Willy’s Outsourcing Problem

So by now you’ve probably heard about the infamous Glasgow Willy Wonka ripoff event that was a dismal disaster. If somehow you remained ignorant, basically one guy generated a bunch of AI content (including a script), outsourced everything to various actors and suppliers, and it was a mess. Fyre Festival for kids, as someone put it.

As the internet united around watching and dissecting the disaster, what I found fascinating is how this happened. Not because I learned anything new, but because it seemed depressingly familiar. It was a tale of outsourcing, taken to an extreme.

Most of the news has focused on the creation of AI content by the mastermind (disastermind?) Billy Coulls. It was obviously AI generated, from creepy imagery to hilarious misspellings and nonsense words. How AI generation is just a form of automation, of basically outsourcing. It was merely the most extremely hilarious example of Coulls having anyone but him do work.

There were people hired to bring in props. People hired to act. It seems like every damn thing was outsourced and then everyone was just supposed to make it happen. Needless to say that didn’t go well, nothing happened, everything got ad libbed and there was no chocolate. Not sure how you ripoff Willy Wonka without chocolate, but there you go.

All outsourced. There was no there there, just a bunch of AI art and some guy saying “good luck” before families paid tickets for this fiasco.

This may seem extreme, but outsourcing happens all the time. If you analyze and business or product you’ll likely find some outsourcing, because sometimes you save time and money with specialists. You’ll also find outsourcing backfiring as well, with poor service, lousy computer code, or questionable media design.

If you’ve ever tried to figure out who is responsible for something and had to drill through various organizations to get an answer or a refund? You get the idea. Outsourcing isn’t an evil thing at all, but too often its used to dodge responsibility, screw employees, and not actually do anything.

At the extreme, you end up with an event that isn’t about anything, is all fake, and ultimately is a disaster. Plus it’s hard to hold someone responsible – a little more coverage and forethought and we might haven’t discovered who did the Faux-Wonka fast enough for it to hit the news cycle.

There is nothing unusual about what we saw in Glasgow, it was just incredibly obvious. Many of us have been there before. Maybe we need to ask how much of our world is outsourced, and how much of that plays into the problems we face each day.

Outsourcing isn’t bad at all – I’ve been on both sides of it. But it can be misused.

Steven Savage

The Money In Cleanup

I have an acquaintance that helps migrate businesses off of ancient and inappropriate databases onto more recent ones. If you wonder how ancient and inappropriate let me simply state “not meant for industry” and “first created when One Piece the anime started airing” and you can guess. Now and then he literally goes and cleans up questionable and persisting bad choices.

In the recent unending and omnipresent discussions of AI, I saw a similar proposal. A person rather cynical about AI mused someone might make a living in the next few years backing a company’s tech and processes OUT of AI. Such things might seem ridiculous, until you consider my aforementioned acquaintance and the fact he gets paid to help people back out past decisions. Think of it as “migration from a place you shouldn’t have migrated to.”

It’s weird to think in technology, which always seems (regrettably) to be about forward motion and moving forward that there’s money in reversing decisions. Maybe it was the latest thing and now it’s not, or maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time (it wasn’t), but now you need someone to help you get out of your choice. Fortunately there are people who have turned “I told you so” into a service.

I find these “back out businesses” to be a good and needed reminder that technology is really not about forward. Yeah, the marketing guys and investors may want it, but as anyone who’s spent time in the industry knows, it’s not the case. Technology is a tool, and if the tool doesn’t work or is a bad choice, you want out of it. The latest, newest, fasted is not always the best – and may not be the best years later. Technology is not always about forward, even if someone tells you it is (before they sell you yet another new gizmo).

Considering the many, many changes in the world of tech, from social media to search to privacy, I wonder how much more “back out businesses” might evolve. Will there be coaches to get you to move to federated social media? How can you help a company get out of a bad relationship with a service vendor with leaky security and questionable choices? For that matter can we maybe take a look at better hosting arrangements and websites that aren’t ten frameworks in a trenchcoat?

I don’t know, and the world is in a terribly unpredictable state. But I’m amused to think that somewhere in my lifetime the big tech boom might be “oops, sorry.” Maybe we can say “moving away is really moving forward,” get some TED talks, and make not making bad immediate choices cool.

Steven Savage

Hidden Dependencies

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As we slog through the pandemic in America, as I see things change, it makes me realize the hidden dependencies in the economy.

Let’s talk commutes.

Sure, we supposedly hate commutes. An hour this way, an hour that, catching trains, and so on isn’t fun. Sure we try to maximize our time while we read books or see friends after work, but it’s not enjoyable.

But as we work from home, we’re changing the economy. We also know that won’t be temporary for many of us as the benefits outweigh the costs, meaning these changes are permanent.

But what could go wrong? This is good right, where we can avoid using cars and timeshift, and so on? Sure it, is, but it’s going to have quite the impact.

I first became aware of how I didn’t see the impact of more work from home when someone joked about audiobooks. They wondered if there were less sales of them as people weren’t commuting as much. Sure it was funny . . . until you thought about it.

Then I had to wonder.

Next, I saw people in the Bay Area being worried about work from home becoming more permanent. Why, I wondered, would they worry about that? Wasn’t this better?

Then you realize how much of the economy relies on us to be going into work elsewhere than our homes. The people renting office space. The restaurants near our offices. All the services that are involved from construction to janitorial services.

How much of our economy depends on a commute?

Soon I was thinking about other things affected by commutes. Audo services and public transport. Taxis and office supply companies. So many businesses get money if not outright depend on commuters.

We’ve temporarily rearranged a surprising large chunk of the economy, which would be radical even without the Pandemic. But it happened, and it’s going to be for awhile, and for some of us it’s permanent. If we don’t want it to be more devastating than it is, we need to seriously assess business, cities, commutes, and more – as a country and as cities and as communities.

This was a humbling realization and one that I am still processing. This change, this shift, was right under my nose and I missed it. For all of us trying to figure careers and economics and the like it’s important to remember the filters we have in place.

What else are we missing?

Steven Savage