Change the dollar's slogan to: "in nothing else do we trust"

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 20:21:40 +0000

Reading Bloomberg News this AM there is a discussion of the fact that while the government has borrowed an increasingly absurd amount of money in the last several months, the interest expense of all the borrowing is significantly down.  The yield on treasuries is zero and in some cases even negative.  In the middle of the meltdown we are literally paying the government to take and invest our money….  Why?  Because with so little transparency into the value and dependencies of various ‘assets’ it increasingly seems like there is nowhere else to put our trust.  The abstracted inter-dependencies of fund-of-fund-of-fund-of-funds is the only thing that enables something like a Madoff, and the only reason the government is able to now borrow literally trillions of dollars at zero cost of capital.  Many have been talking about this - but if you will, please allow me bit of a saunter towards how I am considering the situation with an information theory spin on the equation –

Money is a medium of exchange & perfect information would actually render M0 meaningless While I would like to think that I remember large swaths of my college economics courses, watching the economic events of the last few months I can’t help but going back to just the first week of EC10.  Specifically - i remember that currency has no underlying value, isn’t ‘real’ in and of itself, it is just a medium of communication to facilitate the exchange of goods and services.  M0 exists because without perfect information and free communication it is too hard to exchange physical value.

Thus, if we had perfect information there would be no need for currency (M0) – instead of paying $10.00 for lunch, I could simply trade on the fly to get a sandwich for 4 sheep in the hills of Albania that were fed yesterday and vaccinated last month.  With perfect information and zero cost of communication then all assets would themselves be fully liquid and money would have no role.

Capitalism is really simple.  Set aside all of the complicated rules, regulations, policies, and mechanism - it is based on people creating differential value in the world by the sweat of their brows and the power of their minds….  when people create value the world’s capitalization rises, when people destroy value the world’s capitalization falls.  The entire valuation pie cannot exceed the current value of all goods and services in circulation, plus the future value of all goods and services adjusted by how much the world trusts the future goods and services will actually come into being.

Why am I taking the time to rant about this?  Because while the internet is actually bringing us closer and closer to trading Albanian sheep for lunch in Brooklyn (with ever more perfect information and lower communications costs), the world’s economy seems to be marching in the other direction. And, thus, the US government is borrowing trillions and trillions of dollars for free… more precisely, the US government is on track to print themselves a trillion units of communicative credit.  Printing this money does not create value.  So, why exactly is it that injecting new money into a system means anything?  If the amount of goods and services stays constant, what do we care if the medium of exchange expands…

Because it signals a voluntary rebalancing based on lost faith in our ability to evaluate the total value of other entities.  Our information seems bad, far worse than we expected, so we have no idea who actually owns all the Albanian sheep, how much we can trade them for today and tomorrow, and who has a reasonable probability of generating more goods and services in the future.  Without any information we are creating our own reset by allowing the government to print tons of money, and then use it to buy up all the ‘assets’ of indefinite value.

If the world was comfortable valuing assets, if we had better information, it would be basically impossible for the government to print money for free and buy up all the current and future goods and services in the economy, but while people feel they lack enough information to effectively use currency, buy the government will….

This isn’t the end of money, but it is voluntary nationalization, because ‘in nothing else do we trust’ More thoughts about fundamentally why this happened based on a social miscalculation of the impact of tech on economics in the last 20 years (I DO blame tech companies for this crash), but now off to work.  For the record, I am stealing the concept of playing on ‘in god we trust from Atlas Shrugged, which seemed appropriate’ – but not the specific device.


Some Off-Hand Thoughts On 'Net Neutrality'

Thu, 01 Jan 2009 22:18:00 +0000

Recently I had occasion to think about the ‘net neutrality’ issue a bit.  below are some loose thoughts I got to – seems like the type of thing to throw on the blog

the set of discussions that has been politicized under the heading of ‘net neutrality’ represent in my mind one of the most complex and deeply important issues of our the next century.  These discussions are at the heart of the relative balance of power within the information economy largely because they have a massive impact on the relative cost of capital for different players in the stack, with enormous long-term implications.

It is a rare issue where the fundamental premises of freedom of capital and freedom of information may collide.  This seems to be one of those issues.

Ultimately, to contribute to the discussion I would offer three thoughts:

First, let’s be clear about definitions - what does ‘net neutrality’ mean?  People like to abstract the internet as an open and free vehicle where all players/services are equal and users have equal access.  This simply is not the current state of play in any real sense.  The internet is not flat, and services are not currently equal.  When we talk about openness and neutrality, we come up against serious issues around speed and availability.  Do we think that all services should be equally fast?  What is a minimum level of speed that counts as accessible? 

Larger more sophisticated players with lower cost of capital already engage in all sorts of activities like ‘edge caching’ and buying CDN services at scale to gain speed and cost advantages over competitors.  Is that a problem?  It certainly gives larger companies a service level advantage, but so does having cheap capital to spend on more complete user testing and more efficient javascript – if you want to argue at that level, then there are several layers and issues which quickly get exceedingly complicated… and this isn’t even about net neutrality anymore

Second, what are our goals/interests regarding this issue as a society.  We live in a time where change is accelerating almost exponentially.  I believe that the goal of good regulation should be to correct market inefficiencies to break out of stagnated outcomes and foster greater innovation and growth. 

Elements in the ‘net neutrality’ debate have characteristics which are feel like they tend towards the classic tragedy of the commons…  I love my iPhone, but I recently had to get a Verizon blackberry because ATT’s bandwidth “commons” in parts of New York City are feeling very bare.  We are very lucky that we have several competitive providers of cell service, is that the same for the home & high speed wired connections?

Ultimately, I believe that this is all about cost of capital, and where in the stack of information services we want to see innovation. 


Over the last  fifteen years small start ups have flourished, especially in the Internet application space.  It is undeniable that companies like drop.io have benefited from a largely level playing filed in a world of relatively ample bandwidth (largely created as a result of massive over exuberance during the last internet boom and subsequently financed indirectly - one might argue - by the public through bankruptcies and reorganizations).  Internet startups with very low cash requirements have been able to leverage up quickly, and the entrepreneurs and engineers behind them have in some extreme cases benefited wildly from relatively cheap capital… The result has been a ton of application innovation, and not as much bandwidth build out/innovation.

If we move away from open principles, the cost of starting new web-applications will rise.  Startups will have to buy access to customers at a higher price (either by paying ISPs, or engaging in marketing activities to get end users to demand/pay ISPs for our services).  But, at the same time, while the cost of capital for startups will go up (shifting leverage and cheap money away from entrepreneurs and engineers) the cost of capital for ISPs will decline and you may see more critical bandwidth build out (further, as public companies, one could argue that if the net innovation was constant this setup would allow more individuals to benefit from the growth in the public market). 

While these trade-off might be obvious, the implications of a changed structure around the internet could get even more mind bending.  Some of the largest internet players with exceedingly low cost of capital may benefit from a move away from net-neutral principles (despite the fact they currently stand in favor of open principles)…  As might venture capitalists - whose capital may command higher relative ownership vs. entrepreneurs, even among a smaller set of startups.

So, should the federal government be looking at this and in a position to potentially act probably.  Should they act, I don’t know - I am not a politician and would have to spend more time researching the issue and considering how to maximize the long-term common good (and even if that type of maximization plays within the purview of the federal government). I do, however, strongly believe that to take the federal government completely out of the discussion that will fundamentally shape the economy and growth of the united states over the next century would be a grave misstep.


an iphone app (or just a web-page) by verizon wireless.

Thu, 01 Jan 2009 22:18:00 +0000

goal = strike a final blow to the iPhone/ATT experience by applying simple laws re: tragedy of the commons (since bandwidth is on all you can eat plans) - drive users to ‘droid’

approach = construct an iphone app (or just a web-page) that streams some nice video down to the handset.  have people sign up and give away $1000 an hour to people who are watching from an iphone (detect the useragent)

result = iphone owners leave their iphones on the page whenever they are not using them streaming down video…  ATT’s network falls over once and for all… everyone buys droids

extra credit = make your hourly giveaway dynamically priced based on time of day and existing local network traffic to maximally slow down the network to the point that people cancel iPhone contracts.

more extra credit = actually stream ads from third parties… become a ad network.

( obviously, i am just writing verizon wireless and ATT/iPhone for punch, this would work really for anyone that has an interest in seeing a network not work - perhaps somone along the droid/iphone supply chain?)


back of the envelope: the iPhone costs the world $60B a year

Thu, 01 Jan 2009 22:22:00 +0000

1.  Comparing my iPhone and my Blackberry, I would estimate that typing on/using my iPhone is about 20% slower

2.  I am on my devices about ~130 min a day (2.2 hours) –>  iPhone costs me ~27 min of productivity a day

3.  There are 25 million iPhones in the world –> 11 million hours a day lost in total

6.  The median income of iPhone users is $15 an hour. (this is schwag, adults probably skew high, but lots of kids in the mix) –> $165 million dollars a day lost
7.  There are 365 days in a year (because we all work all the time in our mobile enabled world) –> $60 billion dollars a year down the tube.

So - back of the envelope - the iPhone costs the world half the market cap of Apple every year (and growing)…  or, if we assume a 7x revenue multiple, about $420B in value, which quickly would cover a few wars - if not a full on bailout.


information's value, restated via restaurant recommendations

Thu, 01 Jan 2009 22:22:00 +0000

Last weekend I spent a wonderful lunch with a good friend, Mollie Chen, who is an editor at conde nast traveler… as often happens, the conversation moved towards content, and the future (what an original topic for me to get hung up on, I know)…

that said, I espoused my normal position, which is that the value of information is based on scarcity, and really is JUST a function of scarcity.  that means that there will always be a way to sell content.  The business of information isn’t going away at all, in fact there is an argument that it will become MORE potent – but what constitutes ‘scarce’ information / what sells is changing…

in the process of the conversation, we came up with a new description of what is really happening via the metaphor of restaurant recommendations, which I think is interesting if not elegant

Regardless of whether it was 1910 or 1990 or 2015, if you want to know where to go to dinner in New York, you have various means of discovery at your disposal along a continuum.  The more you ‘spend’, in time or effort, the better an answer you get.  You can ‘spend’ in the form of time, money, or social capital - and your ‘return’ is based on how you value the correspondingly better restaurant experience.

Your restaurant picking mission is simple – you are looking for the highest ROI answer based on how you value your time/money - and how you value an incrementally better meal – (you are NOT necessarily looking for the ‘best’ answer).


dumping the backlog, another set of ideas

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 21:31:00 +0000

Free for the world, since I can’t monetize them, and I don’t have time to write for real:</strong>

1.  I am done with traditional maps of space, they serve no purpose, unless you are marching a physical army on foot any time in the near future, or you have a private jet that can land anywhere, takes infinite fuel, and runs for free.  The criteria the help me get around is not distance and direction, it is time and money (or, really just money if I care to value my time).  Looks something like this…

– or, with a single destination and many modes of transit based on a set of probable time outcomes holding cost constant –

2.  I am also really interested in retail maps…  I think that in a retail map my girlfriend and I actually live next door, not half way around the world.

3.  Has anyone built a twitter based polling system yet?  That seems completely obvious (@twitpol - which is the best food?  #burger, #fries, #pizza)

4.  Journalist/Blogger Integrity and Cron Polling Services…

5.  It seems that people are starting to really wake up to the fact that the value of information f(scarcity) - that is great - and a big shift from the discussion a year + ago.

6.  One time pads and TwitCrypt

7.  There is this interesting point when things go from ?s to statements, and then totally disappear. 

* with phones “may I ask who is calling” to “hey steve” (with caller id) to “hi” (with assumed caller ID)
* with location “where are you” to “I see you are in NYC” (with LBS) to “wanta get a beer” (with implied LBS)

8.  my mother and I no longer speak the same protocols…  I love my mother dearly - she is also an articulate speaker and a precise thinker, however I find myself getting more and more frustrated trying to carry out conversations with her.

Upon reflection, it isn’t either of our faults, we are just speaking different dialects of the same language, leading to confusion.

What I have come to realize is that the issue is that we have very different expectations about the availability and source-ability of information on the fly.

I speak fat-pipe always on distributed english She speaks narrow-pipe poor connectivity central server english

How does this manifest itself?  

First and foremost, abbreviations -  I speak and write in shorthand.  She speaks and writes in long format…  I assume she can and will look up answers she may or may not need if she needs answers she does not have….  she assumes that I am data constrained, and need to know all contingencies and details.  She transmits full complete messages, I only transmit the delta.

Second, she works on a central server request/response model, I work on a distributed computing model.  Her mode of communication she asks me questions, I respond and she returns local answers (“sam, where would you like me to put your bike shoes” “how about on top of the dog’s crate”  ”no, that doesn’t work, where would you like me to put them”) – I am used to a model where people transmit only the part of the problem or the information needed to solve a problem…  everyone on the edge processes needed pieces for themselves, and then stich the larger issue back together.

Or, she works on a linear program model - I work on an object oriented model?, maybe - not sure that is correct…

either way - now that these are out, back to real work…


Drop.io Theory

Thu, 15 Oct 2009 21:31:00 +0000

The theory of drop.io – the big picture of what we are really after (PT 1)</p><p>
When you think of drop.io, you probably think of a simple way to privately share files at http://drop.io – this is a perfectly valid way to think about what we do.  In fact, it is what we do.  We try to do it very well - and will continue to do it better every day for consumers and small businesses.

That said, more and more in conversations people ask us what we are really after in the grand scheme….  and it is a valid question, especially as we are gearing up to expose all of our services at a web-service level.  

So, while you can plough through the documentation on how to leverage our IO, Conversion, and XMPP ‘realtime’ engines programatically, we decided it was time to start telling the wider story of WHY it is that the 12 of us spend our time plugging away at World HQ in Brooklyn + wherever it is in the middle of the country that jake exists :)

This first video in this series is all about the disaggregation of the component parts of a conversation as the web evolves - a conversation or any movement of content  consists of three things, Identity, Content, and Distribution –> and as the web evolves these functions are disaggregating and verticalizing… 

drop.io as a web service for sharing, collaboration, and presentation is the first step – we are our own best customers….  but when considering the mix of things we are building, how we think about other services, or what you can build with us think of modern ‘content’ facilities standing apart from identity and distribution verticals.

you can learn more about what this practically means and play around with our beta API at http://dev.drop.io</p>


Incestfest : The harvard-harvard marriage donation discount

Thu 15 Oct 2009 - 02:24 PM Eastern Time (US & Canada)

Harvard is a great community, and it also happens to be a massively incestuous community.  I don't remember the exact numbers, but I remember being told that the rate at which harvard alums marry each other is astronomical compared to other ivy league schools.

I think that the school generally thinks of this as a good thing, demonstrating the value/affinity of the school, and just how well the student body gets along.... 

but recently I started thinking, is this really an economically good thing for the school -- does a harvard-harvard couple donate twice as much as a household to the school than a household with one harvard alum?

My completely un-educated guess is no.  Perhaps a harvard-harvard household donates on average slightly more to the school than a single harvard alum household, but it would be hard to believe they do the full 2X.

This means that incest saves alum households donation dollars, and costs the school potential dollars.  Instead of having 1600 alum household per class, in the worst case if everyone marries each other you are looking at 800 households...

Perhaps the endowment coffers would be better served by marrying the students off to other schools - scholastic arranged marriages if you will.  Perhaps it would be best to marry grads off to those like princeton with very high giving rates and meaningful rivalry.  Perhaps it is time the school step up and sponsor some new york mixers/events/speed dating events.... Or just build a dating site where they optimize the search results for donation ROI

Scholastic biodiversity might serve everyone well, creating some extra intra-household competition while increasing the total number of effective households from which to draw -- (heck, you might as well buy twice as many lottery tickets)


** a sadly needed post script (given new FTC blog ruling, i don't want to face an $11K fine :), I am personally quite involved in giving to harvard, a community & charity in which I very much believe.  If you haven't picked it up from previous entries (a surprising number of people have missed the joke in the past), read a bit on my blog's namesake 'A Modest Proposal'


Movies4Gold: Netflix + Cash4gold = greatest company ever

Thu, 08 Oct 2009 21:31:00 +0000

Just put some gold in with your netflix rental return when you are done watching! http://movies4gold.com or follow @movies4gold

Summary

1.  Cash4gold: high profitability low penetration
2.  Netflix: high penetration with longterm business model issues + scaled envelope distribution & receipt logistics infrastructure and accounting

- Both companies have significant affiliate marketing expertise, potential human capital "synergies"

A deal made in heaven (p.s.I have the url and the twitter name all ready, just kick me 50 basis points)

Explanation

cash4gold is awesome...  as is well known, not just because of their amazing superbowl commercials, but because of their silly profitability.

Their model is simple...  People have lots of gold stuff, and they want to trade that gold stuff for cash.  There are lots of ways to trade gold stuff for cash, but most of them involve small time local dealers/jewelers who have no marketing budget and with whom people are terrified of being ripped off.

So, cash for gold comes in...  Sure the amount of cash you get from cash4gold for your gold is sub-optimal...  But you can be sure that they will be professional and not rip you off entirely.  Mix in a little marketing and you have crazy free cash flow!

The only problem is physically getting tons of gold collecting envelopes with the proper accounting systems out to the trillions of people trying to send in all their gold for cash!

When I want to swap my gold for cash, I want to do it now, I don't want to mail away and wait three days!  We live in an instant gratification world people.

The solution - movies4gold, a partnership between netflix and cash4gold (I will just take a 50 bp matchmaker fee).

Netflix is already sending out and receiving envelopes from millions of members ...  All they need to do, just stick your gold in the envelope along with driving miss daisy!

The beauty, not only does netflix have the logistics all ready to go, they have the accounting in place.

Netflix = the fulfillment and the accounting
Cash4gold = a business model that works in a digital delivery future

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg - I am envisioning deals like "send us gold and we will give you discounts on future movies" or, "want to keep your movie, just return some gold instead...". Perhaps even "porn4gold" will work even better!  But you have to start somewhere...


Variable Cost Living Sadly Doesn't Work

Thu, 01 Oct 2009 21:34:00 +0000

Over the last several months I tried an experiment in the city in variable cost living.  The idea was simple - I adore the flexibility that ‘cloud’ computing gives me to run my business on 100% variable cost basis.  The drop.io service can expand and contract on an hourly basis to match demand, which means that even if we pay slightly elevated costs per unit of storage or compute, we can match our cost structure exactly to current demand and don’t need to worry about modeling service changes that might meaningfully change use patterns.  We save a ton of time, money, modeling, and CAPEX by running on a variable basis with zero friction to expansion/contraction… and I am quite certain that this is the way the world is going to move very quickly.

I figured, if it works for compute and virtual storage, shouldn’t it work for physical space?  After all, really what is the difference between a compute cloud and a human city (not much theoretically)?  Starting with the convenient factor that I own very little – and the few things I do own I can easily deposit at the parent’s home in NJ – this summer for several months I took my bicycle and a duffel bag and simply spun up/down housing on a monthly and even daily basis based on what I needed.  When my girlfriend was in town we stayed at nice hotels.  When I was out of town traveling I paid no rent anywhere.  In the middle of the summer I got a place with a great roof deck, earlier in the summer I went without.  This wasn’t about saving money per-se – it was about maximizing the utility/value of my housing experience for the same money by living with zero lock-in.  It was about the concept that flexibility was under-priced in the market…. and, I figured that with an unappealing but very real backstop of a bed in NJ, I felt that I had limited downside.

The reason I thought this would work in NYC is that the ‘cloud’ is quite big (plenty of inventory to create a competitive market), and I thought the friction of finding, vetting, and spinning up/down housing would be low and managable (if not truly zero).  For a while, I thought I had it right, and and when it was working I was exceedingly excited. 

Sadly, however, I have had to concede defeat and enter a one year lease in the east village as of a few days ago.  as they say, Epic Fail.

There was really only one reason that it didn’t work – but it is the big one – the fiction around transacting temporary real-estate is just too high… it shouldn’t be, but it really is – First, my ‘trusted’ marketplace, sublet.com, turned out to not be so trustworthy (despite the fact that it had fees on both ends of the service to keep people honest).  Great things were listed, but often not available.  This created a lot of friction in figuring out what the market actually was to begin with.  

Second, my ‘social’ sources were also harder to work than expected.  Sure enough, facebook, twitter, etc. made it easy to get to people who said ‘sure, I have a place you will like, you would be actually doing me a favor to take it’ – but then for totally legitimate reasons plans change by a day or two here or there.  This is totally fine and expected obviously – but it doesn’t work when you are counting on that availability.

Third, transactions with people and space are difficult… it isn’t like trading one dollar bill for another – the goods and contracts are not standardized enough to be efficient for variable cost structures.  Take, for instance, the last place that I stayed at for an extended period – We used my simple and strong set of letters of understanding which structured things to my liking.  As is fair, I said I would pick up the utility bills which would be deducted from my deposit the net of which would be returned no later than September 5th.  I said upfront that I wouldn’t pay for the cable – because I never watch TV… 

Today on October 1st I finally after several emails got the accounting and a promise that my deposit was in the mail.  I will get it back ultimately, but not without several extra emails… and apparently net of a $75/month fixed phone bill (who even has a land line, let alone pays that much for base service) $60/month internet service (again, someone hasn’t repriced recently) and outrageous electric and cleaning bills.  Could I have structured less exposure to these things upfront, sure – but that creates more friction still.

Upshot, I am glad I did it and I learned a lot – but perpetual variable cost living doesn’t work in our metropolis as a cloud.  Some people have suggested that I buck up – telling me that it will all be better in a few years, but I don’t think so.  I sadly fear that without a significant number of variable-cost-livers it will be near impossible to evolve the types of standardization and transparency necessary to start thinking about a square foot as an EC2 instance.  

Lessin 0, World 1</p>


Foursquare, 'Selling Points' & Physical Location DOS attacks

Thu, 01 Oct 2009 21:34:00 +0000

I was quickly thinking about location based applications and monetization this AM.  If anyone cares about points and badges, a clear win for location games is to let venues buy tranches of ‘points’ and then assign criteria for giving them away. Then advertise ‘you will get X points if you go to Y spot at Z time’.

Results of this would be:

1.  Nice highly integrated monetization scheme for location based games
2.  ‘Goldfarmers’ will evolve (you hire someone to walk your phone around to locations and collect points)…
3.  awesome real world DOS attacks become possible. –>

A location based game DOS attack would basically be something like a historical sit in, but way easier to organize.  

Just put an absurd point bounty on a location at a specific time(a bar you don’t like). Either buy the points, or if you run the game inflate your currency…  Then sit back and watch hundreds of people scramble to the place and shut it down.

The kitchen runs out of chicken, the waitresses can’t keep up, the line at the door gets unbearable…  After all, what is the difference between a web-service and a physical space – they are just resources – and it is harder to spin up more space than it is to spin up more app servers.</p>


What the data from 200,000 foursquare checkins can tell you via Socialgreat

Tue, 29 Sep 2009 21:34:00 +0000

The location roundup

A few months ago I analyzed internet week NYC using foursquare checkins from about 100 friends over the week as my dataset.  From that small test, and driven forward with great gusto by Jon Steinberg and Bill Piel, was born Socialgreat (http://socialgreat.com).  Socialgreat uses the Foursquare API (and now the Brightkite API) to grab checkin data and create a location driven city guide if you will…  people vote with their feet, and socialgreat tallies the votes up in near realtime to show which places in any city are most popular right now.

Between Foursquare and now Brightkite, Socialgreat is pulling from 15K people all the time (and growing fast).  There are over 200K recorded checkins in the database from Foursquare alone in the last few weeks…  So, I figured it was time to take another quick look at the dataset to see what we can pull out of it..

Answer is, there is a ton of richness to play with… and wish I had a lot more time to dig through it – but since I don’t, here are some high level swings I quickly pulled out as well as some really fun/useful leader boards in top cities by time of day

First, a few ‘pithy’ ?? remarks:

1.New York might be the city that never sleeps, but by distribution actually SF checks in more at night
2.Monday is a dead day everywhere…  Wednesday is surprisingly hot everywhere.  
3.NYC clearly parties on Thursdays and Saturdays…  the city spikes out well above the average.
4.SF is dead compared to the rest of the country on Thursdays and Saturdays.   (They must hate fun)
5.People in Amsterdam mostly just check in during the day.  They either don’t ever go out, or they don’t check in at night culturally
6.In the last few weeks, it looks like Atlanta, NYC, and SF are leading in checkin rate… the rest of the country is stable. 

Leader Boards for NYC, SF, MSP, and SEA are below by Day, Evening, Night, – a few comments:

1.Top checkins for almost all cities is the airports and trains, except for Minneapolis where Mall of America takes top spot… really?  I feel like there is a joke in there somewhere
2.Almost all of SF’s top daytime checkins are either startups (Rupture, Digg, Techcrunch, Revision 3, uservoice, Facebook, Twitter) or coffee shops right next to startups (sightglass, blue bottle)
3.SF Evening checkin, ‘murderchurch’ sounds interesting… what is that?
4.MSP evening top checkin, ‘sex world’ also sounds like a good time?
5.REI is a top checkin in Seattle for the evenings… is that a cool climbing wall?  Where are the SEA startups?  
6.In NYC the people at R/GA seem to check in an absurd amount… same with the people at blip.
7.Tom and Jerry’s continues to dominate New York normal evenings
8.But Brooklyn Bowl has been doing really well on weekends

(for the leaderboard in your city see the PDF and pics below)… NYC looks like:

Finally, I want to also just call out that recently we had the privilege of hosting an inspiring Y+30 event with Foursquare,Hotpotato, Sense Networks, Brightkite, Skyhook, and Xtify – these are all great companies in the space doing amazing stuff in the space –… I can’t wait for more. </p>


advertising captchas

Wed, 16 Sep 2009 21:34:00 +0000

while i am doing really quick blogposts... I have heard of static advertising captchas before, but why hasn't anyone done dynamic captcha ads...

1. get advertisers to upload their ads and then a statement like 'this ad is for a car company'
2. make a captcha that is two advertisements and prompt 'which of these ads is for a car company'

thereby, actually force the users to engage with the brand/message in the context of verifying their humanness -- == premium ad dollars? How is it possible that no one has done it/I haven't seen it yet?


UP NEXT: FB goes after DMs and Dollars from publisher?

Wed, 16 Sep 2009 21:34:00 +0000

& and why Visa isn't conceptually my favorite investment.

Let's not forget that money is just a form of communication...  and that banking is just trusted identity + a register of transactions.

*facebook's integration of "@" is really slick as incorporated into a portable publisher... 
*I can only imagine that DM: is next (which one would assume would populate into the 'inbox')
*After that it is just to easy to add $ and let me DM:  $5.99 to @hayley barna...  
*Final Step, let me DM brands (and give them a way to act pragmatically on the DMs/Inbox.) --

1. DMs from publisher to inbox
2. Move money through publisher to people
3. Move money through publisher to brands (and give them an API to drive actions)

There are three parts to any conversation/movement of content -- identity, content, and distribution (who is speaking, what they are saying, and who is listening).  Clarity/verity is critical for high quality communication in all three parts of the equation.  

Facebook's beachhead is identity, and publisher as a way to exchange money as content is just too freaking attractive to ignore.


AWS : NYC AS COMPUTE CLOUD : HUMAN CAPITAL CLOUD

Tue, 11 Aug 2009 21:34:00 +0000

cities vs. metropolises & the future of super centralized nodes

Since it is core to the forward strategy of drop.io, I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about and watching the ‘cloud’ vocabulary evolve over the last several months.  It is becoming quite clear to me that web service clouds (specifically AWS, “Amazon Web Services”) share a great deal in common with human cities… so much so that I think that New York City has a lot to learn from the recent growth of AWS, and AWS should be thinking about NYC as it grows from a provincial city on the web to a true self-fulfilling metropolis.

Put simply, what AWS is for compute, New York is for people…  

Cities of people or compute are grounded on the cost savings from scaled input, high speed & low cost/low latency communication, and *hopefully* flexibility.  Metropolises display all those same characteristics, but the added critical factor is that they themselves become self fulfilling prophecies, where the true return is a return driven by the other inhabitants.  Building a city isn’t hard – it just takes a lot of CAPEX – building a Metropolis requires much much more (as I intend to discuss)…

1.We are witnessing AWS move from a town or minor city which benefits from simple cost sharing and scaled purchasing, to a metropolis whose mass drives value for the inhabitants, on a steep RMS (relative market size) /ROS (return on scale – not sales necessarily, though they are highly correlated) curve that only the largest metropolises achieve.  AWS is approaching escape velocity.

2.On the other side of the coin, as New York looks to maintain its viability, we must take lessons from AWS around the flexibility and speed that compound the value of super-hubs

on AWS, a city which is becoming a Metropolis of Data and Compute

To back up, drop.io used AWS for very core activities from day one, and as soon as we possibly could (specifically, with the launch of EBS – elastic block storage) we moved 100% into the compute cloud.  We are big believers that buying commodity storage, cycles, and bandwidth in short-term highly scalable units is the future – and while early on a lot of people criticized our perspective, it feels as though believing in a ‘cloud’ future is becoming more mainstream every day.

What is slightly less mainstream is my personal belief that the ‘cloud’ game is already almost totally locked up by AWS.  

Just a matter of months into the game, I think that Amazon has built for itself a completely unsurpassable lead – even when compared to people like Google and Microsoft.  There certainly will be specialized ‘clouds’ like some of the GPU stuff that is on the cusp of reality, and certain truly huge internet companies (top 5-10 properties) will have private scaled systems (just as Wal-Mart has Bentonville), but everyone else will be on AWS in relatively short order….

Here is why:  Initially the argument for Amazon was basically that they had commoditized a huge number of activities around hardware procurement, networking, etc, that companies could do on their own, but generally couldn’t do as well or as cheaply as Amazon.  Thus, for the last several months the decision to go to Amazon Web Services, was driven by the benefits of scaled specialized service, just like PC manufacturing was in a past era.  AWS input costs were lower, reliability was higher, they made life easier – this type of story, just like with PC manufacturing, invites competition and squeezed margins in the long-term – even if the competition takes serious CAPEX.

In short, AWS was a frontier town, where a bunch of people circled the wagons for mutual defense and cost sharing.

But, Amazon’s game of Oregon trail is becoming Civ. II in a matter of months – more and more what propels AWS, and what puts it on track to be untouchable, is massively scaled co-location with everyone else using AWS.  

I have heard rumblings of hedge-funds moving into AWS partially for the scale, and partially because that is where the data they need to target on an ongoing basis lives.  I know for a fact that drop.io is starting to engage in more and more deals with other companies that also are in AWS – allowing us to take advantage of free and really fast data transit between our services, and massively scaling the benefits of working with others rather than building everything ourselves.
 
Thus, the Return on Scale (ROS) that AWS enjoys is now only minorly driven by cost sharing, procurement synergies, networking synergies, etc… these are all big deals – but the clincher is the fact that that the internet is not actually flat, and the more people who use AWS, the more valuable AWS becomes as a hyper centralized hyper networked flexible node.  Frontier town no more, AWS is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy, where each new inhabitant both benefits from the value of all those that settled before him/her, and brings incremental value to everyone else.  

Sure, I can live somewhere else on the gird and commute in and out of AWS, but there are serious benefits to living in Manhattan.  So, maybe tax benefits will compel me to live next door in Greenwich, CT but I can’t really live in Kansas, even if Skype is getting better every day.  The Metropolis benefits everyone, but it does not benefit everyone evenly, and those near the center gain more – faster.

Now – let’s talk about NYC, a Metropolis of human capital

Many cities in America get to a certain level of critical mass where infrastructure cost sharing is achieved and costs drop on a per-inhabitant basis...  Historically it was about sharing a good port, railroad access, trash collection, etc. now it is about affording an airport, subway systems, robust buss networks, fios, etc.  China drops some cash and builds new cities from the ground up all the time.  

But, New York is almost totally unique (in the US) – because cost sharing and scale became an *relatively* undisputed and compounding value – which is that it is where all the people already are…  This is true of LA for entertainment and SF for some tech.  As a proud New Yorker I would argue that NYC is basically everything else.  For most industries, NYC is the place to be because everyone else has decided that NYC is the place to be – so,

1.  NYC subway & Manhattan road grid system = AWS dense fast network hub - People locate in NYC to be a cheap and fast cab in an easy to navigate street structure (or a cheaper and faster subway) away from other companies/brands/industries located in NYC.  This speeds and lowers the cost of communication/collaboration between people – same thing with AWS – by using them my servers get free transit to partners in the AWS cloud at high speeds.  

2.  NYC realestate + human instance costs = AWS S3 + compute instance costs Cost per square foot of NYC real-estate + cost of human capital, like the cost of S3 and EC2 is actually slightly elevated from what you might achieve in Bentonville (where Wal-Mart built its city) -- Like the cost of running an AWS instance, NYC IS more expensive than other alternatives if you take a myopic view.  However, from a scaled/scaling perspective in a total cost sense, NYC and AWS are as cheap as it gets.  

Don’t believe me?  Think of it this way – take some human talent that lives in NYC and offer them a job outside of a tier one metropolis – you will find that they will take your job, but only for a significant salary hike (despite the fact that the cost of living elsewhere is likely lower!).  All the bars, and all the other people in the city, actually lower the cost of talent.  AWS, well, it is cheaper to buy processors in bulk, as well as maintain them and keep them online – you can build the same stack elsewhere, but it will almost certainly be more expensive on a per unit-basis in a fully baked sense.

2.  NYC human capital scalability = AWS compete scalability AWS has a ton of compute, NYC has an amazing amount of human capital.  Need more?, you can actually source what you need rather than just running out, or needing the long lead times to import more – an ever more salient concern in exponential times.  This isn’t true for all types of people – some good friends will argue that the only place you can scale a tech company is SF for this very reason, but the abstract concept still stands.

3.  NYC human capital turnover = AWS easy spin up/spin down this is a big one—the best part about AWS is that you just pay for what you use.  NYC has a similar phenomenon going for it – it isn’t as seamless as it needs to be, but the city actually has amazing human capital turnover and low friction coefficient.  The average New Yorker only lives in the city for a few years (I think like 4 or 5).  This is the human equivalent of a city which can spin up/down human capital on an as needed basis.  Don’t need bankers anymore?  They will leave and be replaced by someone else (either through fast retraining, or straight up switching up the humans)…  At the same time, because of the population density and the subway, people can live in the same house, and don’t need to switch their children’s schools in order to change jobs.  This low friction is critical to the central viability of the city.

A few closing points on why it matters / thought experiments

this framework for thinking about New York is very exciting for me for a few reasons.  First, it highly clarifies what it is that the city should be doing to make itself more competitive.  Namely, it should be investing as much as possible in freeing human capital to be spun up and down as quickly as possible to meet new challenges.  That means employment laws, taxes, social services, all designed to help new ideas scale from zero to big numbers with almost no friction, and visa versa.  It also means massive next generation investments in infrastructure and networking.  You can NEVER have enough bandwidth or speed - 

Second, it illustrates yet again that the general tide may rise for everyone, but physics, and local still matter – I remember well in the 1990s the question was would cities become irrelevant in the wake of a digital revolution – history has shown that the answer is a resounding NO – the world is not flat at all, and it won’t be until/unless we get instant teleportation.  Technology makes dense local networks even more valuable, not less.  I am at quite a length on this post, so just check out Foursquare as an example and come argue with me if you don’t agree. 

Third, it brings into question the future of AWS – is this going to be the next anti-trust case?  I am getting way way ahead of myself here, but the reality is that it has already achieved the gravity defying properties which suggest ultimate world dominance.  

Fourth, let’s talk extending this metaphor to biology – sentient beings seem to relatively centralize their processing (think, your brain/spinal cord) – cities and computer systems should generally follow the same patterns

Fifth, as a friend pointed out, while AWS is big – some of the company towns – GOOG and MSFT are actually almost certainly much bigger by sheer bulk of compute/storage/bandwidth…  That may be true, but in my mind bulk alone doesn’t get you there… you need a polyculture quickly and efficiently rebalancing resources – that is what a city is.  Monocultures, like Detroit, might get big and be powerful, but they lack the vibrancy/flexibility/and ultimate true scale leverage of a New York.  Again, it isn’t just about cost sharing, and turning a big company town into a Metropolis isn’t just about opening the front door.

Finally, let’s talk about the physics of limited space and power consumption.  NYC can only get so big before scale starts having negative properties – humans don’t take up very much space, but they do take up some (making the Metropolis’s value look like an s curve) – in fact, the island of Manhattan’s forced high density is part of what made it a powerful metaphor in the first place.  People are slow, traffic is slow – and if it wasn’t for the massively efficient subway (a big fat pipe for human capital) the city would already have become far less valuable…  

AWS follows the same general laws of physics, but less immediately/strongly – after all, if my instances running my trading algos is physically right next to the S3 ‘bucket’ with the datasets in it, I am slightly better off (I am co-located with the NYSE rather than somewhere up in Harlem) – but we have a ways before AWS gets so big that people start getting caught in traffic…   Data and processing takes space, but not as much as I do.  

If I had time, I think that there is a lot of interesting research/work to be done checking the density distributions of cities vs. ‘clouds’ etc. and seeing what optimization/total max might look like.


dear insurance companies, the data and analytics tools have evolved -- let's start making some more sophisticated deals

Wed, 05 Aug 2009 21:34:00 +0000

As far as most insurance is concerned, right now you know that I am a 26 year old male.  My auto insurance company knows that I haven't gotten a ticket in years and have never been in an accident.  My health insurance company knows my medical history, and since my company has life insurance on me, you tested me for drug use, blood pressure, and a few other things relatively recently to help generate an insurance rate for me...  but please, you know as well as i do how arcane this all is.  let's make a few deals based on the modern reality of truly scaled data and analysis.  Here are a few deals I propose:

1.  Autos:  I will throw a GPS unit on my car for you and let you pipe down how much time I am spending driving, my location, and my speed at all times -- Since I don't drive all that much, don't speed, and generally don't drive during high accident periods of the day (late night/rush-hour?)  in high accident areas (I assume) I will happily trade you the data feed for lower rates.  

If you want to play it even closer to the bone (I would be happy to) -- why don't you adjust my rates in realtime as I drive.  If I am speeding, driving during prime accident times of the day, driving long hauls and thereby getting tired, or maybe just swerving a lot (check the accelerometer) start changing my rates on the fly.  Right next to the speedometer, why don't you add your quoted rates by speed, in $ of insurance / minute / speed -- then I can make a call about how fast to drive based on your up to the second rate.  If you prefer me to drive at a specific time of the day, because I will be more alert or there are fewer other cars on the road, just let me look up the day's rate table.  My car gives me a real time quote of the most fuel efficient speed at which to drive, how about giving me a realtime quote of the most insurance cost effective way to drive... 

Shall we go even further - why don't you mix in weather data...  Assuming accidents happen more often when it is raining, why don't you raise my rates on the fly if a storm is rolling through my current location.  Or, grab the weight of the car off the shocks -- more people in the car is probably a distraction,...  meaning I am probably more likely to crash.  I would bet money you even know the rates of accidents with people making right vs. left turns, or using specific streets....  why don't you do a route calculation for me on the most cost effective way to get to my destination (a la UPS only making left hand turns) -- Of course, everything is opt in - but why not trade with me...  

2.  Health/Life:  I offer a few things, which are probably even more fun.  First, how about I wear a heart rate monitor for you at all times.  Second, I will let you check my location off my phone whenever you want.  Then we can start trading on much more fine grained metrics.  Do people who get seven or eight hours of sleep generally live longer/have fewer health problems?, offer me better rates if you can observe me behaving well and getting enough sleep.  Does my GPS feed seem to indicate that I am going to bars too often and too late, really - you should jack my rates -- but if I go home early I think I am entitled to a discount.  

Am I going to McDonalds too frequently, and not shopping enough at whole foods?...  you can start making really good guesses about how I live, and what your real exposure is on me.  Heck, want my credit card data, I will OFX that over to you right now -- surly purchases from certain merchants correlate highly with risky/less risky behavior.  Is my high rate of travel a liability?  Am I at the gym regularly?  It is all at your disposal, just make sure you talk to the Hardoop folk, you are going to need map/reduce.

Shall we get really scary with totally available technology?  Why don't you pull my friend graph via facebook connect.  Now, start matching my GPS feed & heartrate, etc. with those of all my friends, relationship statuses, etc.  You can tell a lot by whom I hang out with.  Is everyone around me high risk?  then I probably am also...  do their credit cards charges indicate they smoke, and their GPS feeds show they go out too late?  There is signal in there for you.

Now, give me back a relatime set of decision making tools...  next to every menu item at a restaurant, why don't you quote me a different insurance rate.  The ribeye is $32, and the insurance cost is $2.25, where the salad is $15 and the insurance cost is $0 (or maybe even -$20).  The first drink of the evening at 10 pm costs $10 and $1 of insurance, the tenth drink on a tuesday night at 3am costs $10 and $10 in insurance.  The first girlfriend is free, the 50th girlfriend costs $25 a day.  Sleeping only 4 hours a night costs $14.95 a day, but sleeping 10 hours costs -$25.00.

Ok, maybe getting a bit silly towards the end -- but really it isn't that far off.  There is a wealth of new types of data which can be cheaply and efficiently collected, saved, analyzed, and used -- and the insurance folks should be getting into this game asap.  to recap, here are the easily accessible data-series I want to use to trade with insurance companies:

gps onboard in my car (location, speed, acceleration, amount of driving, distance of driving per trip, etc.) +
realtime traffic + 
time of day +
local weather + 
weight of car (indication of # of people in the car) +
cell phone GPS (location for stores I go to, bars, clubs, how late I stay out, how much I move, etc) +
heartrate (general health, sleep, etc.) +
personal accelerometer (sleep, health, etc, -- fitbit?) +
social graph (friends & their behavior, relationship status and frequency) +
credit card statements (what do I buy via OFX) +
my wii fit scores  -- :) +
my video game activity (xbox live score) - 

I could, I am sure, keep going - but the point is that all of this stuff really is now practical - which should be lower rates for some people, higher rates for others, more economic rationality (good), and almost certainly a ton of regulation (ambiguous).


the 'why' of SocialGreat - 'realtime' location trending

Thu, 30 Jul 2009 21:34:00 +0000

-- this is a fully NYC story -- during Internet week New York I collected all of the location check-in data from foursquare from all of my foursquare 'friends' in new york.  I used a simple little generalized email -> CSV converter (http://csvemail.com) to turn the email based location 'checkins' into a mini-dataset and used some old skills to pivot away in excel.  It took me a while to get it out, but when finished I was able to retell the true story of the week of events straight of the GPS feed (post below - covered by @caro).

it was fun and interesting to put together, and everyone loves some good data porn -- the problem was that it was annoying to put together, a slow process, and limited to the people in NYC that i was 'friends' with.

A few weeks later I was having breakfast with Jon Steinberg, who had created 'dropboxee' a wonderful drop.io boxee application (so you can watch/listen/view all your media directly off a drop on your TV in boxee)...  We started talking and decided that it would be fun to turn the experiments I had played with during internet week new york into a mini application using the newly Alphaed Foursquare API.  

1.  allow people to 'sign-up' to the app
2.  poll for their location checkins (and all the location checkins of their 'friends') on a cron job
3.  drop the duplicates
4.  create and publish a dataset (maps and leaderboard) of near-realtime 'hotspots' in each city - by hour, day, week, month

Jon went off with William Piel - and thus was born socialgreat.com - an application which uses 'social' to tell you what is 'great' in near real-time in any city (but starting with NYC).  Think of it as a real-time zagats based on where people actually go (or, at least where they choose to check in) vs. star ratings.

The foursquare guys started calling it 'trending for foursquare' -- or 'trending for locations' -- that is a really solid way to describe it.  Just like trending topics on twitter, this isn't about necessarily what your 'friends' are up to, it is a sledgehammer for the conversation/universe of data.  For a while now we have been watching as people nightly shuffle in and out of 'tom and jerry's' -- wondered what cool event is happening when we see some random bar shoot to the top of the list -- wondered why we wen't invited to what appeared to be a rocking party from a Checkin standpoint at a Mets game, etc.... and it only gets better as the number of people we can watch grows (now over 2000) -- I almost dropped in last night at some place called The Center 208 W 13th St just because apparently a lot of people suddenly showed up there, must have been something cool

The app will continue to evolve - more cities - more visualizations - and more analytics, as foursquare and other location based data sets (and our data set as a result) expand to support the granularity -- ... I will keep dashing off emails now and again asking for new visualizations on the data (some really awesome and useful ones coming soon) to truly uncover when and where it is best to hang out... hopefully team Bain NYC is satisfied with the data education they bestowed, and some new ways to apply it to new data-sets in new contexts.  

