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He Helped Conceive Instagram. Can He Strike Gold Again as a Novelist?

Hi, welcome to your Weekend!

If there’s an unintended theme for this week’s stories, it’s the comeback, the second act, the immune response to a contagion.

In the case of Josh Riedel, it’s the story of a young tech employee who lands at the seminal startup of the early 2010s, Instagram. He devotes his whole life to the company, watching in awe as it catches fire, then slowly loses its soul. A decade later, Riedel links up with Annie to talk about his reinvention as a novelist, the author of a buzzy literary thriller about a startup in familiar circumstances. 

Then there’s Roger Lee, who’s been the bearer of bad news in tech for the last three years. The creator of the dire but necessary Layoffs.fyi, Lee is not really a down-in-the-dumps kind of guy. So, as Arielle learns, he’s built a new tracking database that substitutes mass misery for mass earning potential.

Finally there’s Chris Stokel-Walker’s overview of the new AI reactionaries, the engineers who are forcing transparency on generative AI tools like ChatGPT.  They don’t hate AI, but they also don’t trust it, and so they’re working to bolster our information immune system against it.

All that, plus Margaux’s look at two former Stanford student-athletes who were sick of leaky tampons and decided to do something about it. Clearly, whatever the pursuit, it’s a good time for reversing course and creating something new.

the big read

From Instagram’s First Employee to Tech’s Newest Thriller Writer

Employee No. 1 at Instagram, Josh Riedel once helped his friends Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger redefine self-expression for a digital age. Now, in his debut novel, “Please Report Your Bug Here” (out Tuesday), Riedel renders a Silicon Valley both real and surreal. Annie chats with Riedel in the midst of a bomb cyclone, discussing his buzzy early Instagram years, the shocking Facebook acquisition and his unexpected pivot from tech to fiction.

the ai age

Did a Bot Write This?: New Tools Are Already Taking Aim at ChatGPT

As new generative AI models explode, a number of third-party programs are trying to fight fire with fire—i.e. scanning text to decipher whether it was written by a human or artificial intelligence. Reporter Chris Stokel-Walker explores the growing movement bringing transparency to AI-powered text generators.

the 1:1

Tech’s ‘Doom-and-Gloom Guy’ Builds a Database for Happier Days

Roger Lee has become the de facto census taker of the tech downturn; his Layoffs.fyi serves as the unofficial clearinghouse for industry carnage. Now Lee has launched another database—this one with substantially more room for optimism. He tells Arielle about his new project, Comprehensive.io, which tracks salaries across the tech industry.

my life's work

The Frustrated Athletes Who Reinvented the Tampon in Their Stanford Dorm

Amanda Calabrese and Greta Meyer were two student athletes with one problem—they couldn’t find a tampon that wouldn’t leak during competitions. So they raided pharmacy shelves, filled their dorm room with tampons and tore them apart to sew them back together in new structures. The result is Sequel, a women’s health startup that’s raised $5 million from Index Ventures, Pear VC and Mac Venture Capital.

Reading: The failed Facebook bridge
Back in 2017, Facebook had big plans for Menlo Park, Calif. The locals mostly hated the company—the 25,000-person campus had caused housing prices to spike and created insufferable traffic. But the company wanted to help clean up the mess it had made. For The New York Times, Issie Lapowsky writes about the fallout that ensued, as Facebook pushed to restore the long-abandoned Dumbarton Rail Corridor into a crucial public transportation link. The ambitious plan was fraught from the start, and not just because Facebook floated the idea of autonomous vehicle pods. Local officials cautioned the company that it would take decades to get a project approved, warnings that were anathema to the “move fast, break things” culture. The story is both a fascinating look at the strained relationship between a local government and a tech juggernaut and a sad parable about our societal disconnects. —Margaux

Watching: The death of Noma as foretold by The Menu
The most memorable meal I’ve eaten was in 2019 at Noma, the three-Michelin star restaurant in Copenhagen that was regarded, for a time, as the best restaurant on earth. Over 17 courses, I ate such delicacies as “mold pancake with truffle” and “crispy bees cooked with chocolate,” each dish plated with architectural precision, each ingredient barely recognizable as food. I was reminded of this experience this week as I watched “The Menu,” HBO’s new psycho-thriller about the world of fine dining. The film takes place at a restaurant much like Noma, nestled on a private island with acres of unspoiled coastline. The staff lives on-site, sleeping in prison-like bunks, in order to devote the requisite time to harvesting, fermenting, marinating, liquifying and “spherifying” the haute cuisine. Of course,  there’s a macabre twist, revealing that this film isn’t really about food at all. The real-life horror is the relentless, painstaking precision required of staff at places like Noma, or the restaurant in “The Menu.” Take it from Noma chef René Redzepi, who announced this week that he will be closing the restaurant in 2024, due to the unending, backbreaking work of running such a restaurant. Redzepi told the New York Times the pressures are “simply too hard”—a direct echo of the head chef in “The Menu,” who monologues about “the mess you make of your life, of your body, of your sanity, by giving everything you have to pleasing people you will never know.” Life has a way of imitating art, after all. —Arielle

Noticing: Maybe NFTs arent dead after all?
For the Game of Thrones NFT collection, Warner Brothers’ strived for the same quality as the show’s last season. In other words, the NFTs were bad. For $150, buyers got a set of virtual NFT trading cards featuring generic, Game of Thrones-esque characters. Collectors complained that the graphics were low-effort, and, in some cases, featured bizarre proportions and poorly drawn limbs. There were also technical issues, with some buyers getting double charged and others never receiving their digital collectibles at all. But! Just as the Lannisters always pay their debts, so do the lovers of crypto-backed collectibles: the collection sold out in seven hours. If any of this sounds enticing, then don’t miss your chance to buy the second Game of Thrones NFT drop, coming soon to OpenSea. —Margaux 

Makes You Think

Welcome to Silicon Valley’s Abercrombie era. 

Until next Weekend, thanks for reading.


Weekend Editor, The Information

Jon Steinberg is the Weekend Editor at The Information. He is a former editor-in-chief of San Francisco magazine and senior editor at New York magazine, where his work won many National Magazine Awards.
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