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Designing software, wings and your life

Yahoo's Tumblr, Google's Makani and Noah Cross's Future

Toward the end of Roman Polanski's masterpiece "Chinatown" an exchange takes place between "hero" Jake Gittes and the super-rich Noah Cross when Gittes finally realizes that Cross has seized control of Los Angeles' water supply.

"I just wanna know what you're worth," Gittes explains. "More than 10 million?

"Oh my, yes!" Cross says with a laugh.

"Why are you doing it?" Gittes asks incredulously. "How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?"

Cross's answer: "The future, Mr. Gittes! The future."

The "buzz" of the moment in tech circles is the purchase, by Internet colossus Yahoo, of a service called "Tumblr". There's also a bit of "burr" about Google buying a company that is trying to make wings that generate power.

Both acquisitions left pundits and analysts scratching their heads but, when probed under the surface, these moves give us a glimpse into these corporate giants' intent and their thinking about our "future".

Tumblr homepage and Makani wingsTumblr homepage and Makani wings

The $1.2 billion Tumblr purchase was announced by Yahoo's Exec Marissa Meyer last week and the reaction from the tech media reflected curiousity and confusion more than anything else. Try as she did through press briefings and public fanfare, Meyer didn't really answer the question in most analysts' minds: Why in the world would Yahoo purchase something like Tumblr?

For those unfamiliar with the service -- if you think its name is a typo -- Tumblr is one of the smaller siblings in the family of prominent "Social Networking" services. Founded by a 26-year-old enterprising and now wealthy techie named David Karp, Tumblr calls itself a "micro-blogging and social networking service". Essentially, it's a cross between Facebook and Twitter. People establish a "blog" and post anything they want -- text, photos, graphics or videos. Through a "dashboard", you can repost, link to, comment on or "like" anything anybody else has posted.

It's dizzyingly busy, colorfully designed and virtually without censorship. Its average user is young -- between 18 and 26 -- and there are over 108 million blogs and about 50 billion posts on it right now. It's not as large or age-diverse as Facebook or Twitter but of credible size and, most importantly, very concentrated demographics. The Tumblr experience is not unlike a public park the day after final exams; everybody gathered is capable of real thinking and pround discussion but few are interested in doing that right now. In fact, Tumblr is to a real blog what an erector set is to a construction company. The "blog" is just a space on which to post things under your name. The "dashboard" is nothing more than a few links to interact with others. The culture is quick, short, and irreverent.

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