Of course - given the general style I blog in -- it is worth noting that, this is just a social tool, collecting seeds of data sprinkled here or there for social enjoyment and perhaps adding something to the world -- the real implications of location data run far far deeper, with datasets the size and complexity of which are truly mind boggling...  that is when you get into the world of a different NYC based powerhouse of the future... Sense Networks -- when you want to talk about what this really all means, and how to deal with a location future -- they are the game in town.  NYC, top to bottom, ftw on the location front.

p.s.  infact sanfransisco is now live -- if you live there, check it out http://socialgreat.com/sf


blips before my birthday:

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 21:34:00 +0000

as an early birthday present to myself, I am clearing out all but a choice few blog post drafts, so that I can start my late 20s relatively even -- so, here you go, some 'blips' of hopefully relatively scarce mojo that has been on my mind:

0.  The actual long-term debate/problem of facebook vs. twitter is simply one of efficiently addressable space & data:  you need to find what you are are addressing, and then address it...  requires a fundamentally different factoring, flat structures vs. hierarchy.  a central authority has value, but also costs

1.  Rescuetime seems to have almost become/be pitching itself as a modern punch-clock for white collar workers -- cool, this is a heck of an expression of digital panopticon at work -- the technologies that free us also enslave us.

2.  Location in a vaccum is relatively low value - location mashed against other content/commentary/context is interesting...  location as an expression of meaning.  One added layer is 'friendship' but not sure that is enough.  Another route is to aggregate tons and tons of almost worthless data into value (the pageview analogy) -- i think there are better solutions/ways to bind location to other communication to create value

3.  there are places where where search/social increase knowledge, and there are places where it destroys value

4.  search is over not because people won't continue to use it, but because the answers it provides are relatively commodity and will continue to become more so

5.  there is no such thing as free information, you must therefore trade value for value.

6.  i don't want to own things anymore - I just want access to use them.  the reason I don't want to own anything is because the market has become truly efficient (at least in major cities in the US) at providing me with what I want when I want it with almost zero friction, without needing to own it.  Ownership has costs that now outweigh its value:
a.  I don't need a my own chef (or any cooking apparatus) because restaurant options abound
b.  I don't need a house because there are plenty of rentals
c.  I don't need a car because I can use zip car, rent one, hire a taxi at will
d.  I wouldn't need a jet (if i were in that market) because good convenient commercial flight options abbound - not to mention that I could always efficiently rent one.

-- in the end cash is King/opportunity costs are much higher than they once were

7.  Almost all assets depreciate faster than is currently being modeled

8.  Small design changes that tech companies have made for specific reasons, and that have a major negative impact:
a.  podcasts don't auto update on iphone/ipod touch when on wireless network.  super annoying, but clearly intentional
b.  google chrome launch direction in incognito mode, super annoying but clearly intentional
c.  the reply address on twitter email updates from follow and dm...  why can't it be a useable address for god sake
d.  google Latitude forces you to use iGoogle

9.  common wisdom 'someone is building the next facebook in their dorm room right now' -- i think this is just flat wrong, statements like that don't even mean anything.

10. gmail continues to blow my mind - an amazing application, that actually in many ways is the center of my communicative/social life

11.  the economic mechanics of secrets


(Unfinished Draft) RIP search 1999-2009, we hardly knew ye

Sun, 12 Jul 2009 21:34:00 +0000

note:  I am posting this as a draft because, quite frankly, I don't have the time to refine it and won't for a while...

There have been several quite insightful posts analyzing the diffusion of information around Michael Jackson's death.  The point has been made a few times that the 'social' web -- twitter, digg, facebook, etc picked up on and diffused information about his death far faster than google et al. were able to react.  In fact, google news falsely sensed an attack sensed an attack shut down and for the second time I can recently remember.

people have been hinting, let me come right out and say it - open ad supported search is dead*.  It is as over as yahoo directories were in 1998.  It was a 10 year accidental blip on a continuum, and here are just a few reasons why:

1.  search ranking is a war of attrition - access to arms is flattening with cloud computing, and they are way more of them then there are of you.

2.  the types of questions that search answers are commodetized - (bing has this right).  the value of information is a function of probability, and google's results are quickly becoming highly probable.  there is no value in knowing the answer when everyone else also knows the answer.

3.  biology tends to get things right.  a networks of peers, not a central dbs, dominate bio.

4.  push will always be faster than pull.  Search is a pull/crawl metaphor, where social is push.

5.  'the commons' always get messed up.

The good news - despite some crazy recent advances in quantum computing - point one humanity.

The ?bad? news - the world is NOT getting flat - the map is just no longer geographic.  We will look back at a brief period where access to information appeared to be flattening, and watch social flip it back in the opposite direction.

a final teaser - search is democratic, social is not... so here comes the most fundamental divide of the haves/have-nots ever.  

*deep search, tech to cull complicated datasets, etc.  that is only just beginning --- and if marooned in realtime tells us anything, accumulating and efficiently scanning databases takes the cake.


my sleep cycles by the numbers (BPM)

Wed, 01 Jul 2009 21:34:00 +0000

recently I got an amazing Garmin 405 forerunner watch which has on board GPS and a heart rate monitor.  It is awesome for running (main purpose) - but once I have a cool device for data collection I tend to play.  Recently I have been using the device to graph my heart rate while I sleep.  The results are totally amazing (see below).  Friday night I averaged 55 bpm throughout the night and the curve looks really clean --  I remember sleeping well.  Saturday I went out with friends and perhaps had a bit too much wine....  my average was significantly higher as a % ... I woke up early after just over 5 hours of sleep, but I remember being basically already awake before I got up...  sunday, was I stressed?  it really looks like I didn't sleep well.

twitter - @doctors, how am I looking?  do I need to come in for a checkup or does the below look normal :)  -- Is this the future of health?

P.S.  Garmin - I have now bought another 405 for a friend, and convinced at least 3 other people to buy your watches -- that is a few thousand in revenue for you... how about an affiliate kickback :)


Forget star ratings, I desperately want a kindle API:

Sun, 21 Jun 2009 21:40:00 +0000

- I want to know if people actually finish this book
- on what page/chapter does the average reader generally  abandon (segmented by sex, edu. etc) ?
- are there sections that people read faster/slower?
- how quickly do they finish the book (pages/min)?  (Is  it a 'page turner')
- what time of the day do most people read this book?
- how many days does it take the average person to finish  this book?
- did my roommate actually read the book he keeps  quoting?

The kindle has all of this data - and it is the ONLY  platform that has this data - Amazon is clearly  collecting it centrally (whisper sync to my iPhone proves  they have it).  So, while all I want for Christmas is  access to a Amazon Kindle API, I suspect that Amazon  recognizes how priceless the data is (value of data is  based on scarcity and they are the only ones who can  capture this stuff) and will not be giving it away any  time soon.

That said, if I had access to a Kindle API (which is  really just one huge but simple reading dataset -- user,  book, page -- with time stamps on every action, page  flip, open/close, etc.) here is what I would do:

1.  Make the purchase page/rankings/information about  books data driven:

This is the most benign and probably the first thing that  will happen.  Instead of having a four star rating on a  book, when I am purchasing I want to know the rate at  which a book has actually been finished and the speed at  which people tend to read it segmented by age, gender,  and probably some education and social stats that would  require a mashup to facebook connect.  I don't want to  read a book that everyone clearly gets bored with and  abandons on chapter 3.

While we are at it, it is worth customizing the stats to  my own personal book reading history to pull out how  likely I am to finish the book, my expected pace PPM  (pages per minute), where I will slow down, etc.

Finally, I would love to be able to search Amazon by  saying, I have a four hour flight, can you give me  something that I can read in four hours and will likely  finish and enjoy?

2.  Give authors tools for understanding & revising their  work:


Further out, but not necessarily requiring any more data  than the kindle API would easily have, why not give the  data back to the authors and help them refine their  works.  If a book is looking people on chapter 7 as noted  by a high abandon rate and slowing pages per minute of  the average reader (or the target of 28 year old females  who like ponies and tattoos), why not go back and revise?

Just like google analytics, the kindle API could give  authors powerful tools to analyze how people are reading  their books based on some easy segmentation.  Since we  are talking about digital ink and not physical releases,  why not let the authors edit the section and push up a  new edition.... let's move away from book releases to  BAAS (books as a service)

3.  Give teachers/educators a dashboard to watch their  student progress:

This one the kids will hate... again, just use the Kindle  API and a few basic stats and Teacher can track the  progress of students through a book.  Are there sections  where the kids are getting hung up as their PPM drops  significantly (either because it is too boring or too  difficult).

Is Timmy clearly not doing his homework (either the books  are going unfinished, or is there a pattern of very low  PPM followed by bursts of very high PPM -- while he is  just hitting 'page next' while watching TV)?

How is Timmy progressing, is his speed measured by kindle  and comprehension (probably requires tests) increasing  throughout the year?

How is the class performing against averages of students  their age?  Are they reading more quickly or less  quickly. 

4.  not to mention the pure research of it all:


how do people really read, when, and how.  How does  reading evolve with age and along other segmentations.   How is reading changing over time.  What percentage of  books purchased actually get read.  What percentage of  books that are started are finished, and where are the  common abandon points.  These are all fascinating  research projects, all they need is the dataset that  Amazon has. 

Ultimately, this is not new thinking - but newly possible


As a highly dyslexic person who didn't learn to really  read until about 6th grade (and faked it before that) I  find this new transparency a very complex concept  socially.  As someone who loves books and believes lines  about the sanctity of literature, I am not sure that  living wikiesque books is a good idea...

but, 1.  this is all going to happen whether we like it  or not, of this I am relatively sure.  2.  the 'data  nerd' in me loves every second of it.

so, Amazon, do what is right and make a whole new  industry and set of problems for us - release a kindle  API and let me mash it up with facebook, build interfaces  for teachers and authors, and generally completely  overhaul the concept of what a book is and what reading  one means.


The Lessin Location Roundup

Fri, 12 Jun 2009 21:40:00 +0000

a true recap of Internet Week NYC, because GPS rarely lies...

June 1 - June 8 was a week long fest of all things internet in NYC, panels, parties, and events galore.  As has become the fashion, the week kicked off a frothy 'Wave' of all forms of media coverage - blogs, vlogs, photo streams, twitter, tumblr, etc.  While perhaps seemingly 'state of the art' I couldn't help but feel like these forms of covering and conveying an event seemed stale.  At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, isn't it time to skip the editorials and start recapping the event straight off the GPS feed (or, in the case of my data-set, the self-reported location 'checkin' data of 100 young technorati of NYC).  So, without further adieu - I give you the first edition of the Lessin Location Roundup, an exclusively GPS driven nightlife monthly (with occasional twitter cross reference), and perhaps a glimpse into the world we will live in just a few years from now - XOXO

Internet week kicked off with a bang, starting with a flurry of activity at the New World Stage (Ignite NYC) - the hottest event of the night.. from there the party quickly migrated downtown to the Puck Building (Youtube Party) and Tom and Jerry's Bar (A hotspot among the GPSoratti).  The night ended with a group migrating to Sing Sing for some ambitious Monday night Karaoke around 1AM.

Tuesday was a big day and a bigger night.  Presenters and the unemployed (underemployed?) drove a bulk of checkins a bit before 4pm at the Fashion Institute of Technology (the NY Tech Meetup Showcase).  After the event it appears that some continued on to the Microsoft Gallery while another group bounced down to Shake Shack - presumably to fuel up for the evening revelries.  At an average time of about 8pm a group of techies descended upon Soho House in the meatpacking district... perhaps to mingle with the old-media folk?

While not on the official schedule, GPS tells us that something BIG went down at the Standard Hotel with an average time of about 10PM --  It appears as though one of the the most heavily 'checked-in' location of the week wasn't on the official event list.  As the Standard Hotel team wound down, a large percentage of the group moved a few blocks away to Hogs & Heifers checking in on average just after midnight -- not a bad tuesday night.

Wednesday was relatively low key.  A few people gathered at the Roger Smith Hotel (social media breakfast) a bit after 10:30 (people were on average 20 min late) -- A handful headed to Shake Shack at 3pm for a snack and people gathered a tad on the early side at the 92YTribecca for Pete Cashmore's talk.  Things really picked up at the Hotel on Rivington (Yacht Rock) around 9:30 and there were later night pops at The Marshall Stack and Local 138.

Wednesday might have been a tad slower, but thursday was big business.  The morning started early for a group that met at Roasting Planet at 10:00, but really the action was in the evening, starting with the Rooftop Garden at Rockefeller Center and a small gathering at the Roger Smith Hotel.  Things Ramped up just before 9PM (on average) at Webster Hall (Digg event). after which some people headed to M:2 and others to the Gawker Media Roof Deck. -- but the real news is that just after midnight there was a big event at Sing Sing -- note to self: Lessin Roundup should expand into the Tech Karaoke business.

On Friday the foursquare team made it to their offices at 10:01 AM on average, well before the crack of noon.  The day seems to have been relatively relaxed.  A few people gathered at the Roger Smith Hotel in the afternoon, and far bigger early evening gathering was at the Empire Hotel (the Webutante Ball).  It looks like the after party for Webutante kicked off at 10 Degrees around 11:15 ish. 

The weekend was generally quite chill.  Some people headed out of town via JFK and you could find groups hanging out in McCarren Park and Washington Square Park in the afternoons.  On Saturday some people gathered around 9pm at Lunasa, and on Sunday the place to be was M1-5 at 10:30 ish.

Monday was back to work for many (Rosting Planet Greenwich average checkin moved earlier to about 9:40 AM) - but the foursquare team must of had a rough weekend it seems - they didn't make it to their office in Cooper Square until almost 1pm.-- of course, the real action got cranking in the early evening as nicely primed techies checked in to Cipriani - Wall Street (the Webbies)...  at around 11:15 (on average) the party moved to the Hiro Ballroom, (for the Webby Afterparty) --- needless to say, the data shows plenty of people crashing the afterparty who didn't go to the awards....  That is all for now....  let the GPS feed show it was a hell of a fun week. 

* Below are some fun graphs and the data file (names stripped out) if you want to play around. 

* Also below you will find a short slide loop with a few callouts of most popular places, time of visit, etc. during thew week

Also, here are the checkin locations on a handy dandy map  map

About the report: this report was generated from my friend checkins on foursquare (http://playfoursquare.com) - I built and used a little tool to pull the checkin data into a flat file from my email (http://csvemail.com) -- but they have a cool API on the way out that will make this easier.   If you want to contribute to this report, friend me on foursquare.  (sam l.)http://playfoursquare.com/user/854


twitter applets, being more blatant re: how to use them

Mon, 25 May 2009 21:40:00 +0000

people recommended I share a theoretical case or two on how to use the twitter applets released below.  So, I will share two use cases on how you could use ‘find friend’ and ‘reciprocity’ in tandem.  I wanted to just throw them up and see what happens, but - here you go:

Case 1:  render unsavory services / pyramid schemes (& things like tweepme) useless - Step 1 - sign up for a shady twitter follower scheme & collect followers (which really don’t make sense anyway, but hear me out…)  Step 2 - use ‘reciprocity’ to instantly remove en-mass they ‘pyramid’ aspect where via these services you end up following more people than follow you.

I have been playing with this method on the twitter account http://twittter.com/swltweep - 2K followers and only 1 tweet :) - P.S.  anyone following me on that account also is using tweepme, how is that for a scarlet letter.

Case 2:  run your own questionable targeted ‘follower’ scheme / juice those made by others - Step 1 - pick a topic people tweet about that you want to reach, use ‘find friends’ app to automatically follow a few hundred of them.  Step 2 - use reciprocity to immediately un-follow everyone you just followed.  They will get messages inviting them to follow you, but you will look like you invited them by hand.

Using this pattern, you basically can use twitter’s invite process to amass groups of followers on topics you want to be able to push messaging out on.

The philosophical point to this generally  (that I tried to avoid but have been advised to just come out and say) – twitter is an awesome open messaging platform…  you can build things on it that change the nature of the chatter/messages bouncing around, but ultimately the platform should find equilibrium - so long as the rules are clear.  Especially given that there are no forced developer keys on the API, and almost no rate limiting on follow/unfollow - you can build some relatively crazy stuff in the form of decentralized and relatively uncontrollable AIR apps…  catch me in person for more</p>


releasing two quick twitter air applets, sans philosophizing

Mon, 25 May 2009 21:40:00 +0000

below are a pair of single serving twitter applets I had built and have been experimenting with on side twitter accounts.  One is called 'reciprocity' and the other is called 'find friends' - they are stand alone air apps that you can run on your desktop.  here is what they do:

'reciprocity' = put in your twitter username, password, and it unfollows anyone you are following that is not following you back.

'find friends' = put in your twitter username, password, and some search terms.  it finds everyone who has tweeted about those topics (up to a few hundred people) and then follows them from your account.

You can scroll down to download them.  Feel free to use them both as much as you want, distribute them as you wish, etc - no license at all (although a shout-out would be appreciated). 

Please note that zero drop.io resources were used in making these... and I personally spent about 45 min specing them one night I couldn't sleep, and a few personal dollars having an AIR dev whip them up (great guy if you are looking for someone).  I highlight this because while fun, useful, and slightly aggressive little projects - these applets have no actual long-term value.  They fit far outside the purview of what we do/build at drop.io, and - even if i could somehow justify these applets under our mission (which I absolutely can't) - I would never waste our talented team building easily replicable and marginally interesting toys. 

Two caveats - 1st, reciprocity works well up to the low thousands of followers, but it isn't robust when you get to extreme numbers.  If you are 5K+ followers/friends 'reciprocity' might not work so well.  2nd, if you catch my drift and want to push the concept further give me a shout, there are a few obvious ways to make these work better (for instance, put them on a cron job and set rates for people to follow per hour, and people to remove per hour - then just let them run infinitely in the background on a spare laptop :)

I am going to leave my traditional philosophizing out of this post - I am, of course, tempted to write a long bit on information theory, how I came up with these, why I have learned playing with them, etc....  but my sense is that if you are into thinking about - and maybe manipulating - twitter, you will catch my drift on this - and no one else cares.  If you are interested and don't get it, catch me on the street sometime. -- else, reciprocity and friend find away :)

UPDATE 7/6/09:  apparently there was an air update, and the applets require some tweaking to work on the new version -- I will get around to making this happen, but in the meantime you can do the same thing (all be it without interface) via. a few little ruby scripts


happy birthday and love to JEV

Mon, 11 May 2009 21:40:00 +0000

today is JEV's birthday...   and while there are plenty of 'off gird' ways to wish her well, sitting in front of my screen in NYC while she is in SF I quickly ponder how the Internets (specifically Facebook) has totally changed the value-flow of birthday wishes. (stick with me - the early bit of this is old/obvious, the end is fun and new)...

Remembering birthdays once carried value, but no more:  For years I kept detailed records of close friends birthdays and had annual calendar updates set up.  People appreciated it when I remembered their birthday (or, at least the fact that I took the time to put them in outlook and then make a call).  Facebook destroyed that in 2005 as a form of meaningful social expression.  When it took effort/investment to remember someones birthday, wishing them well carried some meaning.  There was investment and an exchange (I bet before writing was invented remembering someones birthday was even more meaningful - although they probably didn't remember themselves).  Now, since there is zero investment in remembering the birthday, there is zero value in the expression of just remembering the date.

Facebook also devalued the communication of B-day wishes:  when FB rolled out 'the wall' a whole new birthday dynamic evolved.  The new and massively devalued 'currency' was in following a pre-formatted immediately at hand link to make a 'wall' post...  (or, later, perhaps invest in selecting and then put physical capital against a virtual gift).  You not only got the date for free, but you got their address and an open line for free as well -- The cost of sending birthday wishes declined dramatically, so the volume of wishes went way up.  Basically, the currency was doubly devalued -- both remembering birthdays and sending the message itself lost value --

but that was hardly the half of it....

'Wall' actually made B-day wishes a negative cost:  'wall' + birthday reminders = an almost instant competition to who posted first.  While you might make the argument that this was a way to re-introduced some value into the birthday system (all of a sudden, there was some appreciation of the expression of being first) I would argue it was actually propelled by a totally different social mechanism...  what was really evolving is that if you were first, everyone else coming after you would see your name and photo posted up.  You actually gained social currency.  People no longer posted for the sake of the birthday, they posted for the sake of the social currency.  It was essentially like having a high social-search ranking.  Wishing someone a happy birthday was selfish.

Then they became a really negative cost with News-feed:  then came Newsfed and the fun ramped up.  With Newsfeed not only did you get to harvest social credit via people also visiting a profile page... but you got to magnify that credibility throughout your and the birthday girl's network.  All of a sudden you could get social credit across a whole network of people, not just mutual friends, by being the first to wish a 'happy birthday'

Now, with feed comments, the birthday girl is actually the one that pays the 'well wisher':  the new phenom is actually a total inversion of traditional birthday wishes.  With an avalanche of 'happy birthday' posts, it is actually the birthday girl who gives to the 'well wisher' value by commenting on/responding to/ and thereby validating 'true' friends...  it is a tax.  The birthday wishing ritual has inverted, the mating dance has gone all topsy turvy.  The unit of currency is no longer wishing a happy birthday to someone, but the thank-you comment in the opposite direction.  You want to be the chosen birthday well wisher who gets the response - and the glory.

So, what is left? what can the new social expression of birthday care for those you appreciate mean...  I might argue that it is taking up your own social space... posting in your limited social messaging footprint to sometimes unwilling listeners, posting on your twitter feed... or perhaps writing a blog post about the birthday -- it is inflicting pain on your network for the glory of another :)

or -- just as likely -- this is actually the greatest inversion of all.... leveraging your girlfriend's birthday into a post on your blog :)  --

either way, thinking of you and love you JEV -- happy birthday


value of information vs. utility created by information

Wed, 06 May 2009 21:40:00 +0000

(diffusion from high value, low utility - to low utility, high value)

A few weeks ago at our brooklyn Y+30 meetup a gentleman came up to me and said that he had been reading my blog, but took serious issue with my definition of the value of information...

I generally like to state that the value of information is based on improbability.  Information that is perfectly probable has no value, information that is highly improbable is almost priceless. 

This generally translates to saying that the information's value = f (speed * accuracy).  Perfectly fast perfectly un-trustworthy information is worthless, perfectly trustworthy information that is un-timely is worthless -- value exists in degrees of speed and trust. 

This gentleman posed a question that at the time I didn't really answer, but I now want to take a second to actually fully respond.  He asked, (paraphrasing) "I admit that your definition covers some types of information, but there is this other type of valuable information which gains value the more people know about it.  For instance, knowledge that "smoking is bad for you" - if one person knows it is a heck of a lot less valuable than if everyone knows."

I actually totally disagree, but the question brings up a set of very interesting points worth discussing.  If you were the only person in the world that knew that smoking is bad for you - and you had an effective way to distribute that information (speed * expected accuracy), you could make a lot of money off of it.  If everyone knew that smoking was bad for them, no one would make any profit, the information would be worthless.

In the smoking case, what does grow with distribution is total social utility.  No question, if only one person in the world knew that smoking was bad, that would yield far less total utility than if everyone knew. 

The key is to remember that utility and value are two separate (though highly related) elements.

At the surface, this mismatch might sound like a problem/or imply that we should think of ways to actively convert valuable information with low total utility into worthless information with very high total utility... 

The good news is that when you bang on this phenomenon, you realize that that is actually precisely what a good functioning information economy does!  In fact, the core principle which drives information is diffusion from very high concentration high value pools with very low total utility, to very low concentration low value footprints with very high total utility.

We rely on innovators, scientists, and sometimes even thinkers, to be incentivised to not only discover new bits of information, but then to be incentivised to share their findings and harvest the profits. 

This doesn't always function properly.  In fact, in a very interesting Yale open course catalog lecture Robert Shiller (Econ 252) provides an amazing example of how this breaks down.  Apparently, reading through fables and historical accounts, it appears as though individuals discovered the concept of probability countless times throughout human history, but each time the knowledge wouldn't spread and died quickly up until the Renaissance.

Why?  Shiller argues that because understanding probability concepts before the rest of the world caught on was so incredibly valuable that it was guarded very closely.  Individuals would become very powerful based on their discovery in their lifetimes, but then would take the secret to the grave.  This is precisely the type of information-scape that we do not want to occur... 

So, we should firmly keep in mind with any IP regulation/patent law/etc. that the whole idea should be to maximize the creation of valuable information, and let that value propel an economic harvest from high to low, to propel utility of the information from low to high.  When and where that dynamic breaks down there will be trouble.


why this year, of all years, I AM giving to harvard - it is all about institutional leverage

Sun, 03 May 2009 21:40:00 +0000

Sitting in harvard square, I am feeling a bit in the mood for a harvard post....  for several years I have served as a representative of my class to the Harvard College Fund.  Every year, as requested by the college fund, I have written a very small but personally not inconsequential check (actually, credit card charge) and dutifully gone out and asked my classmates to financially give back to their university.

I have always been more than happy to play this role.  I believe in it.  While a few hundred dollars from a recent graduate truly is inconsequential to a school with tens of billions of endowment dollars,I feel that I owe a great deal to the university.  Further, I am very happy to be able to direct my dollars to specific causes at the university which are relatively less well funded (though I think it is very important to seriously underline the word relatively).

In almost all cases, my classmates and friends also contribute on the same thesis.  We all owe a lot back to an institution that directly and indirectly intellectually gave to us on a level which far outstrips the tuition we paid.

When people decide not to give back to the university, is is almost always based on the argument that they give to more 'needy' causes and charities.  After all, isn't it hard to justify giving more money to analready wealthy institution when people are literally starving, dieing of curable diseases, and facing incredible political oppression allover the world?

This year puts these issues in very stark contrast

On one hand, in the wake of one of the worst financial years in American history many many very important and needy charities are facing serious shortfalls and will have trouble supporting exceedingly immediate, humane, and important causes.  This is only compounded by the fact that some truly distasteful characters (like Madoff) literally robbed these causes blind.  Many worthy institutions face extinction,and those whom they support are in very dire need.

At the same time, on a relative basis, Harvard also faces serious financial shortfalls.  Especially after exceedingly bold recent initiatives around financial aid, the university is hardly the picture of financial health.

What is an individual with a limited charity wallet to do?

I have thought long and hard about this.  Is it downright irresponsible to give Harvard money this year of all years?  Do the obligations I feel change in an extreme environment?  Is Harvard on the wrong side ofa diminishing marginal donation curve?

It is honestly a tough call.  There is not a cut and dry answer which I find fully satisfying, but after a lot of consideration I am going to give the same relatively small but personally meaningful check I did  last year.  I feel very good about this decision, and I will urge my classmates to do the same.

It isn't that I have any true delusions that my few hundred dollars is actually meaningful to the bottom line shortfall - it isn't.  While my emotional sense of pure obligation plays a role in this decision, that isn't the primary factor either.

What it comes down to is leverage on leverage (in a positive and transparent form - not the sub-prime form).

I think that Harvard, and many other similar institutions, have an incredibly important role to play in our society in furthering the farthest reaching bounds of knowledge and science, as well as training some of the most driven and intelligent social actors of the future. Critically, they have a role doing this in an environment beyond the biased reaches of governments and economic actors.

We need very strong entities Harvard that have the institutional fortitude to play that non-partisan role, and to do that - they need a strong base behind them.

While Harvard's institutional strength is seeded first and foremost in the university's immense wealth, it also is  based on the belief that living alums will guarantee the current and future credit of the institution as an independent actor.

It is based on the idea that this generation of graduates will not let an institution that has been in existence since 1636 disappear on our watch, which means access to cheaper capital, and a sense of support that allows them to maintain independent in their actions without checking over their shoulders.

In donating to Harvard, I am helping the university raise the funding it needs to function independent of interference at highly preferential interest rates.  My few hundred dollars, aggregated with donations from thousands of other alums, in a very small way signals an institutional commitment.  That commitment translates to less expensive capital on the open market for the university, and the university's ability to continue to act independently and in line with its true nature.  I am donating to a cause in which I believe, and doing it in highly beneficially leveraged way.

It is a mistake to sell out the future for the present and to respond to immediate  disaster by sacrificing the grander picture.  -- and signaling to the broader world that harvard has deep deep leverage hasan enormous multiplier effect.

Regardless of alum support, harvard will have to tighten the belt for the next few years.  That is probably a good thing to throw in the mix now and again.  Perhaps some scaling back on the carnival cookies is in order - but I think that it is key that the university stays a very strong independent actor, with access to very cheap capital, firmly supported by an extra layer of security to rest upon in the form of their alums.

The last thing we want is for our universities to need a bailout and wind up with government or or private sector actors sitting on their boards, or even need to consider that a long term possibility.  So,sometimes scale matters, and sometimes leverage on leverage on leverage- really does provide leverage.


Means, Ends, Cathedrals, and Tech: (10 year optimism, 100 year pessimism)

Tue, 12 May 2009 21:40:00 +0000

yesterday I watched a wonderful series of Yale lectures on the Old Testament by Christine Hayes on academic earth (http://academicearth.org),  Last night I plowed through another great section of The Black Swan criticizing the application of the Gaussian function, I have been thinking a lot about Kant, and BCM and I had a good debate this afternoon - so, consider this a Sunday of sweeping references and generalizations.

The summary goes something like this - I am increasingly concerned that scaling technology, access, power, and greater inter-connection is taking further and further away from a lot of the traditional structures that make western civilization generally work.  If the Gaussian function (the bell curve) doesn't actually work in social model when accelerated - if technology, access, and power, are bringing us closer and closer to facing down a chaotic world, then we are going to have to rapidly adapt society to survive. 
One can generalize the vast majority of moral reasoning/social theory as either ends based or means based.  teleology/deontology.  I do things either because I forecast forward what I must do now to cause a positive future outcome which I desire, or because I feel duty bound to do something regardless of outcome.

I personally have always found teleological arguments (which might very loosely be thought to be correlated with utilitarianism) to be far more appealing, and I would make the argument that a lot of our society deploys teleological constructs to keep society functioning.  You should eat your brussels sprouts, go to work, don't litter, pay your taxes, even if you don't want to because the ultimately resulting personal outcome is positive.

The problem is that teleology is breaking down:

1.  the nature of the problems we face as individual human actors in the context of an ever wider society are growing beyond the computable bounds of pure teleological reasoning (this isn't new, but it is getting truly extreme).  The projects where my intervention is theoretically needed in general have impact beyond my lifetime, and there is less and less I can do with a direct correlation between action and result (where computers and other systems take over the simple model-able processes).

2.  In our exponential world, if we throw out Gaussian curves and are forced to confront a structure dominated by out of band randomness, then we cannot take meaningful action towards teleological ends.  So, people can't even be sure they are working meaningfully towards ends which they even desire.

this might mean that the only hope of maintaining long term growth and a balanced society must be some sort of worldwide deontological revolution and/or some sort of universal world wide cathedral project (think, star trek)... that or a very powerful worldwide regime in which we manufacture localized personal teleological outcomes for people. 

None of this thinking is new, I just feel it is newly practically relevant/meaningful.  Without a structure where humans can apply valuable labor for defined outcomes, things become a bit crazy... 

1.  I know what I want/what makes me happy
2.  I can directly impact the outcome
3.  I can directly invest against my goals
4.  There is highly limited variability/risk in the outcome (or I can easily hedge the risk)
5.  I get to enjoy the fruit of my effort.

If the above fails to be satisfied, things either get very strange, or someone/something steps into the power vacuum to make the equation work locally.

so, while I am personally very very positive on the impact of technology on a ten year horizon, I think that the 100 year implications of a faster more interconnected global society get to be rather complicated... so, in closing - what is really killing the equation is:

1.  lack of clear cause and effect / the obscuring of linkage in a 'black swan' driven world
2.  problems are bigger than our lifetimes
3.  technology is disconnecting us from direct results/influence


taking (i)hostages

Sat, 04 Apr 2009 21:40:00 +0000

I remember vividly when the internet was first starting to truly takeoff a mad scramble to buy up the domain names of major brands and then hold the URLs hostage.  It was really quite a simple and old idea, major companies were slow to realize that owning their URL was critical, and smart enterprising individuals made them pay for their mistake.  I believe, though I do not remember the details, that ultimately some level of regulation meant that no one got an enormous payout for having picked up mcdonalds.com, but certainly that was the game many people tried to run.

A second iteration of the same game is playing out in the social scape with the identities of people and brands as we speak.  This time, it is going to be far harder to regulate away as a problem, and early sophisticated movers will likely get a whole lot more ransom money...  We already watched this happen with twitter name squatting, but that isn't even the tip of the iceberg....
A mildly more interesting example of this next generation of hostage taking is quantcast.com -- For advertising driven businesses, quantcast essentially establishes itself as a trusted source of statistics as the baseline for an advertising market, and then basically forces a brand to hand over ongoing access to their user stats.  I suspect, although I cannot prove, that their game is to actually do everything they possibly can to understate the stats and demographic value of 'un-quantified' sites (ones who have not yet paid their ransom) so as to force sites looking for advertising to open up the kimono -- if they aren't running their game that way, they should be.

Perhaps the best corporate example in play now is getsatsifaction which holds your brand hostage by encouraging users to post and the SEOing highlighted customer service problems - forcing brands to engage, and then charging you for premium management over your brand identity.
A more avant guard example is a website called famegame.com - the niche NYC based social scene website basically works by crawling photos and guest lists from new york parties and building out social profiles for each person.  They then SEO each persons name.  Rather than a traditional opt-in network famegame pre-populates a profile for you...they hold a set of SEOed content about you hostage and you need to register with them to retake control.  They hold your NYC social scene presence hostage.An apparently fictitious, but none the less interesting example is the recent yelp scandal, where they allegedly swapped advertising deals with brands for the right to remove bad user reviews from their profiles.  My sources say this incident is bunk, but if they could getaway with it they should be doing exactly that (or someone else certainly will).My question is, whom else can you take hostage in this very new very old game?  The best I can come up with so far is celebrities and politicians (usually the best people to hold for 'ransom' in any situation) --
I don't know exactly how to factor it, but someone should create a celebrity tracking service on a per-celebrity basis.  Choose which editorial content to post on each celebrity (and look to go slightly to exceedingly negative)... then, ransom the profile/identity back to the actual celeb.Even more powerfully, how about a political profile hostage service? Take politicians, and even local political campaigns.  Categorize all of the players, and represent them in a useful but unflattering way...then sell them back their identities.  To be clear, when we say 'taking hostage' what is really implied is holding SEO ranking and/or social graph relevance on the person's identity.  This is a war of attrition because the big search and social players have it generally in their interest to work in the opposite direction, but the key...  but there is a wide swath of gray area in which to play.


why the kindle doesn't have a 'clock'

Wed, 01 Apr 2009 21:40:00 +0000

I have been absolutely loving my kindle 2 - it is, in my mind, the best device I have purchased in a long long time – and I purchase a lot of devices…  At a high level, the reason I love it so much is that the form factor and design has completely revolutionized my ability to feasibly have a book and the newspaper on me at all times…  Because it is literally possible to slip a good book and today’s paper in my back pocket – and immediately get back to my place  - I have been able to squeeze more and more reading into dead air that used to be consumed by podcasts/music on my iphone… books are way better.
While a lot of people have been fawning over the device for the contrast ratio, the form factor, etc..., what is frequently missed are all the very small and important design decisions that make what would otherwise be a good device great.
This occurred to me a few days ago when I noticed that the kindle doesn’t have a clock in the footer/header of the page when you are reading.  Every digital device on the face of the earth seems to have a little digital clock on it somewhere, and no question the kindle has access to several timing mechanisms both onboard and over the air - so it was clearly a deliberate design decision to keep the clock behind the scenes… and I bet one which was actually discussed/debated for a reasonable amount of time. 
Amazon 100% made the right call in keeping a clock away from the page.  Part of the beauty of books is being able to loose yourself… and having a little ticking clock staring back at you would have made that much harder. 
So, the kindle is just that much better for not having a digital clock, as is Amazon for knowing when less is more - which only leads me to think about other places where removing elements is net positive


drop.io at the facebook developer garage austin/SXSW 2009

Sun, 22 Mar 2009 21:45:00 +0000

Last week i had the privilege of presenting a bit of drop.io thought at the facebook developer garage austin during SXSW.  a few people asked for my slides, so please find them below - along with a dark video if you want a little context/ voiceover video of presentation


Daniel Lessin, Rainbow's End, Foursquare, and the rise of ARGs

Sun, 15 Mar 2009 21:45:00 +0000

My brother is possibly the greatest leading indicator of social trends of anyone I know.  He has an incredible knack for picking up and getting very involved in cultural trends which ultimately become exceedingly popular in the mainstream years later.  He is the ultimate early adopter.  So, when Danny started getting very very involved in reenactments and roll playing games a few years ago (LARPing, eLARPing, etc) I stated to pay attention, even if I didn't personally get the appeal.
I am not sure we are 100% there yet, but listening to Dennis and Naveen discuss Foursquare last Monday at the New York Tech Meetup, and then starting to play the game myself - I think that, yet again, Danny called the trend early...  Sure, the local 'game' itself of 'foursquare' is interesting itself -- but what is far more interesting is that it seems that foursquare is meant to be extended in many different directions.
It feels like foursquare is the platform for mainstream eLARPing, where individuals, organizations, and maybe even companies, can easily create their own games to overlay on top of reality.
Of course, there are plenty of other people who have called this trend before Danny.  For instance, a future full of ARGs is a major theme of Rainbow's End; however, I give my brother credit yet again for adopting a few years before the tech is real, and the world is ready to play.  
Of course, I also give Dennis and Naveen incredible credit - not for foursquare as the game that currently exists, but for creating what appears to be the beginnings of a platform/ecosystem for the mass adoption of an old, but possibly soon to be mass form of virtual/physical gaming... 


quickly on NYSE, a bit more following up to comments on the def. of information

Fri, 06 Mar 2009 22:45:00 +0000

once again...  an overstimulating week, with not enough time to process.  I want to at least quickly note one minor points and then clarify one more major question as brought up by Aaron Sittig.

Minor Point 1:  follow-up from massively interesting talk at NYSE on Wednesday night.  

I had the privilege of attending a fascinating small dinner talk on Wednesday at the New York Stock Exchange.  the point of discussion was largely about the financial mess we are currently in, how we got here, and where to go.  

Some of the more interesting points were about the implications of accounting rules and the concept of 'off balance sheet' liabilities/assets, and the detachment of financial transactions (mortgages specifically) from their sources, including the difference between defaulting on your neighborhood friend and banker, and defaulting on a product that has been packaged and repackaged to oblivion.  

None of this is new, but what was fascinating to me was the number of times the people at the center of the crisis used terms like language, dialogue, communication, etc. to discuss the situation.  The markets are facing linguistic transaction problems

This makes perfect sense, but it is heartening to hear how smart and on-point these leaders are.  As Hayek would say, markets are just tools for information... and the breakdown of the markets (sadly a leading indicator of wider problems) is a breakdown of communication and information.  The ability to widely and efficiently transact, repackage, and move content is destroying knowledge.

Major Point:  follow-up to post on how to think about the value of information 

I finally got around to posting on the way I look at information, specifically -  The value of information/news = the improbability of information = F (speed * trust).
Aaron Sittig, whom I very much respect, responded by saying: "There's an additional kink that could be folded into this. I like to explain that...  Information = Personal Meaning(Data)

Since you can throw bits of data at me all day, but if they're bits I don't care about, it's wrong to consider them information. Information only makes sense then relative to a personal subjective context. 

So Facebook takes a huge pile of data, runs it through a process to filter by personal meaning, using our social graph among other things as our best guess, and finds the real information buried in the data.

So perfectly fast, perfectly trustworthy data is worthless if it's not personally significant to me. Take, for instance, the excellent local news coverage of the LA Times. To me it's not information though I'm sure it's timely and I have plenty of reasons to trust the LA Times.

The point of all this is to stress that there are factors beyond trust and speed that need to be maximized when thinking about improving the value of news flows."

While I get his drift and agree fully agree that facebook provides a ton of value in the form of filtering information, I actually disagree with the more structural point.  Unlike beauty, 'information' is not in the eye of the beholder, it is objective.
I don't care who won the Kentucky derby one bit, but that doesn't mean it isn't information as a function of improbability, speed and trustworthiness.  Quite frankly, to a comment by Joe Jackson, I don't care where Yahoo's stock closed yesterday, but it's closing price is a point of information.  
The interesting point that Aaron is speaking to is not about the definition of 'information' out is about the changing nature of the informationscape.  For almost all of human history the problem was not enough information, we could process and digest far more information and value that we were presented with on a daily basis.
As the cost of publishing has fallen to zero, the problem is inverted.  There is for the first time way too much information being publicly thrown at us and the bottleneck is consumption.  I simply can't process anything when everyone is shouting in the public forum....
So, facebook's role has always been, and is continuing to push forward as, a bit of selective hearing in the public forum.  I might choose to set filters to listen only to the most valuable information, or tune my listening to only receive content I find entertaining... That is quite a cool function and highly valuable*.  In many ways this isthe role that most newspaper used to play - straddling information and entertainment, but this role sits on top of information and content**, it doesn't change the fundamental definition of information.
* I also love that it is biologically derived - human beings have a highly developed selective hearing funciton, I think there was a great New Yorker article on it recently

**The FB filers are not only about 'information' but also about 'content' - the difference is that the value of information by definition declines as it is shared (value is based on scarcity) where content does not decline, and sometimes even gains value when it is shared (the fact that I have seen Watchmen makes the content no less valuable to you, and probably makes it more valuable).... Since this post is really content not information, I am going to share it widely - on FB.


a few quick 'real-time' comments back about the facebook changes as a brand

Fri, 06 Mar 2009 22:45:00 +0000

drop.io has almost 3K facebook about 3.5K twitter fans...  until yesterday I would have told  you that twitter was a was a far more important channel for us, but with the seismic changes to fb pages, that is about to change, possibly... what follows is my on the fly analysis of the facebook changes, as a startup founder trying to re-evaluate what it means for how we speak to our community.

High level my on the fly read, is that this is actually the biggest set of changes facebook has deployed in a while, and they are both very useful/good and very very smart from a business/power play dynamic.  here is why, or - more specifically - where I am re: changing the way drop.io posts and my analysis of why the changes are as they are.  


1.  I can't figure out how to update fb page 'status' via FB Connect or FB Applications, not sure you can...  if I can't, that is a very interesting product move/design decision as it means that facebook has defacto made itself my starting point from which to federate out to other services for brands 

2.  Point needing clarification - how to manage my posts for a company without an understanding of how often the stories will show up at to whom.  This could just be a messaging thing - but my understanding is that the front page will be weighted so that ALL stories will flow in 'real-time' from all friends... but what about pages?  transparency in how information will be consumed defines how I want to push it out -- this is something twitter does very well

3.  Point of possible slight annoyance I am slightly annoyed that stories published via the FB API won't show up on the homepage, and not sure if that includes publishing status via the API.  I get why, again, it makes interactions on the core FB property much much much more valuable, but it feels like a compromise with 'openness'

Overall - I like all these moves a lot - FB continues to push the envelope more than any other major platform, and what they are pushing towards is awesome


real 'information' services will all be subscription based in 5 years

Wed, 04 Mar 2009 22:45:00 +0000

PN:  I have been trying to get a post out on why I am bullish on the information business for months.  It isn't going to happen, so I am going to codify what I have and move on... the thesis is intact, I just wish I could clean it up a bit.

Apparently, the new argument in the online world isn't whether or not the 'press' will shortly be a thing of the past, but instead a feeding frenzy over who gets credit for having declared the death first.  My I just say, whoa nelly -- Jeff Jarvis, et al - you might want to take another look at those tea leaves.  A lot of thoughtful people disagree, and are starting to be more vocal about alternative ways the 'information' business will ultimately play out.

The internet was supposed to provide almost unlimited free access to 'information' -- but I would posit that it does not seem to be ending up that way.  Instead, what we are seeing is that 'entertainment' is getting extremely inexpensive and almost universally accessible - actual information is getting more expensive and harder to find.  This phenomenon, which sounds a heck of a lot like Colbert's concept of 'truthieness' is possibly the largest mid-term threat to the functioning of our liberal democracy.

before you cry foul, hear me out: does anyone really know if Sara Palin really did/didn't say that South Africa was/wasn't a country?  What really did go on with Yahoo?  Is Wikipedia's entry on the white rhino actually correct?  "We", as a general public, have no idea.... fast and cheap communication is actually clogging the line with non-information, not clearing the channel.  So, while citizens can clearly turn out an enormous volume of content very quickly, I don't see them taking over the professional journalist function any time soon. Again, I am not the only one thinking along these lines, and I have to credit Clive Thompson for making a similar point in Wired.

But - Why?  Information theory 101:

Starting from zero and then building up -- the value of real news & information is fundamentally based onimprobabilityand improbability alone.  This is the same concept that underpins the concept of binary and compression technologies in computer science.  If you already know something there is zero value to me informing you of the same fact.  When you cycle this up, the critical implication is that THE VALUE OF INFORMATION DOES NOT SCALE, but rather that the value of information is inversely related to how public it is.  At the same time, however, the value of entertainment content scales quite nicely. 

to put it in a real world context.  If you and you alone know with 100% certainty the closing stock price of WMT tomorrow the information is almost infinitely valuable.  If everyone knows then it is worthless...  meanwhile, if you consumed and enjoyed the latest batman movie, that does not in any way make the movie less enjoyable for me (in fact, the community around the content might make it more valuable).

