It’s better for older workers to go a little fast: DocSend in Snow Crash

My friends at DocSend have just done their public launch (article, TechCrunch Disrupt presentation). DocSend provides easy ways to get analytics for documents (e.g., proposals, pitch decks, reports, memos) you send out, answering questions like: Who actually viewed the document? Which pages did they view? How much time did they spend on each page? The most common use cases for DocSend’s current customers involve sales, marketing, and startup fundraising — mainly sending documents to people outside an organization.

From when Russ, Dave, and Tony started floating these ideas, I’ve pointed out the similarity with a often forgotten scene1 in Snow Crash, in which a character — Y.T.’s mom — is tracked by her employer (the Federal Government actually) as she reads a memo on a cost-saving program. Here’s an except from Chapter 37:

Y.T.’s mom pulls up the new memo, checks the time, and starts reading it. The estimated reading time is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta [her boss] does her end-of-day statistical roundup, sitting in her private office at 9:00 P.M., she will see the name of each employee and next to it, the amount of time spent reading this memo, and her reaction, based on the time spent, will go something like this:

• Less than 10 min.: Time for an employee conference and possible attitude counseling.
• 10-14 min.: Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing slipshod attitude.
• 14-15.61 min.: Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss important details.
• Exactly 15.62 min.: Smartass. Needs attitude counseling.
• 15.63-16 min.: Asswipe. Not to be trusted.
• 16-18 min.: Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung up on minor details.
• More than 18 min.: Check the security videotape, see just what this employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized restroom break).

Y.T.’s mom decides to spend between fourteen and fifteen minutes reading the memo. It’s better for younger workers to spend too long, to show that they’re careful, not cocky. It’s better for older workers to go a little fast, to show good management potential. She’s pushing forty. She scans through the memo, hitting the Page Down button at reasonably regular intervals, occasionally paging back up to pretend to reread some earlier section. The computer is going to notice all this. It approves of rereading. It’s a small thing, but over a decade or so this stuff really shows up on your work-habits summary.

This is pretty much what DocSend provides. And, despite the emphasis on sales etc., some of their customers are using this for internal HR training — which shifts the power asymmetry in how this technology is used from salespeople selling to companies (which can choose not to buy, etc.) to employers tracking their employees.2

To conclude, it’s worth noting that, at least for a time, product managers at Facebook — Russ’ job before starting DocSend — were required to read Snow Crash as part of their internal training. Though I don’t think the folks running PM bootcamp actually tracked whether their subordinates looked at each page.

  1. I know it’s often forgotten because I’ve tried referring to the scene with many people who have read Snow Crash— or at least claim to have read it… []
  2. Of course, there are some products that do this kind of thing. What distinguishes DocSend is how easy it makes it to add such personalized tracking to simple documents and that this is the primary focus of the product, unlike larger sales tool sets like ClearSlide. []

4 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Joan on May 7th, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Dean, I remember that scene from Snow Crash (great book)… Big Brother on steriods… I’d sure like to know if my students read an assigned article/chapter in that way…

  2. Posted by Tom Eckles on May 8th, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    I wonder if because I clicked on the ‘refer back to’ arrows and am an old guy in which Snow Crash category will I be placed? I may need to re-read Snow Crash as it did not have as big an impact on me as it did you at the time.
    Tom aka pop

  3. Posted by Dean Eckles on May 13th, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Apparently my comment about Snow Crash being assigned reading in PM bootcamp made it into this article:

  4. Posted by A.Lizard (@alizardx) on May 15th, 2014 at 5:02 am

    A person who reads faster than the boss could get into serious trouble behind this. (I read at around 1500 wpm) I don’t wish the DocSend people success.

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