The best of Protocol
Image: Chris Fong / Protocol

The best of Protocol

Source Code

Good morning. It’s 1,031 days since I hit “send” on the first ever edition of Protocol Source Code. Today, with a heavy heart, I have hit that same button for the final time. Sadly, this is the final edition of Source Code you’ll receive. (But look out next week for an email from Politico about some alternatives you might like to read instead).

I wanted to take a moment to say what a pleasure and privilege it has been for everyone on the Protocol team to help you, our readers, navigate the world of technology. I hope you’ve enjoyed our work, I hope you’ve found it useful, and I hope you go on to read the work of our journalists at other publications in the future.

And for this, our final edition of Source Code, the Protocol team has nominated our favorite stories from the past three years. I hope you enjoy them one last time.

— Jamie Condliffe, Executive Editor

Concern trolls and power grabs: Inside Big Tech's angry, geeky, often petty war for your privacy by Issie Lapowsky

  • “Issie wrote this piece before I joined Protocol. It was one of the stories I read that convinced me of Protocol's superiority in covering the wacky, interesting side of tech and power. I'd thought about the online data privacy debate in vague, general terms, but Issie distilled it and humanized it by following passionate engineers in the World Wide Web Consortium — a community I'd never heard of!”

Google contractors at data centers face forced unemployment by Anna Kramer

  • “I'll always remember Anna's story on Google's data center contractors, because it shed light on an often unseen workforce in the tech industry and revealed how Google tries to skirt labor laws about contract workers by forcing these people into periods of unemployment. It's such a glaringly problematic practice, and I'm so glad Anna was able to bring it to light.”

From McDonald's to Google: How Kelsey Hightower became one of the most respected people in cloud computing by Tom Krazit

  • “Kelsey Hightower's story is both inspirational and unusual, and his career says a lot about what a more diverse, more effective tech industry looks like. I thought it was incredible that Tom had a chance to tell such an important story at Protocol, and I was blown away by how well he executed on the piece.”

Can Silicon Valley be more ethical? Salesforce, Google hired ethicists to rethink processes by Linda Kinstler

  • "One of Protocol's very first stories, and it signaled the kind of sophisticated, nuanced reporting that was to become the publication's trademark."

Microsoft Research Asia helped build AI in China by Kate Kaye

  • “Kate's whole series on China + AI was terrific, but this article stood out to me for the way that it illuminated how Microsoft was an ‘instrumental force’ in China's rise as an AI technology power, and then deftly explored the many questions that arise about this as a result of the current political and economic climate.”

Google Cloud customers and partners grade CEO Thomas Kurian by Donna Goodison

  • “It's not easy to write a definitive story about a topic this big, but Donna did just that in her article about Google Cloud's rise as an enterprise tech powerhouse, which notably featured great insights from the CEO driving the shift and multiple enterprise customers.”

Section 230 reform: Mark Warner's SAFE TECH Act by Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum

  • “This was my favorite because it was covering the Section 230 event from March of 2021 when Senator Mark Warner got super aggressive with Issie but she just maintained her cool the entire time and still hammered him with hard questions. Definitely the first time I got to see our live journalism really make a difference.”

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

  • “This story was well sourced and well written but more importantly it did what all of my favorite Protocol stories do: made me aware of, and then care about, this entire issue I'd never heard about or considered before.”

Cloudflare protests over Kiwi Farms customer by Tom Krazit

  • “This to-the-point piece did such a nice job of taking something that might be kind of opaque and hard to draw a bead on — like who provides enterprise anti-DDoS services to whom — and showing the very real-world intersections, implications, and politics involved.”

George Church, Ben Lamm create Colossal to bring back woolly mammoth by Biz Carson

  • “I think about this story, no joke, at least three times a week. ‘Repopulating the Arctic tundra with extinct mammoths as climate change action’ was not a topic I woke up expecting to read about but I was so glad Biz covered it. If we had added a dinosaur cloning tech vertical I wouldn't have been mad about it.”

Welcome to Afterparty: One night at Hollywood's hottest NFT minting party by Nat Rubio-Licht

  • “Nat did such a good job reporting this story. The scene they set was perfect, every detail they recalled and reproduced on the page just sang.”

Amazon warehouses have notorious injury rates. States are finally doing something about it. by Anna Kramer

  • “I remain in awe of this story. Every single story Anna set her mind to in her time at Protocol was a slam dunk but to me this represents everything that makes her such a star, and what made Protocol so special. She dug through piles and piles of data and used it to tell a compelling, clear story that spotlit what continues to be one of the major labor issues of our time.”

The crypto-communists behind the Web3 revolution by Benjamin Pimentel

  • “This was off-the-wall in the best possible way, a really fun look at the Web3 debate. The future of decentralized finance, it argued, echoes a decidedly Marxist vision of the future — but nobody was talking about it. Well, they were after this was published.”

Overturning Roe could change how digital advertisers use location data. Can they regulate themselves? by Kate Kaye

  • “Kate should be commended for her ability to shine a light on the spaces in enterprise, specifically around privacy rights, that thrive on being opaque and hard to understand. Her stories like these did such a good job of packaging the exact kinds of information and processes where most users lack clarity and explaining why and how that ambiguity can be used to work against their best interests.”