The Value of Information / News = the Improbability of Information =  F (Speed * Trust)

Perfectly fast information that is completely untrustworthy is worthless.  Perfectly trustworthy information that is completely untimely is worthless.  The value of information is a function of speed and trust -- in a multiplicative not additive sense.

1.  The first way to make money/create value from this fact is 'SPEED' - Speed is just a shorthand for improbability because the improbability of a situation goes way way down after someone has reported it.  So, even on niche or relatively unimportant topics there is value in being the fastest transmitter  (there is little value in being second on speed).  This used to be a function of 'knowing' something first and having the fastest distribution mechanism (pony express / telegraph, etc), but outside of companies like Reuters enabling algorithmic trading, it is now just about 'knowing first' and typing fast.  

2.  The second way to make money/create value from the improbability of information is 'TRUST'.  If you are the first one reporting a new piece of information, the recipient of the information has to handicap the value of your information based on the probability that it is true.  So, if you are betting on a coin toss and a source reports that the answer is 'heads', you have to handicap your bet based on how trustworthy the source is...  being a trusted source of information creates value - fact checking creates value.

So, what is actually changing for the 'news' business....

Historically news organizations faced a segmented and regional information space in which to operate.  They didn't need to be first to a story and they didn't need to be 100% trustworthy... they just had to have a decently fast way to transmit decently trusted information.  The only thing that has changed with the internet is that the cost of 'distributing' information is approaching zero.  News organizations, which historically spent an incredible amount of money and built value based on distribution channels are out of luck.   The zeroing of distribution costs have two critical implications:

1.  Speed, which used to be a function of CAPEX, can no longer be captured as a fundamental driver of value.  There is no RMS/ROS (relative market size, return on sales) as a pure function of distribution. 

2.  There are no longer natural barriers to how information flows that can be easily exploited for profit.  Think of this one like the bubble in illegal music sharing.  Historically, clunky physical mediums for music (records, tapes) meant that even though you could steal music, it wasn't worth it - it was cheaper and easier to just buy it and leverage the physical distribution channels of the record labels... but when the medium changed all of a sudden copying and sharing music was 'profitable' from the consumer payoff sense.  This is what has happened for the information business.  It is far cheaper to copy and re-copy information than to just buy it from the source, and in this way the medium defines the nature of the transaction.

Newspapers need to essentially write off their huge investment in and value derived from distributionand the reaction of most papers - put 'entertainment' through the same pipe, get out of the 'information' game entirely

Most newspapers have reacted by giving up on the information business and concentrating on pure entertainment content.  After all, if information diffuses outside of your control almost instantly, it is very hard to derive value from an information business... entertainment is a totally different story, because the exclusivity of the content isn't as central. 

Just because the current players largely are exiting the 'information' business doesn't mean it will go away...

Actually, it means that the remaining players stand to make a lot of money.  As more and more players exit a smaller and smaller number of players will end up owning and controlling the information business - which means that they should be able to extract higher rents.

Real information will be subscription based,and it will be a function of a professional group of trusted journalists - not 'the crowd'

Ultimately, the news/information will go back to a subscription business.  I get value from having real information, and I will pay directly for that value based.  The faster and more trustworthy your information, the more I will pay for it.  Most importantly, advertising is in our new age a fundamentally incongruous form of monetization for news... because advertising relies on wide distribution to generate incremental value, and information requires limited distribution.*(even in the context of super targeted information - see nanotargeting - the mere interruption of advertising messages degrades information)

As for 'the crowd' - well, first off, by definition the 'the crowd' can't produce information...  because if the crowd is providing it/it is common knowledge, it isn't valuable. 

So, while I was impressed and very much appreciate how cool it was to get a real stream of content about the flight landing in the Hudson, that content stream was NOT information, it was content.  The fact that more and more people knew about and saw pictures of the event real time didn't actually provide any value - and the fact that others saw the pictures didn't make them any less valuable to me.

Even if you are just talking about the first tweet 'US air plane lands in hudson' -- without any trust associated with the individual reporting the fact, it is valueless...

It is un-questionable that the news business is changing - but it isn't going away in the slightest.  In fact, I see a very bright future for those that provide speedy and trusted information in a world where truth is ever more scarce. 

Post script(s) -

i am realizing that this train of thoughts is far more than a blogpost - and being highly explored by many people at this point -- that said, i am attaching a few post-scripts of other concepts and ideas i would like to include in the master message, but i just don't have time to write

how I was going to begin this post months ago: I have had at least four conversations in the last month which have wound towards a discussion of the unparalleled similarities between recent history andAtlasShrugged.  The general consensus is that the last month could easily have been mistaken for a chapter out of the book.  The movements on the market, the government response, the scraped auto industry...  it all feels very much like a fictional narrative I have already read. 

That said, the narrative similarities are far less disturbing (or interesting) then some of the deeper and more philosophical parallels.  Specifically, I am appalled by some of the similarities between Rand's portrayal of the fourth estate and what it feels like modern 'journalism' (or I should at least say 'reporting') is fast becoming.  I do think that there are still publications in the world that are intellectually honest (and therefor valuable), but it feels like an ever greater percentage of the information being communicated publicly in the world is actively unconcerned with the truth.  Rather, news as entertainment has become so dominant that the 'reality' of information is truly becoming an afterthought.  The title 'news' has been degraded to be little more than a presentation format.  I know this sounds highly alarmist and unoriginality cynical (the worst type of cynicism).  It probably is to some degree, but hear me out...

What about deep analysis, digestability,marketabilityof information:  there are a few other elements of information's value which fold under Speed and Trust which are worth briefly discussing. 

First, the question - isn't there value inanalysis?  The answer is, absolutely, but only so long as it feeds speed.  Analysis of information can either be directly characterized as being the first

Second,digestabilty- isn't there value in the digestability/format of information?  Again, yes, but only so far as it feeds speed.  The format of the WSJ or NYT is valuable because the layout allows others to consume the information with maximal efficiency - the paper format is a fat pipe and one can learn to read it efficiently looking to specific areas which have specific value.

What about 'marketability' of information.... isn't the value of information have to do with the subject of the information?  Isn't information about clinical trials for a new blockbuster drug more intrinsically valuable than whether a coin will come up heads or tails? -- I would argue possibly not.  Obviously, you need to have a market where people are willing to bet against/are betting based on your information-- but ultimately all information is the same, all that matters is how many parties you can aggregate that are betting against you (what the initial probability is of your outcome). 


reaction to the facebook 'terms of use' question

Thu, 19 Feb 2009 22:45:00 +0000

...a case for separating 'I/O' and 'network'

Over the last few days a mini saga has played out over the question of a seemingly small change to facebook's terms of use.  Before going any further, I just have to say that I have the utmost respect for the fb folk and do genuinely trust them with information.  I think that the magnitude of the reaction people had to a slight and seemingly necessary change in the terms of use given their current and future business was far far over the top and unwarranted.

that said - the issue of facebook's terms of use strikes at a much deeper and more important issue around information ownership given different types of services and application architectures.  These issues are going to only get more intense over time.

Facebook's service is designed to syndicate content.  It needs to own your data to push it out to the parties that the service is designed to serve....  this is because it is both a content host, and a network.  it actively takes your information and p ushes that data out to your friends.  As Mark explained in a blog post --

"When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person's sent messages box and the other in their friend's inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work."

That is one way to build applications, but it isn't the only way...

drop.io's approach to data ownership is very different, and it allows us to give you full ownership and control of your information and how others interact with it.  we simply allow you to put information in a drop, and then when you 'share' it based on the permission set you establish for content within a drop, you define specifically how the content can and does move.  check out our terms of use and you will see how this plays out - we don't duplicate your content into other people's 'inboxes'/spheres of control.

because we only handle the input, access, and ouput of content and have no associated 'index' or 'network' we simply don't face the same issues that facebook must wrestle with about data ownership -- the ownership parameters are totally clear in our case, we don't own any of the content being placed in our service, end of story.

So, what does it all mean....

When you want to 'share' something on drop.io you are not making and distributing copies, instead you are simply passing on links which refer back to your drop.  So, if you want to share content you own and have placed on drop.io, you can simply push out a link to your facebook network via facebook connect, or via our twitter integration, or via email, rss, and a bunch of our other 'output' options....  none of these 'networks'/distribution channels end up 'owning' or needing to duplicate anything more than URL pointers.

we hope that this becomes the option of choice in the future, where data I/O is divorced from distribution networks instead of being conflagrated....  in an always connected world, there is no reason for I/O and 'network/distribution' to be encapsulated in the same entity, as it clearly only causes problems...

the model of content hosting and distribution of the future allows you to keep your information somewhere you can flexibly exert total control, and push out links/pointers across the social and searchable web.  that way, when you are done you can efficiently close shop, and you don't have to worry about others needing to 'own' your content to be effective.

i see this as a big part of the future of privacy and dealing with the control of massive amounts of asymmetrical data in a massively accessible environment


typealyzer analysis of this blog

Wed, 18 Feb 2009 22:45:00 +0000

I came across a site called typealyzer.com on the blog 'i'm not actually a geek' which parses the 'writing style' of blogs and spits back Myer-Briggs personality types...  seems to have done a good job with mine... it said:

INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.


value = doing things + signaling the state of things being done, nothing else

Tue, 17 Feb 2009 22:45:00 +0000

I am really enjoying living and creating somewhere between product development and macro economics.  Splitting my days between helping to direct a highly talented development team at drop.io and working on some of the macro business development issues and problems the company faces has allowed me to cross pollinate, and hopefully made me net-net more effective.

From the development mindset I have been thinking more and more about all the component parts of drop.io.  Each piece of our platform either has a specific active function (chopping down trees) or signals the state of a function (tells other functions that a tree has been chopped down).  That is it, all things we build fit into one functional bucket or the other (and never both).

If you chop down a tree and no one signals it - then the action is worthless.  If you signal something that didn't happen - you are certainly not creating value and quite possibly destroying it.  You need both action and signal to create value, and total value of action is based on the effectiveness in action and signaling. 

This conception of value holds true in the real world.  Everything, ever industry, every person, must either be creating things or signal the creation of things to be valuable.  I am relatively certain that this holds/makes sense, but still open to finding some case I am missing.


contact dumping from gmail to twitter/FB

Wed, 04 Feb 2009 22:45:00 +0000

I try to keep is a single CSV (text) file with details of everyone I know/work with/have ever emailed with, etc. and go to great lengths to keep this consolidated list up to date and centralized across various social networks, email clients, IM, and other contexts...

Every once in a while I like to try to re-sync all of my contacts across spheres, by uploading them into gmail, and then syncing various networks (twitter, facebook, etc) against my centralized gmail list.  Every time I do this hilarious and interesting things happen.

Last week, i synced twitter - of the few odd thousand contacts I threw at it (I don't at all discriminate) several hundred had twitter accounts set up. 'Following' them was a funny and interesting experience.  An untold number of people (including my father) that are clear second/third wave twitter users had one or two posts up that just said "trying twitter", "twitttering", "I don't get it"... 

More interesting still was to see the huge number of 'dead' twitter accounts associated with tech folk who are heavy twitter users.  When you search for them by email address you get all of their old stubs, demos, experiments that they played with for different projects or before fully adopting the tool.  So, my contact dump twitter story is first an amazingly high number of people have tried it/are trying it from the mainstream -- and a lot who are not yet convinced

Dumping all my contacts into facebook was an even more interesting experience largely because the scale is staggering.  Upon sync facebook found 600 contacts in my email that were on facebook but with whom I was not friends (on top of another 800 with whom I was already friends)...  Upon pushing friend requests to the group I got almost 100 confirmations within an hour... and they are continuing to stream in. 

The vibrancy and reach of the property is staggering.  I am now friends with the woman who organizes helicopter ski trips in northern Canada for CMH, tons of developers I know in the Philippians, people from all over the globe and of all ages. 

It was also amusing to get tens of 'do I know you' emails from people that were in my gmail 'contact' list but I don't really know (in most cases, people that had been cced on chains I was responding to).  Getting emails back asking about relationships highlights the fundamental difference regarding how most people feel about their facebook profiles...  the reality/accuracy of FB's network may be diluted from what it once was, but it is still much more 'real' than anything else out there.


The privacy at a tipping point - a month in quick recap

Fri, 30 Jan 2009 22:45:00 +0000

I literally can't keep up.  When we started drop.io in 2007 I was forecasting that 2009/2010 would be the years that privacy would become both functionally critical and culturally relevant...  but the speed at which privacy is exploding as an issue across the internet along several different lines of reasoning in Jan 2009 is staggering. 

I mostly blog to help structure my own thoughts at this point (almost no one outside of my family reads this), and I feel completely behind the ball in integrating recent developments.  Since I am not going to have a chance to write full posts on everything of interest going on, this will be a very brief overview of several of the critical trends that I am currently watching/thinking about.  It is giong to be a facinating facinating ride, and I am only sorry I don't have time to truely structure/write on what is unfolding in full and refined format.

1.  the Michael Arrington 'incident' highlights the central value of privacy and anonymity

As a very small number of obsessive tech people know, Michael Arrington, the face of techcrunch, recently announced in a long rant that he would be taking a 'break' from blogging after a specific incident where he was spat on by a disgruntled startup founder, but really as the result of an ever increasing volume of hate mail/comments, and the stress of a death threat.  No one should be spat at, and it is sad that he feels he cannot continue to pursue his business, but some of the social drivers of his decision (and his explanation) are fascinating.  Among the relevant take away points from the incident:

a.  It highlights the personal value of privacy - someone will always disagree with you and your opinions, whatever they may be.  When you are publicly speaking to an audience of millions - or billions - with the weight of your own name, people will disagree - and some will disagree violently.  We have lived in a time of incredible prosperity and consensus around the globe (especially of the wired and engaged population) - but as the wired population expands and issues and power becomes more contentious people will move back to privacy

b.  It highlights the social value of anonymity - truth/freedom of speech fundamentally relies on anonymity to survive for the above reason.  It isn't just about whistle blowers - or, rather - the concept of whistle blowing goes far beyond exposing malicious corporate practices.  People need the ability to seek, consider, and discuss the nature of truth, and in a fully transparent world with total recall, people are not free.  Attaching your name to an argument will always carry more weight, but for personal, family, or social reasons we can't loose the discourse of everyone who dislikes being spit on or has something to loose. 

c.  It highlights the problematic thesis of 'citizen journalism' and 'blogging' - Arrington doesn't have the weight of a real news organization supporting his voice.  There is no ethics committee, and he has no guidelines.  The falling cost of content production allows him to speak to millions under his own power, which means he captures the upside when things go well - but he has nothing to support him when things go poorly.  This changes the nature of the discourse, and the relationship of the individual speaker to the discourse.  If he had clear process and structure, with a full system of editors and fact checkers backing him up, even if people were unhappy with "the mirror", it would be harder for them to argue with him.  One of the most interesting topics being currently debated is that the professional press is becoming ever more important, not less - and Arrington, the uber-blogger, is demonstrating exactly why.

d.  It touched off a set of discussions about security, while the issue is actually privacy - The response to the Arrington situation was Techcrunch and Mashable posts about privacy that really spoke about security.  Privacy and security are distinct concepts, and while security is a war of attrition - privacy is alive and strong... it just requires a different approach to applications and the concept of communication.  The internet can be re-factored away from an ad-supported model and towards a conduit for real information sharing.

Overall, it is shocking that Arrington, the great proponent of the 'social and open' web is closing down.  I think it is probably more shocking to him than to anyone else...  I honestly think that he wholeheartedly bought into his claims for personal openness and total transparency, which means that this must be devastating for him.

2.  Calacanis riffs on privacy and empathy

"I'm 100% convinced that the trend in 2010 and forward will be people trying to remove their virtual presence on sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook.  Already, I've noticed people are moving their settings to private--perhaps something they should have done from the start."

Jason Calacanis, possibly in response to the Arrington incident, or possibly not, wrote a very interesting and eloquent post about how living without privacy is/will destroy empathy.  While there is much I would disagree with, I think the spirit of his writing is spot on, "We are all canaries in the coal mines now".  It was interesting to hear how he moved away from a blog to a newsletter (an earlier semi-private, or at least not searched platform) in an attempt to regain control - but the real and final move will be back to speaking and exchanging privately with one another.

While very good, this again fits in the category of being noteworthy only because the biggest names in blogging and social media are starting to seriously wake up to the medium in which they are working and the nature of the discourse.

3.  Clive Thompson writes on "manufacturing confusion"


the Calacanis and Arrington blips spoke to the nature of personal identity and privacy in our brave new world.  Clive Thompson's article in wired "manufacturing confusion" strikes on a far deeper and more interesting problem.  Namely, because the cost of speaking has dropped to zero, people manufacture any 'information' they want regardless of validity.  When everyone speaks no one can hear, and truth is indistinguishable from fiction.

I did take the time to respond in two parts below to Clive's writings - so I won't dwell on them here, but the perspective he is asserting is critical.  The problem of communication and sharing online isn't just about personal identity and freedom of expression -- it is also about the fundamental technicals of the internet.  It is becoming easier and easier to manipulate information and people as the scale and speed at which information travels increases while the cost decreases. 

Search and social are not the toolkit to fix this.  Search, if anything, allows people to even more easily google the answers they want with total disregard for reality or balance, turning debate into baseless 'fact' sourcing.  Social, if anything, allows micro populations to control the dialogue/information flow to limited groups.

3.  US credit card database is compromised, biggest privacy breach yet.

You can't offload your privacy to third parties, and each huge 'private' data breach of centralized databases shows why.  Private data, or any data for that matter, represents a pool of value.  The value of the data set is based on things like the raw amount of the data, the usefulness, and how structured it is (how easy it is to tap the sweet sweet nectar).  For now, people are mainly concerned with "private" data in terms of immediately usable credit and cash.  That is why the credit card processors need to invest so much in defense, and why hackers are willing and able to spend more and more time and money assaulting them with the types of results we have been seeing recently.

That said, credit card databases are not the only pools of value.  Stores of structured personal data and social information are getting to be more and more attractive targets.  So, as facebook and twitter continue to grow their centralized datasets by hundreds of thousands of people a day they are going to become targets and/or they will use the data in unwanted ways themselves (because the value will be too enormous and attractive in aggregate).

More later, but the point here is that as datasets grow, they are going to fight an increasingly expensive and impossible war of attrition against those targeting to acquire valuable data.  There are solutions, like identi.ca that keeps the data-sets federated/diffuse enough that you might be able to trust third parties, but the point is this....  the 'privacy' solution is not about offloading your content/privacy issues to a third party, they are about how you publicly interact.  Security is a war of attrition, and privacy is a totally separate game that can't be offloaded to a third party.

4.  Kanye  gets hacked, Paris Hilton admits it is all a ruse - and the joke is on us

Which leaves me with Kanye and Paris.  Kanye is claiming his gmail got hacked and people used it to send offensive emails (or at least emails he didn't want sent).  There is no way to know the truth of what went on...  but the key is that Kanye got burned by letting third party technology assume control over part of his identity/self.  The medium controlled the man...  While, at the same time, Paris Hilton seemed to offhandedly admit that she is an even better actor than Stephen Colbert, and that she has just been playing a dumb blond in the public sphere. (I actually always suspected as much). 

So, where did January 2009 leave us?

Arrington has become a victim of his own identity
Kanye has become a victim of the medium
Paris admits she has been masterfully controlling the identity and the medium the whole time

leading me to believe that Ms. Hilton actually had it all right from the beginning.


Why the Internet is destroying access to information (the freestyle version)

Wed, 28 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

I have been working out a draft of my position on why people like Jeff Jarvis (who claim the death of the professional press/news-media) are dead wrong for months...  I have the argument firmly in mind, but since I actually care deeply about the subject, I am taking my time and trying not to be too loose and free with my discussion and language... (and I will not make the argument here and now just yet).

That said, Clive Thompson's article "Manufacturing Confusion" (pulling from Robert Proctor and Farhad Manjoo - neither of whom I have read)  immediately jumped out at me, because his opening lines almost perfectly matched the opening lines of the post on which I have been working.  "Is global warming caused by humans?  Is Barack Obama a Christian....  when it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed:  ignorance is increased...  when society doesn't know something, it's often because special interests work hard to create confusion." 

This is an exceedingly big deal.  It is so big that it, in classic science meets religion form - it reeks of the allegory of the Tower of Babel.  Content production and communication has gotten so cheap and easy, that anyone with any agenda or anything to gain can and will clog the wire, and consumers have no ability to distinguish fact from fiction. 

Traditional 'search' algorithms can't deal with this - I have already been experimenting with intentionally generating and running some SEO against misinformation, and I believe that in a world of open communication misinformation will actually become the dominant form of privacy.  Search will always get harder and harder to game, but it will always be game-able...  the channel will forever be locked in a war of attrition.

Social filters and algorithms are no better.  Forget true "crowd-sourcing" (like wikipedia), which I don't even feel the need to address - and instead examine your friend network, the facebook/twitter social filter model.  It certainly provides exactly what you WANT to read -- but what you want to read has nothing to do with the truth.    If anything, the micro-distribution of content through social channels is simply an echo chamber, which simply will reflect the beliefs and interests of the individual instead of any objective reality. 

I am still hopeful for the survival of information and verity because real information and truth has intrinsic market value.  So, while the internet (free distribution) is destroying access to that value on a massive scale, when there is value and people loose access to value, a good capitalist society will create/preserve an avenue.

But, I am scared because I think that the next year is going to make Orison Wells "War of the Worlds" look like childsplay; however, this time the question will be, will we even ever be cognizant of the ruse?  I worry that when we don't know what our neighbors are reading any more, the game is up.  ~as always, I know I sound alarmist and almost fanatical - In reality I am just fascinated... 

so, to go one crazy step further, I ultimately wonder - does this line of thought lead to the end of civil society, or the end of freedom of speech, or both.  For centuries, the cheaper publishing has become the more vibrant society has grown - but when publishing becomes a zero or in reality a negative cost does its effect invert?


Briefly Reiterated: Finance fell first, API based 'infrastructure' of the web is next

Tue, 27 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

Clive Thompson hit on my core thesis in this month's Wired - the fact that in many cases the internet is actually destroying knowledge and information, not creating it.

In his article he notes, "even the financial meltdown was driven by ignorance.  Credit-default swaps were designed not merely to dilute risk but to dilute knowledge; after they'd changed hands and been serially securitized, no one knew what they were worth." - this relates highly to my earlier post about blaming the internet for the financial crisis...  people lost the ability to rationally value assets once they were repackaged enough times that the 'irrational' seemed 'rational'.

But, that is hardly the scariest conclusion of his line of thought.  What Clive doesn't highlight is that by the same process the internet is in the process of destroying itself via a series of APIs, which are fundamentally exactly like repackaged financial products.

The more we build APIs on APIs on APIs, the less information we have about the core functions and properties of the systems we build.  Without fundamental insight all the way down the chain, we are building an exceedingly risky pyramid, in which we don't really know how our systems act and will interact. 

repackaging APIs on APIs on APIs is exactly the same thing as repackaged fund of funds investing in hedge funds investing in mortgaged backed securities buying slightly collateralized debt from individuals.  Open software helps a little bit, but it doesn't solve the problem.

Finance always leads trends, but other systems follow - and the fallout from internet services unraveling will be even scarier.... and I must buy Farhad Manjoo's new book "True Enough:  Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society".


Tuesday Jan 20, 2009

Tue, 20 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

In testing/playing with ping.fm (news soon) I started recovering all of the various blog stubs I have played with over the years (http://lessin.wordpress.com, http://lessin.tumblr.com)...

I came across an old blogger blog I had played with in 2004 when I started getting re-interested in social media.  Interesting to find some old/early thoughts - and see how I was using it - the stub is at: http://slessin.blogspot.com -


Facebook should be making Whopper Sacrifice love, not war

Thu, 15 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

So, who knows what the real politics are - but the headlines are reading that Facebook is either shutting down or massively limiting "Whopper Sacrifice" (see note below - updated)... I think this is senseless, if anything Facebook should be embracing and promoting the app -- and I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the crew over in Palo Alto agree.

By way of quick background, Burger King launched a very cleaver app recently that asks Facebook users to 'sacrifice' 10 friends (remove 10 friends) in return for a free Whopper burger.  According to my sketchy research online whoppers cost $2.39, meaning that to 'sacrifice' a friend on Facebook you are valuing that connection at $0.239 or less. 

I am comfortable declaring that if the information stream and connection you get from a given 'friend' on Facebook is worth less than $0.24 cents, then they are not a real friend.  I personally really like the app, and I love burgers, but looking down my friend list (which is almost 1000 people long) I can't think of anyone I would boot for 1/10th of a hamburger.

Facebook's value is built on the verity of their information and their friend graph.  If anything, they should be encouraging people to purge out non-real worthless connections.  Facebook has been speaking for ages about how to guard the truth and purity of the graph as a real world representation of friendships, isn't this a perfectly economically rational way to get there? 

So, I honestly think Facebook should be embracing and even promoting apps like this.  In fact, perhaps Facebook should be offering a straight up $0.24 cent buyout to their users per 'sacrificed' friend, it would be a great incentive to cull my 'friend' list to reflect reality...
so, after reading the articles that came out today - a bit more info.  Something I didn't understand is that the Burger King app was telling people when they had been 'sacrificed' and thereby was violating the FB terms.  First, this means that the cost of sacrificing a friend was actually higher than $0.24 cents - there was social 'blow back' involved.  Further, it means, theoretically FB would have let the campaign go on with a slight modification (removing that function).

This makes me feel better about FB's move (since the app was in violation of the terms), but I still think FB should be encouraging this type of behavior / initiate a 'friend' buyout.


Thoughts coming out of the BLKNY+30, world as a zero sum game?

Thu, 15 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

Last night the Brooklyn Future Meetup Y+30 was lead by Graham Hill of treehugger.  He presented a view of the environment +30 years with a message centered around the fact that while we have the tools at hand to do more to stabilize the environment, the question becomes how fast, and at what pace, we feel like "moving towards the life boats".  The presentation was exceedingly thought provoking, as was the conversation that followed.  Environmental issues, in my mind, are some of the toughest to discussion on a +30 year horizon because the impact is hard to conceptualize and exceedingly wide ranging across practical and philosophical dimensions.

What struck me most, was that it ended up hitting on many many of the same themes as I realize are driving my pointed dislike of Rawls as of late. 


At the end of Graham's presentation he posed three questions for discussion, two of which were: A. "do we care about future generations of unborn children and strange animals"  and B.  "are we willing to sacrifice today for stability tomorrow"  (both paraphrased).   Further, he suggested that humans as a species are really not designed to think more than a few years (or even just a single winter) in advance - making thinking 30 years, or the 100+ on which we could truly feel the impact of environmental change very very hard to pivot around.

I think these points/questions are dead on.... The worrisome part is that it isn't only human beings in a practical/immediate sense who have a hard time digesting these meta trends and inter generational issues.  Our institutions, capitalism, government, etc. are equally designed with at most a few years of forecasting in mind - not centuries.  Most disturbingly, our theory can't even account for this long term thinking.  Utilitarianism in the most general form can, but offers no real direction when stretched to that end - our man Rawls, I believe, is completely up a creek without some sort of way to measure fairness, etc. in terms of not just a current population but future generations - at the other end of the spectrum guys like Nozick (in the justice as acquisition sense) because it is impossible to balance the rights of others to acquire in the future vs. our rights to acquire now.

The world isn't a zero sum game, but there really are some zero sum aspects we are now hitting up against as a society.  This indefinite mixture makes things very very complicated.


I personally think the only solution may be to dramatically change tastes.  Celebrities driving hybrids isn't enough - I think that the only solution may be some sort of modern cathedral which we can all stand behind, and which allows us to pleasurably optimize our own lives in the short run, while enabling and protecting future generations as a positive externality.


Built on Twitter

Sun, 11 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

I wrote a short discussion of the most recent NYC tech meetup for Adage last week - and figured it is worth re-posting here...  the original is at http://bit.ly/srzI

Everyone needs someone, and that is especially true in the online world. Just as Michelin's tire business wouldn't be worth much without a car industry, Microsoft Windows wouldn't be very useful without PCs, Google wouldn't be worth a dime without ISPs, and our company, Drop.io, wouldn't do much today without Amazon Web Services.

Tuesday night at the New York Tech Meetup, newly elected organizer Nate Westheimer led the group through a set of companies and projects that are "built on Twitter" (read: that all apparently "need" Twitter).

Where most NYTM events showcase companies that have either raised venture-capital financing or are actively looking to do an A round, at this event, no one presenting had raised VC or even announced that they were actively looking for institutional funding. The general sentiment at the NYTM seemed to be that that investors are, in general, not yet willing to make big bets on companies built on a platform that has yet to make its first dime of revenue (let alone profit). Especially in this environment, people don't yet have enough faith in the viability of the host.

But something clicked for me at the NYTM, and I think that this approach is a mistake. There is fundamental technology being developed in New York that might be built "on Twitter" but isn't actually as dependent on Twitter as it may seem at first blush.

@Shakeshack kicked off the event, presenting their social experiment using Twitter to create a "new data set" around the community of people who have a sometimes scary obsession with the eatery and the length of the line to get your hands on a delicious burger.

TwiTerra presented its visualization of the Twitter "re-tweet" data set, displaying one way to think about the type of data set @Shakeshack is creating.

CoTweet
presented a whole new interface for how groups of people can interact with messages via a single Twitter feed, in what could be seen either as a system for using Twitter as a 1920s style "party line" or as a corporate switchboard for tweets.

StockTwits showed its interface for using Twitter for reputation driven real-time stock tips.

The Shorty Awards presented its massively popular three-part "awards" program and spoke a bit of how it is morphing into a way to rate top Twitter feeds in various categories of interest.

Klout showed off its attempt to algorithmically measure impact and influence on Twitter.

Finally, one of my favorite projects, Botanicalls, showed off its project to bring your plants into the tweet-o-sphere.

Sure, all of these companies are using Twitter's API, and developing interfaces, features and the like that need Twitter to live tomorrow -- but what bets are they really making, what are they really developing? Coming out of the NYTM, I would argue that they are all making a very safe bet on a real-time future for the internet, not Twitter itself.

Twitter has grown because it is a fast way to easily route messages, and with a dead simple API it is a quick and easy way for the next generation of innovators to get up and running with a new "real time" or "social" project or company. Iis CoTweet the CRM of the future?. Is Shorty Awards or Klout going to provide the next "pagerank"? I haven't a clue. Is Botanicalls going to be part of the basis for smart real-time device interface? Not sure.

But I will say this -- this is real stuff, if Twitter goes away someone else (or a federation of someone elses) with a similar API will take its place and these projects and people will continue. Just as we make sure at drop.io that if need be we could get off our host (Amazon Web Services) at an acceptable cost, Twitter isn't going to hold these companies hostage for long.

So, coming out of this Meetup, I think it is time to start embracing the vibrancy of what people are building "on" Twitter in the New York tech community, and unless you want to bet against a future of highly open real-time communication, start investing in some Twitter based start-ups.

As a closing thought, remember another company with New York ties, Summize. Summize built core real time search technology. They started off working on an Amazon data set, and ended up selling to twitter based on how their groundwork enabled Twitter's data set. Someone that presented at the NYTM this week will do very well with the fundamentals they are developing, whether they do it "on" Twitter or elsewhere.

Google may need solvent ISPs, Microsoft might need Dell, and the U.S. might need an auto industry and a banking system, but these "Twitter" start-ups don't need Twitter.


I am not a 'net native'

Mon, 05 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

I spent a lot of time with my 14 year old sister over the holiday school break.  Spending time with her, I thought a lot about the fact that she is a true net native, having never really seen a pre-internet pre-mobile world.  It made me realize that, as much as I pretend, I am not a 'net native' the way she, and all future generations of Americans will be.  Unlike KJWL, I actually remember learning how to:

1.  type
2.  double click (that actually was hard to learn at first)
3.  right click
4.  always use an area code in a phone numbers (7 digits used to work fine)
5.  transcribe long URLs (it used to be really hard)
6.  hit 'call'/'send' when dialing a number
7.  text message (/T9)
8.  type with my thumbs
9.  efficiently see and navigate application 'windows'

I remember when my father first came home with a briefcase sized cell phone, and how people used to gawk at him on the street.  I can still sing the modem handshake song.  I remember trying to download the 5mb duke nukem trial on 10 kbps connections that would keep dropping.  I remember the first CD I ordered online.  I remember how amazing it was to jack a "general magic" 'mobile' Internet device into the wall and go online.  I remember film cameras, and my first digital camera which used a serial port to let you download its 500K internal memory.  I remember 10 mb max inbox sizes, and freshman week without facebook.  I remember aohell. 

It is amazing to recognize that my generation will be the last to remember the pre-digital world, and that our role might be to guard the lessons from those fading memories.


Rawls is rapidly getting out of date in our 'exponential' world

Sun, 04 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

a sunday pause for a few quick and dirty thoughts on social philosophy

This morning in the gym I watched Michael Sandel's "Justice" lecture #16 on John Rawls (available at post.harvard.edu).  As an undergrad, I remember having largely disliked Rawls. When we studied "Justice as Fairness" I took fundamental issue with his suppositions of what people would choose under veil of ignorance (based on its grounding in minimax theory, and presupposition of risk aversion)...  but that said, I haven't studied his theory in a while and am not sharp enough on the finer points to be confident in playing ball at that level right now.

What really struck me, and what is worth noting, is that watching Sandel's lecture I felt for the first time that Rawls is starting to seem like a quaint antique of slower and more stable age. 

His theory can't functionally account for our exponential world in which impact and change is ever more rapid, long ranging, and difficult to "value".


Rawls states "In justice as fairness men agree to share one anther's fate.  In designing institutions they undertake to avail themselves of the accidents of nature and social circumstance only when doing so is for the common benefit".  My fundamental issues with Rawls now stem from the fact that I am not exactly sure how we should be defining and thinking about the basic ideas of "men" and "common" -

For the first time in history we are facing environmental and technological issues which could drastically change or destroy society in a matter of decades via a thousand cuts.  These challenges are not at all like the threat of nuclear annihilation, which was always a game of a limited set of state actors - instead these challenges are ones which we all collectively face together based on millions of independent decisions by independent but fundamentally bound individuals and organizations.  Should we be thinking about our commitments to just our contemporary "men", or for humanity for the next 100 years, or for the next 1000 years?  Should we be thinking about the "common" benefit this year, this century, or for the next fifty generations?  Rawls doesn't help here at all, and without any answers on these more fundamental questions it makes his entire framework rather useless.

These types of questions didn't matter very much historically because we as a society couldn't do all that much that would have 100 or 1000 year impact.  We could talk about formats for or conceptions of maximizing utility on a bounded basis because our impact and the capital we built or destroyed as a civilization didn't last that long in any meaningful way.  However, the more our actions today have serious impacts in the very long term the more we have to re-define what we mean by maximizing and sharing wealth, utility, etc. 

Are we maximizing for today or tomorrow, or 10,000 years from now?  What, if anything, can we agree is 'utility' in the long run?  What decay rate should we be applying to future human utility streams? 

In an exponential world all of these problems become much more tangible and immediately relevant, and if we can't 'agree' we are going to have to re-evaluate.


I am picking on Rawls specifically because he deploys many many devices which are particularly problematic in this new very-long-term framework.  Applying any of his philosophy relies upon society making centralized and unitary decisions regarding the value/worth/etc of individual actions and activities.  To know how much to tax a given person society needs to centrally make a value judgment on that person's contributions.  This simply doesn't work in the modern framework, because the value of given contributions, etc. are getting ever more complicated and hard to agree upon. 

When I was in college I remember being highly seduced by the clean and clear social theory of Locke, but being forced to recognize that his work was a simplistic relic of an earlier time.  As humanity became more and more interdependent and interconnected most of his theory lost any sort of real world relevance, because there was no longer such thing as actions that truly existed in a vacuum.  As our actions no longer just impact each other in the immediate or temporal space, but infinitely into the future Rawls theory also seems like a relic (whether or not you agree with it).

So, what is left?  I am not sure.  I am sure there are a lot of thinkers/approaches I have not yet been exposed to, but for now I am stuck re-considering my opinion of philosophical frameworks that don't rely on socially coordinated ends based reasoning.


Post-Industrial Education (Reprise)

Thu, 01 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

I mentioned this a while back, and I am sure someone has actually studied this in detail -- but, having just discussed it again with KJWL, I must say that I am very excited about the future of education.  Reading David McCullough's 1776 a few months back it struck me that the American generals in the opening days of the revolutionary war were mostly considered qualified to lead by the mere fact of having had access to and studied war strategy books.  McCullough notes that at the time it was considered quite reasonable to master a skill or a new body of work on your own through books.  After a few centuries in which it feels like education followed the industrial revolution towards institutionalization, centralization, standardization, and accreditation we are coming out the other side... and with the aid of the Internet it is again becoming both reasonable and acceptable to learn without centralized structure, and to ply a trade without a officially sanctioned degree.  As much as Widener Library will remain a wonderful and meaningful place, I cannot see it - or Harvard - holding the same top down importance to education and the landscape of learning in the 21st century as it did in the preceding 200 years. 


Communicative Symmetry, ATT & First Revenue Assurance

Thu, 01 Jan 2009 22:49:00 +0000

Happy New Year! -- Last Sunday (the 28th) in the NYT Gretchen Morgenson wrote an article called "A Paper Trail That Often Leads Nowhere" - I was exceedingly excited to read it, not only because it was a great article and expose, but because it highlights a communicative issue that I have been personally experiencing and am exceedingly worried about as a social issue in the midterm....  Specifically, as she points out, the ability to re-package and re-sell commitments and relationships creates incredibly perverse economic situations which are seriously threatening, and sadly seem to require more regulation in the mid-term (though I have a hard time envisioning what exactly that regulation would functionally look like).  Morgenson talks about this in terms of renegotiating home loans which are in danger of defaulting.... a business which I once studied in detail -- my personal experience has to do with predatory debt collection practices. 

By way of quick and truncated background, a few months back about my interesting issue with ATT and First Revenue Assurance -- when I set up my iPhone Apple and ATT mistakenly created a second fictitious account in my name, and then passed it to collections when I didn't pay the phantom balance on the phantom account.  ATT acknowledged the mistake and guarantees on the phone that the issue has been resolved, but is exceedingly tight fisted with any sort of traceable documentation by system design.  First Revenue Assurance and their agents refuse to acknowledge that the 'debt' is not owed, and have actively lied in attempting to collect on the account, and attempt to harass me through several channels. 

Why and how?  It is all about understanding and reacting to economic incentives.

Setting aside the fact that I am actually a very well paying ATT customer, in the general state ATT has zero incentive to protect individuals whose accounts they have 'written off' in any way shape or form for whatever reason.  They don't expect any future business from written off customers, and they have either already been paid a fractional fee for the defaulted account (or have assigned a definite discounted value to the account based on the probability of recovery).  Their incentives in dealing with a customer in a 'defaulted' situation are squarely based on the probability/cost associated with legal action, and the brand risk associated with a negative story getting out into the public about their practices.

First Revenue Assurance, and their agents, have even clearer incentives.  They have either paid for the right to collect a bad debt, or have some other definite arrangement where they make money based on getting me to pay them.  As a company their job is to acquire bad accounts as cheaply as possible, work them efficiently, and get as much money paid back as possible.  They have no brand or reputation value which they are concerned about protecting with consumers, nor do they have any financial interest in how it was they came to have this 'right of collection'.  If and when they resell their rights to another agency, the same economic logic and incentives apply. 

So, as they have done to me, they will lie and actively look to deceive in any untraceable/unrecorded medium, and will engage in communication strictly on what they consider to be immediately high ROI terms (meaning, as they have done, they will hang up on you, and not engage unless they think you are going to 'pay up').  As a company they will do everything right up to the line of the law, because their only risks (other than a negative ROI which they are modeling constantly), is legal action or loosing access to future business from ATT. 

What does this mean?  It means that ATT thinks it has zero economic incentive to fix the situation and will try to have as few interactions with me that cost them as little as possible (meaning, not focus on the issue at all), First Revenue Assurance, will deploy whatever apparently ROI positive tactics they can to get me to give them money.  Quite simply it is the wild wild west, -- and everyone is losing as a result.

What is a consumer to do?  I take a strictly economic approach.  That means evaluating the costs and payoffs which are in bounds for each player:

My economically optimal move from day one would have been to just pay FRA the extortion money (the $300 they claim I owe them) avoid the loss time and effort of dealing with the situation, and not risk my credit score (my future cost of capital).  This is how ransom works, it is the economically rational move to just pay up.  That said, I don't negotiate with terrorists as a rule because I assign a very high dollar value to my integrity. 

So, to maximize my value in the situation I deploy a few tactics:

1.  I minimize my exposure to costs that FRA is trying to impose on me to compel my acquiescence.  I never read physical mail, filter my email, and as a rule I never pick up my phone when people call whom I don't know.  So, in general, FRA's tactics to levy expenses on me by wasting my time and jamming my communications don't work.  Further, I have stopped even trying to work with or talk to their line representatives.  The incentive structure their representatives are so misaligned that time I spend actually trying to resolve issues with them is clearly wasted and just a tax. 

2.  I maximize the actual and anticipated cost to FRA to continuing to attempt to extort me.  I have begun writing letters to the attorneys general of both my home state and their states of operation, and have been scraping together all possible material and evidence of their harassment.  Beyond that, I have contacted ATT to let them know that I had begun such action and requesting that they review their relationship with FRA.  These are expensive and time consuming activities for me, but I see them as ROI positive.

Conclusion

My personal battle will be long and drawn out.  I highly suspect that for all sorts of systemic reasons FRA is massively over-estimating their likelihood of getting me to pay out, and they are massively underestimating the costs they will incur for continuing to pursue their course...  In the meantime, I find this situation theoretically fascinating (that extra bit of return which makes the whole thing ROI positive on a total basis for me personally), and deeply scary in terms of what it means for our society.  So, everyone will continue to lose, but at least it will be interesting.

But, to be serious for a second, in the general case, this situation illustrates the pervasiveness of the central issue Morgenson identified in her article.  The dynamics and structures in place around reselling/repackaging relationships are creating massively negative outcomes for all parties involved, and with an economic downturn more and more people are going to find themselves facing these types of communicative situations in contexts that are less entertaining.  This is a enormous structural issue and I honestly don't have any idea on how to deal with it on a 30 year time horizon outside of regulation... and I can't yet articulate what I think that regulation should actually look like.

That said, as a final note, I think I would be remiss not to note that, as with many things, pervasive access to information will make these types of issues go away on a 100 year cycle.  If all parties had perfect information FRA wouldn't be making such a massive miscalculation on the value of the 'debt' I 'owe' them, let alone the fact that this situation would have never occurred in the first place -- but we are a long way from that utopia and it is going to be a scary ride in the middle.


the internet IS to blame for the economic crash

Fri, 26 Dec 2008 22:53:00 +0000

Last weekend our very good family friend Burt Ross was on the cover of the Wall Street Journal telling the story of how he lost the vast majority of his personal net worth with Madoff.  The graph from the article that struck me most was as follows:

"Mr. Ross says he remembers being puzzled about how Mr. Madoff was able to show positive returns, even in months when the stocks Mr. Madoff's fund owned were down.  He pushed such thoughts aside "I thought, 'Who am I to question?" Mr. Ross says.  "This guy has a formula involving computerized trading... It's like Coke.  We're not supposed to know the formula"

Over the last several months I have heard a lot of people who work around the tech industry saying things along the lines of 'at least we didn't cause this one' -- the implication being that this recent downturn was a housing/banking lead phenom.  This is dead wrong, in fact, if anything I think technology and the marketing of technology is more to directly blame for this market crash than the 'correction' of 2001. 

Burt, who is a very smart and highly educated man, believed that 'computerized trading' could account for a gap which would otherwise be inexplicable, and he was is not alone.  Millions of people across an incredible range of financial products bought the marketing hype that the dawning of the digital age had fundamentally changed the nature of risk, finance, and investing...

Why?  Because of the ipod, google, youtube, facebook, not to mention those incredibly appealing Mac/PC ads.  Over the last 10 years the almost overnight impact of technology and the internet on American lives has been so tangibly profound that people were willing to believe that technology had also fundamentally changed the laws of finance and economics. 

When investment performance, interest rates, mortgages, lending practices, all seemed simply impossible or out of balance with reality, the simple retort of 'technology has changed the rules' sufficed for due diligence.  After all, if technology allowed facebook to scale from 0 to 50 MM users in 24 months, why couldn't new technology allow the efficient pooling of zero interest loans to people with no credit or income?  In light of the visible delta consumer tech, the impossible seemed plausible to even sophisticated investors.

So - who is to blame for this crash?  It is Gates and Balmer, Jobs, the guy who wrote the mac commercials, Serge and Larry, maybe Mark and Dustin...  because if they and many others hadn't pushed and marketed tangible consumer tech so far forward so quickly no one would have possibly bought the false promises of discontinuity via new 'computerized' financial technology.  Burt Ross wouldn't have bought Madoff's impossible 8% YOY returns, and we wouldn't need a reality check now.

