Our favorite Protocol long-reads from 2021

Sit back, relax and soak up some of our best reporting from the last 12 months.

Book with "best long reads" of Protocol on cover

We've gathered the best of the best.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol; Getty Images

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Looking for a sit-down between the feasting? Got a spare 30 minutes because your one-on-ones are cancelled this week? Just trying to catch up on the year that was? We’ve got you.

As we head into the New Year, we thought it was a good time to look back at some of our favorite Protocol stories from the last 12 months. Some broke big news, some illuminated people and stories we needed to know more about and all are great and important tales. We hope you enjoy these highlights from 2021.

Inside Big Tech’s angry, geeky, often petty war for your privacy — Issie Lapowsky

  • The W3C tries to govern the internet by consensus, bringing everyone along for the ride. When it comes to privacy, that hasn't worked so well. This was a deep look at what privacy means, why it's so hard to agree on and whose job it really is to keep users safe. It's all messy.

How IBM lost the cloud — Tom Krazit

  • You could argue that IBM Cloud never really had a chance. Even some of the people who worked on it argue exactly that. The story of IBM over the last decade is a classic one: a company caught between its old success and the fast-moving future, stuck choosing the wrong side of history.

Brownsville, we have a problem — Anna Kramer

  • This is the story of what happens when Elon Musk comes to town. And decides to use the beach and wildlife refuge nearby as a launching pad to get humans to Mars. It's not all good news, and it's not all bad news. But it's changing everything, faster than anyone realized, and there's almost nothing anyone can do to stop it.

I helped build ByteDance's vast censorship machine — Shen Lu

  • A former employee lays out the what, how and why of one of China's huge censorship and surveillance operations. It takes an unbelievable amount of computation and human resources to keep this going. And it’s not easy to live with the experience of being responsible for it.

The GE Mafia: How an old-school company birthed a generation of tech leaders — Joe Williams

  • The PayPal Mafia gets all the credit, but it turns out an old-school company has an awful lot to teach people about how to build the future. GE may not be the giant it once was, but its influence is still everywhere.

Why is tech illustration stuck on repeat? Ask the overworked, underpaid illustrators. — Hirsh Chitkara

  • You've definitely seen the illustrations. The whimsical, simple silhouette drawings even have their own name: "Corporate Memphis." It is … everywhere. (And now that you know it, you'll see it even more.) Because like everything else in tech, art has become commoditized and turned into the product of drop-down menus. But maybe there's a comeback in sight.

An oral history of #hugops — Tom Krazit

  • It's hard when your job is largely invisible until something goes wrong. That's life as an operations engineer, though — and Tom wrote the fun, fascinating story of how people across the industry band together to lift each other up even when the internet is down.

Here’s what happens when men in tech share their salaries — Michelle Ma

  • Slowly but surely, it's getting easier to talk about money at work. And it turns out, when you do — when men do, especially — it has a tendency to spark change. The wage gap is real, but many people don't know what it looks like or how it affects them. That's starting to change.

How Congress' parade of tech hearings totally lost the plot — Ben Brody and Kate Cox

  • By this point, tech hearings in Congress have become pretty standard. So too has the fact they often have very little to do with anything actually relating to policy. Such is the reality of the government's relationship with the tech industry these days, which Ben and Kate lay out in painful detail here.

How EA got into mobile — and figured out the future of gaming — Nick Statt

  • Games have always been defined by where they're played. Consoles, PCs, mobile, Switch. But EA is helping usher in a new future, in which devices don't matter and services are everything. And it’s a future where everything is free to play and yet far more lucrative for businesses in the long run.

For Big Tech whistleblowers, there’s no such thing as 'moving on' — Issie Lapowsky

  • So much of tech's reckoning is a result of employees speaking out publicly about what's going on. Those people are all over the news for a while … and then what? Issie's story about what happens next, and why life never goes back to normal, is an important one.

Marc Benioff created one of Silicon Valley’s most unique cultures. Will it outlast him? — Joe Williams

  • The Salesforce "ohana" culture is famous. And it's just as real, just as pervasive and just as all-encompassing as you've heard. But can that culture survive a shift to remote work, a Slack-led reinvention of how work gets done and (eventually) the end of Marc Benioff's run in charge?

How Twitter hired tech's biggest critics to build ethical AI — Anna Kramer

  • Ethical AI is an important but difficult team to build in your company. (Just ask Google.) But Twitter's META team, so far, seems to be proof that it's possible. And it came together simply because Twitter decided it mattered and gave the team room to work. Anna’s story takes a close look at how the company made it happen.

The weaponization of employee resource groups — Megan Rose Dickey

  • ERGs have been talked about a lot over the last year or so, and have been identified as a way to help companies become more diverse and inclusive from within. But as Megan found, too many ERG members are finding it hard to effect real change in the workplace.

20 years of orange cones: The history of VLC — Janko Roettgers

  • VLC is a true Swiss Army knife of an app, the thing you turn to when nothing else knows what to do with that weird video file on your hard drive. Now, two decades old and still getting downloaded a million times a day (no, really), it's working on a redesign, a web app … and a space flight?

