Nicole Brodeur and Tricia Romano recap "Daily Active Users," another installment in "Silicon Valley."
This is a dark one, especially after all the happiness and excitement over the launch of the Pied Piper platform. The only light that comes through this week is courtesy of the Satanist himself, Gilfoyle, who can see through the cracks.
The episode opens with a slick, all-too-familiar,“We are changing the world with our (website/platform/app)” commercial for Pied Piper, built around … a table. It cost the guys a fortune and, frankly, is everything we hate about Internet companies. Let’s get ahold of ourselves, can we? Please?
Tricia Romano: They talk about that in the New Yorker article about how the show is made (it’s really worth reading). The commercials for these apps are designed to make the product seem more important than it really is. The whole, “make the world a better place” BS. Of course, everyone eats it up at their fancy party at Laurie’s house, which looks like a cold art gallery.
Nicole Brodeur: Indeed, Laurie’s is a no-shoes place, where the big fun is built around a ticker about to show the 500,000th download of the platform. On one of the walls, Laurie’s got a photo of a dog. “Is that your dog?” Erlich asks her. “It’s a dog,” she says. (“Her parties are always deeply weird,” Monica tells Richard. No kidding. It looks like a wake in a cryogenics lab.)
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Tricia: Laurie is a robot. Erlich says with classic understatement, “You and I have never had much of a rapport, have we?” Has anyone? She just stares blankly ahead. On the surface, everything looks kosher. Fancy party, a countdown, lots of catered food, which Jared is ever so carefully arranging on a napkin into some sort of checkerboard pattern.
Richard tells Monica that she might not have been wrong about Pied Piper, as they only have a few thousand active users (an abject failure in Silicon Valley-land). She glances across the room, where Jared is pacing and chewing on his fingers. “Apparently Jared knows,” she says.
Nicole: But Gilfoyle, my wonderful, astute man, sniffs the BS out. “You’re hiding something,” he tells Jared, citing his “traditional Judeo-Christian mores of right and wrong.” Jared denies anything is wrong, to which Gilfoyle replies, flatly: “Lies.”
Tricia: He says, “I terrify you. As I should,” and poor, sweet, sweet Jared nearly chokes on his carefully arranged food. In the kitchen, Dinesh is unsuccessfully trying to hit on someone. “Great ideas just sort of float through me,” he tells a unimpressed girl.
Nicole: Didn’t you know, Tricia? He INVENTED SKYPE!!!! Do your homework! The guys realize they need to launch a focus group to find out what’s wrong. Richard watches one session from behind the glass as people talk about how there is no “download” button, they can’t find their photos … what the hell? One man said, “It just made me feel stupid.”
Monica put it best: “You’re trying to sell the platform to regular people but never actually put it in the hands of regular people.” (Is that what we are, Tricia? “Regular people”? Sigh.)
Richard can’t take it, and bursts into the room to take over. He opens by saying that one woman’s scrambled-egg breakfast was made up of “electronics.” Oh geez.
Tricia: And this was the “least hostile” group. Thomas Middleditch’s face does all the work here, contorting and grimacing, as he listens to their responses. After he spends several hours whiteboarding it for everyone, they suddenly get it and love it and he thinks this is the way forward: seminars, not redesigning the platform. The ego is so fragile. The marketing guy scoffs: “What’s he smiling about? His data was corrupted the second he walked into that room.”
Nicole: Back at the house, everybody knows they have a user problem — and less than a million dollars to fix it. Two of the new guys, customer-care people, walk out. They don’t have any customers to care for, really. (Jared, of course, chases after them for their exit interviews. In the driveway. I love his earnest sticklerness. Is that a word?)
Tricia: Poor, sweet, darling Jared. At Hooli, where Gavin is having lunch on the roof with his guru (who is eating the world’s largest steak while dispensing advice), the security guy tips him off about the ex-Pied Piper employee who’s in the building interviewing for a job. Gavin figures out that Pied Piper might be selling like crazy in the Hooli store but they have a user problem. So at the board meeting, he brings out, guess who? “Action” Jack Barker, who unveils…. Yes, a BOX.
Nicole: Cut to Gavin and Jack in the same vast warehouse, with the same ashen-faced, ponytailed dork leading them around. Meanwhile, Pied Piper going into quick action with outreach and user sessions. And lots of swag, of course. Hoodies, at first … then, just Subway gift cards. The efforts aren’t working. It’s grim. People are just walking out, save for Berniece, the scrambled-egg lady from the focus group, who I predict will be back as their Chief Regular Person.
Tricia: Someone suggests that they could just buy a “click farm” in Bangladesh to build up users. Instead, what they end up with (since they’ve once again spent all their money) is a talking, animated “Pied Piper.” Which is eerily, terrifyingly similar to the paperclip that Microsoft actually used for years and years. Even Dinesh is disgusted: “You want us to take the most sophisticated and technically complex compression based platform ever created and…” he nods as Pipey squeaks and jumps around. Did I mention his name is PIPEY???
Nicole: No kidding. I see that thing and I had flashbacks. It even has jaunty little tune. You think Bill Gates has paper clips in his nightmares? Kind of like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but with paper clips instead of brooms?
Tricia: I thought Gilfoyle would throw the computer off the desk.
Nicole: Richard takes the fetal position in the bathtub. Jared tries to cheer him up, to no avail. (I am still hearing that stupid Pipey tune in my head. Dammit!). Richard just wants to call an all-hands meeting in the morning and divide up what little money is left.
Tricia: At Hooli, Gavin Belson is triumphant before his board, who are now happy with him and the success of a giant black box. But, as he starts to do this bloviating, one of the board members says, “Gavin, if you’re bringing an animal into this boardroom, this meeting is over.” He continues unabated — and walks them outside where there. is. an. elephant.
Why an elephant? “It never forgets and neither do I.”
Over at the house, Richard is coaxed out of the tub by some weird uptick in numbers, no one can figure it out. But Jared, dear, sweet Jared, is up to something.
Nicole: And Gilfoyle is onto it: “Are those numbers legit?” he asks Jared, who says they are. Gilfoyle doesn’t say anything. Jared leaves the room and makes a call, telling the person on the other end to add 1,000 users a day for the next week.
Cut to: A vast click farm in Bangladesh where people are all logging into Pied Piper. My blood just started running cold. This is a little scary … and probably happening as we type this. No music.
Tricia: This is the darkest ending in Silicon Valley. Thousands of people in a vast room, smoking and clicking and logging on. Probably being paid pennies an hour. And yes, we’re all complicit.
Nicole: Meanwhile, a fiberglass Tiki head sinks a little deeper into the bottom of San Francisco Bay. Sigh.