A new movement coalesced around No Coding. No Code website builders like Wix and Squarespace have been around for more than ten years, but they are clunky for a veritable novice. In fact, I am publishing this blog on a No Code website that I still struggle to use. So why is there so much hype around No Code? Are today’s new No Code products like web 1.0 vs web 2.0?

What is No Code?

Simply put, No Code refers to software products enabled by a GUI interface, or informally a WYSIWYG interface, to allow the user to build, automate, improve, or design products or workflows. No Code products are not just reserved for website building. According to Nocode.tech, No Code products can support a variety of verticals including internal tools, websites, blogs, ecommerce, automations, web/mobile apps.

The Three No Code Products I’m Most Curious About Right Now:

  • Webflow - “Build better business websites, faster. Without coding.”

  • Zapier - “Connect your apps and automate your workflows”

  • Substack - “A place for independent writing”

More reading & resources

Based on the No Code products that I use, it seems like there is still a steep learning curve. Perhaps I’m not the target audience, but I struggled to create a cohesive Wix website and was disappointed that I could not create snazzy graphics on Canva (the paid app, too!). Perhaps other No Code products offer better training or more intuitive layouts?

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

Roger McNamee, who originally backed Facebook through his VC firm Elevation Partners, is now their most strident opponent. The December 2019 New Yorker article, Big Tech’s Big Defector, outlines how McNamee turned from friend to foe after the company’s role in the 2016 election.

The range range of data privacy solutions interspersed throughout the article was new ground for me. We hear much lamenting about “big tech” and data privacy, but conversations around reform are sorely lacking in substance.

Illustration by Marc Pallarès

Changing Course

  • “The core of McNamee’s concerns is Internet companies’ use of what he calls ‘data voodoo dolls’—digital profiles they develop for each user. He claims that these profiles are ‘effectively an extension of yourself,’ and that it should be ‘no more legitimate to trade the data in a data voodoo doll than it is to trade someone’s kidney.’” The digital voodoo dolls result in many social ills: discrimination, election manipulation/interference, voter suppression, amplification of “harmful” content such as anti-vaxxer propaganda.

  • Micro-targeted online political ads: “By collecting data from Facebook without user consent, the company was able to identify micro-populations of voters, then serve up customized ads encouraging them to vote for Donald Trump.” To understand how this is truly a novel threat to democracy, one must first understand the traditional political advertising channels. TV ads cannot microtarget audiences. Instead, broader demographics are served adverts through pre-buys with set schedules.

To be clear, there is not necessarily a consensus on the extent of social media’s impact on elections and the risk for consumers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, generally considered a left-leaning organization, views some of McNamee’s policy proposals as extreme. Bill Gates says that McNamee blames Zuckerberg unfairly. Despite the nascent range of opinions on data privacy, many major state actors view data privacy as a problem that warrants legislation that includes major penalties for violators.

Proposed policy reforms:

  • The problem with the prevailing policy “opt-in/opt-out” solutions such as CCPA in California and the GDPR in the EU: “ Such laws expand consumers’ control over their data and give them new legal tools for holding companies accountable. ....Under G.D.P.R. rules, companies must ask users to opt in before their data can be processed by third parties—but, as soon as consumers consent, it’s more or less back to business as usual. And the rules are relatively loose when it comes to metadata. Even if the contents of a phone call are protected, the time of the call or the parties involved might not be.”

  • According to McNamee, antitrust regulation, a much discussed topic during the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, does not address the root cause: “ ‘I want to prevent the data from getting into the system in the first place,’ he told me. The reform that would really have teeth, he says, is one that would ‘ban all third-party commerce in private information—financial information, location information, health information, browser history, scanning of e-mail.’ Companies would be allowed to collect data needed for their services, but nothing else: a wellness app could store your height or your weight but not the location of your gym—and none of this information could be shared with

  • There are other proposals that might redefine online privacy norms without wholly reinventing them. Tristan Harris, a former Google ethicist and the executive director of the Center for Humane Technology, said that most people “would never say a doctor or lawyer shouldn’t have access to information about us, or that they can’t monetize something in their relationship with us. We say they have to monetize it in alignment with our best interests.” Instead of a ban, Harris argues for extending the fiduciary duty of doctors, lawyers, and other professions to include Internet companies, legally binding them to act exclusively in accordance with their clients’ well-being.