Fintech is a big deal - and tech is changing the financial landscape - but yet again we have learned to do our homework on the actual core impact, and never be afraid to call a bluff.


Privacy in our data-deluged world

Mon, 01 Sep 2008 21:53:00 +0000

a quick ignite talk on what it means to live in a world of infinite data
September 2008 Ignite


"social advertising" netwroks

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 21:53:00 +0000

This morning I had a wonderful conversation which got me thinking about the future of "social advertising".  It led me down the path of considering how one would theoretically build a scalable ad network on twitter, as an example of a highly open social platform with which it is particularly easy to interface.  What became clear is that the framework for constructing social advertising networks looks a lot like the framework for constructing a traditional ad network, the only difference is some of the hooks you are selling against...  Thus, the four steps I propose below are not revolutionary or even all that new, but what is interesting is that they are newly possible (and even easy to deploy) in the context of social content, and many companies are already doing different pieces of the overall equation.

Step #1:  Acquire inventory from publishers =  (enable people to opt in to having tweets from advertisers inserted into the feeds in return for fees)

Every ad network needs inventory.  In the traditional web, this meant previews and ad-units next to content.  In the context of twitter, this would mean the right to occasionally insert a tweet into a user's feed.  To make this functional, all one would need do is allow users to enter their twitter name and password (giving the ad network the ability to publish tweets on their behalf) and then have each user indicate an amazon FPS account, paypal, etc to which they would like to receive advertising revenue.  It would be highly appealing to add a few toggles to allow users to  define how their feed can me monetized (specifying the frequency of promotional tweets they want, hours of the day they are willing to push ads, whether or not they are ok promoting no adult content, etc).  To my knowledge, no one is actually doing this yet, but there are services like twittertise which allow individuals or companies to schedule add content to run on a single feed.

Step #2:  Value and categorize your inventory = (pull core stats and samples of twitter feeds to quantify the reach of each feed, impact, etc)

Ad networks need to understand the nature and value of their inventory to be able to match the inventory with advertisers.  This is where twitter gets really fun.  Using the twitter API you can first get a sense of how much reach each user's feed has.  This can be accomplished in a rudimentary way by pulling the number of followers each feed has.  More sophisticated models of valuing reach would include measuring things like how many followers each of the user's followers has (the potential secondary impact), the propensity of those followers to re-tweet, or repeat information pushed out through the feed, etc.  You could even screen for location based tweets to screen for local demographics.

In terms of understanding the nature of the users (essentially, the content of the feed on which you have inventory) you only need look at word frequency on the feed.  Ideally you would also look at the content which other followers who subscribe to the feed to understand the ultimate audience directly.    There are many many companies brushing against these these concepts, though no one is explicitly valuing a tweet to my knowledge.  Summize (which was acquired by twitter) had a big piece of the equation in the form of a twitter search engine.  There are countless services out there that measure the reach of individuals on twitter (twittergrader being a questionable example) and create tag-clouds based on frequently used words.  The upshot, people are very close to explicitly attaching a dollar value to a tweet on a given feed.

Step #3:  Sell inventory to advertisers, quantify impact, and refine your model = (sell 140 character ads with links to offers, quantify click through rates and sales, help companies optimize tweets)

Finally, ad networks need to sell their inventory to relevant advertisers, and help those advertisers refine their targeting and messaging to increase ROI.  More and more advertisers are experimenting with twitter and how they can leverage the platform.  They are interested, they just need inventory and help figuring out what messages work.  To do this effectively with twitter you simply need a system of measuring the impact of your tweets in a way which you can meaningfully feed back into a self-refining model of how you are valuing feeds.  No one is after this yet, but a company like bit.ly which gives some analytics on click through rates on links inserted into communications platforms like twitter are on the right path.  In the end, it is just about refining a model of matching types of feeds, with types of followers, with the exact content, time of day, context, etc to get the desired response.

tada.  a twitter ad network - abstractable to any social content

Several caveats...

a.  brands are still scared of how to insert themselves into the conversation - is it inauthentic to push marketing tweets on someone feed?  not sure.  I am sure there is a learning process here, and probably the tweets need a 'sponsored' disclaimer - but the clear fact is that more and more of the consumed content in the world is 'user generated'  so advertisers need to figure out how to get their messages out on those terms.  Interestingly, pownce, which recently decided to shut down - had from day one advocated the concept that on their free version advertisers could insert messages into people's feeds

b.  very few twitter users have enough valuable followers to make any money from allowing advertising on their feeds.  this seems absolutely true... only a tiny tiny number of individuals could even theoretically 'twitter for a living' - just as almost no one successfully blogs for a living.  That said, the more you know about your audience the less it is just about scale.  When, all of a sudden, you can actually quantify the value of reaching the specific people who follow your feed, your CPM might be off the chart even with very low absolute numbers of followers - so long as you have the right followers.

c.  twitter will just shut you down.  maybe.

d.  50 other concerns I haven't thought of.  Poke away.  I am interested in what others think of this direction.  For me, this is more of a framework for thinking about what will happen to social media platforms, and the core nature of information... but maybe someone is actually building this right now and has some more insight.

note:  i have just been directed to a company called 'magpie' (http://be-a-magpie.com/) by JS -- it does something close to this idea (how cool... investigating further)


SaaS

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 21:53:00 +0000

I gave a really fun talk last night on the general topic of SaaS, and the implications of 'the Cloud' on the model.  The deck is below, but the highlights (for what they are worth) are:

1.  The SaaS model is the way to go (people have been saying this for 15 years, but connectivity and bandwidth costs make it real this time, not just another hype bubble) - I am a believer -

2.  SaaS has fundamental advantages over traditional software - the obvious ones are distribution costs, but the less obvious ones are more flexible development and a greater ability to be focused towards 'agile' practices.

3.  'Cloud Computing' (which I will call HaaS) makes developing SaaS significantly more efficient and less expensive...  developers can just do S and don't have to worry about procurement, modeling, etc for the H.  This means that 'the Cloud' will accelerate SaaS.

4.  The proliferation of SaaS on HaaS, and even SaaS which consumes SaaS (via APIs) makes it incredibly hard for end consumers to know what they are actually consuming - who has their data, where the points of failure are - etc.  This is the polar opposite of the Mission Impossible 'clean room' in Langley

5.  This should open up huge opportunities for a new breed of web service security and privacy companies - specifically in the Audit and Risk Management world...  if these types of companies and services don't evolve the longterm potential for SaaS will be ultimately stunted.


encryption

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 21:53:00 +0000

˙ʇı ǝʌɐɥ noʎ ǝɹǝɥʇ uǝɥʇ - ʇuǝɯʇsǝʌuı ǝɥʇ ɥʇɹoʍ ƃolq ʎɯ puıɟ noʎ ɟı 'ʇxǝʇuoɔ ɔılqnd ʎlǝʌıʇɐlǝɹ ɐ uı ǝƃɐssǝɯ ǝʇɐʌıɹd ɐ pǝʇʇıɯsuɐɹʇ ʎllnɟssǝɔɔns ǝʌɐɥ ı uǝɥʇ ǝlqɐnlɐʌ uɐɥʇ ssǝl ƃolq ʎɯ puıɟ ʎllɐɹǝuǝƃ noʎ ɟı  ˙ʇuıod sıɥʇ oʇ ǝƃɐssǝɯ ʎɯ pǝʇdʎɹɔǝp ǝʌɐɥ ʇou llıʍ ɹo llıʍ ɹǝɥʇıǝ noʎ 'ʇou ɹo ǝlqɐnlɐʌ sı ƃolq ʎɯ ʞuıɥʇ noʎ ɹǝɥʇǝɥʍ ɟo uoıʇɐnlɐʌǝ ǝʇɐʌıɹd ɹnoʎ uo pǝsɐq 'os  ˙puǝ uɐ oʇ suɐǝɯ ɐ sı ʇı 'ɹǝʎɐl sı ʎʇıɹnɔǝs  ˙˙˙˙ǝlqɐʇıɟoɹdun uoıʇɐɯɹoɟuı ƃuıʇdǝɔɹǝʇuı sǝʞɐɯ 'ʎllɐǝpı 'ʇɐɥʇ ʇsoɔ uoıssıɯsuɐɹʇ ɐɹʇxǝ ǝɯos ƃuıɹɹnɔuı ʎq ʇxǝʇuoɔ ǝʇɐʌıɹd-uou ʎllɐʇuǝɯɐpunɟ ɐ uı ʎɔɐʌıɹd ɟo ɯnɔıpoɯ ɐ ƃuıʌǝıɥɔɐ ɹoɟ ʇɔnɹʇsuoɔ ɐ sı ʎʇıɹnɔǝs  ˙uoıʇɐɯɹoɟuı pǝʇʇıɯsuɐɹʇ ƃuıʇdǝɔɹǝʇuı ɟo ǝnlɐʌ ǝɥʇ ˙sʌ uoıʇɐɯɹoɟuı ƃuıʇʇıɯsuɐɹʇ ɟo ǝnlɐʌ ǝɥʇ oʇ pǝʇɐlǝɹ sɟɟoʎɐd ƃuıƃuɐɥɔ ɹoɟ ɯsıuɐɥɔǝɯ ɐ sı ʎʇıɹnɔǝs  ˙ʇsnɹʇ uo pǝsɐq ƃuıɹɐɥs ɔılqnd-uou ɟo ʇdǝɔuoɔ ǝɥʇ sı ʎɔɐʌıɹd  ˙sʇɔnɹʇsuoɔ ǝʇɐɹɐdǝs oʍʇ ǝɹɐ ʎʇıɹnɔǝs puɐ ʎɔɐʌıɹd ʇɐɥʇ ʇdǝɔuoɔ ǝɥʇ uı pǝʇsǝɹǝʇuı ʎɹǝʌ ɯɐ ı


Dear President Obama

Fri, 10 Oct 2008 21:53:00 +0000

Dear President Obama,

I hear you have been having some connectivity issues... may we suggest you use drop.io

We spend a ton of time at drop.io thinking about how private information should and does work.  The recent discussion of whether or not President Obama can use a blackberry while in the white house is, on this basis, fascinating.  On the one hand, as countless people have pointed out, it is relatively absurd that the chief executive of the country can't use a $50/month device which is at the core of corporate communication.  On the other hand, the information he is dealing with is ever so slightly more important than the design templates for the next version of drop.io...  The central question that I keep coming back to is, what is the fundamental difference between the president sending and receiving a written letter vs. making and receiving phone calls vs. sending and receiving physical mail.  Presidents have been writing letters for centuries, and making phone calls for decades, why can't they email?

Four categories of differences come to mind in answer to this question:

1.  they have different set of security risks.
2.  they are differently falsifiable.
2.  they have different audit properties.

Security Risks
  each form of communication has a different set of security risks associated with it.  Phone lines can be 'tapped', emails can be 'sniffed' and physical mail can be 'intercepted' - 'intercepting' physical mail requires corrupting a trusted courier of the information (I am not sure whether the president uses the us postal service or just a carrier).  I am not sure how 'secure' phone lines can be, but I assume that there is relatively sophisticated ways the government has to 'go to a secure line' -- but what about email?  Blackberries have some serious encryption (I am sure 128 bit +).  The messages do route through RIM 'NOCs' in Canada -- but they are supposed to be highly secure... banks use them, senators use them, generals use them.  So, either there is something we don't know about foreign governments being able to reasonably crack 128 bit encryption, or it really isn't a 'security' issue. 

Identity Risks what about falsifying correspondence?  It actually should be relatively easy to passably spoof a letter from the president, though very hard to spoof a letter well enough that an expert given time couldn't confirm or deny the validity of the correspondence.  Falsifying a call would be a bit harder, but probably not un-doable.  The voice and speech patters of a call carry a serious amount of meta-data which makes it hard but not impossible to spoof.  Email?  It is quite possible that it is easier to spoof than other channels, but it doesn't seem like a step change.

Audit has to be the real issue.  Interacting with email has some interesting properties which differ significantly from other means of communication.  Namely, interacting with a blackberry it is quite easy to keep track of things like which messages get read and/or are not read.  Further, sniffing the click stream of a president seems like a real risk.  If I send the president a letter, it is relatively hard to prove whether or not he read it, and how long he spent looking at it.  Phone calls might leave slightly more detailed footprints, but it is hard to associate the core information of a call with metadata about a call.  Email carries with it the ability to match the content of a message against how it was handled.

Think about it this way - Xobni would be a huge risk for a president.  What if he doesn't respond to emails from generals fast enough or spends too much time looking at an email from a lobbyist.  What if bush had a message literally in his inbox about september 11th attacks and didn't open it? 


The ability to so specifically audit how information is treated must be the unspoken central reason why Obama can't have a blackberry.  It is too much of a liability to have that metadata trail hanging around to be subpoenaed.

The Solution, Obama - get a drop  I will even reserve drop.io/obama for you, so you can have obama@drop.io -- there is no audit trail of how you are interacting with messages posted to you on the site -- you don't have to 'open' messages... you simply navigate to your private page just as you would navigate to youtube or the new york times.  You can even give people access to your hidden uploader to send you files directly over HTTP... no identity needed.  It is a clear example of how changing the metadata wrapper changes how information can flow.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Phonetag

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 21:53:00 +0000

I recently started using a service called Phonetag to transcribe and email me all of my voicemail.  I always hated receiving voicemail, and phonetag is an amazing service. 

One thing has started to happen which I think is worth noting.  Specifically, because information is being input via voice and output via text some of the meta-data of a call is getting lost in the transfer.  People have come to rely on caller ID and the sound of their own voice to identify themselves to eachother.  No need to announce that 'this is your father' - you know my voice.  Transcription services mess with this, and people leave you messages that without the context of caller ID built in or voice are harder to understand/know who is calling.

In fairness to phonetag, which I very much like, they know this and send you an MP3 of the call along with the transcription (so you can always figure it out if you have to) -- but it is interesting to watch mediums of communications shift and, as a result, people needing to consider what metadata is automatically encoded in their message, and what needs to be made explicit based on where the information will ultimately be consumed.


Cap and Trade with my Roomate

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 21:53:00 +0000

I currently live with my college roommate, BCM, who recently returned from a year in Paris to start work at a notable private equity firm.  Ever since college BCM and I have greatly enjoyed applying our economics classes directly into our private living situation, so we regularly construct simple but effective economic incentive systems to generate mutually beneficial outcomes.

One recent example of how this successfully works has to do with exercise.  BCM and I both decided that we were out of shape and wanted to get back to working out more regularly.  So, we constructed a simple and effective system to encourage each other to work out.  We agreed that we would both like to work out at least 4 times a week and that for every missed workout we would pay a $20 fine.  So, the maximum weekly exposure we each have to eachother is $80, if we each work out the same number of times (up to 4) then no money is transacted, and it only gets expensive if one of us fails to keep up with the other.  This generates some interesting negotiations now and again, but generally works quite well and we have been working out much more regularly.  Regulation actually increased the general welfare.

While in Paris BCM picked up smoking, an activity which generates incredible negative externalities in the environs of our common apartment, and which has serious long-term costs for BCM, and his decedents.  We have been trying to figure out some sort of mutually agreeable system that will encourage him not to smoke.  What we have realized is that our difficulty figuring out a system for this problem is completely synonymous with the world's issues creating an economic incentive system to save the environment. 

BCM is very much like a small polluting nation, and our dinnertime discussions about smoking are 100% synonymous with failed international negotiations.

We have talked through several models for convincing BCM to quit smoking, but they are ultimately based on the two same options proposed for the environment - we need to use either a pigovian tax or a cap and trade model

The first, and most obvious, was a straight up tax/transfer from brian to me -- $1 per cigarette.  This would work if I could get the proposal passed, but the problem is that Brian has zero incentive to agree to this.  In the slightly more complex model of the same thing, we would model the cost of offsetting my own unhappiness, the cost of extra cleaning services, and the long term cost of treating Brian for his cigarette use, etc. and charge that as the correct pigovian tax.

The second option, a cap and trade system, also fails.  It fails because there are only two of us in the equation, meaning that there is little difference between this and a straight pigovian tax.  If we auctioned off the credits to each other at the start it would be no different than a straight up tax on BCM.  If we did a modified cap and trade and issued credits initially the problem is who gets the credits to start.  Theoretically we could deal in a few other players to expand the market to the full list of effected parties (like BCM's future unborn children, the cleaning service people who benefit from BCM's smoking, etc.) but you end up with more complications and value judgements on who gets what credits and what their incentives are (clean service people, who benefit when BCM smokes, will sell BCM credits at a lower price than I would, driving down the total value for me).

Upshot, I don't think that we can design a system that BCM will agree to to get him to stop smoking until he wants to stop smoking - because on the micro level anything we do is a straight tax on him.  This does not bode well for our long term prospects of environmental policy reform.


fallout of photo hack

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 21:53:00 +0000

In the last few days I have been fascinated by the reaction in the 'blogosphere' to my post explaining how facebook photos is starting to be used as a marketing channel.  In the post, which is below, I outline why it is happening, and encouraging people to play with the concept of what a 'photo' tag means and how it can be used.  The way in which people reacted is sufficiently interesting to me that I thought it was worth a followup post - something I almost never do...  (back to greener pastures of thought tomorrow, I am very excited about a few new ideas from brunch this AM).

The reaction to the original post seems to be first and foremost outrage and indignation that I would suggest facebook photos are and can be used in this way.  This is the equivalent of reacting to the concept of 'spam' as a construct by simply saying 'that is evil' and failing to explore why it exists and what it means for the nature of email product design -- Yes, it is certainly a re purposing of a channel intended for one thing towards another end, but regardless of value judgment, any online communication platform is an exercise in design defining the way information is transacted.  Systems will always be adopted for the most profitable ends possible, just as water flows downhill.  The best way to refine a platform is to think about it, test it yourself, learn from it, and refine.

Social networks, just like email before them, are going to have to contend with the fact that through their constructions they open themselves up for use in ways they do not intend (which may or may not be sub-optimal for their user base).  Facebook photos, a system of allowing one person to opt others into an association with a piece of data, is a construct which is capable of being used in a wide variety of ways -- and people already have started exploring ways to re purpose it.  So, while I may agree or disagree with the concept that this is 'good' from a user perspective, it is very much possible and possibly even profitable.  The question is not 'good' or 'bad', but how to think about the problem and what a change would look like. 

The second reaction to the post seems to be a feeling that this is trespassing against the concept of 'facebook' and some sort of social bond between people on the network.  This has often been captured by people saying something like 'I would immediately unfriend you if you did that to me' -- This is slightly more productive commentary, it is an expression of the idea that using a system like facebook carries with it certain social bonds that, if exploited, would cause someone to sever the ties.  That is a good argument, it makes sense, and will surely effect the way the channel is used.  One could argue that the whole value of communication networks is built on the same social enforcement concepts...

So, let's go a step or two further, maybe this train of thought means that people will quickly remove 'friends' they feel are risky, before they mis-use the power they have been granted over identity and association, maybe this will limit or change the type of messages people spend their social capital on promoting, or maybe people won't mind.  No one knows yet what will happen.  People were/are upset that facebook now shows friends who 'endorse' products next to ads for those products itself -- but is it changing behavior, are people shutting down their accounts?  Controlling this 'social' level and keeping the messaging and relationships on facebook factored in a way that makes the community valuable is exactly facebook's long term business.  They invest in it by trying things like friend lists and permission lists -- and this is precisely what I suggest when I speak to the question of how facebook will react in the original post.

Finally, there are a lot of just plain vicious reactions floating around (and some real ad hominem attacks).  I have figured this out about the blogosphere by now... and the reasoning behind why the commentary flows this way is quite similar to the drivers of facebook photo spam.  Simple mudslinging is the oldest trick in the book for generating attention, pageviews, and advertising dollars.  It is completely unsurprising, but it is a re purposing of comments and blogs (communication platforms) in a way which is profitable to the author (drives traffic with minimal effort or thought).  You see comments and posts always tending towards extremes and disequilibrium, because it is most profitable re purposing the channel people have figured out to date.

This is the ultimate irony (though I guess not so surprising) - the reaction to my post is driven by precisely the same incentive system and re purposing of a communicative channel which the post itself is about...  So please, do go out and experiment with these platforms, pressure test them, watch how people react, and then refine your own work and actions.  The nature of communication is changing, and the only way to understand what is going on and what changing formats mean is to play with them.  This isn't about facebook (though it is a fascinating and terrific company), it is about how people communicate, share information, and innovate in a brave new world.


twitter rank

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:02:00 +0000

two quick notes at the start of an insanely busy day:

1.  Last night mashable reported that a twitter rank was actually a spoof set up to steal people's twitter username/passwords (though it was done to point out the vulnerability first and foremost).  Drop.io pointed out and started a petition on the same topic months ago

2.  This AM reading Scott Heiferman's blog I noted a post about a group that had put together a fake copy of the new york times-- the quote begins 'A Web spoof would have been infinitely easier'

Why am I briefly noting these things?  because they are two quick examples of an increasing slide towards information and access confusion on the web.  It is indeed much much harder to spoof the New York Times, which has hundreds of qualities (type faces, paper feel, distribution channel, editorial style) which make the real one easy to identify and the fake one much much harder - but it is almost impossible to identify a very very good spoof or ploy on the web.  In the physical presence of another person humans use hundreds of characteristics to verify identity, what are you using online?  a user name and password - please.

This isn't a new problem - grandma has been sending money to Nigerians for 10 years.  Some tech has evolved to help - SSL.  but the war of attrition continues, and it is entering a new phase, where I am sure I, along with everyone else, will get duped by smarter subtler ploys....  because it is really hard to feel the paper quality of a website.


hacking facebook photos for marketing

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:02:00 +0000

I am seeing a new 'hack' on facebook photos cropping up more and more frequently that I think will shortly be re-purposed as an interesting marketing tool.  Namely, people have begun to upload a photo of something they wish to promote (perhaps a candidate or event) and then 'tag' as many 'influential' friends as they can into the image.  The tagged photo then shows up in the newsfeeds of the friends of their 'friends' as if the photo was of the person, when in fact it is a message in support of some cause.

To be clear, the key here is that the people the cause promoter is 'tagging' in the image are not actually in the image, and have not actively lent their support to the message.  Rather, the individual supporting the given cause with the image is hijacking their 'friend' to broadcast a message to the friends of their 'friend'.

This is a really terrific idea for someone looking to broadly push a message.  If you tag 20 people into a given photo with something you are promoting you can easily reach thousands of people directly in their news feed with a big splashy image and a high apparent relevance factor.

'Photos' have several characteristics that make them especially fabulous marketing vehicles.  First, people love them and tend to click on them all the time.  Second, they get incredible realestate in newsfeed.  Third, any message put into photos has a strange automatic 'relevance' because it is attached to the name of a friend.  Finally, there is a huge curiosity factor as to why their 'friend' is tagged into an image.  I am sure there are several other positives to this approach, but those are the ones that quickly come to mind.

The best thing one could do, which I have yet to see, would be to figure out some sort of marketing campaign that encourages people to take a branded message and tag their friends into it, thereby creating some sort of virality of photo tagging for marketing.

Ultimately, photo tags are no different than any other sort of link.  It is going to be interesting to watch people more deeply explore this concept, pushing things like facebook photos far beyond its original intended purpose. 

Of course, at the same time, facebook will likely look to deploy technology to try to control the channel.  Part of the long-term challenge facebook will face will likely be finding a happy medium where people can derive economic value out of their platform (which they can tax) while keeping the communication platform useful and streamlined.  If they succeed the value is incredible, but if they fail the platform will become unusable.

For now, however, try it -- stop assuming that a 'photo' of a fried need be a 'photo' of that friend at all.  Instead, consider a 'photo' simply as a piece of content that you can pre-apply to people in your network in order to easily push a message to those within two degrees.


'collection agency'

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:02:00 +0000

Yesterday evening I did two things.  First, I celebrated the resilience of the American people and an opening for a resurgence of the nation.  Second, I had my only experience ever with a 'collection agency'... to explain:

I got a call out of the blue from a collection agency stating that I owed ATT money and that I had 'better pay'.  I explained to them that I have two ATT wireless lines active and set up on auto-bill pay, and that there must be some sort of mistake.  I then called ATT.  It turned out that when I set up my iPhone there was some confusion and they had set up another line in my name that I was completely unaware of and had never used.  After 45 minutes of wasted life, the rep was able to fix it. 

Why did I find this interesting?  I got to wondering whether in a digital age the 'collection' business is going to get harder and harder (or, to pull it up a bit - forcing communication down to people who don't want to receive it)...  25 years ago with a physical address and a land line without caller ID it was probably relatively easy to force your message into someones thought stream.  People had to pick up the phone, and you knew you could reach them via the post... 

Now?  Well, I don't read physical mail, my cell has caller ID so I don't generally answer if I don't know who is calling, I never listen to voicemail.  I do read email, but I use filters like crazy -- so receiving tons of spam/unwanted newsletters/etc. has no negative impact on my life.  The only choke hold anyone really has left to get me a message I don't want is SMS, and perhaps facebook (until their filtering gets more sophisticated).

On the inverse - when I needed to reach ATT I had to wait until they were good and ready to speak with me.  I don't need to speak with them often enough to care, but the one time that their systems decide to rake my credit score over the coals all I can do is patiently wait in line.  I have no other solution, and they can under-staff their customer service department all they want.  There isn't any local office to storm.  There is no executive to write (because his filters are just as good as mine).  Maybe getsatisfaction plays a role in the future here, but maybe not.

I think that it is fascinating that in physical space, louder directional speakers, bigger digital billboards, screens, etc continually infringe more on my private cognitive space -- but the direct pipes/lines to my personal space are shutting down.


purchasing power parity

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:02:00 +0000

(I very much hope you will indulge a few moments of unfettered politics, partisanship, and patriotism...  I will get back to my normal focus on three other 'P's - purchasing power parity -  after a short electoral break.)

I am sincerely proud to be an American today.  This year the honor and privilege of choosing the next president strikes me as particularly special in a very tangible way.  Say what you will about the problems of our country and our very imperfect government, but you must deeply respect the hard fought rights and freedoms which our soundly devised and ordered society provide us.  WE will select our next leader in the next 12 hours - what an incredible concept - what an enormous feat thought, education, compromise, understanding, and simply civilization.

I voted this morning for Barack Obama.  I do not agree with many of his policies, and I think that McCain is a highly admirable and capable leader.  I am voting for Obama because I believe that as a candidate, in the context of his party, and the country, he is more sincere and better able to deal with the nuance of modernity.  This has been partially demonstrated by his own aptly run campaign, but also in the negative by McCain's selection of Sarah Palin, which made for me what would have been a very hard decision very very easy.

It doesn't matter that my vote won't 'count' - in a non-swing state - I believe that this election is about standing up and being counted.  We are a resilient country.  We are a strong country.  We are a hard working country, and I still believe that we can rise to the immense challenges that are ahead.  Obama won't personally be the solution, nor will the government, however;

Voting for Obama signals a collective willingness to work hard, act with sincerity, collaborate, and innovate.  These are the critical traits which have guided America and Americans through countless resurgences and rebirths in the past, as it will again.  That is the brilliance of Obama's slogan, 'yes we can' - it has nothing to do with policy, which I believe is generally far to nuanced to be really discussed in a general election - it is about a set of principles that will lead to good decisions.

In closing, as I get back to the work of the day, I am struck by how enormously similar my views and feelings are towards the election as my father.  He, per usual, beat me to posting his thoughts on his blog - and I am amazed at the number of thoughts and phrases I now feel as though I am cherry picking.


the value of actual information is fundamentally inversely related to how scarce it is

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:02:00 +0000

I have been trying to articulate my perspective on the forth estate for a very long time - in a conversation a few hours ago it finally struck me... I will give the full explanation later, but here is the headline -- the value of actual information is fundamentally inversely related to how scarce it is, but the entertainment value of 'media' has little to nothing to do with scarcity.  Because the very wide distribution of information ultimately destroys its value, in a world with zero distribution costs, selling access to good information doesn't scale very well.  You might have a single brilliant source, reporter, or thought leader generating insight for you - but they fundamentally don't scale.  Entertainment, on the other hand, scales like crazy. 

Most 'media' companies and news organizations need return on scale to justify their existence.  They used to have that in the form of distribution coupled with information, but as distribution cost have tended towards zero they have needed to find a new trick.  The answer is to become more and more like entertainment, and less and less like information.  Existing in a pure battle to scale pageviews and advertising the truth of reporting and information has become almost irrelevant and the entertainment value of information is the holy grail.

So, ultimately, the vast majority of 'news' organizations are going to just look like an alternative form of entertainment media.  Nothing more.  Everyone will be simply trying to shout louder than the person next to them regardless of whether what they are shouting means anything.

Where will real information come from?  Subscriptions.  Specific writers, and a limited set of high road publications, will end up moving back to a very very simple equation which goes a little something like this "I have valuable information, pay me for access to it.  If I give you bad information, stop paying me"

I am already personally ditching all corporate news organization blogs and going right to the professors (Nick Carr, Greg Mankiw, etc.) that are blogging for no immediate economic gain...  and I am willing to pay.  But the second either of those guys goes for a mass advertising driven audience I am out, because the business model will fundamentally change their economic incentives and force their content downhill...  So, Mr. Murdoch, I am not sure if you are playing a 10 year game or a 50 year game - but if it is the later think about weening the journal off of add dollars - not off of subscriptions. --- more later, I am just warming up on this topic.


VLT MMORPGs

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:02:00 +0000

A quick idea that sounds crazy but I promise has some truth/future around it. 

Right now MMORPGs are generally designed so that time is 'sped up' - characters in the games gain strengths, knowledge, etc. faster than human beings do in reality.  Currently, even in slow games, childhood might be a month instead of ten years.  What if people designed games the other way... So that time in MMORPGs was massively slowed down - a character might take thirty or fifty years to get out of childhood.

Put differently, what if games were designed on a multi-generational timeframe.  Grandpa started a character, clan, whatever, and they would be passed down through the family.  Just as grandpa imigrated to the US, dad graduated highschool, and the son makes it through college - what if MMORPGs were played through multiple generations.

The question would be, why would anyone want to play a game like that?  What is the value/who cares.  It could be a matter of inter-generational connectiveness, a new form of birthright (inhereting a character just the way you used to inheret a watch or a fountin pen)...  Maybe a company would just create a contest in an MMORPG where there was a $1 billion dollar payout in the year 2200. 

Obviously there are all sorts of problems - you would have to create a structure that game players would want to invest in - which means one that stays relevant/interesting/fun/valuable on a very long term basis...  in many cases people would have to have a reason to believe that the game would outlast basically all other institutions... but it is doable - just think if the game was made by/sponsored by the catholic church...  there is a lot that is very wrong here/doesn't work - but I feel a grain of truth/feasibility in a system like this.


in even shorter form than normal:

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:03:00 +0000

In even shorter form than normal:

0.  Misdirect & Misinform:  The future of communication is going to be around misinformation.  When everything can be heard the only way to differentially transmit information is to over communicate/misdirect.

1.  Language is getting less and less precise:  The more paper, the more writing, the easier distribution of text is absolutely killing language.  The value of good writing is going way down because incremental letters don't cost anything.

2.  Calculus and the types of problems that make sense to the human mind are changing:  LA and I had a very interesting lunch last week.  You used to need calculus for all sorts of problems you can now brute force, they seem obvious.  There is a constantly shifting frontier of what problems need imagination/abstraction to solve and how people think about those problems

3.  More machines changes the way we work:  each time I add more machines to my workspace it fundamentally changes the way I work.  Big monitors had a profound impact, Synergy is having an even bigger impact.  I no longer think of laptops as distinct machines, they are all part of a continuum of work - I have my own mini cloud.

4.  Good businesses in the long run must have a variable cost component: if you don't have a variable cost component to what you sell you are screwed because fixed costs in tech fall to fast and variable cost is too predictable.  If you don't have a 'margin' then you can't have an advantage in the long run.

5.  Total transparency is a bad idea unless you have perfect law:  if you have perfect knowledge and perfect enforcement you had better not make mistakes as a society.  There is no wiggle room, there is no experimentation possible.  There is no way to not end up with a monolithic society.

6.  Wisdom of the crowds and a belief in a fully transparent society go hand in hand.  You can't believe in transparency without believing the crowds are always right.  I don't believe that the crowds.

8.  Tendency towards disequilibrium:  check out the markets.  which leads me to....

9.  Ms. Sagan's senior class....  Frost's Fire and Ice:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

10.  The fatter the pipe gets the lest you know whom to trust.  Newspapers will become more important, not less.

11.  Creativity can only occur when you can't figure out the answer: 

12.  Authorization and Authentication.  JG proposed on a recent call that what makes drop.io special in the online sphere is that we deal only in Authorization and not Authentication.  This was, by far, the most accurate and precise explanation of our 'privacy' model that I have heard to date, I wish I had thought of that way of articulating it. 

16.  Signal to Noise

17.  Social Mad-Man Theory:  the joke is on everyone else.

18.  There are probably only 10 companies in the world that can build clouds.

19.  I will never buy another iPhone - I probably will buy the G3. 

20.  The commotization of communication will make relationships more valuable:  Discussed at the Y+30 meetup.

21.  organizing the world's info only makes sense for public information... and most info isn't public

22.  Bad interfaces require entry feedback...  e.g.  the prius navigation system -- the 'beep' on click is a crib for the fact the interface is too slow and people are unsure if they have taken action.


Contact

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:03:00 +0000

Last week I decided that I wanted one single address book, so I went through the process of pulling in my contacts from a wide array of disparate sources into a single database.  I pulled together a very rich set of sources including outlook, various mail program ‘auto complete’ functions, gmail, my work mail, linkedin, and facebook…

Findings:  

1. I was able to find options, scripts, etc for every single data source I looked at that allowed me to get my contact information into a CSV format except for FB.  Facebook, as everyone knows, used to allow you to export your contacts (in fact, several of my outlook entries still say ‘courtesy of thefacebook.com’) but those days are long over. The solution is oDesk (or, the availability of cheap on the fly human labor).  Within 24 hours I was able to get a prefect spreadsheet of all of my facebook contact information by hiring someone in India through oDesk to go contact by contact for me on the website, recording name, email addresses, phone numbers, and instant message names – all for about 8 cents a contact.  Mechanical Turk would have been another solution, but required more setup and I was worried about accountability for the work.

2. Contacts are a “bitch”.  The level of duplication across sources was unsurprisingly very high and I had to write some very annoyingly complicated functions to get rid of duplicates, merge contacts by name, email, and phone, and then rank the relative quality of contact information.  It would be much easier if people each had a unique identifier, but figuring out how to identify and weave together people’s information is very difficult.

3. The concept of ‘lock in’ is over-played:  Having a consolidated list of all my contacts is great, I feel totally portable across devices (iphone to blackberry, facebook to twitter) for the low cost of a few hours of my time and about $60.  I highly recommend it.  Another way to put it is that if facebook deleted my account, I could now re-create probably 90% of my network in a week on a new account using the source relationship information …

4. If it isn’t worth my time to save your contact info in my own personal database, then why bother:  This method helped me devise a new rule in how to manage contacts.   I set up for myself a google form (feeding google spreadsheets) to keep track of all new contacts – it has fields for name, email, phone, and a note.  Whenever I meet someone or ‘friend’ someone on facebook I fill out the little ‘clouded’ form.  If I can’t be bothered to fill out such a small form with a new contact, then the rule is that the contact information is not worth having, so I won’t save the business card, or accept the friend request.  Think of it as an intentional artificial barrier to help me control my contact list.

5. ‘Syncing’ is past tense:  From my experience trying to whip my contact sources into shape, I feel more than ever that the concept of syncing across services is very hard and its usefulness is overrated.  The real solution is: 

A.  consolidation to a single highly accessible format 

B.  Always available high bandwidth cloud access with search and social applications that will let you always retrace your steps and find what you need.  Put differently, the cloud negates the need for Sync, which was only important when there was a high likelihood of needing information when your device was “offline”, and/or bandwidth was so scarce that it was too hard to pull down another copy from the cloud.  ‘Sync’ is a nerdy and interesting problem, but it isn’t useful in the real world</p>


quantify the 'value' of 'free web 2.0 services'

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:03:00 +0000

Several months ago I conducted a brief unscientific survey to quantify the 'value' of 'free web 2.0 services'.  I got an N of 115, and while it would be a stretch to consider the results scientifically 'significant' the answers were interesting.  The survey was based on one central question:

Consider waking up one morning and finding that each of the following services, in turn, has decided to charge you and ONLY YOU for access... The service is not requiring your friends to pay, just you. Holding all else constant, how much would you be willing to pay each service in ($ USD / year) before abandoning your use of the product? Consider each service completely separately... in each scenario the listed service is the only one who has required you to pay (e.g. MSN has decided to charge YOU and no one else, none of the other services in the world have changed at all)     

Why?

I was primarily interested in the question on the premise that, in a broad sense, there is little difference between charging users for a service and indirectly taxing them by degrading the experience with advertisements.  Certain cultural proclivities of given populations and barriers to payment may make one model more appropriate than another (or at least distort the 1:1 relationship between the models), but there should be a high level of correlation between proclivity to 'pay' directly for a service and proclivity to pay by way of consuming advertisements.

The theory was that because one could argue that the amount that users are willing to pay * the number of users is a rough proxy for the theoretical max revenue that a company/online brand could generate...  Or, put differently, the question serves as a way to value online services.

That said, people are notoriously terrible at estimating fictitious costs/proclivity to pay, and many many population factors can distort the absolute numbers in a small survey.  So in conducting the survey I was un-interested in the absolute dollar amounts.  Rather, what was worth examining was the amount people said they would pay for a given service relative to other services.  So, for example, while the fact that 'Tom' said he would pay $100 a year for facebook is uninformative, it is quite interesting to know that he would pay 33% more for facebook than myspace.

Of important further note is that the question was phrased in the hypothetical world that the surveyed individual alone was being charged.  Charging for access to a social service, like myspace, would potentially significantly impact the dynamics of the service based on the individual's prediction of whether others will pay for it, so isolating it to the world in which only a single individual is charged is a critical feature.

Methodology:

This survey was conducted with survey monkey and distributed through my blog, my twitter feed, as well as those of friends.  The population is necessarily skewed by the nature of those audiences.  All answers were self reported.  Someone was considered a valid 'user' of a given service if they self reported themselves as such and suggested a positive dollar amount greater than 1 cent that they would pay for continued access.

A few anomalies to point out:

1.  Myspace users seem very under-represented in the survey
2.  Myspace and Yahoo mail users reported exceedingly low mobile service bills

Select Interesting findings:

1.  Google Search is far and away the most valuable service.  People are willing to spend, on average, 16% of their mobile access bill for google search where no other free online service broke 3.5% (Gmail being the second most valued service).

2.  That said, among those who use both Google Search and Yahoo Search, people were only willing to pay 6% for Google Search.  That is an enormous delta, which suggests either something about the population that uses both - or that people who don't use yahoo over-estimate how good google is.

3.  Facebook users report that they would pay 1.85% of their mobile access bill for the service on average.

4.  In all instances except one, when a user self reported use of two related services (both facebook and myspace, google maps and yahoo maps, gmail and yahoo mail, etc...) they were willing to pay less for each service.  The exception was that users of both yahoo mail and gmail were willing to pay slightly more for yahoo mail than those who just used yahoo mail.

5.  Full graphics and results are attached in the excel sheet.  There are lots of other fun unscientific findings, like women spend more on mobile then men, etc.

Conclusion:

Nothing is extremely surprising in the survey, but it will be interesting to continue to work with the same questions and track changes over time.  As of right now, this survey suggests that google search is far and away the most valuable online property on a per-person basis, followed distantly by Gmail.  Facebook is, by this methodology, worth about as much as google maps on a per-person basis.

I apologize it took me this long to get this information out.  I have been discussing it for months now, and have had trouble finding the time to report back the results.


Bottle NYC tap water, ship it to China

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:03:00 +0000

The idea:  Bottle NYC tap water, ship it to China, sell NYC tap water as a premium brand.  This is an idea that I half-jokingly presented at a Bain dinner as a business idea three years ago.  It fit perfectly into the category of ideas I most appreciate - it sounds downright absurd, but actually makes a ton of sense.  Everyone laughed at me, but I still bet that long term something close will actually happen...

Today, while in a deli, I saw a news brief about a man named Craig Zucker who has started bottling New York City tap water and selling it locally as a premium brand.  His philosophy on selling the water is totally different than what I was going after, but his plan is close enough I feel like blogging about my perfectly sound, but perfectly silly sounding, idea.

So, why on earth should we bottle NYC tap water and sell it in China?  Every day China ships us tons upon tons of physical goods on container ships.  We have almost nothing to ship back (our only exports are really capital and ideas).  Because of the shipping imbalance the 'backhaul' shipping prices (from the US to China) are absurdly low - far below the one way operating cost.  If you don't put anything in the container ships they go back to China empty. 

So, what physical good do we have in the US that we could possibly ship to China and generate value in so doing?  The only thing I can think of is water.  First, China has serious water problems at a baseline.  Second, there is a burgeoning middle class in the impoverished contry that is going to want guaranteed clean bottled water.

Why NYC tap water?  Because it is delicious, very well treated, and a common good (sort of).  It is near a major port (no longbeach, but still huge).  Finally, NYC, I must believe, carries some cache with the Chinese.  You can take advantage of a "naturally occurring" brand on top of commodity water with exceedingly low shipping costs.  Simply by moving water from NYC to china you are creating value. 


targeting facebook adds to specific individuals

Sun, 01 Jun 2008 22:03:00 +0000

targeting facebook adds to specific individuals.

People have been talking about micro-targeting online for a very very long time.  It is the fundamental basis of much of web 2.0 search and social ad driven models...  but what about nano-targeting?  Yesterday, using Facebook, I created a series of nano-targeted advertisements targeted at specific individuals.  For example, I set one up for my girlfriend sending my love...  All I needed to do was target an ad to:

"Wall Street Journal Reporters who are 25, Graduated from Harvard with a History Degree and live in San Fransisco"

Facebook told me my population was "less than 20 people" -- but I know it is a population of one.  I also set one up for one of my teammates that says "back to work" by targeting "employees of drop.io who live in Texas."

The best part is that since I pay per click and I know there is only one person who will click on it maybe once - I can bid on CPC at a ridiculously high price...  For now this is just silly, but 1.  you could see people doing this for real/for business sooner rather than later... and 2.  It brings up interesting privacy concerns (though all you really can tell is if the person is using Facebook). 

My next step is to start pranking other small startups we compete with and possibly friends/old colleagues.  I also might make a 'blank' advertisement specifically targeting myself with a crazy CPC to bump all the other advertising off my personal Facebook experience*....

*for the astute search engine marketing reader...  yes, based on 'quality' score this game might not work forever if I don't actually click my own add, but that is another story for another day.


a bit about digital privacy

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

1.  I am going to be speaking a bit about digital privacy - something i spend most of my days working on in one way or another

2.  for starters, what is privacy.  people pre-pend the word in phrases like private thoughts, a private journal, private bedroom exploits, or private plans to take over the world - but there are precious few good definitions of what the term actually means 

3.  The best way to describe privacy is as the limited transmission of information over time and/or between people.  It is about moving information from a trusted point A to a trusted point B without exposure.

4.  why do we care about privacy?  isn't it dead?  -- we care because in all sorts of scenarios the value of information is inversely related to how public it is.  from corporate secrets, to gambling and the stock market, to even personal intimacy

5.  fundamentally you are only as private as your weakest communicative link.  the model for a private exchange is a one to one discussion in the middle of nowhere.  Output directly to Input.  But the reality is that as we have made communication more efficient we tend to rely on more intermediaries to communicate.

6.  as with many things, one of the most interesting testing grounds for privacy is WAR.  during war private information is extremely valuable to all sides.... and you frequently have to use untrustworthy links in the communicative chain.  The solution that evolved quickly was 'security'

7.  all security is breakable - it functions by changing the cost structure of information.  You pay a cost to secure your information(which is less expensive than the info transmitted is valuable)... the key is to make it expensive enough for the enemy to break your security that it isn't worth it.

8.  the reality is that outside of war, until very very recently most information was harmless/ mostly valueless on a mass scale- so people were not very concerned about privacy.  There simply was little to 'steal' from you information wise, so you didn't have to incur much cost to protect your information.  

9.  three little familiar concepts, however, changed all that.  the cost of and therefore volume of communication, information storage, and compute power have changed the equation by making useless data useful and by making privacy measures much more expensive on a relative basis.

10.  these cost changes have drastically changed the amount of communication, the amount of communication that is saved, and the ability to access that information.  this is a HUGE deal

11.  people have been freaking out about this for a long time.  Max Weber wrote about all these concepts and their impact with regards to 'buracracy' and people have been updating the concepts all the way through Foucault's Power-Knowledge in "Discipline and Punish"

12.  interestingly, all this information and organization did allow for a new mechanism of non-secure 'privacy'.  Simply trust your privacy to them and the law.  it is a felony to open mail

13.  this worked relatively well, because even up through very recent history, little information was valuable and few people were in a position to break trust.
 