How Dapper Labs scored NBA crypto millions — Tomio Geron

  • If you hadn’t really heard of NFTs at the start of the year, you definitely have by now. And while there’s no shortage of people and companies trying to make money off of the craze, Dapper Labs was somewhat of a vanguard, building CryptoKitties several years ago and more recently (and now more famously), NBA Top Shot. Tomio took a close look at the company and the system it has its future pinned on.

Workplace

How 'Dan from HR' became TikTok’s favorite career coach

You can get a lot of advice about corporate America on TikTok. ‘Dan from HR’ wants to make sure you’re getting the right instruction.

'Dan from HR' has posted hundreds of videos on his TikTok account about everything from cover letters to compensation.

Image: Dan Space

Daniel Space downloaded TikTok for the same reason most of us did. He was bored.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Space wanted to connect with his younger cousin, who uses TikTok, so he thought he’d get on the platform and try it out (although he refused to do any of the dances). Eventually, the algorithm figured out that Space is a longtime HR professional and fed him a post with resume tips — the only issue was that the advice was “really horrible,” he said.

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Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a reporter and producer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) where she contributes to Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

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A CCO’s viewpoint on top enterprise priorities in 2022

The 2022 non-predictions guide to what your enterprise is working on starting this week

As Honeywell’s global chief commercial officer, I am privileged to have the vantage point of seeing the demands, challenges and dynamics that customers across the many sectors we cater to are experiencing and sharing.

This past year has brought upon all businesses and enterprises an unparalleled change and challenge. This was the case at Honeywell, for example, a company with a legacy in innovation and technology for over a century. When I joined the company just months before the pandemic hit we were already in the midst of an intense transformation under the leadership of CEO Darius Adamczyk. This transformation spanned our portfolio and business units. We were already actively working on products and solutions in advanced phases of rollouts that the world has shown a need and demand for pre-pandemic. Those included solutions in edge intelligence, remote operations, quantum computing, warehouse automation, building technologies, safety and health monitoring and of course ESG and climate tech which was based on our exceptional success over the previous decade.

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Jeff Kimbell
Jeff Kimbell is Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Honeywell. In this role, he has broad responsibilities to drive organic growth by enhancing global sales and marketing capabilities. Jeff has nearly three decades of leadership experience. Prior to joining Honeywell in 2019, Jeff served as a Partner in the Transformation Practice at McKinsey & Company, where he worked with companies facing operational and financial challenges and undergoing “good to great” transformations. Before that, he was an Operating Partner at Silver Lake Partners, a global leader in technology and held a similar position at Cerberus Capital LP. Jeff started his career as a Manufacturing Team Manager and Engineering Project Manager at Procter & Gamble before becoming a strategy consultant at Bain & Company and holding executive roles at Dell EMC and Transamerica Corporation. Jeff earned a B.S. in electrical engineering at Kansas State University and an M.B.A. at Dartmouth College.
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1Password's CEO is ready for a password-free future

Fresh off a $620 million raise, 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner talks about the future of passwords.

1Password is a password manager, but it has plans to be even more.

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But what does a password manager need with $620 million? Jeff Shiner, 1Password’s CEO, has some plans. He’s building the team fast — 1Password has tripled in size in the last two years, up to 500 employees, and plans to double again this year — while also expanding the vision of what a password manager can do. 1Password has long been a consumer-first product, but the biggest opportunity lies in bringing the company’s knowhow, its user experience, and its security chops into the business world. 1Password already has more than 100,000 business customers, and it plans to expand fast.

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Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

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Biden wants to digitize the government. Can these techies deliver?

A December executive order requires federal agencies to overhaul clunky systems. Meet the team trying to make that happen.

The dramatic uptick in people relying on government services, combined with the move to remote work, rendered inconvenient government processes downright painful.

Photo: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

Early last year, top White House officials embarked on a fact-finding mission with technical leaders inside government agencies. They wanted to know the answer to a specific question: If there was anything federal agencies could do to improve the average American’s experience interacting with the government, what would it be?

The list, of course, was a long one.

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Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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5 takeaways from Microsoft's Activision Blizzard acquisition

Microsoft just bought one of the world’s largest third-party game publishers. What now?

The nearly $70 billion acquisition gives Microsoft access to some of the most valuable brands in gaming.

Image: Microsoft Gaming

Just one week after Take-Two took the crown for biggest-ever industry acquisition, Microsoft strolled in Tuesday morning and dropped arguably the most monumental gaming news bombshell in years with its purchase of Activision Blizzard. The deal, at nearly $70 billion in all cash, dwarfs Take-Two’s purchase of Zynga, and it stands to reshape gaming as we know it.

The deal raises a number of pressing questions about the future of Activision Blizzard’s workplace culture issues, exclusivity in the game industry and whether such massive consolidation may trigger a regulatory response. None of these may be easily answered anytime soon, as the deal could take up to 18 months to close. But the question marks hanging over Activision Blizzard will loom large in the industry for the foreseeable future as Microsoft navigates its new role as one of the three largest game makers on the planet.

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Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
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