After a brief but intensive trip into the heart of Silicon Valley, where we set foot on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park to meet with Instagram engineer group manager Rodrigo Schmidt, today it was time to dig a little deeper into the narrative of social media and to check out a couple of start-up companies.
At first, a morning session with the eclectic David Harris, a theoretical physicist from Brisbane, Australia, who has embraced the world of scientific communication and, ultimately, digital art. David’s workshop provided useful tips, ideas and insights on how to approach the art of “short writing”, a technique akin to composing a headline for a news article but that in the social media environment has its own “persona”, or tone.
The second part of the day was spent visiting two typical social media companies, one that began as a start-up (Yammer), eventually being absorbed by none other than Microsoft Corp.; the other (Tint) is just past the start-up phase and ready to explore new territories.
At Yammer, people seem to enjoy the colourful and open work environment of a start-up yet conscious of being part of a giant corporation such as Microsoft. Though corporate rules are abided to, freedom to create and engage in other activities are seemingly encouraged. Community service is one of these, and Yammer’s proximity to the troubled Tenderloin district is part of a joint effort with local authorities, in a typical win-win and private-public partnership where the gifted and privileged staff at Yammer engage in voluntary actions to help the underprivileged living nearby.
This philanthropic and unpublicised engagement goes beyond the corporate social responsibility rhetoric by actually doing something to make a difference. A difference that in the best cases could lead to internships in a digital media company or a scholarship for higher education. Silent actions are often far better than loud words
Moving on to Tint, located in the hip Mission district where you wouldn’t normally expect to find a social media company, one can actually see and feel what it means to be a start-up a company in a place that is just a little more than a garage or a bedroom. At Tint, a small team of people work together in harmony like in a large family, providing a genuine mix of positive and “can do” attitude with a solid and focused project, which would make you want to whip out chequebook and sign up instantly (I almost did, actually).
The experience at Tint is that of a company that knows what it is doing and has a feeling for where it wants to go, in a steady fashion, step by step and with a keen eye on what happens in the Valley and, perhaps most importantly, in other parts of the world, notably in Europe. In my view, companies like Tint are what start-ups are all about or, I would suggest, should be about.
Dimitri Loringett is a Media relations and content editor at USI in Lugano. (@dloringett)