"Groupon was a huge huge success and potentially a huge huge failure. That neither made Chicago nor does it need to break Chicago."
If you're not from Chicago and you think, "Chicago startups," the company that probably comes to mind is Groupon. Groupon had a heralded IPO and, in recent months, an equally heralded decline. So, perhaps the question I was most interested in answering during our time in the city was, "How has Groupon's meteoric rise and fall changed the startup scene?"
For the answer to that question, I went to Terry Howerton, who has been around the Chicago startup scene since the mid-2000s. He founded the Illinois Technology Association seven years ago, and later, the community hub, TechNexus in 2007. He's met thousands of people in the city's tech scene and has watched more than a few trends rise and fall. In other words, if anyone can say how the Chicago startup scene has been changed by Groupon's story, it's him.
"Groupon was a flare that went up and lit up the ground below, and people looked around and said, 'Huh, there's a lot here.'" Howerton said. "The danger is once that flare starts to extinguish as maybe happened with Groupon -- as probably happened with Groupon -- are there any lights remaining?"
Traditionally, the thought has been that once a city has a company with a big IPO -- think PayPal or Microsoft or Google -- that pumps a lot of money into the place's startup ecosystem. You've got a bunch of youngish people walking around with huge bank accounts and substantial risk tolerance. While he acknowledged the venture capital firm, Lightbank, which was formed by Groupon co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, Howerton said that Groupon has not been a boon to Chicago's startup scene, at least not yet.
"I don't think there has been a lot of capital that has flooded into Chicago through the Groupon exit," Howerton said. "You think about the success of a company like Microsoft and the early days of Microsoft in Seattle. It was not that 10 guys got wealthy but hundreds and hundreds of people became millionaires. We haven't yet seen that from Groupon. In some ways, it's not a tech company. You just don't have hundreds of engineers who made a million dollars."
Even so, Howerton seems content with that reality. After all, he thinks Chicago shouldn't lionize business-to-consumer startups just because the media (like your loyal correspondent) like them more. In fact, Howerton is excited about a whole different class of companies and types of work.
"A lot of the technology that exists here today isn't B2C, it's B2B, it's industry transformative and it's incredibly important," he said. "It's companies like ArrowStream that do $100 million a year doing supply chain management for paper products for fast food restaurants. If they were doing $100 million a year in any B2C, they'd be written about as if they were the second coming."
It's actually amazing. If you look at ArrowStream's customer list -- IHOP, Wendy's, Cinnabon, Panda Express, KFC, Friendly's, etc. -- they're probably helping a restaurant on every street in America. But he's right: Who has ever heard of ArrowStream?
In fact, Howerton thinks that companies like that could be Chicago's tech scene bread and butter. There are already so many established large corporations in Chicago in logistics, finance, and healthcare that he sees the city as a place that could provide unique collaborations between startups and big business.
Howerton said that there are several macro trends driving corporations to work with new companies. For one, big businesses have unprecedented amounts of cash on their balance sheets. It's not just Apple that's sitting on money. Recent reports peg the amount of dollars on corporate balance sheets at nearly $2 trillion! Those companies, like State Farm Insurance or Walgreens, want to innovate and stay ahead of potential disruptive competitors, but they just don't know how.
"State Farm has 12,000 employees in IT in Bloomington," Howerton said. "I'm sure many of those employees are really smart people, but how innovative can you be with 12,000 IT workers in your bureaucratic corporate environment in an industry as historic as insurance?"
Or take Walgreens. They recently released an API for their "QuickPrint" feature, which allows you to send photos to Walgreen's and pick them up in a store. "They invited us to organize hackathons for them to bring dozens of technology teams to brainstorm business and app ideas that integrate QuickPrints," he said. The teams get access to the people who built the API and the winners of the competitions make some money. Meanwhile, Walgreens gets technologists building apps using their platform in a way that they probably wouldn't themselves.
With the right corporate friends and deep knowledge of the technology scene in Chicago, TechNexus isn't trying to be like it's flashy neighbor, 1871 Chicago. They're not trying to draw the latest web startup. What they want to do is create an environment where all kinds of technology startups -- especially those with hardcore engineering and computer science at their cores -- can find serious investors and partners.
All this to say: Howerton's idea of a real technology scene in Chicago doesn't end with a certain daily-deals company that happened to go public last year.
"Groupon was a huge huge success and potentially a huge huge failure," Howeton said. "That neither made Chicago nor does it need to break Chicago."
Emma Perrier was deceived by an older man on the internet—a hoax that turned into an unbelievable love story.
Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories she’d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.
She snapped the three selfies the app required to “verify her identity.” Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the city’s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Two centuries ago, America pioneered a way of thinking that puts human well-being in economic terms.
Money and markets have been around for thousands of years. Yet as central as currency has been to so many civilizations, people in societies as different as ancient Greece, imperial China, medieval Europe, and colonial America did not measure residents’ well-being in terms of monetary earnings or economic output.
In the mid-19th century, the United States—and to a lesser extent other industrializing nations such as England and Germany—departed from this historical pattern. It was then that American businesspeople and policymakers started to measure progress in dollar amounts, tabulating social welfare based on people’s capacity to generate income. This fundamental shift, in time, transformed the way Americans appraised not only investments and businesses but also their communities, their environment, and even themselves.
