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.


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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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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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?

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

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