14.  Internet changes all that - all of a sudden lots of information was valuable at scale, and lots of people could touch it

15.  institutions break down - laws don't work if you can't enforce them -- and with data flowing beyond boards and no transparency into who has what = no enforcement

16.  go military style?  doesn't work - because security only works on cost differentials.  Security isn't getting cheaper faster than breaking security, information is getting more valuable for the bad guys and the good guys.

17.  in fact, we are worse off than military information - value of which is very perishable - our data lasts forever - so if you can't break today break tomorrow

18.  this really really sucks for your kids - because 'public key' security is going to crumble with quantum computing - so traditional security will melt.

19.  so what should we do - future of privacy is about unwinding - decentralize, de-tag, destroy... you are also going to end up with less 'privacy' - which is good, because you can sell your privacy for great stuff online

20.  recap - 


blips

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

I am yet again in the position of rolling several blog posts into one meta-post of ideas from last week for lack of time to frame/post each individually.

Notes from Fortune's Formula: 


Fortune's Formula is the most interesting book I have read in a while -- pop academic take away -- "the essence of a message is its improbability"

"information exists only when the sender is saying something that the recipient doesn't already know and can't predict.  Because true information is unpredictable, it is essentially a series of random events like spins of a roulette wheel or rolls of the dice."

"just as a steam engine cannot move when all temperature differences are eliminated, the Kelly gambler must stop when his private information becomes public knowledge."


Twitter could become the command line of the internet


Friday night Gregory Gallant and I had a few drinks and a great conversation that winded towards command line interfaces and twitter.  To pair down what was a very lengthy and winding conversation to a digestible soundbite... Twitter becoming a command line for the social web.  I mean this as a huge compliment and think that it is yet another reason why twitter is evolving into a very very powerful concept.

the basic idea is that twitter's streamlined interface + it's simple social graph allow you to call other sites/services/actions through it's interface and then interact with your friends/followers.  this is possibly too techie for many (where FB has moved to a similar 'action orientation' concept with a bit more lay interface wrapped ontop)

A possible new angle to explain Privacy vs. Security:

As I frequently discuss, there is a subtle but critical difference between privacy and security.  This is both one of the fundamental premises of drop.io and one of the most important issues which society will face prospectively as storage & processing costs tend towards zero. 

That said, because Privacy and Security have been used interchangeably for so long it is sometimes hard for people to grasp the difference and the importance of the distinction.  As a result, I am always looking for metaphors and imagery to explain the difference between the two.  At breakfast with Brian Myers Saturday AM I used a new example that seemed to click....

security is putting your booty in a bank and hiring a guard
privacy is keeping people from knowing if you have booty in the first place

what is the difference?  Security is a war of attrition.  You hire a guard, I hire a bigger mercenary to take out your guard.... and commodity computing is changing the equation so my mercenary is just as cheap as your guard.  Privacy is not, it both predates security and is more fundamental construct and will post-date security.    If you don't know what I am holding you aren't going to come after me.

I am 100% clouded, and gmail is a subtle brilliant value generating product

After several unsuccessful attempts I feel that I have successfully 100% moved into the 'cloud'  - meaning I feel zero connection to any one of my digital devices (Thinkpad, MacBook, Berry, iPhone).  Why does it work?  mostly because our internet connection is now so fast (we got WiMAX) that i can work online basically as fast as I used to work on my desktop.  Airplanes are slightly less effective time for me now, but it is worth the trade off.

When I went 100% cloud I wanted to do it with protection - which meant figuring out how to aggregate and locally backup all my cloud apps (twitter, gcal, gmail, contacts, gdocs, etc).  It is relatively easy to hack around solutions to periodically pull down and back up your whole twitter history or your contacts, and even all your mail (just set up a pop pull from gmail). 

Now, my criticism/realization.  Google let's you pull back almost everything, but you cannot in any way I have found (and I have been creative) get your 'sent mail' back - nor can you set up any sort of elegant auto BCC to collect sent mail elsewhere.  Google is going to hold your personal email history hostile for all of eternity -- which is brilliant because 1.  for advertising the messages you send and whom you send them to is probably the most valuable bit for them and 2.  I will already pay a fortune to get my entire email record back (all my outbound correspondence).... I am seriously considering doing something weird with mechanical turk (amazon) to see if I can get it out.


'test the waters' survey on Chrome

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

Thanks to all who helped us put together our lightening quick 'test the waters' survey on Chrome. As you know Google is hiding the penetration numbers for their new browser in analytics, so we have to use more rudimentary means of figuring out if people are using Chrome/if it is worth out attention and optimization.

In the last ~12 hours we got an N=98 on the survey. The directional findings are:

1. People who tend to respond to twitter distributed surveys from tech companies (early adopters) overwhelmingly use Firefox as their primary browser (unsurprising, but means we didn't really get any nuance on adoption based on historical browser use, etc)

2. ~70% of the respondents have tried Chrome.

3. ~40% of the respondents who have tried Chrome say that they will continue to use it as a 'primary browser' (30% percent of the time)

4. In total, of our 'early adopter crowd', ~30% of respondents have tried Chrome and will continue to use it.

Short Analysis:

The N is very low on this survey, and the responses must be heavily skewed towards tech early adopters because of how we distributed it... but if you think that the early adopter crowd is a leading indicator Chrome looks like it is off to a solid start and will become meaningful. It *could* take an especially big chunk out of Firefox as a percentage of total minutes spent on the internet. To become meaningful and reach beyond early adopters Google will clearly have to do some big OEM deals, but if the nerds and geeks like it and will help build a community around the roll out Goog certainly knows how to do OEM, Dell, Wal-mart - expect some calls.

P.S. doing this short survey has inspired me to actually go back and publish the grand survey we ran on 'how much would you pay for free services' -- so look for that this weekend

Take The Survey: 

we want to boost the N and keep up with the results - if you haven't yet, take the survey at http://bit.ly/37H7G (and pass it on)


the only digital unidirectional moniker/ID

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

My new thesis on why twitter is powerful is centered on the concept that it is the only digital unidirectional moniker/ID.

To explain, almost all identification parameters have become multi-directional in the digital world.  If I list my email address somewhere online as a format of identification I am opening myself to others mailing me back (spam, etc).   Same thing with phone numbers, physical addresses, IM accounts, etc.  Almost any unique identifier I might use to ‘sign’ a piece of media is not only a form of attribution but also a way to contact me (a back-link).

Twitter is the only mass form of uni-directional attribution/signature.  I can put my twitter moniker  (@lessin) anywhere I please with no worry that it will result in spam (since direct messaging is only possible if I follow the person).  It is just an identifier, not a communicative back-link.*

This is actually what makes twitter such a powerful marketing vehicle (whether or not they intended it to work this way).  Since there are limited/no back-link repercussions to anyone knowing my twitter name I am willing to share/mass distribute my moniker anywhere and everywhere, and that allows it to both be an effective identifier and to propel twitter’s visibility and use

*Facebook accounts have some similar properties, but lack the single moniker model (my name is not a UID/personal identifier). Facebook Connect might qualify is an attempt to bring their semi-UIDs outside of their own platform, but it requires relatively deeper integration by service providers…


Quantum computing

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

Quantum computing & energy crisis:  The best thing we could do as a society regarding the energy crisis is invest in quantum computing - solving the traveling salesman problem would definitely save more fuel than almost any other optimization I can think of.  On the topic, quantum computing will never get declassified (even if it happens in the next 50 years) because it would instantly break basically all encryption and destroy historical 'security' (making privacy the only valid concept :) - via drop.io's paintball outing.

Monocultures are extremely risky:  in biology, in food supply, in politics, in information, etc.  diversity is key, but there is a tendency towards centralization.  Our civilization is more and more at risk as information is centrally pooled -- especially because security is a war of attrition, and the more value is centralized the more likely it is to be attacked (the more people are willing to spend to get it) - we are tending towards a monoculture on a dizzying number of levels.

The famous Chinese 'firewall' probably most significant as cyber war defense:   as has been demonstrated in the worlds two cyber wars to date (georgia and estonia) turning off the outside world may be the only effective defense (essentially raising the drawbridge under attack) - is the Chinese firewall actually more about being able to turn off the international internet when under attack than preventing their citizens to tunnel out?  that would be brilliant on their part, the US doesn't have a drawbridge.

What are the largest stores of social graph information in the world?  game is this:  pretend no regulation and infinite free compute power (aka you can get anything and you can blow through any 'dirty data' problems) - what are, in rank order, the largest real world existing stores of social graph information? Or, put differently, what are the richest real consolidated human focused relational databases in the world?  Credit Cards, Cell Phone Bill, Internet Browsing Activities (ISP data), Social Network Data, IM buddy lists and messaging activity, Email address books and messaging activity, Evite... whatever it is - social networking data currently ranks low, it is just the best organized data right now (cheapest to use) - and this will change.  If you get wider What are the theoretically most valuable information streams in the world (don't worry about the scale/centralization of the data)?  with the same rules real time purchasing data is probably the most valuable followed by real time location data.  What would real-time thought data look like?

Both Oil and Data Benefit from Technology Costs - But Oil Gets Scarcer and Data Gets More Abundant:  The enormous stores of social data that exist locked up in silos at credit card companies, email systems, etc have some of the same characteristics as the Canadian Oils Sands, with one fundamental difference.  Just like the Oil Sands, many companies are sitting on enormous stores of valuable social data which they could harvest for insight, trading, etc but given the form of their data makes it extremely expensive to extract the information (after all, these data structures were built in quaint times).  Moore's law helps out here, because over time credit card companies, email providers, anyone who has useful data can expect it to become very cheap to harvest.... just as oil technology helped out with the oil sands.  Unlike the scarce oil commodity information will get more and more abundant over time.  So, even as the costs of data extraction fall so too will the value of data extraction...  It means that companies should be going full tilt to harvest the data they have while it is still relatively scarce.  Almost all of the normal social, purchase, location, etc data is going to get extremely abundant and therefore extremely worthless very very fast.

Twitter is amazing:  as a format of pure signal - the 140 character limit is irrelevant, using URLs, etc you can pack an amazing amount of signal into 140 characters...  it is going to become the backbone of the  next iteration of the web - i am not being a fan boy, i can back this up (but will save it for a much longer post).


The Changing Dynamics of Information Online

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

The Changing Dynamics of Information Online (in two implied half metaphors)

Information is starting to look like Matter in Newtonian Physics
:  A body at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force:  information historically existed in a vacuum and it stayed put (private) until a deliberate force acted on it.  This was even historically true online.  In the early days information that was put online was private by default until it was deliberately catalogued or linked elsewhere - It was at rest until acted upon.  What you were looking for online could be a few keystrokes away, and you could still never find it.  Search and Social are actors, they are forces that change the dynamics of information flow... but they have become so universal that they are approaching an equivalence with 'gravity' - (In many contexts search and social - organization schemes - becoming a property of information itself, just as gravitational pull is a property of matter).

Widner Library / The Library of Congress is the best place to hide a book:  I used to sit in Widner library and think that if all the computers and card catalogues were removed a single person could probably spend tens of lifetimes searching the stacks for a single piece of information.  Even if you knew with 100% certainty than an evil demon hid the secrets of the universe, happiness, immortality, etc. in a single volume somewhere in the stack you would be far better off living a good single life than trying to find the hidden information.  Meta-data and the ability to sort meta-data (Dewey Decimal System, Card Catalogues, Search, etc.) are the fundamental tools that separate total privacy of a given volume from its total accessibility.  If you strip off the bar-code, remove the RFID chip, etc.  any given volume becomes unfindable.  Without metadata, without context, you can be quite 'private' in 'public' and a book could go forever undiscovered in Widner.


Unbundling Discovery/Transaction

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

Unbundling Discovery/Transaction (& IO/Network)

I just spent 5 minutes with iTunes and Amazon MP3 store open at the same time – I was using iTunes as a music discovery engine, pulling up and previewing tracks, and then I was using Amazon 1 click purchasing (assisted by Google search) to download tracks.

Why? Well, iTunes is a great discovery engine, Amazon’s MP3 store is not as good – it isn’t as fast and the interface isn’t as nice but Amazon purchases are 10 cents cheaper (not a big deal) and unlocked mp3s (a very big deal)

What does this mean? When you have a fast enough connection you can unbundle discovery and transaction and get the best of all worlds. This excites me to no end because it is something we have been thinking about and working on A LOT at drop.io recently. We are IO but not network – we are transaction but not discovery

This is going to be an enormous big trend – more later, but the atomization of services is going to be a dominant theme of ’09.


Can I Bum a Landline?

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

Can I Bum a Landline?  Maybe there is one in NJ?

I had an interesting experience on thursday night.  I was invited do do an hour on a radio show called 'computer america' discussing drop.io at 10:00pm EST -- The only hitch was that they asked for the interview to be conducted on a landline phone (for quality sake).  I don't have a phone, apparently none of my close friends have phones, apparently none of the clubs to which I have access have phones in private rooms...

I think our VCs probably have phones, but I wasn't going to ask for access to their offices that late.  So, the upshot was that I found myself within a few hours of the interview trying to decide between calling my grandfather (whom I suspect has an actual landline) and leaving manhattan to use the phone at my mother's house in Englewood, New Jersey.  Luckily with a few hours to go I found out that Chad - our VP of marketing - has a "landline" at his place in the Village (though I think it was actually VOIP).  Nonetheless, I got a brief kick out of how quickly something which used to be so ubiquitous has become so scarce.

There interview is here - and the phone quality is good :)
http://archives.warpradio.com/ltrn/ComputerAmerica/080722.mp3


The Systems and Costs of Privacy in the 2.0 paradigm

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

It is frequently suggested, in both the popular media and academic press, that the Internet is essentially re-writing the ‘rules’ of privacy. This is simply not true. ‘Privacy’ always has, and always will be, based on two pillars, trust and transparency. Neither the rules of privacy, nor the way in which they are applied, have changed. What has occurred, and what has been misinterpreted as fundamental change, is that the relative costs of privacy and publicity have dramatically shifted, resulting in people sharing more information, more publicly. The misreading of this shift has driven a focus on building new platforms for private sharing based on the ‘security’ model, requiring greater and greater amounts of identification and verification. This is ultimately an inappropriate response, and we are witnessing the beginning of its demise. The next iteration of ‘private’ sharing solutions are based on sharing as little collateral information as possible, rather than deploying additional metadata in an attempt to lock down the data itself.

It is important to first set the parameters of exactly what is meant by privacy, for its definition is not always consistent. Privacy, as it will be discussed here, is the ability to share information with specific counterparts, without exposing it beyond the lines which the ‘owner’ of the content intends. Privacy pertains to issues of the transmission and retransmission of information among people. This is distinct from security, which pertains to preventing information from being exposed through targeted exploit.

Every private transaction must satisfy two critical pre-requisites: trust and transparency. A transaction can only be private to the extent that the person sharing information trusts the recipient, and that he or she transparently signals exactly how the information shared is to be treated. This holds true for both individuals and systems. Technology cannot prevent friends or associates from passing on secrets, one can only pick trustworthy counterparts and ask them not to tell. This means that the goal of private systems must be to deliver an experience that models the ‘trusted and transparent’ in-person conversation as closely as possible.

While the basic prerequisites of privacy are not changing, the cost structure of sharing very much is. The cost of distributing content has been falling as technology has improved. The Internet is a drastic step change in this direction, but it is hardly the first. Most recently the ‘web 2.0’ movement has lowered the cost of public distribution by paying people who make their content public in one form or another. This advertising supported communication model (primarily centered on search and social applications) has brought it to the point that for many types of ‘user generated’ content, the wide distribution of information is negatively expensive.

In contrast, the costs of privacy have risen on a relative, if not absolute, basis. It is now far more expensive to keep content private than it is to publish it widely. This is not because of the often cited rise in security costs. Rather, it is simply because the costs associated with publishing information have fallen far more rapidly than the costs of private sharing. The tools for private sharing are less developed than the tools for public sharing. So, whereas for all of human history it has been more expensive to share information widely than privately, the reverse is now true.

To help users control private information, a wide range of providers have developed complex mechanisms that require ever greater amounts of user input. The most recognizable form of this is social networking. These systems help users construct trusted identities and then define sets of relationships, roles, and permissions to define how they want their information and content to be accessed. The central conceit is that additional layers of information can be deployed to seal private information behind a complex maze of accounts and permissions.

This model is unsustainable. It asks users to trust services and people with even more rich private information, defining identity and relationships (accounts, email addresses, other personal identifiers). By centralizing identity and ceding the metadata necessary to define the accessibility of information, these services are raising the total cost of private sharing for individuals, and increasing the potential for abuse. In many cases, the systems are just too complicated and users opt not to use them. In other cases, the extra data creates new points of vulnerability.

Out of this current state, a new model is emerging: ‘simple privacy.’ This model has been referred to as ‘casual privacy’, or ‘data-poor’ privacy (as opposed to ‘data rich’ or ‘verbose’ privacy). The fundamental basis of the movement, which is ultimately a return to historical norms, is that less is more. Within this construct, people share exactly what they want with whom they want and for as long as they want, without extraneous information or metadata. This model minimizes the informational footprint needed to privately share information and does not require embedded accounts, identity, search, or any social elements. Rather than enabling content to last ‘forever,’ it is removed as soon as it is no longer needed, and provides revocable access. Users share simply by transmitting specific un-guessable locations and passwords off one platform and on to another. As a result, privacy is heightened. It is impossible for a system to expose maliciously or accidentally that which it does not know. This aims to mirror as closely as possible the private, in-person conversation in the middle of a busy café where, without context, private things can be openly discussed. Even though others within earshot might listen, they lack the context to understanding the nature of the discussed topic.

It is likely that this model of private sharing will prevail again, as it has in the past, and this period will be seen as a momentary deviation from the historical norm, in which privacy is simpler and easier to achieve than publicity.


iPhone for non smokers

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

** amendment: as is clear from the below, the iphone keyboard is less than ideal. the word "verasion" is actually "version" (for example)... enjoy

iPhone for non smokers: having an iPhone is the nerd veraion of being a "social smoker"

a good friend of mine who lives in Paris will tell you all about the social value of smoking. he will explain to you at length how the social actions around buming a cigarette or asking for a "light" create low risk openings to meet new people and share....

I think smoking is a disgusting habit, but today I realied that my 3G iPhone is the need equivalent.

to explain: today I have been out and about all over sand hill road meeting with companies. my iPhone has gone through it's battery at least twice from the early am, so I have been buming charges, phonecalls, email services all over town. in fact, right now I am stealing a charge from the bathroom outside of benchmark capital before going to a august capital techcrunch event. I have met all sorts of interesting people on my quest to keep this device alive I would have otherwise never met....

so here is to you 3G iPhone.... I now have a legitimate reason to ask people on the street if they "got a light" and the night can proceed from there.


Power Chargers and Top Friends:

Thu, 01 May 2008 22:07:00 +0000

The iPhone continues to simultaneously massively disappoint me as a device and yet prove its overall value by teaching me interesting lessons about consumer behavior and how people live with technology. The two that have been most shocking to me was 1. How much chargers matter and 2. Why all these 'top friends' applications are so popular.

1. One of the best things about blackberries is that they charge off of the almost ubiquitous mini-USB. This means that almost wherever you go someone has some sort of power charger you can use (from their laptop, camera, something). The iPhone is exactly the opposite. As with most things Apple, it is proprietary to the point of being downright humorous. When I first got the new device one of the things I was most impressed with was the design of the power adapter. It is both gorgeous and super compact.

The problem is, apparently, it is the only adapter that will charge the blasted thing. Last night on my way out the door for a trip I accidentally left the charger at the office. I felt a little silly, but figured that I would be able to find a charger without too much trouble. I assumed that one of the myriad of ipod chargers my girlfriend and I have accumulated over the years would work since the physical port on the iphone is the same size. Silly me, of course Apple has found a way to block the backwards compatibility so that not only do several generations of ipod chargers fail to do the test, but even the Bose speaker doc fails. I was, needless to say, quite annoyed, and went down to a convenience shop to see if I could buy an 'iphone' charger as opposed to an 'ipod' charger. I easily found a third party relatively cheap looking device that advertised that it would charge iphones. but, after purchasing and trying the device, I realized that it only charges the first generation of iphones, not this newfangled second generation. So, I am out of luck until I find an apple store (not the easiest thing in the world to come by). Because the third party accessory manufactures have not yet had time to respond and Apple intentionally locked the device against all legacy chargers my iphone is now a useless shiny pebble and I have switched my primary sim card to the blackberry. If I were ATT I would be extremely pissed off about the millions of hours of talk time Apple's power charger policies are going to cause them. Devices are only as useful as the availability of power.

2. The 'top friends' applications on facebook are far and away the most popular applications on platforms like facebook. This never made any sense to me. I never had the urge to enumerate my top friends or put them in their own little circle. But I now think that part of the reason people enjoy these apps so much is that they are used to really slow and clunky phone interfaces. As I have started using the iPhone to make calls I have been very very disappointed with the speed of the interface, especially when trying to search the address book to make calls. The interface is sufficiently slow that I realized that I started adding a few people to the speed-dial list built into the phone. only to realize that the peed-dial was designed and feels much like those 'top friends' applications. So, my new hypothesis is that these 'top friends' apps are as much hacked shortcuts for slow search functions as much as anything else.


General lessons from youtube/viacom courtesy of Foucault & Bentham (& batman)

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

Over the last few weeks several friends and a few journalists have pinged me regarding the evolving situation with youtube/viacom… At an extremely abstract level the case actually relates to the philosophy that undergirds drop.io, and as a result I have both watched it evolve with great interest, and hopefully been in a position to offer a unique perspective within the sea of discussion and commentary.

Many smart and insightful people have been dissecting the blow-by-blow extensively, so rather than talking about the nitty-gritty, I have been approaching it from the opposite end of the spectrum and thinking about what the case illustrates about how data is owned and controlled in the digital sphere. Specifically, I have been speaking about how the case relates to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon as discussed in Michel Foucault’s “Discipline & Punish”, and how it is ultimately an expression of the concept of “power-knowledge” in terms of the modern information economy. This stuff is very scary and accelerating very fast, but nothing new.

As this mini-cycle in the news starts to go stale I thought it might be worthwhile to formalize on ‘paper’ some of my thoughts regarding the case and what it means. By my thinking there are four critical and related lesson to be abstracted from youtube/viacom.

1. For very clear structural economic reasons the rate of information collection is accelerating very quickly.

2. It is basically impossible for users/consumers to know what information is being collected by which service providers.

3. It is impossible to control how information will be used once it is collected (pools of “power-knowledge” diffuse and get appropriated by third parties)

4. The internet is fast becoming true expression of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, - to place a value judgment – this is quite frightening.

The youtube/viacom case is not the first to illustrate these points, and it will not be even close to the last, but it does serve as a valuable and highly current lens thought which to discuss these issues, and their increasingly practical relevance.

#1: To begin, information is being collected and stored almost everywhere by almost everyone at an accelerating pace as a simple function of economics of information. Almost all information is now profitable. As the cost of collecting, storing, and using information continues to decline and the value that can be extracted from its use continues to rise, more gets collected. The cost side of the equation is easy enough to understand, it is simply a derivative of Moore’s law. Unless we hit some catastrophic energy wall, the reality is it will continue to get less expensive to collect, store, and analyze (bandwidth + processor + disk).

The ‘value’ side of the equation is a little bit murkier, but still easy enough to follow. Data is generally useful across a whole range of activities. For almost all companies (web and otherwise) the more data you have the more you can streamline your processes to both lower your cost structure and grow revenue. Data is the lifeblood of everything from figuring out how to architect your processes to be maximally efficient, to how to attract new customers, and how to make your new customers more profitable. All of these ‘values’ for data comes before the concept that data is, in and of itself, increasingly considered an ‘asset’ which has an assignable value on the open market (the ‘asset’ value of data is actually quite suspect in the long term, but the other values are clear). The upshot is that everything is being collected by everyone at as fast a rate as possible.

This may actually be the ‘shocker’ on youtube/viacom to the general public if there was one at all… unlike search engines, which everyone expected to be holding tons of highly specific data, I think a lot of ‘non-industry’ users didn’t realize that every video they watch is being catalogued and stored forever, regardless of whether or not they were youtube members.

#2: With this understanding, the real issue becomes disclosure of exactly what is being collected. People do assign value to their data (as well they should) which means that companies should be forced to make tradeoffs between the value of extracting data from customers and the costs they are directly levying on their customers in so doing. This is exactly how the scenario plays out when individuals are asked to volunteer information about themselves in the form of an online ‘registration’ in return for service (what is your name, age, gender, etc). But, when it comes to the vast sea of use/interaction data that is being catalogued, companies generally don’t have to make those calls because it is impossible for their customers to know what is being collected. Use data which in aggregate can map back to individuals, is collected at no immediate direct cost to the user.

So, without the tradeoff of directly imposing on users to collect data, services are basically collecting ‘free money’. A company may or may not incur an initial tiny cost in the form of user annoyance by asking for a name and email address, but that cost can be amortized over the vast iceberg of use data against which that requested information is mapped comes at almost no cost. Consumer information is critically valuable to these companies but it costs almost nothing because users generally don’t know what is being collected (future blog posts on how users should be extracting value here).

This can’t be regulated. It is impossible to mandate that information not be collected because since the internet is fully de-centralized and there is no way to know from the user end whether information is being logged or not, there is no way to regulate. Sure, you could set up a system of audits, laws, and verification schema, but practically speaking it would never work (for a whole host of fun reasons to discuss some other time).

Again, youtube/viacom is interesting on this axis only because people had no idea what information was being collected and what information youtube even had to disclose with the viacom case. It isn’t simply a matter of popping open a file on your desktop to know what they have (as it was with the ‘cookie scare’ of the late 1990s)… very sophisticated people had a very very hard time following exactly what ‘information’ youtube had collected and what they were being asked to disclose in conjunction with the case.

#3 None of this is meant to say that the people collecting the information intend to use it for malicious purposes or in nefarious ways (though there is plenty of that)… It just means that there exists more and more information collected into databases which represent raw agnostic ‘pools’ of power. I would personally highly doubt that youtube anticipated that they would be forced to expose the user data they collected and saved from their customers when they made the early decisions to architect their system to include collecting the information in the first place. The system architects probably were just hoping to use the data to provide a higher service level at a lower cost to youtube’s users… But once information is collected and codified it is at risk of exposure. Once youtube decided to collect information from their users they were fundamentally putting their users at risk.

In abstract terms, information is simply power… and large pools of ‘power’ are enticing targets for exploit in almost any form imaginable. There are the forms of exploit with which we are all highly familiar, abuse by those who legally own the information (companies selling their ‘lists’), compromise by ‘hackers’, etc. but there are many other forms of potential data transfer and/or appropriation by third parties. Governments may make demands on the pools of data (see Google/China), Third party companies may attempt to gain access to the data (see youtube/viacom), etc.

Point three is thus relatively simple but utterly critical. When you collect a lot of data you are creating something which is of extreme value to a whole range of people in the present and future. When things of extreme value exist all sorts of actors will try to get access and appropriate a portion of that value. Users should be aware that even when they are dealing with very good companies and services there is a high risk that someone, in some form, will come knocking and the built up knowledge-power in the service’s stores may be compromised, today, tomorrow, or infinitely into the future.

Your information will ultimately not only go to the highest bidder, but to all bidders who are willing to pay a positive fully baked price. The youtube/viacom case is a perfect example of this. It is just business, nothing personal. Youtube collected an enormous amount of data, and Viacom has a use for it that is sufficiently valuable to them (by their estimation) that it is worth the fully baked cost of getting the data (legal fees, public opinion, etc.).

#4 So, where we sit is basically that if you use the internet you should fully expect that your data will be collected without your full knowledge or understanding, and it is likely that that information will fall into the hands of those who find the data most valuable, other companies, governments, hackers, you name it. To be blunt, you need to assume you are being watched. This sounds very science fiction and highly alarmist, It is a simple function of economics.

Should anyone care? maybe… many people, especially in comfortable western democracies, would say they have nothing to hide so there is no harm in everyone knowing what they are doing. This is one approach, and it has its merits.

That said, I think it is important to remember Jeremy Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’. Bentham’s Panopticon was a theoretical piece of prison design (technology) where there is a single watchtower in the middle of a circle of cells which have bars on both sides. A guard could sit in the watchtower and, with just natural sunlight (this was well before video cameras), see all the prisoners activities all the time. Realistically, any given prisoner may or may not be watched at any given time, but the prisoners know that they could be watched without their knowledge and therefore they act as though they are always being watched. The Panopticon is powerful in that the prisoners internalize that they are being watched and change their action calculus accordingly. It is the internal manifestation of the power created by the Panopticon which functions to change the behavior of the prisoners.

The internet is basically a more advanced real piece of technology that has the same result. You might be being watched and you might not be being watched, but you have to assume that you are always being watched (or at least apply a very high percent chance that you are being watched into your action calculus). I think people would be hard pressed to honestly say that they would always act the same way regardless as to whether or not they are in ‘public’…

What about Batman? These themes and ideas are cropping up everywhere in modern pop culture. The most recent Batman (which was excellent) deals with a lot of these questions and issues, most blatantly in the debate over a super powerful mass cellphone tapping system that the Bat constructs to monitor Gotham (which looks one heck of a lot like a Panopticon without the central feedback loop to me). In the movie Lucien threatens to resign over the construction of the machine on ‘moral’ grounds… I think morality has little to do with it and would make a very straight-laced economic argument against such a machine (more on that some other time)… The point is that these themes are everywhere, ranging from movies to a heated debate that broke out on friendfeed the other day when Robert Scoble suggested that he would ideally like to outlaw anonymity online (I couldn’t possibly disagree more).

Ultimately this youtube/viacom case is just an ah-ha moment for a lot of people that even if they don’t sign into accounts, their video watching behavior is still being tracked and can still be exposed… so maybe you won’t watch the ‘follow me’ video 1800 times in one day anymore, or maybe you will… but either way you have to assume that at some point someone else will know – how you react to that is up to you.

I don’t have answer to any of this – I struggle with it a lot. What I do see is that there is a new movement gaining traction online which suggests that services need to collect as little data as possible from users to fulfill their function, because ultimately the only way to keep information safe is to not collect it. I suspect that as consumers become more aware of the full risks to which their information and identity are exposed this movement will gain more traction. Much like the movement towards "leave no trace/ zero impact" camping, we are moving towards a world where "zero-impact" informational exposure will be highly de online. But even this type of a movement might not be an ultimate answer and has its issues and does nothing to address the transparency of information collection (which is a critical chokepoint to the whole equation)

To allow myself even more parting leeway… from the limited reading I have done about brain science/memory, the act and process of ‘forgetting’ is actually critical to memory and the healthy functioning of the brain. Societies either need to learn to forget or need to radically adopt to ‘total recall’.

A few final caveats: I feel I do need to leave with a few disclaimers on the above post. 1. It isn’t a tight academic paper in any way shape or form, and I know I have taken some liberties with the concept of “power-knowledge”, if someone wants to discuss this with me I would love to get a coffee 2. The beauty of the internet is nothing is set in stone and I reserve, as always, the right to keep thinking about and writing on this…. So, let’s call this a summation of my thought on youtube/viacom but only a conversation starter on some of the broader points.

Direct Link: http://drop.io/swl/asset/youtube-viacom
Want to Comment, use FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/lessin


The Week in Short (Ideas that don’t deserve more than 200 words each):

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

"Oh, the iphone and the blackberry should be friends" or... "how i learned to stop worrying and love the 3G iphone"

To not have an iphone and work in any sort of consumer technology today would be like not having AOL service in the early 1990s... You might hate the platform, but it would be irresponsible to not engage with it, play with it, and hopefully understand it and its users. Figuring out the iphone's problems and strengths is part of the game, and you can only do that if one is in your pocket more or less all the time.

But, the iphone is not an email device – it isn’t an alwayson information pipe – it is just media rich consumer device with a nice camera. As much as I might like to be contrarian and fully switch back to berry (no one calls me anyway), it would be sufficiently irresponsible that I won’t… (pn: it is ironic that, though I pay for both, realistically my business should pay for my iphone and I should personally pay for blackberry)

Good news is capitalism has provided – blackberry + iphone service today is significantly cheaper than my blackberry service was on its own 2 years ago. Just suck it up and use both (I just got my second sim)

Your Friend Updates/My Friend Updates: What is the difference…

A few days ago I logged onto facebook and spent almost five minutes using the site before I realized that I was on my girlfriend’s account instead of my own (it was an honest mistake, please don’t erase me FB)… she had logged on my box and not closed my browser when she was done the night before. What was surprising was to realize that I couldn’t tell it was her account by the newsfeed at all, it was only the inbox of messages that tipped me off. Our social spheres overlap closely enough that the site is feeding us the same information to a small enough margin of error so as not to be immediately noticeable… That is probably a good thing considering we have been dating for 5 years, but it was interesting to experience. correlation or causation?

I adore walking in Manhattan

In the last 36 hours I have walked at least 10 miles around Manhattan… It makes me unbelievably happy. Human beings were supposed to walk a lot. Desks and chairs are highly depressing.. walking by and watching thousands of people in a few hours is awesome.

Drop.io is for flash floods of data and communication.

 


Macbook Air Overheating Problem + Functional Solution:

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

The thing that frustrates me the most about my Macbook Air is that the thing seriously overheats. It is casually annoying to have it in your lap on an airplane and get to the point that your legs are sweating… but what really kills me is that the thing clearly seems to turn off a core or two when it gets close to combusting and gets un-usably slow. This has annoyed me the most when watching video on it and/or videoconferencing. The Air gets really slow and unresponsive to the point that movies are jerky to the point of unwatchable. The video and audio get out of sync. It sucks.

A while ago I got totally fed-up with the problem and started engineering my own solution… First, I realized that it helped a little to sit the box up on top of a small little cap to give it more breathing room on the bottom. That bought me a bit of extra time before crippling overheat, but it wasn’t a long term solution… so I had to get a bit more creative.

Ultimate success requires:

A. a small prop: something to give you 2-3 inches of clearance below the computer
B. ice: cubed would be ideal, crushed will suffice
C. water: tap is fine, FIJI if you are a ridiculous person
D. a Ziplock bag: fancier the better
E. some tin foil: generic

Steps:

1. prop the macbook Air up on your small prop
2. fill the ziplock bag 1/3rd full of ice
3. add water until ice is submerged
4. close the ziplock bag and double check it is sealed
5. wrap the ziplock bag in tin foil
6. place the wrapped bag under the back left of the Air
7. replace every 2-3 hours

Great Success!!!! Laptop stays cool and keeps running… Note: you are risking the bag breaking, but gravity helps out here – my belief is that if it were to break it might kill whatever is below your Air, but probably not the notebook itself.

I have yet to figure out a portable or airplane version… perhaps Igloo (the cooler company) will develop some sort of i-Attachment to help out… I knew when I bought the Air that certain usually standard things, like an Ethernet port, were accessories for the computer… Who knew that a cooling system to keep the thing running was also an add on.

Direct Link: http://drop.io/swl/asset/air-overheating


crosstalk in the 'social' web

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

crosstalk in the 'social' web, the inversion of the tower of babel, and our USB 'talking stick':

In the good old story/fable/what have you of the 'tower of babel' human beings reach too high so god fractures language so that no one can effectively communicate or get anything done. In the last several months the opposite phenomenon has started to emerge on the social web... As more and more social applications simultaneously expose APIs and start trying to abstract each-other the 'social' web has started to become completely un-manageable because everyone is speaking the same language, at the same time, on top of each-other, constantly. Rather than loosing the ability to speak on the same frequency, the frequency is getting completely jammed.

To give a concrete and personal example involving twitter, friendfeed, and facebook. If I post a note on twitter, facebook and friendfeed pick it up and re-publish it. friendfeed then actually re-publishes it back into facebook so i end up with duplicate entries on facebook almost instantaneously. From there, others can then reply and add comments on top of that note on all three services, which will in some cases will cross-distribute again. As each 'social' application simultaneously looks to abstract their competition and exposes APIs which allow others to abstract them everyone is re-posting everyone else's content in what is starting to feel like a death spiral. One can only imagine that this trend is going to continue to compound itself over time. e.g. Socialthing will abstract all of the other services, and then someone will use their API (or just scape it) to abstract them. Perhaps google reader will sit on top of that next layer and microsoft god knows what after that.

The great conundrum that we now face is that everyone is trying to become a destination for people to filter, experience, and generate reply content on the backbone of other services that filter help people filter, experience, and generate reply content - read, the literal definition of a 'cluster fuck'. What this means is that there are no centralized conversations with meaningful or follow-able paths. Users are completely losing touch and control of who is seeing what content and how they are reacting and responding to it. I am personally starting to treat all of these social applications (including blogging) as a simple 'fire and forget' where I assume that whatever I say will go everywhere and I won't even try to centralize or follow the response.

what is the way out?

If you will allow me even more expanse, let me try to tie in another anecdote. In the new drop.io offices we don't have phones. We use skype. Whether this is a good idea or just silly is a point of hot debate in the office, but everyone does agree that there is at least one completely unanticipated positive side-effect... namely, when we do conference calls we are forced to use a uni-directional USB microphone which we pass from person to person. Basically, we are forced to use a literal talking stick when doing calls - just like back at camp. This has been a hugely productive exercise, preventing people from talking over each-other and keeping the conversation productively flowing.

At some point someone is going to need to figure out what the 'talking stick' is for the social web. Some might claim that we can build one through technology - that web 3.0 is going to involve intelligent enough design that someone will crack how to sift through and control all of the simultaneous cross conversation... this would be the equivalent of allowing unimaginable cross talk all the time and just sorting it appropriately so that the single listener on the other end of the conference call can follow the path.

Another option is to intentionally build the walled garden - to force a return to a single or consolidated structure. This is socially tough to pull off, it is the opposite of the current trend. But if you play the current movement out for even another few years the future looks grim, so maybe there will be an opening... Maybe this will come in a 'social separatist' movement by a certain segment of society.

I actually think that Facebook understands this and is making a very large play attempting to abstract everyone else but not allow the abstraction of its own service. This is clear from several of their initiatives to allow people to publish streams of content into their application, but to my knowledge limited ability to pull feed content fully out - they may be the only ones powerful enough to pull this off. Despite my personal strong belief in open data and standards, this might actually be a case where a single closed hegemonic power actually provides the greatest net utility... without some enormous changes in how people can integrate and sift through information (read what google search was for static/semi-static content) someone needs to set the standards or we will end up destroying much of the communicative value of the web. To end on a provocative note: I have enormous regard for Hayek, but maybe a rule setting hegemony is needed.

happy 4th


Gas Pumps don't have a 100s place

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

Gas pumps in the US don’t have a hundreds place - here comes Y2K all over again

My quick survey of local gas stations shows that consumer gas pumps don’t go past $99.99 (they don’t have a hundreds place)… Which means that with dollar fuel prices rising outside of the expected band, we are approaching the Y2K problem for the gas pump industry. By this I mean that just as computer programs didn’t anticipate needing to record three or four digit dates (recording 1998 as 98 and theoretically 2001 as 01), gas pumps don’t read out beyond $99.99, so that if your tank costs $102.24 to fill, the meter is going to say $2.24.

I have no idea whether the internal system record the actual charge correctly or not (whether you will get charged $102.24 and only see $2.24 – or whether right now you could actually end up getting charged just $2.24). Either way it is humorous that, once again, at least on an output level, when prices/numbers change at an unexpected speed there are all sorts of funny corner cases that all of a sudden become very significant.

Someone should figure out who makes, repairs, and upgrades gas pumps (and most specifically the LED components). That company/micro-industry is poised to make a killing in the US as a mini-echo-boom when fuel goes north of 6 or 7 dollars, the average tank goes north of $100, and all of a sudden every gas station in America needs an upgrade of some sort. Obviously, I am only writing/twittering this because I am not going to go out and try to figure this one out myself.


The end of states

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

They need to be consolidated

I need to heavily caveat this post before I make it. 1. a lot of the thoughts in here are either not fully original, and/or the result of conversations with friends – I am not sourcing things because I am not writing an academic paper (and I don’t remember who gets credit for what), I just want to get some thoughts down with some general structure – this seems like a good medium for it 2. my favorite ‘book’ is a Modest Proposal, take this with a grain of salt. 3. Put your blinders on and pretend the US is the only country in the world – almost all these thoughts/arguments apply to thinking internationally, but I am going to just focus on US States.

Here is the pitch. Right now in the US we have a flat out race to the bottom in all legal and regulatory issues driven by 50 historical divisions of one common marketplace. States made a ton of sense in 1776, because each had its own distinct and complete economy with meaningful natural barriers to entry and exit that gave them pricing power. Expedited transportation and communication has ended this, turning basically all commerce into ‘interstate commerce’, and it is time for us to rebalance accordingly. At this point, having states is far more trouble than it is worth. They can no longer fulfill their mandate as laboratories for national policy, and they make mid to long term coordinated planning nearly impossible.

If I had to guess, I would say that before the railroads each state was an almost completely autonomous economy, with relatively high barriers to entry and exit. This means that if you cut off Vermont from all the other states in the late 18th century, the state would survive. They would probably run out of certain non-indigenous goods like coffee, but I would gander that Vermont probably had 80% - 90% of the industry needed to keep it going on its own. As importantly, back in the 18th century moving around was enormously expensive. If as a business or individual I wanted to relocate and leave Vermont it would be quite costly and a huge hassle (not just in terms of transportation and time, but also in terms of personal relationships, lost localized professional knowledge, barriers to learning a new city and economy, etc).

Now take any one state in the US today. I would guess that in a crisis where one state was cut off from all the others the state would completely implode in a matter of days if not hours. New York, I would guess, now has 5-10% of the core industries needed to sustain itself, everything gets imported… Even forgetting about short term shock scenarios, in a longer term sense, I suspect that if you gave a state like New York 5 to 10 years warning before isolating it from the rest of the country it still wouldn’t even get close to achieving self sufficiency in time. Moving is also a snap (relatively speaking). I could be out of New York and set up in a new state in a matter of days at a miniscule fully baked expense (even with $4 gas). With tools like local search and social networking you don’t even lose a beat in a new city, and could easily be set up with restaurant recommendations and contact with good friends. There are no barriers to entry or exit.

It is obvious that this is simply a function of nationally scaled transportation and communication - interstate highways, and clearly now the ‘internet’ in the broadest sense - . First, regarding physical transportation, I am guessing that in the 18th century it would take someone 24+ hours to cross clear through every state in the nation. In that same 24 hours I can now drive a good chunk of the eastern seaboard and fly back and forth to San Francisco 4 times. Regarding the communications shift, I don’t think it necessary to say much. Ever since deregulation we have been on a course to flat/barrier less communication, and even the relative flatness has become ludicrous in the last few years.

I vaguely recall that the US interstate highway system was built by the federal government under the pretence of national security via some sort of nuclear evacuation plan, and I can only imagine that there was at the time some outcry about the federal government making a play for greater power and attacking states rights/power… the reality is that, obviously, a consolidated highway system needed to be built, and power over a larger market did need to be consolidated. The same with the federal government/ the FCC ‘regulating’ the internet at the national level.

Why does this matter? Because regulating a single corner of a busy commoditized market is a powerless position, and that is exactly what states now do. Without barriers to entry or exit and without any power as an autonomous market they have no ability to do anything other than slash pricing as quickly as you possibly can (before someone else does). States can’t innovate, because they lack all pricing power over their citizens and businesses, and so all they can do to race each other to lower regulation and taxes in the short term.

Races to the bottom aren’t necessarily bad, but short term ones can be – and that is exactly the game all States are playing right now…. They can’t raise taxes because if they do their neighbor will win their population & businesses, they can’t cut services. So, they basically have to use their one lever (what till recently has been massive borrowing power) and in one form or another give away money as quickly as they possibly can to citizens and businesses (incentives & services). They are basically playing a massively expensive and distortionary game of musical chairs, except for the fact that everyone is going to lose.

One fun example of this is Wall Street banks, who every few years threaten New York that they will leave for Connecticut or New Jersey unless New York does them special favors here or there… Goldman Sachs went so far as to build a huge tower in New Jersey likely more as a leverage play with New York than actually planning on moving in across the river.

This becomes a death spiral because they effectively end up relying on the federal government to support their credit rating for their financing. States have no underlying pricing power, so they compete with each-other to give away money they don’t have, which makes them even more powerless and beholden to the federal government.

Alexander Hamilton won

Why is this actively harmful? First, because states can’t innovate so they can’t invent any new forms of government or regulation that are any good. The US has lost the engine by which new policy ideas can be attempted on a smaller scale. We have no more marketplace for laws or governance ideas, which ultimately means that the US’s system of government could stall. Our constitution, the whole point of our governmental setup, was to allow for change – but we no longer have our laboratories.

Because states are making actively bad decisions and laws. They have trouble coordinating on long-term plans, so they are basically burning down the hatches on borrowed time and money.

