peteg's blog

Antonio García Martínez: Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. This is a pair of stories about Silicon Valley, 2008 to 2012 or so. The first is about bootstrapping a startup, and is quite amusing. The second is about doing time at Facebook, the wrong way, and is more tedious.

The author has a lot of form for trolling the Silicon Valley true believers, or perhaps wannabes, but is very careful not to shit in the Y-Combinator/Paul Graham bed that enables the events he recounts here. He is widely read but considers himself uncultured. The Biblical epigraphs are wearing. The fog of war encloses everything. Developing successful projects sounds just like academic research.

At the centre of the author's concerns (but do remember he's a troll) is the question of values. He tries to present himself as greedy, but somewhat fails at it; when it comes to it he's selfishly hedonistic and the cash only motivates him so far. Is greed enough to contemplate, then endure, the activities required to save the huge sums that give your children access to the upper classes of the U.S.? (Perhaps I am being naive in believing that this is where his cash is headed; at least he realises he'd make a poor father.) He's right to be scornful of the people who aren't chasing real wealth but merely the reflected glory of working at Facebook (etc) and basking in the exclusiveness. But we're all young once. I also don't doubt that those further up the pole do truly know the score about the present-day extreme inequality, whatever the manners around it; though perhaps they're more content to leave the messy bits to an ineffectual and underfunded government than those further down the food chain are.

I didn't learn as much about the internet ad market as I feel I should have. He does a good job of explaining the difference between Google and Facebook on that front: Google knows you want to buy stuff, so its ads are more like shopfront bling, whereas Facebook is guessing, and is therefore more like a billboard. Amazon never seems to do a good job at proposing stuff I really want to buy, and I don't know why. Beyond that, I have no clear idea what information Facebook and their partners might mutually leak on an ad exchange, and how valuable it might be. Al Roth he is not.

There are some cutting observations here, but nothing spectacularly original. Capitalism desacralises everything; well, not really, it venerates mammon and power, which he applies to a defence of Zuck's genius. Annoyingly he takes it for granted that Facebook is somehow necessary, that it provides some essential value, which I think stands in need of argument. Overall the analysis is far blunter than Kobek's. He claims that the best deals are those that leave both parties feeling slightly screwed, which is at direct odds with that Right Coast bit of technology, the adjusted winner procedure. Overall his commentary sounds good but is really inessential, which is roughly the pond he's been swimming in all these years.

Athan's review at Amazon sold it to me. I think I originally passed on it after the Hacker News coverage of the New York Times review by Jonathon A. Knee. David Streitfeld, also at the New York Times. Martínez on Facebook shutting down his baby. Jacob Weisberg.