Silicon Valley's new extreme: The 2:30 a.m. tech bus from Salida by Lauren Hepler

  • “This was another of the first stories ever published by Protocol and it captured so much of what we wanted to do: tell the stories of the tech industry from within. It was a herculean reporting task on Lauren's behalf to be out at the bus stops and gain worker trust, and it set the tone from the beginning for our labor coverage later picked up by Anna Kramer.”

An oral history of #hugops: How tech's first responders built a culture of empathy by Tom Krazit

  • “Tom's piece made me think of a whole group of people in a whole new — and much more sympathetic — light.”

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

  • “I'm biased because of my Palantir piece [see below], but I think any ‘mafia’ coverage by Protocol really spoke to our reporters understanding the people, power, and politics of tech and being able to spot the trends along with it.”

Silicon Valley's newest mafia: The Palantir Pack by Biz Carson

  • “Joe and Biz's stories were both able to capture why people that cut their teeth at one company had been able to find success at their next ventures. They both helped peel back the layers on company ethos with a unique approach that wasn't just interesting, but useful for others trying to create a similar culture elsewhere.”

Elon Musk offers $50k to teen to remove flight tracker bot by Veronica Irwin

  • “This gets points for the art alone, but Elon Jet was such a fun story that set off waves of media coverage from people around the world picking it up.”

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

  • “Some incredible reporting on display here. A former employee laid out the what, how, and why of one of China's huge censorship and surveillance operations, and it made for utterly compelling reading.”

Through apps, not warrants, 'Locate X' allows federal law enforcement to track phones by Charles Levinson

  • “Babel Street's tech became a recurring story, and that was led by this investigation into how the government tracks its citizens, and how a complicated system makes that possible”

Expensify’s CEO explains how he made the decision to tell all his customers to vote for Biden by Biz Carson

  • “One way I liked to think about what we were doing at Protocol was bringing to life the conversations that people had in meeting rooms inside tech companies. I think this is the epitome of that: describing in great detail how someone made a huge and controversial decision.”

How IBM lost the cloud by Tom Krazit

  • “Everybody knew that IBM had failed to capitalize on the cloud, but nobody knew why, exactly. This sharp, critical look at IBM from Tom did a fantastic job of piecing the story together, and served as a lesson in how not to think about the Next Big Thing.”

Why Microsoft's new Flight Simulator should make Google and Amazon nervous by Seth Schiesel

  • “A game review that wasn’t a game review. Seth used the launch of Flight Simulator to shine a light on how Microsoft was thinking very differently than its competitors about the way it was bringing different teams and different technologies together.”

A tiny team of House staffers could change the future of Big Tech. This is their story. by Emily Birnbaum

  • “Come for the lede — a political staffer changing light bulbs — and stick around for the incredible reporting. Emily’s story about a small group of House staffers, including the future FTC chair Lina Khan, pulled back the curtain on how the Big Tech antitrust battle was being assembled in D.C. It was essential reading for anybody who needed to know what was happening behind the scenes — the perfect Protocol story.”

The crypto reckoning in the Finger Lakes by Brian Kahn

  • “One of the launch stories for our climate vertical, this feature took a close look at a tiny town in upstate New York that had become the stage of an unlikely showdown between bitcoin miners and a group of citizens looking to stop the industry in its tracks. In the process, it told a fascinating story about energy, our planet, and the regulation of crypto. That the artwork is all original, and by Brian himself, only served to make the story all the more special.”

Sequoia's invisible hand: How Roelof Botha became one of the most powerful people in venture capital by Biz Carson

  • “A great profile is dense with anecdotes and details, but also manages to trace a line through them. Biz did that expertly in this piece, telling us all we needed to know and more about how Roelof Botha made his way from Tupperware salesman to leading one of Silicon Valley’s most successful VC firms. Still very much a must read.”

Figma's CEO pledges to 'retain our identity' as users fear the coming Adobe regime by Lizzy Lawrence

  • “What a great story this was. It had the authority of an interview with Figma’s CEO, along with the sentiment of why day-to-day users were annoyed by the acquisition, and parceled it up into a really smart look at how people should be thinking about the news. And Lizzy turned it round so quickly, too!”

How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet by David Pierce

  • “I couldn't pull a top stories report without this story showing up. And for good reason! It manages to be both a deep-dive into one of the largest online platforms, while also explaining how that platform's framework may one day take over the internet.”

Amazon's entrepreneur dream is closer to a nightmare for many by Anna Kramer

  • “Anna’s piece on Amazon's Delivery Service Partner program was absolutely captivating: It looked at the real-life and systemic effects of a massive company like Amazon over-promising and under-delivering, and the kind of turmoil that could cause in normal peoples' lives.”

The virtual real estate boom is turning the metaverse into the Wild West, and it has the true believers on edge by Nick Statt

  • “The opening sentence to this story was incredible: ‘When Artur Sychov, the founder and CEO of metaverse platform Somnium Space, turned on his webcam for our interview, I was greeted by a black lizard-like creature, standing upright and emanating a pattern of white and green light across his face and chest.’ And the whole story was just as weird and wonderful.”

The US plans to block sales of older chipmaking tech to China by Max Cherney

  • “Max led global coverage with his reporting around chip restrictions on China, so this is actually just one story of many that stand out as some of Protocol’s most impactful reporting. Incredible sourcing.”

And that's it! Thanks so much for reading. Goodbye!

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