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Secrets of Silicon Valley

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley's glittering promise to build a better world.

About the programme

Tech writer Jamie Bartlett investigates the reality behind Silicon Valley’s endless faith in its power to change the world for the better. The Tech Gods believe progress is powered by unleashing technology to tear up the world as it is and create a new one – a process they call “disruption”. This series uncovers the true scale of Silicon Valley’s global disruption – across economies, societies and democracies – driving the vast rewards flowing to the Tech Gods.

For more information and iPlayer links please go to bbc.co.uk 

Secrets of Silicon Valley - BBC - Jamie Bartlett at Uber

Copyright: Tristan Quinn for the BBC

A white 'piggy bank' on a blue surface. A wad of bills are sticking out of the slot in its back

10 billion dollar companies founded in this century

Before 2000, none of these companies even existed, but have gone on to be some of the most recognised brands on the planet.

1. Airbnb

00:39

Back in October 2007 skint housemates, Brain Chesky and Joe Gebbia, were unable to pay their rent so they turned their living room into a bed and breakfast and set up a website, charging $80 per person. In 2008 they got former roommate and tech whiz Nathan Blecharczyk on board and the site Airbedandbreakfast.com officially launched on August 11, 2008. In 2009, the site name was shortened to Airbnb.com, and the lodgings expanded from air beds and shared spaces to a diverse range of properties from swanky private islands to humble tree houses. In 2016, the site has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. It was recently valued at $25 billion and is the largest rental site, despite owning zero real estate. 


2: Instagram

Instagram logo

Copyright: Instagram

Where would we be without Instagram's 'Valencia' filter to capture the perfect #ShamelessSelfie? The online photo/video-sharing and social networking service was created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and launched in October 2010 as a free mobile app. In 2012, social media giant Facebook could see the app's potential and bought it for $1 billion. These days the app, with an enormous 300 million users, is said to be worth a whopping $35 billion. In fact, Instagram seems to be growing at a greater rate than its parent company, Facebook, with a growth rate of 23% and 3% respectively. 


3: Fitbit

By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine (Own work) [CC0 ], via Wikimedia Commons under Creative-Commons license

Wearable tech was unheard of ten years ago and deemed a bit geeky, but now it seems to be one of the most up and coming trends for an increasing health-concious market. One of the market leaders is Fitbit with its range of activity trackers. The Fitbit tracker, the company’s most popular product, is a bracelet that counts your steps, works out what calories you have burned, monitors your sleep and connects wirelessly with your computer and mobile. You can even 'taunt' your friends by connecting your Fitbit to your mobile devices and pressure them into getting their step count up. Founded in 2007 by James Park and Eric Friedman, experts now believe Fitbit is now valued at more than $4 billion.


4: WhatsApp

Whatsapp logo

Copyright: Whatsapp

Remember the days of having to pay to message someone on their mobile? This is now effectively redundant for the SmartPhone user, thanks to Whatsapp. WhatsApp, founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, has allowed us to use the internet to send text messages, documents, images, video, user location and audio messages to our friends instantly and for FREE on any smart mobile device or network. So, we can forget ye olde texting. Once again, Facebook acquired the messaging app for 19.3 billion in 2014. The app now has one billion users across the globe. 


5: Tinder

Tinder logo

Tinder logo

With 25% of couples now meeting online, it's a wonder how people ever crossed paths way back when. Dating app Tinder, released in 2012, revolutionised the way people meet online because it's location based and uses Facebook to import information such as photographs, number of mutual friends, and common interests. Over 1 billion 'swipes' occur everyday (the user chooses between the photos of other users in their area by swiping right for those that they dig and swiping left on those that they don't to move to the next one). The app is said to be worth $5 billion, despite criticism on its addictive gaming style and a culture of users wanting casual sex, not relationships. 


6: Quora

04:57

Want to know how to make a million? Or, how long you should boil an egg for? Or, what's the big deal about Beyonce's Lemonade? Quora can provide all the answers. Quora's model combines questions and answers to a range of subjects. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers. Founded in 2008 by two former Facebook employees, Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, the company is estimated to be worth over $900 million - ok, so it's just a little under the 1 billion mark but it's still a massive business achievement.


