PayPal could explore Node.js (and TechCrunch needs to change its name)

In Ingrid Lunden’s post about Douglas Crockford departing Yahoo for PayPal, she made several serious errors, most of which have been corrected by now. In an earlier version of the article, she called Crockford a Java icon, and after being called out in the comments, she changed it to (correctly) read JavaScript.

As one commenter pointed out, “Java is to JavaScript as Ham is to Hamster.”

The blunder remains obvious despite the correction in other parts of the article, such as where Ms. Lunden mentions “Java (not JavaScript) is used in featurephones, Android and web interfaces,” and “PayPal is ‘moving rapidly’ from C++ to Java as a backend technology.” Both of which are totally irrelevant to Crockford’s hiring.

Silly mistakes (and the fact that half of the article is regurgitating Crockford’s Wikipedia page) aside, what irks me the most is the total lack of both technical understanding and journalism. Lunden has a gem in the article: Edwin Aoki specifically mentions to Lunden that “[Crockford] will be partnering with [Aoki] on more ways to utilize JS both in the server and on the browser for PayPal.” (emphasis mine).

PayPal could very well be exploring/expanding their use of Node.js, a significant move in the technology community, and Lunden totally missed it!

Regardless of the poor reporting, this is an exciting time for Node developers if another big player like PayPal is putting some resources into the area.

And TechCrunch, if you’re not even going to try to report on the technology side of things,  please change your name to something more suitable, like SiliconValleyGossipCrunch. 

'Disrupt' is not a synonym for 'Compete in'

In all the startup coverage I read, I find one word misused an alarming amount. That word is “Disrupt”.

In this article about Flowdock, Leena Rao says that Flowdock “aims to disrupt the group chat space.” I read on, excitedly, to see what new market Flowdock was entering that wasn’t currently occupied by a group chat application, or what new value network they have created that no other chat application currently employs. Instead, I got a list of features that Flowdock had that others lacked: “[Flowdock shows] activity from project management tools, version control systems, customer feedback channels, and other sources in a single stream”. That is not disruptive. At all. That is very nearly the exact definition of a sustaining innovation.

Clayton Christensen coined ‘disruptive technology’ as a concept in his article Disruptive Technologies, and expanded upon it further in his groundbreaking book The Innovator’s Dilemma. In it, Christensen explains that a disruptive technology (or innovation) is one that creates a new market and value network, which then displaces a technology in another market. This other market is said to be “disrupted”. See:

A good historical example is the steamship, which was first deployed in areas that were not as profitable for sailing ships and were more difficult to service (e.g. the Mississippi River). They then went on to disrupt the Seagoing shipping routes that were dominated by sailing ships.

The startup technology press, especially TechCrunch, loves this term. It has come to embody any type of innovation, whether sustaining or disruptive. As a result, the term becomes diluted, and even worse, becomes a buzzword that everyone has to have on a slide next to Globalized and Dynamic and Cloud.

Not every innovation is disruptive. Not every innovation should be. Disruption is a very specific concept, and should be treated as such. Let’s not forget, most disruptive technologies aren’t sexy (one of Clayton Christensen’s examples was a hydraulic excavator) and many of them aren’t classified as disruptive until after they successfully displace the previous technology.

So please, TechCrunch, you’ve already done enough damage to the word “Disrupt” by using it as the title of a startup event, at least use it right in the context of an article about a startup.