  • Another approach is pigovian in nature: Harris also “Proposes a tax on income derived from targeted digital ads, an approach endorsed by the economist and Nobel laureate Paul Romer. In theory, this would encourage tech companies to adopt business models that rely less on personal data, and the tax would be progressive, so as to favor smaller businesses. Harris likens the monetization of user data to the extraction of fossil fuels: “These are the most profitable business models but also the most polluting.” Alongside a tax on polluters, he proposes subsidizing alternatives—platforms that have made commitments not to stoke outrage.

In summary, current laws do not address the root of data privacy problems. Further, it seems like the term "big tech" is being misapplied. "Big Tech" is a blanket term for a handful of tech companies that have distinct regulatory challenges and impacts on wide swaths of society. Can we just use the proper nouns?

For obvious reasons I decided to read, “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History” by John M. Barry. The book is an excellent read and in many chapters reads like a novel. The author personalizes the cast of characters intrepid researchers, hapless civic leaders, in a way the brings the story to life.

The first few chapters were among the most interesting as the author contextualizes the state of medicine and the biological sciences in run up to 1918.

Here are some key excerpts from Prologue & Chapter One of the book with a bit of commentary.

Medicine is truly an art and a science:

  • “Medicine is not yet and may never be fully a science.” Page 6.

Medicine has and will always be an imperfect science. Unlike other scientific fields such as physics, the laws of biology are not ironclad. Given this nuance, it is important for researchers and clinicians to think broadly, avoid confirmation bias, learn from failure, and organize theories/experiments into their smaller constituents parts. This becomes relevant in later chapters. For example, for years, scientists thought that the influenza was caused by a bacteria as they found a certain kind present in nearly all flu cases. However, the classic paradox of correlation vs causation was at play. The bacteria was a symptom of the flu and not the cause.

Experimentation and research is very much an art-form, albeit process driven. The author details how one once-famous researcher failed to make progress for years while is colleagues thrived:

  • Unlike Avery, who broke his problems down into smaller ones that could be solved and who learned from each failure, Lewis seemed simply to be applying brute force, huge numbers of experiments.” Goes on to say, “He sought to add other scientists with particular expertise to his team, but he did not define what precise role new people would play.”

Unlike Avery, his contemporary, who “recruited people with specific skills to attack a specific questions," Lewis threw resources at the problem. I couldn't help but think about the applicability of this lesson to growing a business and creating the initial traction.

Modern science is catalyzed by the Spanish Flu

  • Influenza was,“The first great collision between nature and modern science.” Page 5.

  • Hippocratic writings had stated that the physician’s senses mattered far more than any objective measurement, so despite medicine’s use of logic, physicians had always avoided applying mathematics to the study of the body or disease.”

Data driven approaches had only just started in the mid 19th century in France. American medicine lagged far behind that of Europe. Page 6. Author makes the point that the practice of medicine was akin to the “dark arts.” Little to no application of the scientific method and use of weird things like “violent purgatives” and bloodletting abounded. France led the way while American’s poorly trained physicians stumbled quite literally in the dark. Page 30.

The author makes the point to note that America was succeeding in other ways.

  • America excelled at engineering, “Physics, chemistry, and the practical arts of engineering thrived.” (31)

  • “Newly minted Harvard physician killed three successive patients because he did not know the lethal dose of morphine” (page 33). Training, qualification of doctors was minimal.

So why was the United States so far behind it's peers?

Now we get into the systems, one of the more fascinating and broadly applicable lessons

Why was the United States a backwater for science and medicine in the 19th & early 20th century? For this we look to the systems that governed the education and accreditation of doctors and researchers.

  • “Most American medical schools were owned by a faculty whose profit and salaries - even when they did not own the school - were paid by student fees, so schools often had no admission standards other than the ability to pay tuition. No medical school in American allowed medical students to routinely either perform autopsies or see patients and medical education often consisted of nothing more than two four month terms of lectures. Few medical schools had any association with a university, and fewer still had ties to a hospital. In 1870 even at Harvard a medical student could fail four of nine courses and still get an M.D.” (Page 32).

Upon his death, Johns Hopkins bequeaths an endowment for the eponymous university. The quaker estate trustees model this after the more advanced German medical colleges.

  • The ever practical quakers explained, “There was a strong demand, among the young men of this country, for opportunities to study beyond the ordinary courses of a college for a scientific school. The strongest evidence of this demand was the increased attendance of American students upon lectures of German universities.”

How fascinating that the Quakers approached this with such practical wisdom.

Hopkins changed everything.

  • “By the outbreak of World War 1, American medical science had caught up to Europe and was about to surpass it.” (35)

In order to reform, one must understand the underlying incentive structures and the captured interests. Model after the best practices of others, in this case Germany and France. It also never hurts to start anew with an endowment!

Fun facts: