Dustin Curtis

Designer, hacker, investor, nomad. Never satisfied. Deeply flawed.

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Most revolutionary new technologies follow a similar evolutionary path from utility to fashion.

When the automobile was first mass produced in the early 1900s, it was practically impossible to use and literally impossible for most people to purchase. It was horribly underpowered by any comparative standard except the horse. For the first thirty years or so, the car slowly improved in style, power, and comfort. Each new model was principally defined by its technological improvement–slightly better performance, more comfortable interior, or lower cost. By 1935, the car was more or less feature-complete. By then, the entire Oldsmobile line had electric starters, comfortable transmissions, and a well-sealed passenger cabin.

It was in the mid 1940s that something remarkable happened: buyers of cars transitioned from focusing on features–like horsepower and suspension design–to exterior...

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Nick Denton’s Crisis Letter to Gawker

Nick Denton runs Gawker Media, one of the last bastions of truly independent online media in the world. And despite healthy traffic growth during the past year, Denton thinks 2014 was a year of vague regression for Gawker: not true growth, but rather a slow devolution of voice and rigor. Denton wants to see Gawker as the leader of truth and honesty in online media, but his competition is Top Ten Nip Slips from Buzzfeed. When your product is ostensibly intellectual, how do you compete with hits of cocaine? Gawker finds itself today in a tough place, where the challenges are new and unusual.

The letter below, which Denton sent to all Gawker Media employees today, faintly reminds me of the ones sent by Jeff Katzenberg to Disney in 1991 and John Walker to Autodesk in 1983. Every once in a while, you have shake things up. And the announcement has to be as inspiring as the shakeup itself. I...

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Amazon’s Echo Chamber

I used to give Amazon’s consumer hardware strategy the benefit of the doubt. I liked the original e-ink Kindles, even though they were made out of cheap plastic. I kind of understood the first Kindle Fire tablet, even though it was a piece of junk. But as Amazon has released more and more pieces of junk over the past couple of years, I’ve lost faith. The Fire Phone, for example, is not just bad; it’s so terrible that it’s dishonest of Amazon to sell it to anyone. There are zero people on Earth who would be better off owning a Fire Phone instead of an Android phone. I’m not exaggerating–go find one to play with, and you’ll understand. The hardware is abysmal and the software is embarrassing. You would have to be delusional as a manager to launch it and tell people that it is a well-made phone. What does that say about Amazon’s consumer-side brand and strategy?

It’s extremely hard for me...

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Privacy vs. User Experience

Apple is going to realize very soon that it has made a grave mistake by positioning itself as a bastion of privacy against Google, the evil invader of everyone’s secrets. The truth is that collecting information about people allows you to make significantly better products, and the more information you collect, the better products you can build. Apple can barely sync iMessage across devices because it uses an encryption system that prevents it from being able to read the actual messages. Google knows where I am right now, where I need to be for my meeting in an hour, what the traffic is like, and whether I usually take public transportation, a taxi, or drive myself. Using that information, it can tell me exactly when to leave. This isn’t science fiction; it’s actually happening. And Apple’s hardline stance on privacy is going to leave it in Google’s dust.

In a recent public letter about...

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Voice interfaces

Current voice interfaces are horrible. They try to imitate intelligence and fail so badly that they make computers even more frustrating to use. Most people have no idea how to use things like Siri. They ask it perfectly reasonable questions like, “Who invented the lightbulb?” and it responds with junk from Google. The answer to that particular question is not straightforward–at least three people, independently, invented different types of light bulbs–and computers are really bad at deciphering and communicating absolute answers from complex information like that. Because they are still so frustratingly limited, Siri and Google Now are simply not yet ready to exist. They are not artificially intelligent by any stretch of the imagination.

That being said, current voice recognition technology is incredibly good at certain things. It’s great at detecting and transcribing words, listening...

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Just move fast

In an interview today with Wired that briefly discussed Facebook’s increasing focus on platform stability, Mark Zuckerberg announced a dramatic change to Facebook’s internal motto:

We’ve changed our internal motto from “Move fast and break things” to “Move fast with stable infrastructure.”

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Replacing the PC

When I first saw the iPad, I knew it was going to replace the personal computer for the vast majority of people. I was wrong. Yes, the iPad is easier, faster, and cheaper at doing pretty much everything a normal person wants to do on a computer. Yes, PCs are definitely going to die. And yes, by looking at most sales numbers, it appears that the transition has already started. But if you pick apart the data, a very different picture begins to emerge: The iPad is a false start; it’s a temporary sidestep on the way to a future in which everyone’s computer is simply their mobile phone.

The first piece of statistical evidence that caught my attention was this weird fact from a Pew Research study of tablet user demographics: the people who use tablets tend to be older.

16% 1 Very young people with tablets (15-20)

18% 1 Young people with tablets (20-29)

25% 2 Older people with tablets...

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The things we admire

It has always seemed strange to me that the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honestly, understanding, and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism, and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.

Cannery Row

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Whatever goes up, that’s what we do

A year ago, Facebook announced a new News Feed that was completely redesigned to focus on content–it had large photos, big user icons, better integration with Facebook messenger, and it brought Facebook’s website into closer alignment with its mobile apps. It was beautiful. During the few months I was able to use the new design, my Facebook experience was significantly better. Here’s what it looked like:


But there was a serious problem: the numbers. According to several people I’ve spoken to, Facebook found during testing that users who were switched to the new News Feed tended to spend less time on the site. Specifically, they spent less time browsing areas outside of the News Feed, like their friends’ profiles and event pages, which are currently some of the most visited parts of Facebook.

After an investigation into the problem by Facebook’s data team, they discovered that the new...

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Startup advice and the clarity of experience

Recently, I watched a few experienced people get up in front of an audience and talk about lessons they’ve learned building companies, investing in companies, buying companies, selling companies, and making products. About five years ago, I watched a similar group of people give the same kinds of talks, on a similar looking stage, with a similar audience. The difference is that, years later, my interpretation of the content has completely changed.

The first few times I went to startup conferences, I thought everything seemed so obvious. Listen to your users, they said. Never settle on hiring, they said. Focus on unrelenting growth, they said. Startup advice seemed so vague. But those things I remember were the wrong things to focus on. The bit of experience I now have has given me the ability to see between the lines of stereotypical advice, and to better interpret lessons that on the...

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