking Mess

We keep improving the tools by which we publish and distribute stuff online, but today it’s harder than ever to actually know anything about who is reading the articles you post, writes NewCo editor-in-chief John Battelle. Is advertising the problem? Yes, but: It’s still the only business model we know that’s ever been able to support thriving publications. What if we returned to some of the key principles that made the Web publishing scene a decade ago so vibrant — things like open links, trackbacks, meaningful analytics, and community-based comments? Wed that to solid ad revenue, and publishers might be back in business.

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