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[flagged] A guide to the things Silicon Valley ‘invented’ that already existed (washingtonpost.com)
45 points by happy-go-lucky 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments

This so called "guide" only has four things on it?

There are so many examples of this. What about Lyft itself? Isn't that just a "taxi"? By the (low) standards of this article, sure. Obviously though, that characterization would miss something since the entire taxi industry has been upended by the ride-sharing companies.

I think what the author did was think of four companies that were obviously silly in her mind, and characterized them as not wholly original inventions. Which of course they aren't. The thing is, it's rare to find the company that is. Sure it's easy to make fun of Soylent (not saying they're bad or good--just easy to make fun of), but I'm surprised by the author's shortsightedness on something like Lyft Shuttle. I don't know a single person who's said, "Buses? They're great as they are. That's a solved problem."

Buses are amazing. I think the only innovative thing about Lyft Shuttle is that it avoids the class implications of taking a bus.

The only innovative thing? It also takes advantage of mobile phones to aggregate and coordinate passengers and drivers (much like regular Lyft), allowing smaller cars with more frequent service, and responding to demand. That's quite an innovation over a traditional bus.

presumably lyft shuttle could start running a route anywhere in the country tomorrow, given sufficient demand.

maybe other bus operators are better, but denver metro's RTD takes months to make minor route timing changes. i expect new routes take even longer.

I'm a huge fan of buses, and public transportation in general. I like riding buses and subways. I think it's semi-magical that you can get such a far distance on a fixed cost. But can they be improved? I would sure hope so.

I think you do have to be careful with excluding the poor from a new "invention" that is designed to make better the thing that a lot of poor people use. But I don't think poor people not using this initially is a good enough reason not to try.

> Soylent, What already existed: SlimFast

When you're talking about meal replacement the actual ingredients matter a lot. Slimfast has 4x the sugar of Soylent and only half the fat.

Consuming ~2000cal of Slimfast would mean ingesting 180g sugar! That can not serve as a replacement for 100% of your meals.

Then there's the issue of artificial sweeteners, missing nutrients in Slimfast, etc.

I went on a 100% Slimfast diet 5 years ago. After 3 days I wanted to die. I quit, I felt horrible, and I only lost about 2 pounds.

I went on a 100% Soylent died this year for 1 month. I honestly never felt better. I lost 8 pounds. It was difficult, mostly because I missed my usual McDonald's breakfast, but it was definitely sustainable permanently.

I do think Slimfast needs to try and buy Soylent or they will be gone in 15 years. They do have similarity, but to not respect the innovation of the Soylent Team is beyond fucked up.

This article belongs on Buzzfeed, not the Washington post.

Lost 30 pounds in 2 months on SlimFast 15 years ago and maintained my weight ever since without it. Love it!

Did anyone else expect the article to go into more detail? I had been expecting it to use examples and commentary to talk about how to identify reinvention in Silicon Valley.

> “When I hear about Soylent, it’s almost as though SlimFast never existed, like Soylent emerged from the ether. Because it’s made by and for men, now we call it tech.”

What the hell?


There are plenty of "tech" things that are male-centered. Specifically young, single, tech-industry male centered.

They're not the same thing by a long shot. Slimfast is essentially a weight loss oriented protein shake, it's got almost no fats or sugars. Slimfast themselves don't even recommend using it for every meal, or using it long term.

Soylent is an actual meal replacement. You can consume nothing but Soylent for as long as you want to. It's not geared towards weight loss, just as an alternative to food. It provides complete nutrition.

Also I can't find anything on the site today, nor can I remember any advertising in the past that would lead me to believe it's a gendered product. SlimFast aggressively advertises towards women, sure, but I fail to see how Soylent is geared towards men.

The concept of Soylent being used at every meals makes me think of enteral nutrition (Isosource or Osmolyte) given in hospital to sick individuals as a primary source of nutrition, usually through an NG or a PEG tube.