I am sad that states are now irrelevant, they were a good idea, but at this point we need to call a spade a spade and drop the whole system. Of course, that will never actually happen because we no longer have the freedom of experimentation necessary to prove that it actually is a good move, but that is what I feel like is theoretically consistent.

Or, put on business terms, when you lose pricing power and are selling a market commodity, you need to consolidate…


JK Rowling

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

I just watched JK Rowling's 2008 commencement speech (available at JK). I greatly enjoyed it and found it quite deeply moving.

From an overly analytical perspective i might say that she spoke about three often cited graduation topics - failure, imagination, and friendship - and that she did an admirable job of weaving her own well known life story into the narrative without being heavy handed.

I appreciated her wit and sincerity, and there is no question that the context, on top of the content of the speech, made it feel more personally relevant and appealing.

I also take some theoretical value out of the concept that my admissions essay for harvard was about Harry Potter, and watching the author give a commencement speech in the Yard holds for me an extra layer of meaning.

That said, I don't think that any of these characteristics aptly describes or does justice to the speech in the least. I am going to spend some time thinking about the speech and why it
struck a chord - maybe those thoughts will end up in this public forum or in my private journal... but either way let this serve as a recommendation of the speech if you haven't already watched it, and a personal reminder to myself to think more about it.


I just returned from a nice swing through the west cost over the last few days.

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

I said hello to our friends at Pollack in LA, and then swung up to SF to visit my girlfriend over the weekend and see a few of our partners on Monday.

The weather was wonderful and I got in one great run in through the Presidio and by the Golden Gate Bridge.

The trip ended flying back last night on the red eye. I had three seats to myself, which made me incredibly happy and the flight quite bearable if not pleasant...


2008-05-31 20:51:24

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:11:00 +0000

it was high time for me to move my 'blog' over to my own platform, drop.io - so i just moved the posts (all be it losing the time stamps, wasn't worth dealing with perserving those)

from now on new posts will be at drop.io/swlthoughts, and you will be able to subscribe via email or rss from there.

besides the fact that it makes sense to blog using my own site, i am really excited that i can now easily add voice and multimedia into this thought stream... (plug plug)


I am on a flight to LA with no money, no hotel, no car, and no idea where i am going, and it is all good:

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:14:00 +0000

Whenever I buy anything i am acutely attuned to not only its immediate cost but the psychical and psychic costs of ownership. This has so far in my life meant that i have ended up with a lot of super lightweight laptops and very very few pieces of furniture...

most people use this calculus at least in a few places (like not bringing your own food when you travel and relying on the market to provide something you will want to/can eat), but I apply it basically everywhere.

I am most attuned to the carrying cost of things with travel. I categorically refuse to check bags and over time have been taking less and less with me wherever I go. Several years ago I started tending towards a philosophy of 'on demand' clothing, basically meaning that I don't ever go shopping but I do buy clothing as I need it on the way to specific events or in specific situations...

I am now experimenting with on demand shelter. To explain, the last time i was in San Francisco i got accidentally locked out of the place i was staying very late at night (no, i wasn't fighting with my girlfriend, i just lost my key to the apt i was staying at). It wasn't even a slight hiccup or inconvenience. Within 15 minutes i had checked into a hotel and was asleep and happy.

Learning from this experience, I am now on a flight out to LA which gets in at 10:00 pm local time 1am EST. I have about $3 in my pocket and no other cash, I have absolutely no idea where i am staying, i have not booked a hotel room. I don't even know where i am going tomorrow. All i know is that i have a meeting with some people at some point tomorrow AM and that LAX is the closest airport.

I plan to land in LA, have immediate access to an ATM to get cash, pull out my blackberry to figure out where my meeting is by looking up the work address of the people with whom i am meeting on google. I will then find a cab (which i have not pre-arranged but i expect to be available at the airport), tell him to start driving towards the place i have to be tomorrow. On the way i will pull up google maps and figure out the closest hotel. If possible i will book on a wap site, but most likely i will just call the hotel to make sure they have availability. Check in, Amex and ID out, sleep, zero stress, maximal efficiency...

Why am i doing this?

Because the psychic carrying cost of having pre-booked a hotel is too high, just as are the physical and psychic costs of packing. It just isn't worth it to me anymore. Pre-arranging anything in our digital age has become way more trouble than it is worth... I did think about booking a place ahead of time, but the fully baked cost of booking ahead was too much for me.

Why does this work?

First and foremost, because of capitalism. I can rely on the market every step of the way. First it will provide for me a conveniently located ATM, then a cab waiting to take me where i need to go, then a hotel room. In the first two cases the market is really close to perfect, i might pay a 2-3 dollar tax on the ATM for not bringing my own money and maybe have to wait a few minutes for a cab - but capitalist competition will provide for me. As for the hotel room, a little bit more tough, but still seamless - my access to poll the marketplace on the fly with my blackberry will provide me with convenient clean shelter a reasonable price.

Second, because the risk is really low if capitalism fails me, so I can float the cost of the disaster. If the market fails me i have at least five friends in LA who i can crash with... they don't know i am coming, but i can rely on being able to reach them almost instantaneously if need be....

Third, identity and credit. This comes from a few directions. First, economic identity and credit, as verified by AMEX allows me to pay for things without cash (credit from the government) in a foreign land. Second, social identity and credit, If none of my five friends are around then I can poll a larger set of associates through facebook or friends of friends to keep me safe.

Fourth, cheap communication and synthesis of information (search).... Without total and persistent access to the internet this whole thing falls apart because I would be at an informationally disadvantaged position... I could have friends that could help, but i couldn't reach them. There could be 20 hotels for me to chose from but I couldn't find them. Even if I found one hotel, I would have no ability to compare options and from an informationally disadvantaged position I might either end up in a bad hotel or pay too much.

Where do i think this doesn't yet work?

My memory/digital footprint - it is too central a piece of the equation to just throw everything in the 'cloud' and expect life to work. I probably have an aggregate of at least 300 GB of data in my bag. I could almost certainly get that down just 1-2 GB with no problem, but the carrying cost of data is so low that i don't need to - the equation doesn't work out... the cloud just isn't there yet.

Power/Adapters - Again, the data and communications access are not worth much if you don't have the juice. Mini USB/standardization makes this easier (i don't have a blackberry charger with me, i know that my PR firm in LA and girlfriend in SF will be able to spot me)... but I do have a charger for my laptop (the Air adapter is a bit harder to come by thanks to apple's insistence on closed loop proprietary systems, and I do have a USB to mini-USB cable in case my blackberry theory breaks down)

My running shoes - A few years ago I experimented traveling without my running shoes while on a trip to Las Vegas with my college roommates. You can't rely on the market to provide hyper personal things, like your favorite type of running shoes.

When traveling where you don't speak the language, know the customs - if you can't quickly collect and integrate information you are not in good shape, even if you have the information access... so the balance of cost/benefit is probably in booking ahead

Communist countries/weak capitalist markets/small cities/the countryside - basically anywhere where the market isn't large enough to anticipate and serve your needs.

Extraordinary Situations - where the delta between good and great is enormous or there is limited supply - my girlfriend and i did rome on this 'on demand' basis - it worked well, we had a blast - but we missed a few things were a little pre-planning & booking would have been worth the psychic cost... specifically a few museums which we discovered upon arrival we couldn't see without an advanced reservation and one restaurant we couldn't get into.

A funny and obviously flippant thought to end:

Basically what i am talking about is how capitalism in the context of total information does a great job of anticipating my needs before I do, and when you bake in the carrying cost of planning ahead, you actually come out better by paying slightly more or getting slightly worse service and doing everything on demand....

i am rolling through the hierarchy of human needs on this basis... is companionship next? (oh wait, that is actually the most well established and long running of these, though the Governor of NYC maybe proved that the legal and social externalities break the equation ) :)

***

update, the hotel bit wasn't quite as smooth as I expected. it took me three calls before a hotel, the w said they could book me. when I actually arrived they apologized profusely and said they didn't have a room for me... luckily the perfectly nice hotel across the way did (at half the price), but i will admit that i was expecting an easier time at it


Kindle

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:14:00 +0000

This AM in nyc the kindle just clicked for me. I had played a bit with the device when it first came out and thought it was cool, but didn't understand how it fit in - now I do.

I have to take a trip today and decided last night that I wanted to pick up a copy of "snow crash" for the journey. I thought it wouldn't be a problem to find a copy of the book on my way to the station in the am. After all, there is a B&N across the street from where I live....

I woke up and went to B&N. To my great shock they didn't have it, explaining that their rent was going up 500 percent so they are closing and winding down inventory.

I thought, no matter, at grand central there are at least three large newstands - shouldn't be a problem finding an over priced copy there. To my shock, at each of the three stands/stores there were no more than 24 books for sale amid hundreds of magazines. So, no dice.

The upshot is this. As the book market is sent into decline it becomes really hard to impossible to impulse purchase books. The big retailers are stunting inventory and closing (see recent borders news), the smaller impulse focused news stands have already stopped carrying them... So, what is one to do? Amazon has the good stuff if you think ahead, but if not, you need a kindle.

Or:

1. the number of people reading books is declining

2. the people who still read are more likely to be educated/buy online (where prices are inherently cheaper because of inventory efficiency)

3. So physical booksellers are in a tailspin, declining faster than actual demand for books on the fly.

4. Meaning if you still read (a declining but large population) and want a book on the fly, your options are inihilated.

5. Kindle (which works especially well because those likely to still read are also likely to be able to afford the device and embrace technology, age adjusted)

6. Faster death spin for physical retailers

So, actually, the thing about kindle is not that it will work because of tech (where previous ebooks failed) but because you had to wait for book scarcity in the general market before issuing the death blow. Other ebooks jumped the gun.

- none of this is killer thinking, but the physical experience made it click for me.


drop.io, data portability, lessons from my Macbook air, and blogging

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:14:00 +0000

I have already failed to keep up blogging at the pace i initially intended. But one early failure is not going to deter me, just refocus the activity. Entries and points will be shorter, and i will role several topics into single posts. Here is the new format:

Drop.io, proceeding towards simple private exchange.

The buildout of drop.io continues at breakneck pace. Since last posting we have integrated voicemail (phone) (http://drop.io/voice), fax (in and out) (http://drop.io/fax), and a conference system (http://drop.io/confcall) into the platform. Again, all without the need to register or signup. We are liberating all of these digital 'input/output' channels from their historical ego-centric bounds and freeing them as fully flexible simple private communications channels.

In our march to be ever more flexible we integrated a 'zip download' function as well, which let's you take any drop and archive all the pictures, videos, docs, etc together so that they can all be downloaded in original quality in one click. One might argue that this makes drop.io less 'sticky' in the traditional sense, but it makes it way more flat/open/and flexible.

We are very excited about next week, as we are launching two new awesome features (which makes us cry they are so sweet) and are going down to SXSW for some fun, and also to talk about drop.io (we were one of 5 nominees for the technical achievement award and are speaking at the facebook developer conference). .. and our launch party last week at Le Royale was also a ton of fun (http://drop.io/launchparty)

Last.fm and data portability:

Went to a nice session a few days ago with the last.fm guys at the glasshouse. They spoke a lot about data portability, which i am very into these days (i feel bad saying it, because it is so 'trendy' in certain worlds, but i can't help it - i really believe in it, drop.io is an expression of it).

I signed up for last.fm a really really long time ago, but never really used it - i was originally more of a fan of pandora when i just want to have my music tastes guided rather than play a specific artist, and more recently jango.... but i am playing with last.fm again now.

Stuff i like: nice interface, I actually love the concept of them tracking and recommending music to me cross platform (even i am ok with the itunes integration). I also like playing weird stuff in my itunes collection and seeing that nonetheless 2000 other people played it with last.fm open as well.

Stuff i really dislike: it is too expansive/hard to navigate around. I hate downloads. but most importantly, i can't for the life of me figure out how to 'export' my play history to either keep for myself or give to other services. I don't consider it really portable if it isn't immediately apparent how to export it.

my MacBook Air, data portability, and why Microsoft is in trouble:

I have been waiting literally for years for the Mac ultra portable - so i bought it on the phone the minute it was announced. There are certainly issues (my biggest one is that the angles are actually so sharp on it it cuts up my wrists), but overall i love it. I have not by any means abandoned my thinkpad.... i am just carrying both these days.

so, what have i learned from using both my thinkpad and my air at the same time. a. Syncing calendars through google is amazing. I have my blackberry, Air, Outlook, etc. all drafting off of 3 interwoven systems. Updating google calendar from within proprietary systems (read, outlook) is a bit more troublesome but works. b. I still need to use outlook as my central platform - gmail's interface just doesn't cut it for me. c. excel for mac just doesn't work - the shortcuts are all screwy and it is way way too slow.

overall, data portability such that you really can be set up on multiple machines and use them interchangeably is almost there. It really is just my mail foldering structure and the fact that i can't really sync contacts fully across boxes which is preventing me from being Air/Thinkpad agnostic.

this means Microsoft is in trouble - i am still very dependent on the office suite, but working between my air and my thinkpad and exploring google's full platform (especially in the context of apps for small biz) i cut my microsoft dependencies down to excel and outlook mail. That is why microsoft is at all threatened, when people start switching around systems (especially between OS) they start to get creative and explore non-microsoft options... and that is the opening for companies like 'the google'...


travel without anything

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:14:00 +0000

I learned many years ago from my dad to NEVER check luggage and only take carry on. This last weekend i took it to a whole new level.

After a wonderful launch party at Le Royale in the west village for drop.io on friday night i hopped a flight to ski saturday morning at 6 am. Needless to say, going from a huge party to stepping on a flight the next morning was not pleasant. I cut the flight extremely close, forced delta to skip me through the security line (sorry others that were in that line), and then slept the whole way out to Utah. Upon arriving it sunk in that had brought literally nothing other than the clothes on my back, a laptop, and a digital camera. I had my skis already out there, so that wasn't a problem. But even i was a bit taken aback at having literally nothing i would need clothing/exercise/
hygiene etc wise. I have historically made calculated decisions about bringing nothing when traveling, this was the first time i really just didn't think about it.

Turns out, it wasn't a problem at all. Especially because i was in a small town, there was a general store where i could quickly purchase everything i needed. As a note, i don't go 'shopping' i only buy things like clothes 'on demand' so i don't end up over-spending buying things i don't need when i do it this way. It is very very liberating to realize that you don't even need to think about what to bring when traveling, just walk out the door as though you were heading down the street to get a coffee, and capitalism will take care of the rest. I love lifting the mental burden of planning.


Making Funny Videos (www.drop.io/users)

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:14:00 +0000

A brief pause for more explicit self promotion (sort of). Over at drop.io we have been having a very good time hatching up some videos about our service. We think they are really funny… (which may be massive self delusion). I include a link to them here partially because they are tangentially relevant to many of the things I discuss here (they are far more directly relevant to drop.io) – mostly as a bit of self promotion.

I am posting the link here now with just the ‘teaser’ up – the other videos will follow within the next few days. I get a kick out of it, hope you do as well:

www.drop.io/users
on youtube (a few days later)

A big thanks to Evan Savitt who directed and produced, Sebastian Sanchez (who made it all possible on the ground) as well as the actors, crew, and drop.io team as a whole!


Opening a Google analytics account

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:14:00 +0000

i realized that most users have never seen what tracking cookies in general, and Google analytics specifically, actually looks like - and am running an experiment opening up an 'open' analytics account on my blog to drop the curtain.

Over the holidays I showed my father how Google analytics works. My father has been heavily involved as an investor in technology and the Internet over the last decade, and is fully aware in a theoretical sense of what is possible to track and quantify, but was still blown away the sophistication and nuance that Google analytics puts at your fingertips… I showed him how I could easily track activity not only from specific regions, but specifically from his company’s IP, over time, etc. all with the minimal setup of a bit of code and a few clicks.

I take the realities of this all for granted – in fact, I find Google analytics quite frustrating and inadequate - especially because I can’t export pivotable data – but my father’s reaction made me realize that most people – even people who are very much in touch with the Internet and technology - have never really seen firsthand what Google analytics (along with the many many other packages available) make possible.

So, here is my experiment… I threw a second analytics tracking cookie up on this blog (http://www.wlessin.com/) - sorry, I know this is kind of annoying to a great many people who care about cookies, but I think it is worth it

To check out the account i set up:

Goto www.google.com/analytics
Username: wlessin [at] gmail.com
Password: hellohello

Once you are logged in, click the ‘view reports’ link – which is where the fun tracking info lives for this blog

Sadly, since I just started blogging there isn’t going to be very rich data to explore, but you can go play with the account and see what is possible and what at least some data looks like... Obviously, I am taking it on a bit of faith that people will not be malicious and change the password on the account, etc… if they do I will deal with it – but for now I thought this would be a useful little experiment. Enjoy – it is really cool, and worth thinking a lot about...


Some thoughts on the shifting line of aural space…

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:14:00 +0000

In the last 24 hours I have been in several situations which have heightened my awareness of public/private divide of aural space… and how technology (ipods, cellphones, noise canceling headphones, automatic mass-transit messaging systems, etc) stresses the balance between the two in a war of audio attrition, where the aural space can be both better leveraged (is more valuable to the individual) and more effectively intruded upon and degraded by the world around (carrying with it higher aural opportunity cost)…

I went through a few things in the last 24 hours that focused my attention on the public/private tension of aural space. First, I watched several episodes of Dexter while waiting for a very delayed flight in SFO by gate 23. Then, I took the redeye back from SFO to ERW and attempted to get a few hours of sleep… I then landed and listened to several chapters of Atlas Shrugged on my ipod while taking the airtrain and NJ transit back into Manhattan, and then around town on the streets and in the subway running a few errands (to the grocery store, etc.)

What I found interesting through the series of aural interactions was the clash between the audio I actively selected or passively wanted to listen to vs. the audio signals which were being forced upon me by the outside (largely technologically driven world). What was fascinating to me/and what I am going to later abstract away towards, was that unwanted audio is much harder to ‘tune out’ than visual invasions. Because all audio travels on a relatively narrow set of bands, you can’t hear what you want and tune out the rest the same way you can visually focus on something specific and not notice everything else going on if you so choose… This makes, in some ways, audio space more precious real-estate in public or semi-public space, and means that when digital technology gives you the option of having audio tracks at your disposal that you actively want to hear, un-chosen interruption is all the more an invasion of privacy.

A few vignettes from the last 24 hours:

First, while watching Dexter in SFO there was the constant hum of human activity as people conversed with each other, spoke on cell phones, and played games with bored children… it was easy enough to crank up the volume on my ear buds and loose the general human hum of the room, but the flight attendant’s announcements were far harder to deal with. Every minute or so a flight attendant would get on the loudspeaker system and announce another set of very loud messages about flight delays, cancellations, or calls for passengers on standby. This was incredibly annoying when I was trying to immerse myself in my itunes downloaded shows to pass the time on a 2 hour delay. Every few minutes I would lose the show’s dialogue while an announcement was going on and be forced to either pause/rewind the program, or simply lose some of the plot. What was most interesting to me about this difficulty was that there was far more around me in the visual space than there was in the aural space, but I had no issue tuning out the visual world and focusing visually on my laptop – it was the interference of the audio waves which I couldn’t avoid or tune out with my ear buds which were truly invasive.

A similar set of events played out on the redeye home. I got to my seat as quickly as possible put down my bags, and attempted to immediately go to sleep while the airplane was still loading at the gate. The hustle and bustle of normal human activities and interactions while loading the flight were no problem, you can tune out the normal drum of human interaction – but the pilots and stewardesses on the loudspeaker system are again another story. They are aware of this on redeye flights, and always say they are going to try to keep the chatter to a minimum, but there is still a lot of chatter that they find/the FAA seems to think is ‘necessary’ – it starts with flight time/weather conditions (which really are not my concern once I am stuck on the flight), proceeds through the normal safety notices and notices about electronic devices (which everyone both knows and never pays attention to anyway), and then concludes with the pilot giving the time upon landing (which everyone already has on their cell phone). The point is just this, when trying to sleep (which I put at quite a premium to tv watching), aural interruption is very ‘expensive’ to me in that it deeply intruded into my highly valuable sleep time.

Next, the trains home – I decided to listen to a few chapters of Atlas Shrugged on my ipod (I love books on ‘tape’) – listening to a book on tape I was far more focused on the audio track then I normally am with music or than I would be watching a TV show because catching every word is more important to me. On the way home both automatic and human notices over loudspeakers bothered me at intervals the whole way. First waiting in the station an automatic notice would announce anytime a train approached the station (even though most sped right through without stopping) – Why anyone felt the need to announce a train that wasn’t stopping is beyond me – normally I would think it a waste of energy – but when I was trying to listen intently to something else it became a serious intrusion into my private aural space without any sort of compensation. Useless messages forced into my perception again took on a serious cost rather than simply seeming useless. I felt the same about the conductors on the train and subway announcing each stop, when they are clearly visually marked in several places…

Finally, and briefly (since I am being quite long winded) – walking around town listening to more of my book on ‘tape’ I realized that while using my audio channels to listen to the story I felt far more put out by intrusions into my aural space I would normally take in stride (the musicians pan-handling on the subway, loud buses, un-necessary subway announcements) and I also lost a little bit of speed in interactions with others…answering ‘credit’/’debit’ when buying groceries, asking if they had any Campaign, etc.

Here is basically what I am getting at – in most interactions walking around on an average day the audio track to life has historically not carried with it a very high price-tag… if no one had anything else to listen to or think about then the interruptions of announcements don’t produce as negative a consequence to those for whom they are not intended/or those who don’t want to hear them, and are probably net-net positive if they help out anyone in a crowd even minorly…however, personalized audio/communications devices changes the balance – cell phones and ipods allow individuals to easily create and more highly leverage their own aural space in a public context… this makes intrusions into the aural space more expensive (on a opportunity cost basis)

So, a few loosely connected take away thoughts:

1. Public loudspeaker systems/aural announcements need to be re-evaluated – the emphasis should be on less not more. Just because technology enables the mass dissemination of messages in public spaces more cheaply and easily (with more granularity and context) doesn’t mean there should be more messages…because while there may be incremental benefit to those messages, the benefit cannot outpace the increase in value of the aural space to the individual with personalized technology… Since the 4,5,6 now has a great LED messaging system for what stop is next in each car they should cut the recorded messages and give the aural space back to the individual

2. Aural advertising in public spaces seems both inevitable and terribly (and increasingly) intrusive… billboards on subways are one thing, but can you imagine how terrible it would be to have audio ads “the next station is brought to you by…” intruding on your aural space in public – JetBlue does a limited version of this on their flights, when stewardesses try to sell JetBlue/Amex credit cards on all the flights – even redeyes – I am sure they didn’t calculate the negative impact of the annoyance that extra 2 minute forced speech causes vs. the value of the extra card members they attract.

3. I love street performers, I think they are great to have around and usually like listening to them, but the more alternatives I have in my pocket the less I will appreciate the intrusion of some (not all – some are truly fabulous). When they install cell coverage in the subway stops (which is supposed to happen over the next few years) I think my tolerance level will drop, as will New York’s tolerance level in general, for underground street performances… when you have little or nothing else to do it is nice to hear some likely marginal random music waiting for a train – I will always go for live music over my ipod - but when the time waiting for a train can all of a sudden be used to talk to friends or loved ones, and is instead being hogged by unwanted music, tensions will strain a bit more…

In Conclusion:

Growing up my mother never used to let me have Sony Walkman (the ipods of their day) – she thought they were anti-social (and was totally right). Put into the terms of this post: my mother would have argued (and i would have agreed) that listening to tapes of vanilla ice while leaving school was less valuable than the spontaneous interactions and discussions that occurred in the school pickup line with classmates so long as our audio channels were left free to be engaged by the outside world.

The balance has changed a bit living in Manhattan in my 20s – there is still a cost to closing down the audio channel – the value of listening to some good music in the morning on my way to work, having a cell conversation, or even a great book, outweighs the automatic announcements of the subways and strangers crossing in the early am (or, at least, I would make that argument). As tech lets individuals better leverage their private audio channel in public spaces the value of that space needs to be better guarded.


Why 'free' public wifi just doesn't work...

Tue, 01 Apr 2008 22:14:00 +0000

I am currently sitting in DIA waiting for a flight to SFO using the airport offered ‘free wireless’ - no grand theme here, just a quick few comments regarding 1. Spoofed wifi networks, why do they even exist? What are the implications of a solution? 2. The concept of ‘free wireless’ – why the service level necessarily sucks, why the ad supported model can’t work, and why airports should really be on a ‘pay to play’ model.

1. Spoofed networks: When I first opened my laptop I accidentally clicked on a spoof computer-to-computer network “Free Public Wifi” instead of the more official sounding “DIAFREEWIFI” (which happened to be the actual airport operated network)…

a. In tons of public places you see spoofs of the network, in this case “Free Public Wifi” – are these actual traps? Are there that many people wandering around airports and public places trying to rip information from Joe user? Why? Alternatively, is there something I am missing here as to why there are so many spoof network around?

b. On a grander level, verifying the validity of WIFI hotspots before logging on seems like a really huge problem. A smarter spoof would just say “DIAFREEWIFI” or “DIANETWORK” or a thousand other variations which would make it harder for me to pick a real network vs. a spoof network. All anyone has to go on (without getting technical/as far as I know as a semi-savvy user) is the name of the router…

I feel like this is the sort of technical question that engineers must be working on (and i could google and find out if i felt like it)…but I also feel like the answer may end up needing to be that your laptop carries around a registry of verified Wifi spots – if this is the solution, it is a bad one – it means that either google or apple or starbucks, or an airport consortium (or some combination) would end up holding more power over access to the net - this already sort of happens…it effectively means no more good Samaritans offering their connections up in a way that anyone else would feel good using them… it also means that whoever controls the valid list of wifi spots will be able to extort rents on top of it – not something I am totally against, but there is this tension between the current wild-wild-west where there is always a free connection (but some may do bad bad things to you and your computer) and a controlled, costly, and at best partial list of valid access points.

2. Ad suppored 'free wifi' DIA made me watch some ad for Microsoft office 2007, agree to a ‘terms of use’ which I am totally sure no one has ever read, and then gives me relatively slow connectivity with the annoyance of popping ads at the top of my screen seemingly at random…. I would much rather have paid.

a. With the advent of itunes and streaming media, offering free wifi in public spaces gets expensive fast (or, in reality, the experience of users on the free-wifi net degrades really really fast)– I am sure that the two fourteen-year-olds next to me are hogging an huge amount of the pipe downloading whatever it is that fourteen-year-olds download. It would have been a little tougher if they had needed to ask for mom’s credit card… This problem is worst in airports when everyone is hitting up itunes and amazon to download stuff for their flights - I will admit that I downloaded four movies in the Tel-Aviv airport last year on free wifi, waiting for a flight – but it was late and everyone else was sleeping…

Incidentally, this is exactly the same problem faced by the 2.5/3G wireless internet cards offered by Sprint and others – they are awesome until the carriers make them too accessible (too cheap), and then the network gets jammed and those willing to pay more for better connectivity get slammed (and with older service contracts are probably paying more).

b. the ads they are serving me are basically worthless, unless the airport wireless is basing the ads off of what I am viewing…and if they are basing the ads off of what I am doing I am even more freaked out. I have no idea which of the above possibilities is true, because I couldn’t be bothered to read the terms of use they offered to me…I suspect given the level of sophistication of the service provider and the fact that the ads had nothing to do with what I was working on, that it is the former – the ads are untargeted jibberish.

For 25 cent CPMs, and zero clickthrough, do you really need to show these ads to me? Again, I would have much rather paid… and what if you are collecting the pages I view? In a place like DIA the service provider isn’t going to be able to get enough really valid stats on me personally to serve me better ads (unless they integrate with the inevitable personal & portable facebook ad-profile), so it is just going to be junk semi-targeted ads anyway based on a very partial dataset from travelers who are coming through a specific spot once every few weeks (best case scenario). To me, even collecting this stuff ranks on the level of collecting local 'landfills' full of trash information instead of recycling...

In the end, I think that airports should offer, as a rule, pay wireless – and if your flight is massively delayed the airline should buy access for their stranded passengers (after all, way easier and cheaper to placate delayed travelers with a little Hulu than to actually keep the airplanes running on schedule)....then again, i just wrote this whole post and then some...'for free'


Google gets into the location biz:

Sat, 01 Mar 2008 23:14:00 +0000

in summary: Google’s “my location” function is awesome from a consumer standpoint. LBS has been a longtime in the making, and though GPS is more accurate, this application will get way wider distribution fast and (way more interestingly) will make it easy for Google to develop, command, and monetize an enormously valuable dataset on people’s location (appended to all the other information they have on you) without the carriers or other partners to get in the way. Issues are in what happens when the information goes social (which it inevitably will), how do you feel about places you visit defining you/the advertising offers you get (at a bare minimum)...

I started playing with an early consumer GPS unit in 1995 (which I begged for as a bar-mitzvah gift) and have been involved with several startups over the last few years that are doing amazing stuff with geo-location. So, when Google released the new feature “my location” that sits on top of Google maps for mobile (in my case blackberry) I was psyched to play with it, but didn’t expect to be that surprised by it or really that interested…

For those of you that missed it, the “my location” function uses the cell tower triangulation method to get a read on your current location without fussing with GPS. Techcrunch and the Privacy Digest has some good coverage. If you don’t feel like reading them, the basic point is now when you pull up google maps for mobile on your blackberry there is a little blinking blue dot – that dot is you. Further, there is a little blue arrow, that blue arrow is google’s best shot at figuring out what direction you are traveling in (doesn’t quite work that well yet).

The reason that geo-location is so interesting is that it is an enormously rich data source which can be passively collected. If social networks are all the rage right now because they can collect an enormous amount of theoretically useful data for almost nothing (by convincing users to actively generate it for them), geo-location could theoretically be even more powerful in that the data might be richer (especially when appended to other sources) and users passively generate the data all the time.

As a consumer, the “my location” app is awesome:

It is totally totally amazing – I love it – in NYC it works well, and it does a relatively good job of getting your location right within a block or two – It actually really helped popping out of a subway in the village, not because it got my location exactly right, but because when I hit “0” to zoom to my ‘current location’ (which was off by a bit) it automatically pulled up the map of the surrounding area. No more punching addresses into the program to zoom to the map around my location.

Traveling to Vail from Denver a few days ago it was even better. The system was telling me that in Denver it was accurate within 3 meters (and I don’t think it was lying) I wanted to make a stop at a bar called the ‘cherry cricket’ for a burger before heading to vail – I now can just follow the blue dot. Mind you, this isn’t a fully integrated turn-by-turn system, but it doesn’t really need to be. You just use the directions feature to pop up the route you want to take and then you can see when turns are about to come up, or how to get back on course if you make a mistake via the friendly blue dot. My only complaint at all is that I had to transfer between Google local search and Google maps to get the specific addresses I wanted to go to… I am sure Google is going to fix that one for us soon (they need to, especially because on blackberry browsers the cursor skips over local listing addresses to the phone numbers, making it impossible to copy/paste between apps).

Geo location is nothing new, geo location with a google backend…another story:

Of course, there are tons of GPS units on the market that can do some of this stuff. Generally I have found the systems that I have used, especially car based ones, have terrible interfaces for entering your trip, and often fall out of date with their location information (both of which are issues that google maps does not face)…

but the really interesting part about this little integration is that it is my cell phone (so it is always always on me) as opposed to a separate device, and even more importantly it is google, and therefore linked back to my google logon identity. What does this mean? It means it is possible for google to now collect a stream of my true location information (and they probably already are).

Personally, I could see use for/think it would be really cool if Google would present that information back to me online in the form of a daily log of where I spent time, especially if they rolled it up so that I could see statistics like, you spent 5000 hours in midtown Manhattan in the last year. Not hyper functional, but as a guy obsessed with statistics, something I would find engaging.

Google has its eyes on a much bigger prize I am sure… try this on for size, Google knows that last week I went to ERW airport in NJ and popped out in DIA. It will shortly know that I will then be heading to SFO and back to ERW. Let’s say, just for laughs, that I happen to have a business around increasingly highly targeted advertising… Maybe someone would want to offer travelers who go to Denver and SF a targeted promotion? What if instead of commercial airports, google tracked my out of Teterborough and into Eagle… google (or advertisers on google’s platform) could back out that I just took a private jet across the country, maybe a Champagne ad would be more appropriate.

What about interpersonal data… wanta know who is dating, just see whose cellphones are hanging out together the most. Wanta suggest people who should be dating, see whose geo-location maps are overlapping through the same places and back out what interests they share (skiing, rock climbing, or clubbing). Who is cheating? That is easy. Who are friends – why ask people to declare their friendship when you can watch them meet in physical space. Try this one on for size, wanta know how long people are sleeping every night – cell triangulation might give you a rough estimate.

And the list of fun stuff goes on and on… watching how people’s locational behavior intersects (especially if you already have an inkling of who knows who from perhaps your email logs) could be a critical element of ‘qualifying’ the nature of relationships, much as facebook is trying to do by deliberately asking you how you know someone or what they mean to you, except this can be all done passively.

I am glossing over a whole bunch of technical challenges to crunching the meaning out of location data here (which I only partially understand anyway), and I am also over-stating the level of granularity you can currently get on location, but the big point is a very very big point. I trust that Google, unlike passive GPS systems and even some companies which are experimenting with feeding back location information, gets the big picture here, and has the engineering might to crunch through these issues.

This is all before we start to append all the other information google has on me – emails, calendars, search terms – it is amazing what they are amassing. I dearly love facebook, they have one of the greatest personal databases ever amassed and it is only going to get better as they follow you around the web, but google may be entering a whole other league, especially now that they can follow you offline into physical space.

What concerns me is this:

Location will become a parameter of ‘social’ information which one is compelled to share widely

Once this information is being collected there is going to be a strong tendency to make it ‘social’ or public – this means appended to your social networking identity, emails, whatever. There are big benefits to this, figure out who is running late for a meeting, who is around for a movie, where that child is that you misplaced, where that cool party is that your friends wouldn’t invite you to… But this has relatively profound impacts on the ability to not be found, and there also could evolve a strong stigma against turning off the software. Just as though blackberries have made it more and more socially unacceptable to not answer email on the fly, you could imagine people getting really upset when their friends, spouse, child, decides that for the next few hours they don’t want to be pinpointed. This is something that people have been talking about regarding dodgeball (which Google bought), Socialight, etc… it is nothing hyper new, but again, with google’s hyper-lightweight solution to geo-location – especially one wrapped into the massively useful and popular maps for mobile, this is going to happen sooner rather than later. Your location has always been very much a private sphere parameter, email, blackberries, cellphones, etc have actually made it easier to keep your location truly private, but this app is going to push location in the opposite direction, making it more transparent to those around you. It is bad enough when your boss wants to ‘friend’ you on facebook, what about when your location is appended to your profile… and what if it becomes socially unacceptable to say no, so I feel the need for a service to spoof your location and activity to others…

Even if location doesn’t become social, do you want your location history to be part of your carried forward identity? Or do you even want to be categorized as someone who is frequently turning off the service?

Forget the social angle, the geo-information which Google et al will collect through your cell will end up being used to serve more targeted ads. Every time you go to a strip club, or the mall, or vegas, you are going to get a tick in your column for ads that are relevant…and you are going to get served those ads. Let’s pretend that you just turn the device off all the time, that is going to be a variable also – you are going to get grouped with ‘people who tend to turn off their device’ – maybe that will mean you will start getting more adult friendfider ads?

Even on a basic level, do you want to be discriminating/making offers to people based on where they hang out?

Hang out in Aspen, posh NYC districts, maybe spent 20 days on Martha’s Vineyard last year – you are going to get some premium offers… your eyeballs are going to be worth a ton. Spend a lot of time in less nice places (not going to risk listing anything in this blank), you are not going to get as many nice offers. You might be thinking to yourself that you will either benefit or loose from a system like this, but your location stream is going to become part of your identity, part of how you are filtered through technology and on into society. This is disturbing, this may limit social mobility, this is going to require some serious re-evaluation…

Generally speaking, the issue is this - what happens when the fact that you will be tracked and evaluated based on your location is added to the social equation of where to vacation, party, work, generally go? Do you start going out every night just so that google, thereby advertisers, or friends, etc. think you are 'cool', do you hire someone to just carry your phone around in their pocket to trendy places? Basically, what type of feedback loop is formed whereby the act of being monitored impacts actual social behavior?

In conclusion, part of my personal laws of information collection and proliferation…

The government is not blind to this stuff – there is plenty of banter about legislation/how data can be collected and used, etc – but I don’t think it will be effective, legislation simply cannot keep up with the pace of technical innovation nor can it override the enormous amount of money which is up for grabs in getting personalized geo-location histories right. For what it is worth I strongly believe:

1. Information that can be collected will be collected
2. Once information is collected it will be used
3. Once information is used it generally becomes social and or widely syndicated
4. Once information is social and or widely syndicated it is impossible to stop collecting

so, the equation on the enormous utility i get out of goolge knowing my location may be worth probing/evaluating on a longer term basis...


This will be a blog about

Tue, 01 Jan 2008 22:20:28 +0000

The impact of technology on the gradient between the ‘public sphere’ and ‘private sphere’. It will be a continuing discourse on the impact of technology on the distinction between the public and the private spheres as seen through my own personal lens as an active user and creator of relevant new technology.

Which I am compelled to write because…

People like to talk about the line between that which is public and that which is private, but there really isn’t a ‘line’ so much as a constantly evolving gradient between the two extremes of full exposure and total secrecy. This gradient permeates every aspect of human interaction on personal, social, and business lines and is complicated by timing, circumstance, relationships, custom. This tension is nothing new, it could be argued that Locke and Mill did some of the most ‘cutting edge’ thinking on the topic several hundred years ago.

What is relatively new is the destabilizing impact of technology on the equation. Mind you, ‘technology’ in the broad sense has always played a role in the discussion (the impact of the printing press must not be forgotten, nor fingerprint technology, nor the thousands of other inventions which allowed for mass organization and record management), but only in the last fifteen years has technology become the driving force in the debate. Further, I would argue that unlike the other forces at play, technology is the only one which has the potential to be destabilizing to the equation.

I fundamentally believe that in many ways the greatest macro-impact on human civilization of technology - the full gambit based on ever expanding storage capacity (the ability to collect information) and computing power (ability to synthesize information) - will really be ultimately recognized as its impact on the nature of public and private. What I want to explore in this blog is exactly this issue, where the line sits and how it is evolving, both in the content I write, and through the simple act of writing with this issue in mind.

I am not a fanatic in any camp. I am a heavy user and enormous advocate of social networking and location based services. I remember card-catalogues and think that algorithmic search in general, and Google specifically, is one of the greatest inventions in history. I have personally created at least three scale projects (LifeCapital in 2001– peer to peer equity investments for individuals, Crimsonxchange in 2003 – Harvard limited localized auction environment, Kinjunction 2005 – private family network) which either push forward or leverage greater information transparency. The productivity gains which will be derived from the full integration of information technology are truly staggering (despite all, the market still doesn’t fully get it), and the social gains can be very great as well.

At the same time, last August I left Bain & Company to start Drop.io, a company which deliberately marches in the opposite direction, helping individuals simply carve out flexible private space which is un-networked and not searched. I think there are enormous risks to de-facto total transparency in society. Setting aside that I think that individuals and organizations have a fundamental right to privacy, I truly believe that the very long-term impact of an incredible level of transparency may actually be very negative on social, political, and economic terms. Much more on this over time.

What does that mean I will write about? My friends will tell you that I see and think about this issue in almost everything…so it is going to be broad. But just for a taste I will write about things like, my reaction to playing with the location-enabled Google maps for the first time last night, both the positive and negative implications. New IT-startups and their practical and theoretical impact on the public/private landscape. My own company, Drop.io, and the features we are releasing as they relate to the topic. Political matters in the US and abroad which shape the legal regime in which this debate evolves from national ID cards to access to search engine logs. How my use of and engagement with ‘social networks’ (in the digital sense) is evolving, etc. This blog will be a continuing discourse on the impact of technology on the distinction between the public and the private spheres as seen through my own personal lens as an active user and creator of relevant new technology.

On how I will be writing

There are a few bullet points which I want to put out immediately on how this blog will be written/what it will be written about.

  1. This is not a blog about drop.io – I spend an inordinate amount of time working on and thinking about drop.io, and it is highly relevant, so I will discuss it often, but nothing I say in this blog is corporate policy nor should this blog be read with drop.io alone in mind

  2. This blog will be very deliberate. By this I mean that anything I write here I am intending for a mass audience, of friends, co-workers, family, competitors, etc. I am, as I am sure you can see, hyper sensitive to what this means. I will likely omit names unless I have explicit permission to include them (which I will rarely if ever ask for). Obviously anything that I am working, friends are working on, or I am told about in confidence, I will keep confidential. But, further still I will steer away from making any statements that would compromise a competitive advantage explicitly or simply a blinding insight a friend is using.

  3. I will not be disclosing any conflicts of interest which may or may not exist, unless I feel like it. Many bloggers choose total transparency, real journalists are forced to, but I will be experimenting with zero transparency for the sake of transparency.

  4. I am writing this blog for the personal rigor of it, but I am also writing as a form of self-promotion and, by osmosis, promotion for drop.io.


f*ck blogging: my last blog post

Fri, 25 Jun 2010 18:39:42 +0000

This blog is over because I believe giving away free content is disingenuous and blogging no longer fulfills my explicit ends. I am switching to a subscription newsletter.If it is worth it to you, fabulous - the content is going to be very good and very frequent, if not, no worries in the least. sign up at http://letter.ly/lessin, $1.99 a month.

I decided to start blogging with very deliberate ends in mind in the very end of 2008:

a. understanding the medium: I strongly believed that it was an important medium to understand and that the only way I would really ‘get’ it would be to make a serious commitment to it.

b. an audit-able trail on the web for defense and offense: I wanted to make sure that I had somewhat of an audit-able mouthpiece in the public web, mostly because I personally found that if you don’t own your own identity, others are more than happy to hijack it and use it for their own ends (no bitterness/all is fair in love and war, just requiring clear and deliberate countermeasures).

c. personal intellectual rigor: I thought that I was letting myself get a bit lazy/sloppy in my thinking and I thought that forcing myself to take a public position would force me to hone my positions to a defensible position.

d. communicative margin: I thought that there was ‘margin’ in the medium… meaning, more people that I cared about read and took blogs seriously per-unit of work/input. You could free-ride off the fact that a lot of wonderful people have 50 tabs open on their macbooks, and there wasn’t that much interesting being said on the tube.

All this said, in my first post I tried to be very upfront about my ends and stated that my ‘blog’ wouldn’t be a pure stream of things I actually necessarily believe, but rather that which I want to have on record in the public web for my own ends – there is a difference.

I am done with blogging personally. A little over two years later, It no longer serves the purposes outlined above, and even beyond that I find writing for an open audience is actually exceedingly disingenuous if not straight hypocritical given my strong belief in the value of information.

a. Understanding the medium: ‘blogging’ as a medium is quickly being out-moted by passive and active data-streams. I understood what I needed to understand, I don’t need to understand more about it. I am not turning off facebook in the least (though I will not be putting ‘high value’ content through it specifically because the value of information is inversely related to how public it is), but the highest value thoughts need not be public for the sake of exploration anymore.

b. An audit-able trail on the web for defense and offense: I have what I feel I need for now. I will occasionally need a mouthpiece, but I believe I can generate that when needed through other channels

c. Personal intellectual rigor: Still critical, but sharing ideas at a high velocity with a set of people I respect through other written means will serve the purpose just as well… I do think that forcing yourself to write down and refine is critical

d. Communicative margin: It is gone. There is no margin left in blogging (nor is there margin left in twitter/fb status potentially)… the flight pattern is too full, you don’t get any prizes anymore for showing up, and the people I really respect/want to share ideas with have mostly stopped reading blogs.

So, I will continue to update this log from time to time when there is something that I explicitly want Google to crawl for the purposes of public record – but it will be very infrequent… and I will never update my blog without first distributing a much deeper and more nuanced version to those on the newsletter.

Switching to a premium subscription newsletter makes sense to me because:

a. The format allows me to say more interesting things: I can control the distribution of my writing to a much higher degree than I can on the web

b. Driven by gmail, the inbox means something new, and people want stuff there: I used to believe that the inbox was sacred and nothing but the most critical email should ever be sent. Gmail has fundamentally changed the medium. The inbox is still sacred, but it is so easy to control on the consumption end that there is no longer the same need to control it on the publishing end.

c. Personal intellectual rigor ++ : Delivering information to the inboxes of people I truly respect means that I can’t get away with half truths / linguistic games. I need to truly believe what I say before I hit send and I love that characteristic.

d. Share ideas with people I care about, and everyone else can signal interest/commitment: Again, basically because I control distribution I can give people content that I want to give content to. Anyone I don’t know is free to signal real commitment to think about/comment back by paying. No slackers allowed.

e. Real feedback: I know who is getting my material and who is reading it in this format, so I can ask questions.

f. Obviously, I enjoy siding with Rupert: I do, I love experimenting with a contrarian angle… after all, who doesn’t deep down?

so, yes - the old is new again. I am starting a paid newsletter… and only a small fraction of the rationale is irony. from now on the commentary that used to find a home here will be distributed to your inbox. you can sign up at http://letter.ly/lessin and it will cost $1.99 a month…. and of course, if you want to sell your own newsletter - letter.ly is set up for that, because why build one when you can build two for twice the price.


