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October 2020
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How Linus Torvalds Invented Today's Work From Home Paradigm In 1991

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Working from home is beginning to move from being a necessary but temporary way of achieving social distancing in offices, to a radical shift in how many companies will operate. Until now, most of the evidence of that change has been anecdotal. But a Twitter thread by Chris Herd, who is CEO of FirstbaseHQ, which "lets you supply, finance and manage all the physical equipment your remote teams need to do great work at home", provides some fascinating statistics on the scale of the shift to working from home. Herd says he has talked around 1000 companies over the last six months about their plans for remote work. One trend is that corporate headquarters are "finished", he says: companies will cut their commercial office space by 40 to 60%, with people working from home for two to four days each week. Some 30% of the companies Herd talked to say that they intend to get rid of offices completely, and move fully to remote working.Some of the reasons for this shift are obvious. Things like increasing worker satisfaction by avoiding stressful daily commuting, and enabling them to participate in family life during the entire day through flexible working patterns. Slashing office costs is a major factor for the companies, but also cited is the reduction in the pollution generated by traditional office working. However, the main driver for a shift to remote working may be surprising:

The first reason they are going remote-first is simple -- it lets them hire more talented peopleRather than hiring the best person in a 30-mile radius of the office, they can hire the best person in the world for every role
Traditional ways of running a company have made it hard to bring about this change. But there is one sphere whose stunning success is built on this very shift. The world of free software and open source has embraced distributed teams working at home for nearly 30 years. This has allowed projects to select people on the basis of their skills, rather on their availability for a local office. It also means that people can work on what they are best at, and most interested in, rather than on what their local team needs them to do. As a result, open source software has gone from a bit of coding fun in the bedroom of a Finnish student, Linus Torvalds, to the dominant form of software in every field, with the lone exception of the desktop. Its success has also inspired a range of related movements, such as open access, open data, open science and many more.What's remarkable is that Linus did not set out to create this new kind of global, distributed software development methodology. It simply evolved from the time he placed his first, rough version of the Linux kernel on an FTP server in Finland, and invited people to download it freely. The crucial step was his willingness to accept suggestions to improve the code from anyone, provided they were good ones. That encouraged people to join the project, because they knew that there was no traditional business hierarchy based on seniority, just a meritocracy, where their suggestions would be accepted if their work was demonstrably better than the existing code. The companies that will thrive most from today's epochal shift to working from home will be those that are willing to implement similar ideas to those of Linus from 30 years ago, transposed to a general business context.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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posted at: 12:00am on 15-Oct-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Content Moderation Case Study: Handling Off Platform Harassment On Platform (June 2020)

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Summary: Dealing with harassment of users is always a challenge for internet platforms -- and that is especially true for platforms that are focused on live streaming. For many years there have been accusations around sexual harassment problems for female Twitch streamers. Going all the way back to 2012 when a Twitch streamer argued that sexual harassment was part of the culture of streaming (saying this is a community that's, you know, 15 or 20-years-old and the sexual harassment is part of a culture) there have been ongoing questions about how Twitch should deal with such behavior both on and off the platform.Not surprisingly, there have been many reports of on-platform harassment for Twitch streamers to the point that some reporters have noted it is quite easy to seek out harassment and find it on the platform. In 2018, Twitch put in place new rules for dealing with harassment on the platform and it also provides a variety of tools for managing harassment within Twitch's chat feature.More recently, another issue has been raised: how should Twitch handle harassment that occurs off-platform? Some users started collecting reports of harassment and sexual abuse that were occuring connected to Twitch, and it was notable that many of them were not happening directly on the platform. According to an article at The Verge many of the reported claims of harassment and abuse were people who met via Twitch or were popular Twitch users, who were accused of using their position of power to harass others.

It is difficult enough to deal with harassment in real time on a streaming platform (where the incidents come and go), but figuring out how to deal with harassment that happens off-platform is even more fraught. However, in June of 2020, many Twitch streamers engaged in a 24-hour blackout in protest over what they felt was Twitch's failure to act regarding many of the accusations.Decisions to be made by Twitch:
  • How should it handle credible claims and accusations of abuse and sexual harassment that occur off-platform between users of Twitch?
  • How much responsibility should Twitch take in dealing with off-platform behavior?
  • What resources are necessary for investigating off-platform behavior?
    • How should serious claims be verified?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Is it proper for conduct outside of an internet platform to impact usage of that platform?
  • Will serious accusations against popular users of a platform reflect poorly on the platform?
  • Will widespread accusations of sexual abuse among users of the platform create an unwelcoming environment?
  • Can on-platform policies impact off-platform behavior?
Resolution: After this issue got lots of attention Twitch announced that it was investigating the various claims of harassment and trying to prioritize the most serious.
We want to provide an update on our investigations into the recent allegations of sexual abuse and harassment involving Twitch streamers and actions we're taking. We are reviewing each case that has come to light as quickly as possible, while ensuring appropriate due diligence as we assess these serious allegations. We've prioritized the most severe cases and will begin issuing permanent suspensions in line with our findings immediately. In many of the cases, the alleged incident took place off Twitch, and we need more information to make a determination. In some cases we will need to report the case to the proper authorities who are better placed to conduct a more thorough investigation. For those who've come forward and would like to share additional information, and to anyone who hasn't shared their experience and wants to do so, you can report confidentially through the reporting tools on each streamer's channel page.
The company also promised to continue to improve the tools on-platform for combating harassment and abuse. Twitch's founder and CEO Emmett Shear also sent an email to the entire company about the issue and the importance of building an experience that is community-centered, safe and positive for all.Days later, the company banned a popular user who was accused of harassing other Twitch streamers as well as some other users who had been similarly accused. At least one suspended user has since insisted that he was innocent and suggested he was working with lawyers to appeal the suspension.

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posted at: 12:00am on 15-Oct-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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