Soylent took this concept, took the NG/PEG tubes out of the equation and sold it to those who are alive and well.

The only innovation with Soylent is its triumph of marketing babble.

They have have taken what is possibly one of the least attractive products imaginable -- a product that is expensive, tastes awful and initially afflicts many people with diarrhea... and successfully marketed it.

As a partial counter-point, you should be aware that diarrhea is a very common symptom for the first several weeks when one changes their diet substantially. Drinking more water, eating foods that are easier to digest, ingesting more vegetables -- all these things trigger your body to flush itself.

For most people what looks to be a diarrhea in reality is a mildly violent reaction to the changes of your feeding habits and thus the changes in your metabolism. In rarer cases, I've known people consuming Herbalife who, even though they admit they feel MUCH better, occasionally puke -- that's the rarer form of the body flushing itself.

So this seeming diarrhea is very normal in the first phases of weight loss -- or even simply starting eating healthier and ingesting more water without aiming for a weight loss.

So? What does that have to do with Soylent? Their success could be a product of a better logo, better marketing team, pure dumb luck, or a million other things. To insinuate that they're only seen as revolutionary because a man invented it and prior products were made by or marketed toward women is ridiculous.

It's easy to see how someone might conclude Soylent is targeted toward ambitious males (especially in tech, especially single ones), at least from its initial marketing efforts as a meal replacement for career minded folks neck deep in tech. That's how I remember them anyway. It may have changed; I only follow the thing when stuff like this or their "move fast and ~make people sick~ try new recipes" schtick that turns out to be disastrous makes the news.

When you want to complain you completely ignore facts. Like the name of SlimFast. The name totally sounds like a meal replacement that is going to maintain weight.

There are other meal replacement drinks, but SlimFast is definitely not one of them. Just seems like the author didn't even take much time to justify their complaints.

What is your objection to that statement?

There are a lot of possible explanations as to why Soylent gets a different type of coverage than Slimfast (most obvious to me is "it's marketed as a long-term meal replacement with adequate calories, not as a short-term weight loss solution with reduced calories".) Jumping straight to "because sexism" is premature and alienating.

That sort of conclusion-jumping has been normalized to the point where it is frequently used to marginalize those of us on the autism spectrum. For a long time society was making progress towards acceptance, but recently I've noticed a steady uptick in people being unwilling to bear with my social struggles because they write it off as "mansplaining" or similar. When people choose to see everything through a single lens, and to be immediately accusatory toward those who don't share their exact perspectives, it hits those who struggle with social conventions quite hard.

I had a similar reaction to reading it, more one of "that was off topic and completely unnecessary."

The author spent the entire article making interesting points, and the statement at the end to me implies "Oh by the way, the product/tech is sexist too, and you should see it that way as well." It feels like it was added to ensure that making anyone disagree with her would be put into that camp (i.e. if I as a male were to disagree for any reason, the reason is simply because I am a male, and my opinion is invalid).

This is priceless

> What it “invented”: Lyft, but for people who are cool with traveling on a set path in a shared vehicle for a lower rate.

> What already existed: A bus.

Some of these seems to be about "exploring" problems that don't exist for people outside of the SF bubble. Squeezing oranges is good

Unrelated gripe:

NYT articles launch my NYT app and make use of my subscription.

WaPo articles launch their website, which proceeds to try to strong-arm me into a subscription. Every time, and forgetting my login between events.

One of these is owned by a tech giant, and the other gets it right.

Fair but also misguided characterization. Square, tor example.

Founders said at first they tried selling it (marketing it) as a credit card transaction facilitator. I.e. "hey merchant, would you like to be able to accept credit cards?" No. Not really, stop asking me.

They come back, "hey merchant, would you like to be able to make sales you wouldn't otherwise realize?" Why, yes, where do I sign up?

Point being, it's really important to recontextualize so as not have to overcome the burden and baggage of what you're replacing or enhancing.