[letter] Blade Runner and Science Fiction as Commentary on the Tech at Time of Creation

Sat, 15 Jan 2011 21:56:00 +0000

I have been sick for a few days so I re-watched Blade Runner at one point to pass the time…. it is excellent, highly worth re-watching if you haven’t seen it in a while - I personally think that science fiction is more of a a conversation about the technology people see around them in their present time than anything else. It is an exercise in taking present trends that people see in their own time and drawing them out on super-linear/exponential curve into the future. So, Blade Runner as a movie (forget do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) I see mostly as a study in what people saw in technology in their own time more than anything else. This is especially true in the details/set design/off the main plot line - which frequently end up being more sweeping/philosophical.

This has been said before/it isn’t an original take, but it really struck me watching blade-runner how people must have generally thought of technology in the early 1980s on a few fronts:

1.First, and far most shockingly, the lack of “cell phones” and time implications of not having them is shocking. In the movie they use video-based pay phones, but don’t have ANY wireless devices. Superficially, it is surprising/amazing they missed that/so amazing that maybe it was a dramatic decision (though one people in 1982 were willing to accept) – but what is so interesting is that so much of the plot of the movie couldn’t have happened/wouldn’t have been as elegant with cell phones in the mix.

Without cell phones / instant wireless communication at their fingertips the movie paints a picture of a world which seems intensely lonely, a world in which the characters don’t have backup/aren’t playing on teams but are individuals, and a world in which there is intense drama in asynchronous information. The pace is also significantly slower because they can’t easily be updating each other all the time…. a few quick examples:

  • One of the replicants talks about how they will get in contact with her friends ‘in the morning’ rather than letting them know where she is now/immediately… and strangers are willing to help each other out personally on an extended horizon because they can’t just be instantly re-routed to friends or family.

  • Deckard has several extended interactions with the replicants/fighting them in drawn out slow scenes with a lot of tension and suspense, because he can’t just ask for backup

  • The interactions with people are gritty/in real life streets / when Deckard needs information he needs to go to the streets, he doesn’t just look it up… rather than just going to the streets for the type of information that requires explicit confrontation because people are unwilling to give it up without physical force.

Writing this it sounds a little superficial, but watch the movie again and it will blow your mind. You couldn’t possibly re-make blade-runner today/make a science fiction movie and ignore/un-assume perfect instant wireless communication – and because of that assumption the entire pace and dynamic of interactions has to be different… we are all on teams / constantly supported by other people and information, in a way that they just weren’t envisioning in 1982 (and i guess fundamentally didn’t feel in 1982).

2. Second, computers and computer interaction as a clearly divided ‘other’ from normal life. Computers/digital interfaces are everywhere in our lives… we assume ubiquity and continuous interaction with machines now in a way that they just don’t depict in Blade Runner. The ‘Computers’ they have are large devices with small screens. Deckard does seem to have a few, but his primary interaction with them is bracketed off from the rest of his life/interactions in the movie.

So, in the big computer scene when he is voice command panning around a physical photo he input, the interactions with the machine are totally bracket from the rest of his life. He appears to have a separate computer room, rather than being surrounded by machines. The computer takes physical media input, and when he is done with the machine it spits back out physical media for his use in the rest of his life…, and of course he interacts with the computer in highly stilted voice commands with very little intelligence – as though all the computer can do is follow exact commands rather than search or look for patterns, etc.

The same thing goes for the ‘machine’/’computer’ used to test whether a person is replicant or human…. it is the size of a briefcase/ it is a separate ‘other’ experience from the rest of the interactions people have. You explicitly ‘turn on’/enter computer mode and exit computer mode rather than it being integrated into the experience of life.

Watching the movie it feels very strange / out of place to be interacting with machines in this way.

3. Third, general lack of search/social/internet None of what we think of as the internet exists in blade-runner world. It is just flat absent. This is just shocking to see something futuristic without any comprehension/discussion of a connected world in terms of people/information/or anything else.

This is a bit rambling, but the upshot, if you haven’t seen Blade Runner in a while re-watch it and think about what 1982 must have felt like. The it wasn’t that long ago in chronological time, but the world was very very different… and looking at their vision of 2019, on many aspects of physical computing and technology the world they saw ahead was pitifully behind, even if we are very far off from replicants, flying cars, and the space travel that underpin the story… Also consider how much the world has changed, and what we have ?lost? in terms of personal agency & interactions that just can’t happen now the way they do in blade runner, and the way one can assume they did in 1982.


[letter] the core thesis of everything: how I leaned to stop worrying and love the neoclassical economic framework, and fungibility of capital(s)

Sun, 22 Aug 2010 20:56:00 +0000

In early august I gave a rant at the New York Tech Meetup responding to Clay Shirky’s new book “Cognitive Surplus” and generally mouthing off about the power and simplicity of neoclassical economics to explain the changes we are witnessing as a society and help chart the course forward.

With regards to Shirky, The four/five line version of my objection is that his book has at its core two central pillars with which I take fundamental issue (along with many other economists looking at the studies he uses to make his points). First, he believes that we as a society have this thing he calls ‘free time’ (we may have more time, but neoclassical economics would suggest that there is no such thing as ‘free’ time… just as there is no free lunch). Second, he believes that there is a difference between “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” motivations, that can influence each-other in non-fungible ways (hotly contested, and I come down firmly on the other side of the coin).

The real point here, upon which I want to elaborate, is that increasingly it is 100% clear that we face a world with multiple forms of capital. I believe strongly that these forms of capital are exchangeable / tradable and that exchange rates between them are improving with dramatic implications… - so, here is the expanded version of what I believe is going on from the bottom up, the Neo-Classical version as of August 2010 ~~ Thoughts and comments much appreciated:

  1. Three and only three fundamental things are changing in the world: the cost of storage (remembering things), bandwidth (communicating), and compute (matching things efficiently /discovering new things from memory / etc). At an absolute baseline these three changes should (and do) dramatically lower barriers of exchange leading to more specialization, higher productivity, and more societal wealth…. but I do not believe that we are seeing any other core change in human behavior/disposition/etc.

  2. While common wisdom is that these changes should drive HUGE economic expansion, traditional measures of the economy suggest that we are facing sluggish growth at best: There is a lot of excitement about these three changes, but traditional models suggest that real income in the US hasn’t risen almost at all in 30 years, GDP growth has been very sluggish, and the economy of late is totally in the toilet… despite these clear stats, I think I would be in good company making the assertion that it is very hard to argue that the average household in the US isn’t better off today than it was 30 years ago, just as is is overly simplistic to say that the total economic impact of google as a service is captured in its ~$200B market capitalization (or some derivative there of). So there is a disconnect here in what is going on, and what we are measuring.

  3. So, where is all the fantom growth? it is all non-currency forms of capital: The simplistic view of our economy is that it is currency denominated (and that is what traditional measures of the economy look at). The real answer is that modern-currency is just the most liquid form of Capital that human beings earn (think M1). Capital also takes on social, political, intellectual, etc. forms which we earn in exchange for our time (our only finite resource) and efforts… the point is that the ‘growth’ that we are “missing” over the last few decades can be accounted for in the growing percentage of non-traditional currency denominated transaction.

The cash exchange part of our economy is growing rather slowly, but there is a ton of growth occurring in non-cash forms. The mix of capital people are earning is shifting away from cash.

  1. Why are we seeing a mix shift away from the Cash economy? because non-cash capital exchange rates are improving: one possible argument is that these multiple forms of ‘capital’ each have their own diminishing marginal return associated with them… you might say, we just don’t want cash anymore and so we want to earn other types of desecrate capital. I find this totally un-compelling… it is like a little child saying their dinner stomach is full, but their dessert stomach is still hungry. This might be where Shirky fits - I say Bollox.

Rather, I would argue it is because the exchange rate between manifestations of capital used to be just terrible, non-cash forms of currency (like perhaps social capital with friends) wasn’t easily transferable into other forms of capital without huge tariffs and fees. So, people earned in the most fungible form of capital, even at a personal utility discount… This is where technology is having the biggest impact – tech is improving exchange rates between capitals, so people can actually be far more optimized in their lives and get to way higher net-utility outcomes.

  1. For example, pretend you are don-draper and you go on vacation to Cabo in the 1960s vs. 2015: Don shows up on vacation in the 1960s and no one knows him, the only form of capital he can have is the cash in his wallet and the signaling that he has more capital in the form of his dress, demeanor, and dashing good looks… if Don shows up on the same vacation in 2015, cash still talks, but upon arrival and facebook ‘check-in’ friends of people with whom he has a social balance sheet back home and happen to be in town know he has arrived, the owner of the hotel he wants to stay at instantly knows that he is an advertising genius and will gladly trade dinner for some wisdom, etc. Don’s non-cash forms of capital in 2015 are tradable at low cost and friction in a way they were not 50 years ago.

  2. – By the way, non-cash denominated economic activity is how the world used to work: in the last few hundred years we have used currency as an intermediate step between exchange – it has some really powerful properties that make that a VERY good idea in a lot of cases (and also quite useful if you are trying to operate a modern nation-state funded with taxes and need to control the means of exchange), but if you go back further into history you will see that less and less exchange was currency denominated. The point, my bet is that as a percentage of total economic activity, the world hit a peak in terms of the percentage of transaction that was done in a ‘cash’ form sometime in the 1990s.

  3. So, the economy is growing very very quickly in a holistic sense - we are exchanging more and building more utility - it is just in forms that we aren’t used to quantifying, and that has some big implications: I will develop the above more later, but if I have you convinced that we are watching a huge mix shift in the forms people earn capital in, great – if not, humor me for a bit and let’s play out consequences and see if they fit. Some implications:

– A. The traditional “Un-Employment” measure will never come back below 10% and will probably continue to rise, this will be OK we are already running out of cash denominated human intelligence jobs… efficiencies from technology mean they will never come back… this is OK - people can still be highly productive, successful, and happy without traditional employment

– B. In fact, long term, no one will be traditionally “Employed” cost of communicating & cost of memory moving towards zero means that people will be able to switch on/off their cash employment with very little friction, and employers will be able to instantly poll a large market of demonstrably qualified people to perform any HIT (human intelligence task) at the market place. Anyone who is employed full time will be so only as a financial hedge (by employee or employer)…

– C. practically speaking – face-turk: so, facebook “answers” is cool and all, but what is going to be way cooler is mashing mechanical turk with facebook… just like you specify advertisements by segment, I really want to specify questions to the wider audience and put a bounty on them. A clear win, and even more of a win in mobile application form, so i can answer questions for cash on the fly,… this will be far more valuable when the answers to my questions aren’t shared as well – if I pay for information, I want to be able to harvest the value of that information, which means it can’t be broadly distributed

– D. and the tax-base of any nation state is seriously threatened: when non-cash exchanges becomes easy (which it is), then the government looses it’s easy ability to levy taxes. The taxable base of the economy (the cash part) becomes a smaller and smaller part of the whole, so taxes go up dramatically on that part… that only causes further flight away from the cash economy. Long term, the shift away from currency denominated transaction will threaten the viability of nation-states

– E. Traditional personal privacy is OVER, because the economic models don’t support it anymore: this one is scary to me emotionally, but undeniable and overall a good thing… unless you really fear authoritarian world government (see implications of D)…. you can’t store value or trade value in non-cash forms if you keep your information to yourself / if you are private. So, where historically being public only paid if you were a celebrity, now it pays for everyone – that means people will trade away all their privacy of their own volition.

– F. practically speaking – facebook location: perfect win. exactly the right way to go with structured easily parse-able data that creates tradable value. People say that they don’t want to ‘check in’, but ultimately if you don’t check in you can’t trade the economic value pent up in your location in time. Meaning, don draper doesn’t get the benefit of his location at any specific if he doesn’t declare it. Publishing information is how you create value from your information stream, if you don’t - that is fine, but you are not able to transact along that axis of value

– G. so, privacy isn’t dead, but it is only for the super rich: if you don’t want to declare your location / otherwise are private, that is totally your prerogative, but it is economic value you are leaving on the table/ not putting into a monetizable form. Only rich people will be able to afford to do that… So, privacy is absolutely becoming a luxury good.

– H. and information in general is a monetizable premium good: the value of information is a function of scarcity (which is a function of speed and verity – since all information is probabilistic and diffuses along a value curve). Knowing something that many other people know is worthless in a frictionless society. Knowing something that no one else knows is ever more valuable (because the knowledge can be leveraged on an expanding horizon). The trick if you are in the information business, like any business, is to get information at lower prices than you can sell it. There are a few strategies here, but companies like facebook are really in the information arbitrage business… they get people to give them information at low prices (largely information that is very low value to individuals alone) and then aggregate it and sell it to others in a very low friction environment. They actually deal at the very low end of the spectrum, but they find consumers/buyers of information (people reading) for all the sellers (people posting). This new market is god for the sellers and the buyers (and facebook takes a cut in the middle)… but this is another form of an economy that fits along side the cash economy.

– I. as is refining information to make it higher octane: most people don’t consider the full end to end cost of information production through consumption in time, money, etc. To some degree twitter might have understood this (or stumbled into the reality) with the false limit of 140 characters (put the burden on the producer not the consumer to pack value tightly), which makes sense when 1 pushes to 100… good editing of information to make it faster more efficient to consume (utils/$/hour of ingest) and fact checking (higher probability that a given bit of information is correct) can have a huge multiplicative value.

– J. NLP vs. Structure: this will be another post soon, but there are two general approaches to getting more value out of a mass of data, NLP (which is taking language and mining it for meaning) and just changing the format of information to begin with. Google is generally an NLP company, facebook is a structured information company…. This deserves its own letter.ly, it will get it sooner than later.

– K. … and Owning Physical Assets is will be relegated to the Under-Privileged: partially because as this shift continues owning cash denominated assets is going to be a huge liability from a tax perspective,.. but mostly because with lower friction/transaction costs you won’t need to own things to leverage them on demand, and there shouldn’t be core appreciation that you can capture as an individual by owning physical assets (because they should be fully valued and cash-economic growth rates should stay low)

– I am going to pause here, because I doubt anyone made it this far down. (see earlier letter.ly on editing, sorry)

Other codas for another day:

  • how does the US postal service account for the liability of ‘forever’ stamps?: one would hope they aren’t just writing futures contracts without the proper financial offset, somehow I suspect that is exactly what they are doing, oy.

  • betting on your grades: some college kids are creating an online system to bet on their upcoming grades, seems like a great way to de-risk if your parents pay you for getting good ones.

  • the straw is the elevator of spoons: nuf said

  • macro problems that are information vs. non-information based: 1. education, 2. food (some), 3. finance, 4. transportation (some), 5. ?law?. things that need massive overhaul and are not information problems: 1. energy, 2. food, 3. transportation

And finally, my notes from the talk I gave earlier this month, if you care: Clay Shirky builds the concept of “Cognitive Surplus” as a core framework for understanding a broad swath of activity from LOLcats to Ushahiti, to fan created charities, and wikipedia and suggesting the impact of the Internet in a broad sense into the future. The book is a fun and worthwhile read, but I take issue with the analysis in a few places, and I think that the interpretations matter for how we think about, react, and even shape the clear and obvious change we see around us.

Clay’s explanation of what he sees as “Cognitive Surplus” is based on two pillars:

  • The first pillar is that we are coming to understand a distinction between intrinsic motivations vs. extrinsic motivations (meaning, we can design around core human generosity which is in meaningful opposition to / tension with neo-classical ego centered economics)

  • The second pillar is that technology since WWII has given us a lot of “free time”, and with new tools and a new understanding of motivation we now have 1T hours of “participatory time” which we can deploy to make the world better building around intrinsic motivations not extrinsic motivations

  • summed up: Clay’s “Cognitive Surplus” framework is based on the idea that we have new tools, a lot of time on our hands, and can build things based on intrinsic motivation paradigms as opposed to traditional economic paradigms.

With regards to the first pillar, I believe Clay’s most vivid illustration is his example of a study by Gneezy and Rustichini of a set of daycare facilities in Haifa. The simple version is that they started fining parents for late pickups of their kids, and instead of the deterrence theory meaning that they stopped picking their kids up late, they picked them up later, and kept picking them up later after the fine was lifted. Shirky uses this to make the argument that the fine broke an unspoken social pact by turning the late pickup from a social to an economic sphere… the point being that the study illustrates that intrinsic and extrinsic motivations exist in separate spheres and can trample each other. …but in the study itself the first explanation offered in the conclusion is actually a classic game theory analysis based on an assumption of perfectly rational and perfectly selfish individuals. The framework didn’t change, just the payments.

The same thing is true of a second study Shirky cites by Edward Deci which studied intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations and showed a supposed ‘dampening effect’ of intrinsic motivations by external motivations as shirky explains it (this is the question, do you pay kids for good grades)… one read of the hotly contested study is that this dampening effect exists, but there is a whole literature finds in the other direction… which to his credit Shirky does acknowledge, though I believe he dismisses too quickly.

In short… there is an argument that there are two distinct spheres of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, but it is far from the only viewpoint. There is a strong camp, of which I wold consider myself a member, which believes that a unified framework based on neo-classical economics is correct

With regards to the second pillar, “free time”, Clay says that we have a lot of free time which we can use on these intrinsically vs. extrinsically motivated projects….. I agree that we have a lot of “time” on our hands. That has been the march of technology since we started farming. Technology is actually in many ways a machine for manufacturing time, which makes a lot of sense given that our only definitively finite resource is time. Whether or not that time is ‘free’ or not is a different story, I would argue that it is not ‘free’ just as there is no such thing as a ‘free’ lunch.

Clay speaks to the point that we used to watch a lot of TV, as we watch less TV we are freeing time, which opens up cognitive surplus. Totally agree that we have a lot of social hours not employed in the cash economy… in fact, we are continuing to watch work weeks erode, retirement expand, and employment numbers drop (likely not to ever recover)…

Why I care / am taking 5 min of your life, We live at a time of very exciting change. Some of the projects that clay outlines are indeed quite interesting… but to distinguish free time from all the other time in our lives, and to bracket intrinsically motivated projects from extrinsically motivated projects I believe misses the point and confuses not just economic but also social issues.

an alternate view:

  • Human beings are neo-classically rationally self maximizing, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are fungible
  • We have multiple forms of capital for which we can optimize
  • Those forms of capital have exchange rates between them and differential liquidity, those exchange rates change with friction
  • There is no such thing as a trillion hours of ‘free’ time, actually there is just time and utility.

the key is that you can think about actions and reactions on traditional axis utility curves, people make good rational trades, capitalism is good.


[letter] humans are currently Network IO bound and the end of monetary policy

Sun, 08 Aug 2010 20:56:00 +0000

two different streams of consciousness of recent personal consideration:

The unexamined life is one thing, but the real issue is Humans are Network IO bound: Consider that we are each a bundle of inputs, processing, and outputs with a limited amount of low latency local storage and low-bandwidth access to higher latency forms of massively scaled networked mildly query-able storage (cave paintings –> books –> Internet). A network of peer machines working on centralizing a societal S3.

We all float around in a mesh network, and interact through protocols like english. Over time, we find informational/input resources and other machines that engage us and through experience/shared experiences we can slightly up our communication rate/increase bandwidth/etc in local loops to create extra efficiency.

I think right now as a species we are far more network IO bound than anything else… we end up re-doing the same experiments/processes over and over because we can’t communicate what we learn fast enough – technology is helping on the margin… fast pipes/copper helps a lot, but we have a long way to go, because as with cable the last mile hop is the hardest.

I have been personally feeling this acutely lately because I feel as though the data-set I am exposed to right now is especially interesting, I am committed to processing on it, and yet I am only able to express in re-usable formats a tiny amount of what I am learning to other nodes, let alone write it to our communal ‘disk’ in a re-usable format.

I feel like I can only remember 24 hours later a subset of what I perceive / am learning, I feel like I can only express to others in face-to-face high bandwidth communications a fraction of what I a can remember, I feel like I can record in a more useable format a fraction of what I can express… partially because I physically can’t record it all, partially because social norms/other considerations prevent me from recording what I am learning.

So, the unexamined life… well, here is my point. The examination of life is essentially an exercise in local compression. It is taking surveys of the sensory input data you are exposed to and pulling out patterns. I think I try to do a good job of this, and I think that generally a lot of people reflect deeply. The issue isn’t so much the examination, it is that sharing high quality data through our network is actually very hard. Language is very slow and very limited, and are society is constructed in ways that only promote certain types of information sharing.

So, I am willing to posit that the genius of Aristotle wasn’t his thinking. I can’t imagine he was the first person to have his ‘insights’ and locally come to the answers/ideas he came to. It was his ability to pass out that information in a way that could be spread widely. He did a good packing/compression/distribution job.

I wonder if even our perception of consciousness has something to do with the ratio between local processing speed/local memory vs. access to remote resources… and yes, I know I am sounding a lot like Kurzweil / the Borg.

And now for something completely different – The End of Meaningful Monetary Policy: I think that we are rapidly approaching the utter end of effective monetary policy. The announced ‘google price index’, which I am both sure will have plenty of flaws, and will be a far more accurate view of the world than the government run CPI, was my most recent trigger for feeling this way.

Ultimately, the entire value of the whole economy/everything can be thought of in two pieces - (current assets valued by what people are willing to pay for them today) + (the promise of future assets valued by what people expect others to pay in the future * people’s trust in the future).

When we feel really good about the future we may be excited and value the future stuff more…. when we get depressed we value it less… and thus the economy swings.

Good governments do all sorts of things to help us trust the future more (like the rule of law and property rights) and thereby created a lot of value in our above equation, bad governments erase a lot of value under the same math. That really is the only role the government should be able to play in the economy.

That said, there is a bit of a trick/hack that governments have historically been able to deploy beyond their ‘trust’ factor. They can deploy “monetary policy”, which is basically to say that when people are really depressed about the future, they could print pieces of paper to cheer everyone up, and when people were overly excited about the future, they could take away pieces of paper to make everyone chill out.

Printing more money / monetary policy in general, at a truly theoretical level shouldn’t work… our trust in the government (in our collective society) should already be priced into the equation, and you shouldn’t be able to change that ratio at will by ‘printing more units of trust/pieces of paper’ – it doesn’t make rational sense. If there are $10 in the world representing all current value + future value * a discount rate, printing $10 should have no effect except to change the worldwide denominator…. but miraculously, there is evidence that it did work.

The reason is works is intermediate – in any practical sense prices have historically been sticky. This is because the fact that there is $10 more in circulation isn’t instantly known and absorbed by the economic system… People emotionally like to see charts that go up and to the right regardless of underlying reality, so they feel better just because they have more pieces of green paper.

The point….. well, prices, wages, etc. are not going to be sticky at all for very much longer. When all you need to do is flip a bit to update a price, and when you buy all your inputs on spot market pricing and efficiently use markets to hedge your basket, there is no such thing as sticky prices…. and when sticky prices go, so to goes the ability of governments to deploy monetary policy tactics.

So, ultimately, the cheaper communication gets the closer we could get to removing currency all-together and just transacting on real assets, etc. That is my favorite future state. But long long before we get to that, governments are going to loose their ability to ‘print’ trust / value and change our minds about the future.

That means that ‘monetary policy’ will be reduced to what it really is at the core – which is the government’s real ability to tweak the relationship between debtors and creditors (the probabilities of which should be priced in and shouldn’t be able to effect anything), and voodoo.

– if you are interested in this sort of stuff I highly recommend econtalk (http://www.econtalk.org/), especially the most recent podcast on the gold standard and

** In some cases historically when we didn’t trust governments all that much, so even when we let them administer money, we forced them to tie it to simple rules we thought we understood and could trade off of (like one piece of paper per unit of gold)… but recently we have let the government have a bit more freedom…


[letter] Tiger owes Hurd an apology, printing Korans, and other short nonsense

Tue, 14 Sep 2010 20:56:00 +0000

I figured this time I would spare you the broad sweeping thesis and instead offer a quick distillation of the last few weeks - all quarterbacked on monday (of course):

“Everything is denominated in everything else”: in a longer post at some point I will go after why I think that currency (which is primarily a store of value and a means of exchange) isn’t at all needed in the future / a world with near perfect information and perfect communication – suffice it to say for now that at a recent breakfast someone I respect distilled what I was trying to say quite nicely into “everything is denominated in everything else” – precisely… and when everything is denominated in everything else, all that exists is [current things + future things * probability]

Why monetary policy is facing the end of its useful life: when you really parse it down I would make the strong argument that monetary policy makes no logical sense. It functions based on two rather silly kludges – first, it used to be hard to change prices (just think of all those signs you had to re-write) and second – people for some unknown reason love seeing numbers that rise totally irrespective of the underlying meaning of those numbers. As prices fully variabalize the effectiveness of printing more pieces of green paper as a form of changing people’s opinion about the future should stop working.

The US Air update system, exactness vs. correctness / false precision: figuring out the useful granularity of messaging over time is really hard, and clearly something in which US Air has invested literally nothing. It is great that I get phone/email/sms flight updates, but it really isn’t helpful when you send a massively different expected delay every 10 minutes… the other night US air called me literally 30 times to keep changing my departure time – that is just spam, totally not actionable / completely false precision… I would much rather you tell me with less exactness and more correctness / actionability what is going on.

I haven’t really followed the Mark Hurd saga, but my quick take is that he really should be blaming Tiger Woods. It seems like the HP board way over-reacted to the detriment of the company, I suspect that the reason was that post-tiger they wanted to hedge their bets / were not willing to risk negative surprise (p.s. you gotta love larry ellison). The real value of letter.ly … I am getting incredibly high fidelity responses over email and in person.

a. people have sent me incredibly thoughtful digital replies… in many cases people are sending responses which were far far longer and more interesting than the post I put out. I have learned a ton from these responses – none of these responses would have occurred in the open web…. partially because comment forms aren’t designed for real dialogue, they are designed mostly for social currency exchange… partially because the responses come from people who care not to express public opinions much of the time.

b. the conversations I have been having in person for the week or two after I publish a manifesto end up being FANTASTIC. I can’t express I amazing it is to dive right into conversations on subtleties or interesting corollaries / clarifications with someone. You can skip the whole first part of the discussion where you try to do a halfway job of reconstruct a position or idea and jump to the good parts. People might find this silly, but I have been blown away by the frequency with which this is happening with people I respect. Common source / groundwork is ridiculously powerful – it makes me wish I had done more of the reading in college :) Book burning the only real response would be for the US government / interested parties to promise to print 10 Korans for every 1 Koran burned.

Various levels of ‘check in’ for communication specificity: when you first think about location it seems simple enough I am at XYZ…. then you dive in and realize how much of a cluster f* defining your position beyond latitude/longitude really is. I think that a lot of privacy / specificity of communications concerns are solved easily with a UI that allows people to easily select a level of granularity (country > state > city > neighborhood > building > room > desk)… after all, it is all structured language :)

The world as a college campus: that is where we are heading from all angles… specifically these days I am thinking about the concept that you have a bunch of people being very productive / exploring but that are massively under-leveraged in the economy / unemployed… but there are other ways to draw out the concept :) The Identity pyramid scheme: I was born in london (no american birth certificate), and last month I had the pleasure of loosing my passport and my license at the same time – running out of forms of US identity is not fun, mostly because it takes identity to get identity. It appears that passports are the cornerstone, if you have one of those all your other forms of identity domino after it.

the solution? well, option 1 is that you need to get both of your parent’s american birth certificates, proof they were traveling abroad, your birth certificate, both of their passports from when you were born, etc. etc. etc. – or, you can pay $200 for them to look it up on their system. Oy Vey.

The downward spiral of berry / never kill your product for distribution I recently switched back to my berry because iphone4, while beautiful and a great iPod, is really not a phone – it was really sad to factory reset my device and realize that I couldn’t remove bing, the NFL app, and about 20 other pieces of garbage that verizon pre-installed. The berry is a great device, but apple scared it, and it responded by shooting itself in the foot for distribution. Never a good idea.

Mosquitoes are a great way to end a gardin party… someone should sell them in a box.

P.S. I need to plug my father for a moment – every year he writes one distillation of his thoughts to help support the George Jackson Academy, a charter school at which he teaches a weekly class and is highly invested. I just read the 2010 edition, “growth in a growthless society” and have to say that while I am probably biased, I thought it was stunningly insightful. I am proud of the dad, and will link it when I figure out where you can buy it.


[letter] Natural [World] Processing vs. Structured Language == Google vs. Facebook and what it means for location

Wed, 25 Aug 2010 20:56:00 +0000

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes ever, Kramer ends up being the ‘movie phone’ guy. People would call him for movie information and start typing on their phones the numbers of the movies they want to see – Kramer starts by trying to guess what they are pressing but then in one moment of frustration he says “why don’t you just tell me the name of the movie you would like to see” - this is the difference between NWP (google) and SWL (facebook)


I think what people are really missing is that GOOG vs. FB hub-bub isn't about Social vs. Search / intent vs. identity, or any of the other battle lines people commonly reference in the popular press... it is really about divining meaning from what exists (natural language processing, natural location processing, etc.) vs. re-structuring language itself to generate more explicitly parseable meaning and value. Google is a company which processes existing dirty data streams and wraps structure around what exists, facebook creates a structured template and asks people to fill in their template -- mad-libs style....

For the last 5+ years people have been claiming that "web 3.0" is all about semantics. For most of that period that was understood to mean better processing on the data we collect re: how things relate to each other -- it was told as an NLP story with companies that specialize in processing and algorithms first and foremost at the front. The problem is that NLP hasn't advanced anywhere nearly as quickly as people expected and is becoming clear is that there might be a far more effective way to get to semantics by re-writing the way people communicate/ language itself. So, if it is too hard to parse out nouns, verbs, etc, just spin up a structured database, write the indexes, let everyone fill in the structure, and query away at low cost to your heart's content -- Think of it this way:

--- Google is a "Natural Processing" company. Their first and biggest success was a function of crawling a data-set of links and information that was already exposed on the web and calculating meaning out of it (processing page-rank on an already public and existing - if poorly understood web). This was a processing driven exercise. If you think about the vast majority of their efforts from there forward, the approach is always about mining existing data-sets to generate more value, or - as they put it - to 'organize' the world's information.
--- Facebook is a Structured-Langauge company. Their first success wasn't about calculating meaning out of existing data, it was about building an interface to capture data that implicitly existed in the world but wasn't explicitly mapped or structured anywhere (the relationship between people). This was an exercise in explicitly structuring the language of a "friend" relationship, data which didn't already exist. The vast majority of what they have done / are doing is about structuring Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives. They don't process heavily on what exists in the web, rather they focus on getting people to generate and structure information for them in the most useful form for their ends.

google uses existing data 'exhaust' and cleans it up to make it more useful, facebook just captures new data sets in the structure they need and then, ahem, "Q"s it.

So, what does this mean for everyone’s new best friend, location:

Google started the consumer location game with “latitude” which basically takes the approach of saying, your phone is already registering with towers all over the place throwing off location data, we can take that and process it into meaning. They are working organizing existing information which is under-leveraged. This isn’t Natural Language Processing in the human sense, but it is Natural Location Processing of the cell-tower-strength and phone ID. With enough processing and history they can back out who I am, where I am, and who I am with from the data… We speak/leave data trails, google tries to figure out what we are saying.

Facebook is starting with a check-in vocabulary which takes the approach of structuring a language around location, and then asking people to actively contribute information into their framework. When using places I am structurally declaring: I [name] am at [location] with [people] – There is nothing passive about it / they aren’t wrapping structure around what exists or trying to guess, they are creating a Platonic structure and getting people to change their language to match. They write the interface, and we change our calls to conform to their spec.

