Friday, December 26, 2008

The Long-Burning Hack

I was turned on today to the 2009: Year of the Hacker article by Kevin Kelleher on GigaOm by one of Ben Barren's rants, which itself riffs off a Chris Anderson piece for Wired Blogs, which references a Clay Shirky speech, and on and on in curlicues of hyperextension.

The point is that the Time Of Doom Is Upon Us, meaning a bunch of bored techs with more time on their hands, and you know what they say about idle hands. Good movie, woke us up to the potential of poor old Heath Ledger.

Anyway, my thoughts on the matter are coloured by my own experiences, being as they are ahead of the curve in that the recession came for me many years ago, hasn't let up, and has taught me how to burn slowly. All that I'll see of the next recession is lower petrol prices and less parties to wish I'd gone to (or maybe more?).

Tinfinger has been and gone, now mouldering in some squatter's squalid outhouse. FanFooty, while a solid business, pays the hosting bill and no more in non-football months, thus money's too tight to mention, as the old song went. Various little lurks prop up the cashtrickle to something approaching a lifestream.

The point! Yes, the point. My thoughts are that a certain type of hacker, who was only ever working at a startup or corporate for the paycheck, may end up joining the freeware community in the spirit of ESR and such like, but I think Mr Kelleher is poking his silver Supras down the wrong path. For such hackers, much of the motivation for any work they do of their own time may not be to pad their CVs, or to raise their standing in the biz... but to fuck with their former employers. Be that specifically the company that retrenched them, or some other zaibatsu which personifies all they hate about their formerly safe life, revenge is a dish best served like cooled ramen.

Specifically, these spurned spawns of the spluttering economy will have intimate knowledge of just how vulnerable certain companies' revenue streams are, and will be able to come up with ways to use current and future technologies to divert these rivers of gold into others' pockets, even if not their own.

Such labours of hate will not require venture capital backing. Many of them would be better off without it, leaving them free to bend the law to whatever nefarious purpose they feel necessary to undermine the multinationals whose revenue streams they are targeting.

Most of these ventures will be net losses for the economy, too. Like Google advertising being an order of magnitude cheaper than advertising on mainstream media sites, these vengeful hackers won't care that they're destroying fattened cash cows whose teats the old companies have spent decades sucking. They will rejoice in turning billion-dollar industries into million-earners. Millionaire factories will be squashed into sectors where a handful of people can make a living at a time.

Why will this happen? Because these people have been inside the old companies, and they hate how they work. They hate the bullshit hierarchies, the Peter Principle, the management gridlock. Geeks have always hated suits, and if there's a way they can control their pet industry to the extent that they can do away with whole swathes of suits, then all the better.

What can the suits do to stop it? They can buy the geeks out early, maybe. That's if they don't wake up one morning to realise that like Russian black ice in a Gibson novel, the virus that the geek ex-employee has left inside the building has already expanded and turned the company into mush.


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