Why not include Apple, which neither invented the mobile phone nor the portable music player?

I wasn't convinced about the value of Paul Graham's recent "General idea, small delta" essay until I noticed how easily you can just use those 4 words to justify these things.

Even the obviously laughable stories like Juicero - surely there's issues with bad execution, but as long as there are "juice bars" selling a glass of pulped vegetables for $8 that people are willing to buy, I'm willing to say that there's a niche for a better-executed and perhaps better-targetted juice-related tech product.

Bodega - for some reason, the author doesn't mention the already extant, amazing vending machine technology in Japan

it's interesting that some people take the angle on this story that Bodega wants to put immigrant run NYC bodegas out of business. but that's just one angle on the story.

another angle is that, inevitably, some of the employees of SV's Bodega will be among the population of much lauded, indispensable, highly educated immigrant programmers, earning high salaries and contributing their unique talents to "the most dynamic and creative economy in world."

still another angle is that any current corner store employees whose jobs are eliminated by these new high-tech vending machines will be "free to pursue other, more profitable careers" (a favorite argument of certain economics writers).

yet another angle is that the WP author is an unimaginative Luddite who doesn't want new efficiencies to be introduced into the marketplace and can't see that these vending machines might complement existing corner stores, etc.

journalists are great. they can always spin a story like this in a direction that lets them fling sh*t at an upcoming enemy of the people (in this case, Silicon Valley corporations).

The Luddites were good and well-intentioned; owners of capital later redefined the term to mean people who are irrationally afraid of all technological progress, after shooting the Luddites.


yes. ok. but, people today assign additional shades of meaning to "Luddite."

also, one can compare the activities of the original Luddites in England to the activities of the author of that WP article.

the original Luddites "destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest" because business owners were using that machinery to "to get around standard labour practices."

in a similar way, one might argue that this journalist is damaging Bodega's reputation (a critical element of any startup's "machinery") because it gets around a standard immigrant labor practice (starting and working in NYC corner shops).

This is ridiculous.

> What it “invented”: Lyft, but for people who are cool with traveling on a set path in a shared vehicle for a lower rate.

> What already existed: A bus

If your argument for "it already exists" sounds like "it's like a mix of this and this but mixed with this and it also does this," then maybe it's actually an entirely new thing?

You could make silly sounding arguments like this for literally any invention.

Please let me know how I can summon a bus to pick me up where I'm at and drop me off where I want to go.

Lyft Shuttle doesn’t work that way, why should a bus?

If your argument for "it already exists" sounds like "it's like a mix of this and this but mixed with this and it also does this," then maybe it's actually an entirely new thing?

Lyft Shuttle sounds like a bus by my reading (having never used it). How is Lyft Shuttle an entirely new thing? IOW, fill in the blank: “Lyft Shuttle is not like a bus at all because___”.

Because it allows more frequent service by taking advantage smaller cars with more frequent service, as well as scaling almost perfectly to demand. This is made economically possible by using mobile phones to aggregate passengers, and by allowing freelance drivers to work and be paid for trips they make.

Thank you, that was an informative explanation.

It's more like suburban shuttle services, where a smaller bus will service buildings and office parks in a defined geographic area.

It's probably the way your hotel maid or office park cafeteria worker gets to work.

this argument would make more sense to me if Lyft Shuttle were actually a bus. But, it's a car. How many SF homeless smoke crack in Lyft Shuttle? How many women are assaulted on Lyft Shuttle every day?

So, not a bus, no second hand crack smoke, and you don't get jizzed on. Call it an innovation if "invention" doesn't sound right to you but it's really different from public transportation.

> If your argument for "it already exists" sounds like "it's like a mix of this and this but mixed with this and it also does this," then maybe it's actually an entirely new thing?

I don't understand your comment. Their argument for "it already exists" is "It's a bus." No mixing, no similarities.

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