The White House chief of staff decried the desacralization of military deaths—but it was the president he serves who politicized condolence calls.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made some extraordinary remarks during Thursday’s White House briefing. They were extraordinary not only because Kelly seldom speaks on the record to the press and was doing so for the second time in a week, but also for the deeply personal nature of what he said—discussing the death of his son in combat, a topic he has in the past been careful to avoid. Yet Kelly’s defense of President Trump, who is embroiled in a self-inflicted crisis over his condolences for the families of fallen servicemembers, also contained the grain of a strong rebuke to the president.
Kelly began with a description of what happens when a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman or -woman is killed in battle. Then he said:
A small group of programmers wants to change how we code—before catastrophe strikes.
There were six hours during the night of April 10, 2014, when the entire population of Washington State had no 911 service. People who called for help got a busy signal. One Seattle woman dialed 911 at least 37 times while a stranger was trying to break into her house. When he finally crawled into her living room through a window, she picked up a kitchen knife. The man fled.
The 911 outage, at the time the largest ever reported, was traced to software running on a server in Englewood, Colorado. Operated by a systems provider named Intrado, the server kept a running counter of how many calls it had routed to 911 dispatchers around the country. Intrado programmers had set a threshold for how high the counter could go. They picked a number in the millions.
The views of religiously conservative Americans no longer dominate U.S. culture or law. How will LGBT supporters engage with their perspectives on sexuality?
Among socially conservative religious leaders, the rapid shift of the cultural and legal status quo on issues of sexuality has created a palpable sense of disorientation. Some, like Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, have argued that this is a time of clarity for Christians: It will become harder for evangelicals to blend into mass culture, and while that separation comes with costs, it may actually be a boon to the faith. Others, like the writer Rod Dreher, have suggested that conservatives may be forced into a sort of cultural withdrawal, a retreat into self-sustaining communities of people who share similar values.
In a new book, Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, offers a third way: stand up and debate, even on issues that seem to be moving toward an ever-firmer cultural consensus. In some ways, Mohler neatly fits the stereotype of an evangelical leader who has taken up a stand against queerness. He’s white, he’s male, he’s Southern; he makes no apologies for his view that homosexuality is intertwined with sin. But he could also probably ace a Women and Gender Studies seminar. (He even once wrote an essay for The Atlanticon the Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown.) In his book, We Cannot Be Silent, he cites sociologists like Jürgen Habermas and discusses television shows like Modern Family. He explores the difference between gender and sex and transgender and intersex.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps a Most Wanted list for flu viruses. The agency evaluates every potentially dangerous strain, and gives them two scores out of 10—one reflecting how likely they are to trigger a pandemic, and another that measures how bad that pandemic would be. At the top of the list, with scores of 6.5 for emergence and 7.5 for impact, is H7N9.
Influenza viruses come in many flavors—H5N1, H1N1, H3N2, and so on. The H and N refer to two proteins on their surface, and the numbers refer to the versions of those proteins that a particular virus carries. H1N1 was responsible for both the catastrophic pandemic of 1918 that killed millions of people, and the most recent (and much milder) one from 2009. H5N1 is the bird-flu subtype that has been worrying scientists for almost two decades. But H7N9? Until recently, it had flown under the radar.
In western Germany, populations of flying insects have fallen by around 80 percent in the last three decades.
The bottles were getting emptier: That was the first sign that something awful was happening.
Since 1989, scientists from the Entomological Society Krefeld had been collecting insects in the nature reserves and protected areas of western Germany. They set up malaise traps—large tents that funnel any incoming insect upward through a cone of fabric and into a bottle of alcohol. These traps are used by entomologists to collect specimens of local insects, for research or education. “But over the years, [the Krefeld team] realized that the bottles were getting emptier and emptier,” says Caspar Hallmann, from Radboud University.
By analyzing the Krefeld data—1,503 traps, and 27 years of work—Hallmann and his colleagues have shown that most of the flying insects in this part of Germany are flying no more. Between 1989 and 2016, the average weight of insects that were caught between May and October fell by an astonishing 77 percent. Over the same period, the weight of insects caught in the height of summer, when these creatures should be at their buzziest, fell by 82 percent.
In the media world, as in so many other realms, there is a sharp discontinuity in the timeline: before the 2016 election, and after.
Things we thought we understood—narratives, data, software, news events—have had to be reinterpreted in light of Donald Trump’s surprising win as well as the continuing questions about the role that misinformation and disinformation played in his election.
Tech journalists covering Facebook had a duty to cover what was happening before, during, and after the election. Reporters tried to see past their often liberal political orientations and the unprecedented actions of Donald Trump to see how 2016 was playing out on the internet. Every component of the chaotic digital campaign has been reported on, here at The Atlantic, and elsewhere: Facebook’s enormous distribution power for political information, rapacious partisanship reinforced by distinct media information spheres, the increasing scourge of “viral” hoaxes and other kinds of misinformation that could propagate through those networks, and the Russian information ops agency.
By making it harder to punish official misconduct, the justices risk damage to America's republican institutions.
For a few days earlier this month, it looked like the years-long corruption probe targeting New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez would fall apart seven weeks into his trial. At issue was the prosecution’s “stream of benefits” theory, which argues that the steady flow of donations and gifts from a wealthy Florida doctor to the Democratic senator—and the flow of favors from the senator to the doctor—amounted to quid pro quo corruption.
During a hearing last week, Judge William Walls seemed to signal that argument was dead on arrival by citing a recent Supreme Court ruling that has vexed public-corruption investigators across the country. “I frankly don’t think McDonnell will allow that,” Walls told prosecutors, referring to the decision in McDonnell v. United States that fundamentally changed the standard for bribery.