7: Tumblr

tumblr screenshot

Copyright: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34686975

With the likes of Lady Gaga and Barack Obama using it, Tumblr is the star-studded go-to microblog. Founded by David Karp in 2007, and acquired by Yahoo! in 2013 for 1.1 billion, the website allows users to post multimedia content to a blog where they can follow other users' blogs, as well as make their blogs private. The site has come under fire for not controlling microblogs encouraging suicide, eating disorders and self harm - something it is trying to address. In 2013, Tumblr encouraged companies to pay to promote their own posts to a larger audience - the average advert purchase on Tumblr is said to be nearly six figures.


8. Uber

An Uber driver looking at a satnav

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

The nemesis of traditional cabbies, but loved by stranded people across over 60 countries - Uber has spawned the 'uberfication' movement, with other companies following its business model since it launched in 2009.  The Uber mobile app allows those in need of a lift and with smartphones to request a trip which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own cars to pick them up at their exact location. What's more you can pick your level of luxury from a regular Ford to a high end Merc – for a price. You can also read reviews on your driver to make sure they're not dodgy. The company has been criticized for using drivers who are not licensed to drive taxis as this could be deemed unsafe and illegal. Despite this, by the end of 2015, Uber was estimated to be worth $62.5 billion.


9. Dropbox

01:08

Founded in 2007 by MIT students Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox is the answer to every scatty student's prayers. The idea came about when Houston kept forgetting to bring his USB stick to college to hand his assignments in (yeah, right!) - and the rest, they say, is history. Dropbox is a file hosting service that allows users to send videos, transfer various documents and keep images safe online via cloud storage. It has been speculated that Dropbox's valuation could be up to $10 billion. It's estimated that 400 million people use the service. 


10. Spotify

Spotify logo

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Created in Sweden in 2007, Spotify is a music streaming, podcast and video app that allows users to listen to music from a range of artists. Spotify uses a freemium model (basic services are free but additional features, such as removal of advertisements and improved audio quality, are offered via a subscription fee). However, some high profile artists have condemned Spotify for unfairly compensating artists - it pays artists based on their "market share" not a set fee. Taylor Swift even pulled her music from the site saying "I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music." The company has been valued at over $8 billion. So much for an 'experiment', Taylor. 


Meet the OU experts

Dr Neil Smith, Senior Lecturer in Computing
Dr Neil SmithSenior Lecturer in Computing - School of Computing & CommunicationsVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Neil Smith, Senior Lecturer in Computing
Dr Neil SmithSenior Lecturer in Computing - School of Computing & Communications

Neil has two strands of research: artificial intelligence and computing education. He has applied AI techniques to areas such as getting computers to automatically make better models of the physical world, the evolution of large software systems, and whether the Beatles are better than the Rolling Stones. He is currently investigating ways of teaching computing more effectively, in schools, in universities, and teaching teachers to teach computing. Neil has been involved in the production of several online courses aimed at teachers, to innovate their practice, and recently introduced initiatives with OU undergraduates to develop their programming skills.

Dr Peter BloomSenior Lecturer and Head of Department for People and Organisations, Faculty of Business and LawVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Peter BloomSenior Lecturer and Head of Department for People and Organisations, Faculty of Business and Law

Peter Bloom's primary research interests include ideology, subjectivity and power, specifically as they relate to broader discourses and everyday practices of capitalism and democracy. 

He is interested, further, in the role of technology for creating new forms of social empowerment as well as how it critically can disempower individuals in the present. His books include Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (Edward Elgar Press) and Beyond Power and Resistance: Politics at the Radical Limits (Rowman and Littlefield International, November 2016).

He is currently completing manuscripts The Ethics of Neoliberalism: The Business of Making Caitalism Moral (Routledge, 2017), The Rise of the CEO Society with Carl Rhodes (Zed Books, 2017), and Organizing Power with Pasi Ahonen (Routledge, 2017).

His scholarly work has been published in Human Relations,  Theory and Event, Journal of Political Ideologies, Journal of Political Power, New Formations, Research on the Sociology of Organization, Culture and Organizations, Ephemera, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Organization and International Journal of Žižek Studies among others. His writing has also been featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, The New Statesmen, The Week, The Conversation and Open Democracy among others.

He has helped produce a wide range of courses for the OU most prominently on its new MSC in HRM.

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