So, every time I “check in” to a place, I hear Kramer saying, “why don’t just tell me the name of the bar you are currently at”

~~~~~~~~~~

  1. Some strategic plusses and minuses of NWP vs. Structured Language: their are many on each side.

— the NWP (natural world processing) approach is hugely powerful when either you have good data-sets which others can’t replicate, or huge processing power others can’t replicate - but doesn’t work if the data-sets are open, and the computational power needed is too easily accessible… search has become a commodity largely because the data-sets are not proprietary and the processing power needed is now relatively cheap. I think this is a longterm problem for NWP companies, because you can’t sustain your comparative advantage – NWP also, quite frankly, hasn’t been very successful recently – Natural Language Processing, for instance, is nowhere near where we expected it to be at this point.

— the Structured Language approach doesn’t require any pre-baked data set nor does it really require much processing, but it does require a ton of scale/use to become powerful. Facebook accomplishes this by taking the world and dividing it into networked units where otherwise worthless information becomes valuable enough to a small group that wants to consume it that I will publish it (I wouldn’t announce into the ether that I like “faction skis” but I will announce it to a known audience of friends)… the act of filling in the mad-lib itself (be it who I am friends with or where I am) is what generates the utility for users, and the value for the company – but this is basically impossible to do without crazy scale.

  1. despite recent media bru-haha – by the inherent nature of NWP vs. SWL, NWP companies really should face more privacy issues than SWL companies

— structurally NWP is about taking existing data-sets and re purposing them for other ends that were not initially intended, which means that people have already “contributed” to their and can’t easily toggle use… SL, on the other hand, has the benefit that users have to contribute explicitly to the system for the system to know anything about them. That leaves all the power on the edge, at the time of publishing the information - which is a far higher control position to be in.

  1. I believe that the big issue for google is that they haven’t demonstrated that they understand Structured Language as well as they do NWP, and they probably need to figure it out

— (see, for instance, the fiasco of the buzz launch, which failed because they defaulted the friend lists on, a clear SL fail, because users should get explicit utility out of adding friends)… they have the scale, can they transition it into generative SL information piping? But on the flip side, of course, Facebook has definitely blundered from a PR perspective when they have tried to extend out SL with NWL (see beacon)…

  1. game dynamics

— other smaller players have recently have tried to short circuit the SL game with “game dynamics” like foursquare badges (which are an attempt to get me to use a structured language that otherwise I wouldn’t care about / before true social dynamics kick in)…. I do believe that can do more than offer a kick start, I don’t think it is sustainable at scale, and I do think it pollutes data sets.

  1. which leads to the point that HITs in the Crowdflower/Turk sense

— is a tiny tiny portion of the overal human input economy. Facebook is buying hundreds of millions of people’s cycles on the cheap right now/ many orders of magnitude more than can be bought for cash through turk.

— 6+. RE the last letter… I got a lot of awesome feedback

which will make its way into future letters. Highlights include Ross Barna pointing out that while the social capital shift is all well and good, the economic impact is minuscule compared to some of the macro trends in China, conversation with Spenser Lazar on the fact that “publicity” in the sense of distribution of message is more expensive then ever, and Brad Hargraeves pointing out that the real point is that “everything is denominated in everything else” along with a bunch of other good points.


[letter] sunday letters, computers should read hayek, and many other fragments on social editing, commenting, etc.

Mon, 02 Aug 2010 20:56:00 +0000

dear readers,below are a set of ‘blips’ I have been thinking about recently. Of note, I am working on a bit of a ‘rebuttal’ to clay shirky’s cognitive surplus book for tomorrow night’s tech meetup, so I am going to mostly hold off on a grand statement of the week and stick with shorter stuff:

Letter.ly letters quickly are becoming a sunday activity: last week on sunday i found delivered to my inbox 8 letters wonderful from people to whom I subscribe. It is always interesting to watch a population begin to interact with a medium, especially as they come to the same conclusions on how to use it – writing the type of content that works well as letters seems like a sunday post-brunch thing… which makes sense for a population of professionals writing on the side. We will see how it evolves over time as the “platform” itself grows.

Survivalist New York do you have an escape plan? I do – I think disaster preparedness is fun… and a good reason to stay in shape. The headline by my thinking is don’t try to walk off the island, swim. And if you intend on swimming invest in a wetsuit, because that will be the most IMPT piece of survival equipment in the hudson. Investing in bikes, boats, etc. is probably a poor move because in a real situation people will just steal them and / or you will draw attention to yourself.

P.S. does the US govt invest in giant fans? sub-note, if a biological / chemical / nuclear bomb were detonated in NYC I bet the best way to save lives would be to quickly blow all the radiation / biology / etc. out to sea. I wonder if we have invested in / tried to develop tech to quickly bring up a high wind in an area to clear it out?

Comments on blogposts are a terrible medium of communication. I almost never read comment threads, but recently I felt compelled and was appalled by the experience of parsing through 50 comments back and forth below an interesting article… Comments tend in most places to not be useful conversations, but merely useless repetition without new information which are driven largely by the simplistic ego of seeing your name next to something you want to shout. Social weight/rank on comments (fb) mean something / is one dimension… so is voting up/down comment blocks (reputation) … and perhaps wikis are interesting in the realm of comments as well – ultimately I feel like most comment threads are a way to get readers to feel invested in a post / part of a conversation which binds them more to the core writing – but boy it is no way to actually get high value / bit information. Is there a format for conversation that can encourage people not to repeat what has already been said and more clearly organize their thoughts?

darwinistic computing / computers need wallets / doing Hayek proud / Opscode: I have been told second or third hand that the way that google manages its compute resource is basically an internal auction for resources among their various services… I know that netflix assigns simple but nonetheless dynamic dollar tolerances for encoding activities – Opscode/infrastructure automation means that we can all play these types of games, if we know how to price the value of our transactions properly.

Hayek would be very proud as the ‘cloud’ fills with more and more diverse jobs, really the only way to transmit information necessary to balance resources is going to be pricing, which means that it all comes back to simple economics.

In the case of google, I wonder how far they really have gone – do wonder if they bake it all the way out and assign a $ transaction value to each service-interaction? - or - how else they dynamically weight the value of serving a search result X ms faster vs. making your google doc load X ms faster. At foo I enjoyed discussing the idea that “robots” really need wallets / cash allowances if they are to function in the world… but even nearer term computers need to start directly talking economics.

Language is a time machine: there is a great line towards the end of Junger’s book on this – how language freed us from the eternal present… and how language explains heroism from a genetic perspective (without language no one can retell your heroic deed, and you don’t get to have more children)… half formed in my mind right now, but I may come back to it.

Why the nexus one failed: Google has stopped selling the nexus one… I have been told it was a good phone…. With no actual knowledge or research, I would bet it failed for one really simple reason: google couldn’t overcome the reality of the human flow of phone acquisition. Basically, the nexus one was something you ordered online and was delivered to you – the issue with that is that being without a phone for even a day is a major modern headache. People don’t do that. Phones are one of the few things where 24 hours matters, and not enough people carry more than one phone… so make sure your distribution strategy matches the requirement on the goods.

Consumable Media:

  • I listened to Sebastian Junger’s “War” this week… everyone should read it, it was truly epic and mind opening.
  • Things on my list to read: Confessions of an advertising man, The magic of thinking big
  • I watched Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’ now I look for weaves everywhere I go…
  • Things on my to watch list: Hot Tub Time machine

IRL:

  • loved the lean startup meetup (http://www.meetup.com/lean-startup/)
  • had a blast with friends at a brooklyn cyclones game - worth going, and get a pizza cone while you are at it.
  • It was jewish heritage night at the cyclones game, out of context the evening would have seemed highly anti-semetic
  • KiteBoarding Amityville NYC is great, but take the train (LMK if you want to come next weekend)

Nightly batch jobs and sleeping: Someone recently commented to me about how the systems that stand behind the financial system have it easy because they can shut off every night and run reconciliation / batch processing – things are easy if you don’t have to be up 24x7. Somehow I feel like this must be highly related to why human beings sleep… our brains need time to run nightly reconciliation, we can’t do 24x7 uptime.

Wikileaks knows that information is about economics: Hell Yah! “It’s counterintuitive,” he said. “You’d think the bigger and more important the document is, the more likely it will be reported on but that’s absolutely not true. It’s about supply and demand. Zero supply equals high demand, it has value. As soon as we release the material, the supply goes to infinity, so the perceived value goes to zero.” computerworld wikileaks

If you are looking for an easy way to make weekend money…. you need day pases to use the new york city tennis courts in the east village, but you can only buy those passes at paragon on 18th street.. They cost $7 at paragon, no question you could sell them for $10 at the courts (JEV informally proved this over the weekend by doing just that in a one off situation)

Markets are income smoothing, crowdflower is the new resume: A very smart guy was recently explaining to me how a platform like crowdflower (or mechanical turk) is going to be the new resume – forget what you say you can do / just show the market and then remember the results…

I think there is an interesting bit here which is that something like crowdflower will definitely cause wages to go down overall by making it easier for suppliers of mass labor to reach buyers, but it also should be income smoothing, meaning – people are not employed / unemployed but constantly in a state of ‘employed when their price is met’…. Moving back to piecemeal markets should mean people make less per unit of labor but work exactly when they want to (and not when they don’t) – poorer, but more predictable income is the future for mass jobs (as opposed to highly specialized ones)

grab a pen and paper - write down 148 names of your ‘friends’ as fast as you can - check the trends, how long did it take? are they actually your friends? did you spell their names right?

a retarded bill…. http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/A10008 this is an anti-variable cost bill if I have ever seen one. This is exactly the wrong direction for the govt and the country, we need more flexibility not less.

for fun I really want to check out this bar-barge on the hudson launches leave every half an hour… 0 and 30 … from manhattan sailing club dock (where all the little boats are) out to the barge – $10 launch fee, sounds highly worth doing.

and because I got into an argument with someone about this – don’t mess with former bain people on orders of magnitudes, that is all we know how to do – California’s economy is not $120B to the US national $14 trillion, it is $1.85 trillion…. as one would expect, California is about 10% of the country’s population and a bit more than 10% of the economy, so a $20 billion dollar deficit is small peanuts.

Cognitive Surplus: coming tomorrow night – While I like some of the points in Clay Shirkey’s new book (I am also anti-television), I have to admit that I take real issue with what I understand to be the central thesis on reading… especially his interpretation of the two central studies by Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini: “A fine is a price” and Edward Deci


[letter] facebook vs. cookies for ad-domination, anathem, communication-travel-realestate $ modes

Sat, 10 Jul 2010 20:56:00 +0000

regards from NYC on a muggy july 10th - here is what I have been thinking about since last writing…

  1. communication technology changes transportation and real-estate values - how car phones, cell phones, blackberries, and myfis dramatically effect the relative value of travel route choices and realestate value.

in the last 1980s and early 1990s when car phones existed but cell phones didn’t, I would have almost certainly preferred to live in the NJ suburbs and driven a car to work vs. living in CT and taking a train… my commute in a car could be useful with access to a car-phone on the road, my commute on a train in that period was dead time without a phone or Internet.

at this point, with a myfi in hand, the train for commuting is infinitely more appealing because I can work efficiently en route and driving a car is basically death.

over the last 20 years the evolution of mobile technology I believe has had a huge impact on the relative value / cost of transport in different mechanisms… heck, there was a period where I preferred train to bost vs. flight because of the availability of wifi, wifi on flights has totally changed what I am willing to pay / when I am willing to travel during work hours, etc.

I would also argue that the last disruption in communication has had a secondary effect on real estate value. the mifi increases the premium I would pay for real-estate train access…

– 2. “accredited investor” status as a hurdle to investing in early stage is un-american: to paraphrase part of the securities act of 1933 only ‘accredited investors’ – people with meaningful income $200K+ or $1MM in assets – can invest in non-registered securities… or, basically anything but big public companies…

I am sure that this was set up to protect people without financial sophistication from being taken advantage of… but it also sets up an interesting situation where basically the best opportunities with the highest return are available only to people with meaningful wealth / income.

put differently, the law basically creates a structure where the more money you have, the more money you can make…. this seems highly un-american.

A better solution would be to allow anyone who passed a financial literacy test to invest in whatever they want. My old college roommate Evan Schwartz tells me this is how it works for energy trading.

– 3. Facebook should launch a privacy holy-war against cookies and cookie exchanges, and maybe firefox will help… right now there are two data models for targeting advertising in the world… the first is central data-stores, like facebook – the second model is cookie trading.

the next war in advertising is definitely about buying audience real-time based on where they are / what they want / and who you know them to be….

the competitors in the war are going to be facebook with a crap-load of data per-user bolstered with self reported ‘like’ activity, and enabled through a massive facebook connect network (read, ad-network in disguise)…. vs. lot’s of small brands enabled through cookie exchanges (bluekai, etc.) – a dirtier but still way more massively spread technology.

while facebook might seem more monopolistic since it is a central store of data, there is a strong argument in my mind that they are actually in a way better place to protect consumer privacy etc. than a free market of un-regulate-able cookie traders… heck, at least people can easily see what they ‘like’ on facebook.

mozialla recently almost voted to ban everything but session cookies in firefox (it was a 6-5 against the move) that would have been the end of cookie exchange on that platform… you know that chrome and IE are going to be all about the cookie data in an effort to fend off facebook, perhaps facebook should woo mozialla away from the google teet and invest in their own ‘privacy regulated’ browser.

yes, I literally think that facebook could easily flip the entire debate around if the chose to engage with it…. but either way, mass nano-targeting, here we come http://bit.ly/dhvCuP

  1. proprietary databases are not ‘pluggable’ at drop.io we are talking a lot as of late about a world of ‘pluggable pieces’ that is evolving… I have been pushing for clarity on what people really mean by ‘pluggable’, since all of capitalism from the pin forward is about how communication technology enables greater specialization – everything and everyone is a pluggable piece….

but I do think that something does feel different now, I think that perhaps what is happening is that ‘pluggable pieces’ are becoming ever more swappable… so that the breakdown of one piece is generally recoverable / re-routable. this is still a partial/dangling concept.

  • econtalk: a great podcast…. recommended by Evan Schwartz and Brian Myers… some people think it could use an editor, but fun content.

  • some tech pundits like to reference this study about school pickup times in Israel… basically, a school started charging parents for picking up their kids late, and instead of picking them up on town, parents took it as daycare and picked up their kids even later — this is not an interesting study, all it proves is that the school under-priced the market for daycare :), if you want the kids picked up on time, charge above market rates - $1K an hour should get your kids out of school precisely on time.

  • Louis Menand’s American Studies is an awesome book… I read the Metaphysical Club the summer before college and liked it… but American Studies was a much snappier and more enjoyable read…. coming off the book Oliver Wendell Holmes is a new hero, he requires more investigation.

  • Anathem by Stephenson is also excellent - only part way through (it is very long) but enjoying it… It does require a lot of thought to back out what is going on as an allegory for our world, but fun

  • http://letter.ly/lessin-stream: I struggle what to do with scraps of ideas, and end up leaving a lot of drafts in gmail.. I am going to try to run them through as a high velocity letter.ly letter… I wasn’t sure how to price it, should it be cheaper since it is just fragments of ideas, or more expensive because it is more ‘timely’ – anyway, it is at $0.05 a month… a bargain for now.

  • OH “why are all these Jewish kids in NYC buying up .ly domain names” - well put

  • Spotify > RDIO simply because the interface is easier to use because it assumes you are searching for songs by an artist and backs you out to artist pages, which for me is the right base action instead of dumping into a mixed list – sweat the small stuff.

  • Best Kitesurfing Center in Amnityville FTW – if you want to kite in NYC, I am going every weekend this summer… it is a perfect spot for beginners / intermediates and the water is warm

  • I need to finish… “the island at the center of the world” read the first half earlier this year, that will happen tonight.

  • letter.ly is getting a lot of attention there was a great post in gigaom, and a lot of people have strong feelings about the supposed ‘private letter trend’ — I am going to pass off the project to get the needed development effort into it to make it really good…

  • I believe in marketplaces for everything but per a great dinner with my college roommates (referenced above), things start to break down when we socialize risk and assets, like health care… or off-shore drilling – I don’t see a way out of that path.

  • buy more vibrams and get a standing desk I am up to 3 pairs of vibrams which are occupying about 80% of my footwear hours, they are great. our office is now about 80% standing… the cheap version only requires about $10 for cinder blocks

  • (finally a partial rehash if you actually made it all the way down here) ownership is for the underprivileged: I gave this talk at the Oreilly Foo and Tedx, i will get the video eventually – but for now a dump / rehash as I continue to work it through…

Since at least the magna carta we have existed in a world where the ownership of land and other physical assets has been tightly equated with freedom and held up as the ultimate goal towards which to strive. Legally guaranteed “ownership” of assets started as a privilege only of the king and has steadily expanded over the last few centuries to the vast majority of western citizens in one form or another driven by all sorts of communication, legal, and technological innovations.

We now stand at a major inflection point in history where Capitalism coupled with cheap communication is moving us in the opposite direction. Rather than being something towards which to strive, the direct ownership of assets is rapidly becoming an inferior good relegated to those who do not have the financial means, credit, or sophistication, to “rent”. Examples ranging from Amazon Web Services, to NetJets, to Airbnb all demonstrate that we are moving to a new economy where those that can will pay a premium for the privilege of avoiding ownership… and the “ownership” will truly become an inferior good.

This is a big deal for our economy, our government, and our society.


[letter] the false dichotomy of privacy vs. openness, and a few other unfinished thoughts

Wed, 30 Jun 2010 20:56:00 +0000

Below is a dump on where I am ‘at’ on a few fronts coming out of the last week or two.

A. ‘Privacy’ vs. ‘Openness’, a false dichotomy There were several very high fidelity discussions at Oreilly’s Foo Camp this weekend about ‘privacy’ (the buzz topic of the moment and something about which I care very deeply - a sad overlap). It was the best discourse on the core of the topic I have heard / participated in, possibly ever… and I was really thrilled and honored to be included.

First, a functional economic framework for discussion: coming out of the discussion I do believe that I am working with a core set of frameworks that are useful and defensible. Generally I think of privacy as an economics problem. All the pain we are feeling around it / discussing is simply the result of the fact that for the first time privacy is expensive and publicity is cheap (the opposite has always been the case). The reason why we have issues around setting up filters/agreements/etc. to solve privacy problems is that we are trying to figure out how to minimize the cost of privacy in this new world, and it is very hard… In fact, the reality is that the cheapest holistic way to get privacy still feels like defining the recipient list one at a time… which no one likes as a solution. So, coming out of some great conversations - I am newly confident in my lens.

Second, no functional answers: sadly, I am also confident that I don’t actually have any answers about what to ‘do’ about the situation. Given my framework I don’t think regulation is a good idea at all, in fact, all it will do is destroy value. I feel confident that we are going to live in an increasingly transparent world, I do think that is problematic, I don’t think there is anything we can do about it.

Third: Publicity is not at odds with Openness - this is a misstep in the conversation: If you use a purely moral lens / pretense privacy and publicity could be possibly cast as in conflict. I don’t ascribe to that world at all…. rather, I believe that we need to think of both privacy and publicity as not goods in and of themselves, but as in service of driving worldwide knowledge, understanding, and ultimately innovation. Openness is good because it means people share widely, which increases economic, social, and intellectual capital for everyone. I would argue that cheap and easy access to privacy has exactly the same end goals.

In simple terms – if I have an idea in my head, the value for society is for that to be ultimately shared as widely as possible…. Information, and the value it carries, should be ultimately diffused as widely as possible. Openness erases barriers to allow that diffusion to happen and rapidly… that is good. Privacy allows me to share things with a few people that I am not yet willing to share with everyone, which allows ideas that would have otherwise been crushed in the public discourse to be refined, grow, and ultimately flourish – leading to the same ultimate ends as ‘publicity’

Sometimes ideas need shade to grow, privacy is critical to that shade.

In a totally public world I believe we would find actually less new knowledge being generated and shared in total when you consider the full feedback loop. I worry about the authoritarian ends of this, but the only real reason I care about the authoritarian potential of a world mono-culture, is that I worry it will impede our ability to share good ideas. Could the American Revolution have percolated without privacy? my answer - no.

Simply put, ‘privacy’ is almost the ‘slow foods’ movement for information, and it is worth paying attention to it – if you are interested in my older evolutions of this (with a few different points). – publicity-is-the-new-social-norm-and-heidi-montag-knows-it – why-the-balance-of-power-will-swing-to-information-and-entertainment-content-creators – value-of-information-vs-utility-created-by-information – real-information-services-will-all-be-subscription-based-in-5-years – the-privacy-at-a-tipping-point-a-month-in-quick-recap

unfinished thoughts for later:

- mobile > ‘web’: this is something people have been saying for 10 years, it feels real. I don’t know why anyone would build a consumer service around the classic ‘computer’ based web ever again… you might still need a web presence for a bit, but you won’t catch me every building a web-based consumer company again.

- dead weight loss: One thing that I really respect about the open source movement and Orielly’s phrasing of it is the ‘give back more than you take’ mentality. I totally agree with this. I am wondering whether another way to phrase this from an economics perspective is the historically counter-intuitive ‘create dead weight loss’?

- robots need their own wallets: coming out of foo traditional ‘robots’ are very hard to define/think about as separate from connected devices/the cloud… my take on this is that it means that robots will be consuming common resources… which means that robots need cash “allowances” to be effective. This could be as simple as a robot being able to offer a human on the street a few dollars for help with directions / getting through a tricky obstacle course, or because a robot needs more resources to complete a computational task in the cloud.

- ‘happy birthday honeypot”: a while ago I wrote a blog post about how wishing someone happy birthday in the ‘facebook’ era was actually a social tax levied by the birthday wisher on the person having the birthday (the inverse of the historical reality)… at lunch with josh klein, a new facebook application idea (that isn’t actually possible with the current APIs)… have the app update your birthday and then auto-unfriend anyone who wishes you happy birthday on the wrong day. that would correct the situation fast.

- [think about] size of a collider, the size of the galaxy: from a conversation with an astrophysicist at foo – there are some problems we can identify the scale of which is mind blowing. Try this on for size – there are properties about the universe that we would currently need a particle accelerator the size of the entire galaxy to figure out. That makes world hunger look like child’s play.

- [think about] index investing: I don’t think that I want broad exposure these days… I want exposure I can understand in assets I understand. I wonder if index investing / investing at the mean is something that is going to survive in the mid-term.

- [think about] USPS as an Open ID provider: I have heard a few people suggest this recently. I don’t think I want a govt. agency in the game emotionally (remember the Seinfeld episode with the postmaster general), but it might make sense…

- [read] “10 Rules For Radicals” by Carl Malamud is an excellent short read…. rule 1, of which I am a clear adherent, “call everything you do an experiment”

- [skim] “The Marketplace of Ideas” by Louis Menand mostly the section on the history of higher education in the US is interesting.

- [do] eat oysters while driving down Route 1 north of San Fransisco…. a great Sunday

- [do] check out roller-derby in Los Angles – I met one of the players, she was awesome, it sounds like a blast.

- [don’t] think you will open itunes after you have spotify / its brethern at your fingertips. I get very frustrated now when I am forced to open iTunes (which I only do to sync my iPhone for audiobooks)


[letter] your time is the only resource where by definition you will always be the highest bidder in the market

Fri, 18 Jun 2010 21:05:00 +0000

I like to say that I always try to always aggressively “over value” my time as a framework for living (http://bit.ly/bIX1ri) … whenever possible I try to create tools or processes to save time, and I will readily trade cash and other goods away for time in ways that exceed normal market equilibrium.

My rational for this approach is comically simple - time is your only definitively scarce resource, so it is better to make a mistake by over-valuing it than by undershooting.

Today at lunch I came to a new important element of this calculus…. your time is also the only resource where by definition you will always be the highest bidder on the market.

To everyone else on the planet your time has a finite value because they can always find a supplement for you, no matter how much they value you. Even your parents, children, spouse, etc. will ultimately drop out of a bidding war for an hour of your time. Your time is a tradable good to every other human on the planet.

On the other hand, you are by definition an hour of you…. and you can’t replace an hour of yourself with an hour of someone else. Time is the only possession I can think of with this dynamic. It is the only bidding war that you will necessarily win by the simple fact that it is already yours.

Upshot //not sure – but perhaps it is that while you shouldn’t be selfish with your time, remember that by definition everyone else is priced out of the market for your time from the get go. - so don’t let that meeting run too long :)


[letter] week in review: medium as message, dorms, coney island, venter

Thu, 03 Jun 2010 21:05:00 +0000

1. The medium is the message, our college photo book:this weekend at my fifth college reunion my “blockmate” ed rawlinson presented a gift he had been promising since 2005… He created and had printed a photo book compilation of our four years. The book was wonderful, it brought back tons of memories, but it also was a very clear demonstration of just how true it is that the “medium” IS ALWAYS the message.

The story told through the printed photos was clearly “R-rated” but knowing the body of potential material from which ed was choosing, he clearly avoided publishing the “X-rated” version. The book wasn’t the ‘truth’ of our four years, it was the ‘truth’ of our four years relative to the medium of a printed book that can sit on a bookshelf.

To be clear, the book version of our four year history went far beyond what any of us would want on facebook, and clearly crossed the line of what we would someday want our kids to leaf through, but it wasn’t anything we would be terribly upset having girlfriends or parents thub through with a forgiving eye.

It yet again reiterated for me that you are always writing with an audience in mind - the “truth” of anything is always relative.

2. On college dorms: at my 5th reunion we stayed back in the college dorms. On my hallway I was once again living for a few days with a set of my closest friends. After five years living in nyc, it was an amazing reminder of just how much incremental density matters.

To explain, I am a huge believer in Manhattan because the intense density of the city coupled with the fast subway system means you are no more than 10 min away from exceedingly high bandwidth face to face connection with millions of other people. Manhattan is a massive human co-location facility, subway stations are switches, subway tunnels are fiber.

Living back in college dorms reminds me of the huge advantage of not just being in the same co-lo facility, but sitting in the same rack as the other people I like and want to spend time with. I am not sure exactly what the correct metric of time/space upon which to draw, but I find the incremental density absurdly valuable, and it threw into stark contrast for me even more why I learned so much and had so much fun in college. I would absolutely love to live in dorms again, and I would kill for a communal dining hall.

3. On Coney Island, Soho House, and population distribution: on Monday I took the F train to Coney island to do some people watching - which is a particular zoo on memorial day - and then back to Soho house (I get a real kick out of the fact that both summer lounging spots are on the same train). I was fascinated by the distribution of people on the beach and at Soho house… (see #2)

At Coney Island, the human density on the part of the beach closest to the subway is mind-blowing. You see a sea of closely packed humans, you can’t even see the sand. However, if you walk even 5 min away from that closest beach, it is still crowded, but resembles a much more reasonable Miami city beach. The same is true of bathroom lines. Why is the clumping so intense?

  1. People actually get value out of the density. They don’t want free space, they actively want to be closely clumped together.
  2. People assign a very high cost with 5 min of walking. They want free space, but it is too expensive to get so they settle.
  3. People don’t know that there is open beach 5 min away. It is an information problem.
  4. People are just not rational

I especially liked going directly from Coney Island to soho house and witnessing a similar phenomenon. The density of human beings on the soho house roof was almost as intense as it was at Coney island, and none of them were swimming - so they weren’t there for the pool. Clearly in the case of soho house we are talking #1, people get value out of the density, even if it means they can’t get a good deck chair.

4. Letter.ly reactions: have been interesting so far. I am surprised how many people have been excited by the concept of selling a newsletter of their own. Also, it is interesting to listen to people asking for different things. Some people want embedded marketing, others want writing samples, reviews, etc. My view is that those things are best accomplished by other vertical platforms in an open web (like facebook ‘likes’, twitter reputation, etc.).

The core reaction which I believe makes a lot of sense so far is that the reputation of a person is different from the reputation of a newsletter they write – how much are they investing in it/etc. I will try some light changes to fix that.

  1. Other Blips:

Zumba: my dad has been telling me what a big deal it is for a year. I met an instructor in cambridge. Check out the company, it is a big deal which has indeed been totally under my radar.

Sensor Nets: HP is investing in them like crazy so it seems. Smart move. Another technology we have been talking about for decades that I think isn’t too far away anymore, we just need better battery power.

Craig Venter creates life: How is there not more coverage of this? It is the most important thing that has happened yet this year. It is in some ways terrifying - I don’t see how turning ‘viral engineering’ into a biological metaphor can possibly end well - but this is the world we will be playing in, and no question we are going to be playing with a lot of environmental leverage.

I am likely going to up the frequency on my writing and cut down on the ‘week in review’ style. let me know what you think


[letter] The future of crowdsourcing

Mon, 10 May 2010 21:05:00 +0000

Last night the guys from crowdflower came down to the drop.io world hq to host part of a 5 city event they were having. The networking totally failed, but the local conversation in nyc about mechanical turk ended up being beyond interesting.

Things I thought about:

  1. The future of illegal immigration is going to be proxying –

turns out there are a lot of people who screen jobs by country. Mechanical Turk just for the first time let people withdraw cash in india – this changed the dynamics/spam significantly on the system and caused people to be more picky with where their workers come from. The logical result is proxying as immigration to where higher paying/more jobs are

  1. Fair trade mechanical turk –

There is a small but vocal outcry re: things like mechanical turk as being exploitative for workers. This is a kin to the outcry over spec work via 99 designs and Creative Commons licenses killing the stock photo trade. The logical result is people developing fair trade crowdsourcing groups

  1. Identity building/stealing

More and more services are cropping up to evaluate and rank workers in the “crowd” the more this happens the more differentiation there will be among workers/pay - the result will be identity sharing/renting/theft. Facebook/social identity/credit identity etc will be the natural counter force for good and bad.

  1. Other fun experiments:
  • let mechanical turk trade a stock portfolio.
  • make mechanical turk play itself in chess/ make groups in different countries play eachother
  • bake mechanical turk jobs into re-capcha and let people verify humanness while making you money

location-data data freestyle: who in NYC gets up early, who parties late, good spots, and more.

Sun, 02 May 2010 22:05:00 +0000

location data is awesome… I have been obsessed with it for a while – I got my first GPS for my bar-mitzvah in 1996 (it was the only thing I asked for other than night vision), in V1 of the internet I got to hang out with early innovators like John Ellenby / GeoVector, and then guys like Mao/Sense networks in 2005 … the first real post on this blog was about location and I have kept on posting graphs off my Garmin watch. When foursquare came out last year the first thing I did was start logging all the checkins I could get my hands on and trying to use the data for stuff like this, and then with Bill Piel and John Steinberg socialgreat started logging millions of them as i believe the first released foursquare app. Everyone knows that conceptually location is a huge deal because it is an enormously relevant and relatively un-captured dataset…

the question is, after a decade of trial, is there finally usable sample/insight in the noise? Are we finally getting to the point where ‘location’ is both as ubiquitous and as usable as timestamps?

last weekend my girlfriend and I were trying to figure out what to do on a sunday afternoon, and out of that I was pushed back to looking at my personal foursquare data-set for insights. this is some of the stuff I found using the 27K check-ins logged by a few hundred NYC forusquare ‘friends’ from 2/8/2010 to 5/15/2010 (I use CSVemail.com + email - the most basic API - to continuously log everything in an easy to manipulate format) – I was going to use the 5M checkins logged in socialgreat, but I didn’t feel like opening anything more serious than excel, and heck - 27K data-points from early adopting new yorkers seems like a good start to me…

checkins per day in the set

Stuff I learned from my cut of 27K checkins at 6.7K locations:1. the top 5% of my friends drive 25% of all checkins (10% -gt 38%)

  1. the top 1% of locations drive 20% of all checkins (5% -gt 43%)

People who get up early (check in highest % of the time between 5 and 9am)

  1. Andy Weissman
  2. Darren Herman
  3. Blake Robinson
  4. Fred Wilson
  5. Jon Steinberg
  6. Roger Ehrenberg
  7. Jim Moran

People who party late (check in highest % of the time 10pm - 5am) 1. Andrew Stillman

  1. James Nord
  2. Grellan Harty
  3. Ken Zamkow
  4. Drew Grant
  5. Tina Hui
  6. Josh Newman

Popular early morning spots1. Naples 45

  1. Cafe Bacio
  2. Mendez Boxing
  3. Hospital for Joint Diseases
  4. Carrot Creative
  5. Tony Dapolito Recreation Center
  6. Irving Farm
  7. 9th Stree Espresso

Popular late night spots

  1. The Wiskey Ward
  2. Planet Rose
  3. The Commodore
  4. Bleecker Street Pizza
  5. Home Sweet Home
  6. Maracuja
  7. Tappan Zee Bridge
  8. Amsterdam Billards and Bar

Overall if I gut check this, some of it feels right – like the ‘early riser’ list – those are definitely the ‘up and at them folk I would think of in the NYC tech scene that use foursquare… others I am just not hip enough to know about…

but the point (other than that data is fun) – looks like there is some useable data in there… soon enough, location will be every bit as tied to status/sentiment/etc as time is now, and the more dimensions the better in our information.

I will be playing with more location data and publishing findings athttp://letter.ly/lessin in the coming weeks


content is not only king but emperor of all things electronic

Sat, 08 May 2010 21:05:00 +0000

content is not only king but emperor of all things electronic - Murdoch

in my 2020 predictions one of my posits was that the next decade would see a significant power swing back towards content creators and away from the primacy of distribution/filters.

We are only a few months in to the year, but I am starting to feel more and more confident about my call. Since Jan 1 we have already seen several instances where content creators/owners (fox, book publishers) beat back content distribution amp filters (time warner cable, amazon kindle), and I expect these early examples to become more and more frequent this year and this decade.
Focusing just on Entertainment Content and leaving Information Content for another day - while it might appear that this shift back towards Content owners is a meaningful reversal of the recent trend, I think that there is a relatively easy way to explain how this shift fits on the natural continuum of development.

Value is a function of scarcity and where once content was relatively abundant and competitive and filtering/distribution was scarce, now filtering/distribution is just as abundant and competitive as content creation/ownership itself. The technology that gave distribution companies increased leverage over the last years has advanced to the point that it is actually flattening their overall advantage as they compete themselves higher and higher up the content curve towards scarce and therefore highly valuable content. We are moving away from a period where tech had the upper hand back towards a much more balanced and competitive market.

Here is my framework for why this is happening:
1. you have a finite 'wallet' for Entertainment Content, with a certain number of hours amp dollars to spend per day. You spend your wallet in return for utils

2. Relative to your personal taste, all the Entertainment Content in the world can be modeled on a normal curve/distribution. In a vacuum, pretending there are no 'filters' in the world and you are forced to spend your Entertainment Content wallet without prior knowledge of what is available/what you will like, your Entertainment Content consumption will yield an 'average' utility/happiness return.

3. of course 'filters' help you increase the utility/happiness you get from your Entertainment time and money

4. historically, there haven't been many filters, and there has been a lot of content that would yield you positive return over 'mean' content -- so filters had pricing power

5. but as technology gets cheaper, filters themselves are competing more and more, and they need better and better content to stay competitive.

6. as filters compete and look for better and better content (several degrees of freedom out from the mean) content gets scarce and is empowered.

7. so, only the best content will be monetized, survive. but the balance of power will shift back towards content producers.

don't get me wrong -- it is still very hard to build great filtering systems, (just as it is very hard to produce great content), and this is an argument about the relative balance of power -- not the absolute balance of power.

Technology/filtering is going to still be central to the equation. The key to the above framework, however, is that on a relative basis the economic dominance of technology/filtering over content is facing a cycle in which it will get weaker.


equilibrium in the crowd

Tue, 30 Mar 2010 21:05:00 +0000

do people want to be in a crowd? this is a huge question for me.... I was thinking recently about our new-found ability to know where our friends are --

option 1: - I want to see where the crowd is... then I want to find 'margin' - which is when a venue been mis-priced... and is less busy than it should be. So, if a place is hot on fridays, I want to go there monday. (perhaps a really good restaurant displays these properties)

option 2: - I want to see where the crowd is... then I want to go there - meaning, the value of the place is it's crowd. (perhaps a night club displays these properties - so do social networks)

option 1 applies when the resource of a place is scarce and desirable. Option 2 occurs when the resources of a place are infinite and the thing that is desirable is the community... A deserted beach vs. Cancun. These options are both valid, and the general construct applies across a whole bunch of layers.... the scarcity dynamics of option 1 remind me of the value of information, the compounding value of the crowd option 2, feels a lot like the dynamics that drive entertainment. -- either way, tendency is towards zero margin.


social - physical capital exchange

Sat, 27 Mar 2010 21:10:00 +0000

I strongly believe that there is an exchange rate between social capital and physical capital, even if the exchange rate is low enough, and the transaction costs are high enough, that converting back and forth isn't generally ROI positive...

I have found that a lot of people take issue with this premise. I am currently wondering if the conversion between social and physical capital is going to become more accepted / legitimate with greater transparency. I think it will...

the other day Kortina used venmo.com to charge me $2.00 for being late to meet him for coffee.

-- I also think that the exchange rate is changing dramatically as social capital's value relative to physical capital grows (for another time).


tuning the dial up and down to find the social web

Thu, 25 Mar 2010 21:10:00 +0000

remember analog radios where you twisted the dial to tune in/overshoot/turn back to a signal? remember how gratifying it was to get a clear channel for a while before you tucked behind a hill? that is what the 'social web' feels like right now...

Every few months we hit a new strand/clear channel and the fidelity is great for a little bit, and then we overshoot/undershoot and have to hunt for a clear channel again.

why? because the medium is the message.... and the mediums keep changing.

1. For a while in late 2008 I feel like I was tuned in on twitter with high velocity of relatively high value communication... there was a lot of margin in the format and the lines were clear. Since then, twitter while still great, has felt a lot more noisy/jammed.

2. Facebook has felt the same through several cycles of fidelity and loss, but that is because unlike twitter, they have an 'auto-tune' function in the form of news-feed. you aren't turning the dial, they are.


service-consumer asymmetry: forget a customer bill of rights, call for a new financial product

Fri, 26 Feb 2010 22:10:00 +0000

Jon Steinberg wrote a good post he entitled 'the rule of no' about the stress on the dynamics between customers and service providers. I really enjoyed the post, largely because I have had my own huge recent issues with JetBlue.

Of course, I started boycotting JetBlue, now I am waiting on the line with Delta after they canceled my flight due to the NYC snowstorm....

short version - I booked a 48 hour trip to SF to see my girlfriend... delta canceled my flight and auto-booked me on another flight that truncated my trip to a grand total of 26 hours best case scenario. Flying 11 hours to see my girlfriend for a total of 15 hours on the ground (and maybe 8 awake) is worth it in a vacuum, but not when I can just move the whole thing to next week.

result - delta consider that to be an itinerary change rather than a weather related change, so even though they changed my flight on me, I am going to need to pay the fees. That policy is even worse than JetBlue... and of course I need to do it by talking to at least 2 different customer service representatives... (we are still going, maybe I can get them to at least recant the change fee later)

why I am writing about it: partially just to vent, but more because I think that...there are a whole set of services Air Travel, Finance (especially collections agencies, see earlier post), etc. where the asymmetry between the power of the buyer and the seller is extreme. Delta has my credit card, and armed with some fine print I am stuck in a situation where they are holding me hostage, my options are only to:

1. pay for a totally irrational flight I don't want to take
2. pay a change fee
3. abandon the ticket and pay a $100 no-show fee

People frequently talk about a 'consumer bill of rights' -- I don't think that will work at all... I also object to regulatory solutions because it is basically the equivalent of hiring a bigger thug to take care of the mini-thug. We need to put down the clubs, not engage in an arms race, and fix the problem where it really is -- which is at the point of monetary transaction...

Thus, my proposal: we need a new type of credit-like product which is designed to shift power towards consumers... we then need to scale it up and get merchants to accept it.

The key element would be that it would be really really easy to later reverse charges with zero questions asked and zero penalties, even at scale. Basically, turn it into an escrow for services rendered more than anything else.

I have a few ideas on how to actually structure this so that merchants would accept it... but I will think a bit more before broadcasting those (and maybe even see if a few friends doing something tangential can run with it)..


The Medium is the Message: Facebook and Twitter as Content Creators

Fri, 26 Feb 2010 22:10:00 +0000

I am starting to think we need to consider the possibility that facebook and twitter are actually content creators, not content aggregators. Nothing new here phenomenon wise... the same pattern of thought can be traced all the way back through history -- but interesting to feel it again in the context of 'social' media. The medium *can become* the message.


it isn't that people don't care about privacy, it is just that privacy is getting more expensive

Fri, 26 Feb 2010 22:10:00 +0000

Andrew Parker recently wrote a 'mea culpa' on his 2006-2007 conception that people cared about privacy... he writes:

But, where I #8220Got It Wrong#8221 regarding privacy was assuming that other users felt similarly to me. I didn#8217t think users were as proactive as I was about privacy hygiene, but I did think they had similar instincts.... it#8217s remarkable what data people will willingly hand over when asked nicely, and it seems to me that privacy concerns are rarely the friction to adoption I expect they would be.

Given my privacy schtick a few people asked me what I thought.... short version - I get where Andrew is going, but I would phrase it a bit differently.

It can all be reduced to relatively simple economics.... in the last several years a whole host of services have made the immediate pay-off to consumers for dropping privacy exceedingly high. People do care about privacy now, as they always have -- but on a relative basis, privacy/not submitting to the information market is just more expensive than it once was.

So, it isn't 'remarkable what data people will willingly hand over when asked nicely', it is amazing how the cost of fundamental inputs (compute/store/bandwidth) has sufficiently changed the economic model around personal information so that services ranging from FB to Mint, etc. can provide users a huge utility return on giving up/selling/sharing more of their data.


the cycle of expectations to perceived reality and back again

Fri, 26 Feb 2010 22:10:00 +0000

comes up in all sorts of ways... the ipad isn't interesting to me because I expect it -- it is on my technology-expectation-line... I get excited when someone busts the model --


consciously and aggressively over-value your time

Sun, 21 Feb 2010 22:14:00 +0000

I am not sure what my time is worth per hour (aka what someone else would pay for it), but I am relatively certain that I behave/live life based on overly optimistic assumptions, especially with regards to any task I do repeatedly and can possibly abstract.

I don't really believe in giving personal advice, but I do think that over-valuing my time serves as a really good basic framework from which to work, or at least from which to tinker... It might be a good framework for others as well.

To give one example of what I mean by this, let's take csvemail.com -- I keep quite detailed records on everyone I communicate with, and email is by far my number one pipe. For a while, I would essentially scrape the metadata I needed out of email manually - I would leave a spreadsheet open on one screen, and dump new contacts and notes in throughout the day....

But, once I got the work flow down, I immediately started automating the collection and some of the key statistics... Now, csvemail.com (which you can use as you want) automates the entire process of scraping all my email for new contacts, and keeping detailed records of key statistics about people and message behavior that I want.

I swapped out a repeated task for an automated one at the cost of a few hours on a weekend, and a few dollars (thanks for the help bill).

I see this as a clear over-valuing of my time. CSVemail, even just as a barely full fledged tool is a MASSIVE overbuild considering the few min a day I was spending doing the same things manually,... heck, even the $32 a month bill to keep the service alive going forward is probably overly expensive given the manual alternative --

HOWEVER, I think that solving the mental puzzle of how to offload activities that are repeatable forces me to really analyze how I am spending my time and directly confront what I am doing... It is extra analysis, but I *THINK* that the exercise of the 'abstract everything' approach actually yields a net return.

... if you think the above is all nuts, at least consider that unless you buy certain versions of the singularity, time really is the most scarce resource... so if you are going to choose one element to over value, it might as well be time.


Golden BC heli skiing with Purcell

Wed, 17 Feb 2010 22:14:00 +0000

I was in Golden BC Heli Skiing for a very good friend's bachelor's party last weekend. We went out with Purcell and had a blast. The second day I took my garmin GPS/heartrate watch out just to see what the data would look like...

there were some visibility issues, so we couldn't get up as high or ski as much as we might have otherwise, but it was still a total blast -- this is what it looked like data wise (first graph amp map is the heli trip in, second is the ski day).

thanks to the whole Purcell team for a great two days -- especially Jeff for guiding us around his back yard, and the legendary Rudi Gertsch for taking a few runs with us


Why The Balance of Power Will Swing To Information and Entertainment Content Creators

Sat, 30 Jan 2010 22:14:00 +0000

I was honored that many people whom I truly respect took the time to read my thoughts on 2000-2010-2020 and offer insightful feedback. One prediction that a lot of people, including Tim O'Reilly, challenged me on was my claim that by 2020 the 'relative balance of power in the media would shift from content distribution to content creation'. Tim pointed out rightly that this prediction has been made time and time again with new technologies, and tends to be proven wrong at every turn. Because of this and some other recent comments flying around about the future of privacy/content/etc., I figured it would be worthwhile to explain a bit more deeply why I am willing to make the 'content creator' bet, and more broadly the framework I am currently operating under -- humor me, this is going to be my big my big a priori exercise for the year, so I am going to start at the very beginning with a few definitions and build up -

recognizing that this is a very long post, let me give a way the conclusion up front:

A. The value of a given bit of Information's is based on its own scarcity, but its value is relatively agnostic to the value of other Information(s), because information is by definition unique. Ever greater leverage in the ability of individuals to harvest the value of information means that the spoils are shifting more and more towards content creators and away from Information distributors.

B. Entertainment's value is a function of its scarcity relative to the market of other content/supplements, but not it's own distribution/scarcity. highly efficient filtering/distribution technology (social/management structures for managing increased interactions) give content creators relatively more leverage when you get several standard deviations away from the mean, which is where we are rapidly headed.

C. Ultimately, leverage moves to content creators in the next decade because while content is abundant, valuable Content (both Information and Entertainment flavors) is scarce. The difference between Information and Entertainment is only the difference in types of scarcity that drive end value for content creators.

1: A given bit of Content can be classified as Information or Entertainment, but never both, The only way to usefully bracket a definition of Content is as value-able expression that can be reduced to binary, and whose value fits under one of two possible MECE (mutually exclusive collectively exhaustive) sub-classes, defined by how their value changes as a function of scale -- namely Information (the price of walmart's stock tomorrow) and Entertainment (harry potter books).

First, I say value-able because I would argue that white-noise, or bits that literally have zero value are not Content. It isn't Content if someone isn't willing to pay something for it in some way, shape, or form (which is at a baseline being willing to spend the time to consume it). Second, since Content is value-able, it's value can be plotted vs. another measurable characteristic, like distribution. All Content has a definite unit economic value signature as a function of scale where Information is defined as the pattern in which value per incremental unit of distribution erodes, and Entertainment is where value per incremental unit of distribution is flat or positive.

So, while you might have a composite container of contents, like a news article, where some bits are information, and some bits are entertainment, you can ultimately reduced and separate the media to its component contents (and likely in our world would likely maximize their value in so doing)...

A. Information is Content which has a fixed and finite value, and whose value is harvested with distribution. Incremental distribution always means a loss of value. A given piece of information becomes less and less valuable the more it is shared/used, and because of that the total value of a piece of Information content is finite. If I am the only one that knows Walmart's stock price tomorrow at noon (with 100% certainty) that information is priceless, if everyone knows it is worthless. In this way, you can model information as a natural resource/oil. In its pure form it begins it's life as potential value, and then is converted/liquidated into real/fungible value. Information has a fixed value that relative to distribution starts high (Potential Energy) and ends low (Kinetic Energy). **To argue this in the true abstract and talk about things like the value of the Wall Street Journal, it is important to roll in that the value of all bits of information are by definition probabilistic (what the information says * how likely it is to be true) -- but I will save that for another post because it is non-core to why content creators will get more valuable.

B. Entertainment is Content whose value stays constant, and might even grow with distribution. Unlike information, whose value is finite and absolute, entertainment's value exists only relative to the market of other entertainment content available to me. So The Dark Night is equally enjoyable to me regardless of whether everyone else saw it or not, and its value might actually increase with social distribution (as I might get more and more value/enjoyment out of it the more I can discuss it with friends), but varies relative to what else is available to me in any given moment. Overall, entertainment's value is theoretically unlimited relative to its own distribution. ** for a later post: A MEME is a flavor of entertainment where the value of the content at scale is many multiples of the value of the content without scale.

So, back to a real world and seemingly muddled case - a news article- Any grouping of bits might have components which are information and components which are entertainment... but I would expect that the trends will continue to be the disaggregation of the two into component parts because Information and Entertainment are at economic odds with one another. When you wrap Information and Entertainment into the same body, you dilute the economic power of each because your incentive set on scale conflicts with itself.

2. Information: technology is giving Content creators ever greater leverage, allowing them to harvest a larger precent of the total value of a new bit of Information: Because Information has a finite value, harvesting value from Information is a race to the bottom. When T=0 and a new piece of information comes into the world, its value is 100% of what the entire known universe would pay for it less the total expense of fully disseminating that information. When T=infinity and a piece of information is perfectly known by everyone everywhere, its value is 0% of what the entire known universe would pay for it. (of course, the 0% can actually sit at a negative absolute dollar amount as a function of distribution costs, in which case the information would stop spreading before everyone knows it)

for the sake of a silly example, let's play pirate: you get a map to some buried treasure 2000 miles away. To simply things you have 100% confidence that it is accurate - so we set aside the fundamentally probabilistic nature of the information).

- If you are the only one with the map, the value of the intel is: the value of the treasure - the cost of extraction (and you could probably sell it for $1 less than that).
- If everyone has the map then no one is going to buy it from you because it is worthless (like the good old joke about the economist that stumbles across the $100 in the street).
- If just a few people have the map, you could sell the map for somewhere between 100% and 0% of the initial value.

A. The total value of information has risen for many types of information, because the market has grown and therefor a given new piece of knowledge is worth more: Just as a warmup (not critical for our conclusion), it is undeniable that for many (but not all) forms of information the total value of information has shifted up as the total human population, and the total size of the economy, has grown. Possibly the easiest example of this is the lottery. The value of somehow knowing the winning lottery number is much higher now than it was 30 years ago, because more people now play the lottery. This absolute shift up isn't all that interesting, but it is worth noting. This is a useful illustration largely because in the lottery the value of a winning number is a pure step function with a definite expiration date.

B. The initial value of Information in most cases has grown throughout history, driven by ever more leverage to take advantage of in the total market. The communicative leverage you can put to work to harvest a new given piece of information is growing rapidly, leading to a rise in the initial value of information. Let's pretend that you live in Chicago and happen magically to be the only one that knows which horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby 20 min before the race is run. 100 years ago, maybe you run to a local bookie, and make the biggest bet you can based on the cash in your pocket and the local chicago market. Now, you could pick up the phone, leverage tons of fast acting lines of credit (like credit cards) and make bets all of the world. Your cost of grabbing more of the total value of the information has declined precipitously, so the information is worth more to you if you are early in the diffusion curve (value - cost).

More obvious still. Look at hedge funds (or, just the concept of using a lot of financial leverage). It used to be that if you knew a great stock pick, you could buy a few shares up to the cash you had, and benefit a bit... You could tell a few friends, they could benefit also. Now, hedge funds can theoretically pile on as much leverage as possible, and using derivative instruments, capture way more upside per $. One person can smartly capture the whole win up to the point of moving the market.

Or, back to our treasure map whose value is the value of the bootie less the cost of extraction. 2000 years ago the extraction cost was traveling half way across the world, digging it up, hiring a ton of people to help you extract it - who will likely steal the intel from you, etc.- and then of course the cost of financing/capital to get it all done.... now, just hop a jet and rent a john deere for a few hundred bucks.

In a phrase - doing things is easier and knowing things is cheaper - so knowing things other people don't know is more valuable. So, not only is market is bigger in absolute for many, but not all, types of information (which means total value is greater), but greater leverage means that individuals early in the curve have lower cost extracting more out of the total value of information... so, returns to those whom are early are even greater...

C. ... But the corollary is that information amp information's value also diffuses much more quickly, shortening the window of opportunity for high returns. Adam Smith actually made quite a bit of money throughout his life in the 1700 arbitraging gold prices in europe in more or less the same way over and over. The market didn't respond - the opportunity to leverage a tiny bit of information was relatively consistent for decades. Now, opportunities close much much more quickly. The window to use information is generally much shorter. This is because there are generally more smart and connected people talking, working on the same problems, and cheaply pushing around bits than ever before. Further, the cost of harvesting information isn't lower just for the first person to discover/create information, it is lower for everyone in a competitive marketplace. So, the area under the curve (the total value of information) is constant... and if you harvest more of it more quickly, your ability to sit later in the curve and extract value is diminished.

To really see why converting information into value is a race to the bottom... back to pirates -- 2000 years ago, if you and five other individuals got their hands on the same 100% confidence treasure map within a few months of each-other and set out at a sprint, chances are that guy number 1 isn't finished with the labor of digging up all the treasure when competitors get there... so the 5 either raise armies to try to kill their competitors (expensive) or the cooperate and share the upside. Cooperating is not as good as being first alone, but being in the first group probably means you get dealt in.... now, using my john deere backhoe, if you get the map 1 day after me, you are screwed because in that one day I will have already taken 100% of the bootie and be chilling out in Michanos.

D. So, information is ever more perishable, and if you have information this means your best bet is to harvest it as quickly as possible: If you have information of value, you need to use it or loose it. As the window on inefficiencies generally closes faster and faster, people have an incentive to leverage what they know at an ever faster rate. I don't sit on ideas. I see how highly I can leverage them, I leverage them, and I move on. There are a lot of interesting dynamics around this for a later post (prisoner's dilemma is a great way to describe why information diffuses so quickly)

E. Thus, by 2020 content creators - those who know first - will gain power on a relative basis: New information is the only place with leverage on the value chain - If you can generate true information, your ability to leverage the initial value of that information is greatly enhanced. But because the information diffuses so quickly, the window of opportunity is much shorter for follow-on by other people who gain access to your information. The distance between first and everyone else continues to grow... the those that are 'first' generally have more and more leverage. By this argument, value resides with being first to an insight... the second place prize has been seriously diminished.** (again, please note that this totally ignores the probabilistic nature of information, which is where things like the times/professional news make a big difference).

or - put in a phrase - the cost of harvesting information once it exists has become very low, so the value is in creation, not the pipes to disseminate. -- news organizations are valuable if they are fine tuned for news gathering and fact checking (a form of second derivative information), not because they have fleets of trucks and paperboys to deliver the news.

-- The result of this is increasing inequality. The earliest people/the information creators do better, everyone else does worse -- The potentially socially bad news (if you want to take moral sides) is that leverage/information content creators winning more reduces equality. Original information can be leveraged more quickly in a wider audience, so producing it is a huge deal... but the value of second place is rapidly being diminished towards zero). ** later post: argument in here for the implications on patents/IP. 18 years is far too long in our changing landscape

-- The implications of this obviously play out for all sorts of second derivatives as well (information about information, of meaningful note given my expected audience on this). This is especially critical when considering search.... again, this is a stem for later followup -- but the basic point is that these same dynamics suggest that traditional 'search' is going to get much less valuable rapidly.

3. Entertainment: competitive 'Filters' are bringing individuals so many standard deviations away from mean Content, that content I value is getting scarce, and power is shifting to content creators:Let's start by considering in a bit more detail how baseline entertainment consumption works.... Unlike information, where I have relatively elastic demand (I can use leverage/computers/companies/etc. to consume as much information as is ROI positive - and I am getting more consumption leverage all the time), my entertainment consumption is relatively inelastic. I have X hours and Y dollars a day to spend on being entertained (reduce it either way, but let's pretend I can trade dollars for hours and hours for dollars, so we are only dealing with one dimension).

At the same time, completely forgetting the concept of 'filters' for a second (that comes later, stick with me) we as individuals each face a world of Entertainment Content whose value in utils/hour looks something like a Normal distribution. There is a small amount of content which is very high value (is hyper rich in utils/hour), a lot of content clumped around the mean, and a bit of truly terrible content which is really low value. Of course, this curve is personal... so something which might be very very high in value on my curve could be very very low on yours.

Part of the reason that I believe that a Normal distribution is a good general model, is because the value of Entertainment Content can be understood only on a relative basis (just like intelligence, or the more modern intelligences). Avitar did very well in 2009-2010 -- but it was very high on the distribution curve only compared to the other movies/forms of entertainment right now. If you had released Avitar in 1970, chances are it would be considered several orders of magnitude more amazing than it is today (and would have made way more money), if you release it in 2015, we might find it relatively less entertaining/utility rich.

The upshot is that in a baseline scenario, with zero filters at my disposal, an individual will tend to get the mean number of utils with my relatively fixed time/dollar entertainment wallet/budget... An individual would consume value from entertainment at the mean of all content produced. (so -- in the below I will tend to consume at the intersection of my total consumption volume (the red line and the bell curve average (blue line)--

The story of the above graph goes something like this. You are in a room with an hour. You have at your disposal a set of un-labeled books, videos, audio, video games, etc. You have no way to know which ones are good/which ones you would like or which ones are bad. On average, over enough days in the library, you will tend to consume the mean piece of content at your disposal, and will harvest the mean number of utils from your hour(s).

A. storage amp distribution costs are dropping so there is far more content at my disposal: Not too long ago, at 10pm on a tuesday I had at my disposal whatever books were in my house, whatever was on one of 5 television channels, a handful of content on the internet, and a wired phone to try to reach someone who was awake. Now, at 10pm on a tuesday I have at my disposal thousands of movies, hundreds of television shows, thousands of books (on kindle), basically every piece of music that has been professionally recorded, streams of content from thousands of friends, etc. there are several orders of magnitude more entertainment content at my disposal.

further, I also on average have a slightly larger time/money entertainment wallet if I live in the western world I am working on average less than I was 10 years ago... (not of big consequence, but worth noting and indicated by the red line moving up in the below graphic)

All that said, just because distribution and storage costs are down, doesn't mean that the average value of the content has changed, for now - again without filters - for every bit of new really great stuff at my disposal, there is a ton of Barney in Malaysian with Hindi subtitles (very valuable to Malaysian kids that speak Hindi, but of almost zero value to me).... and as the result of storage and distribution we find that we have more content, but more of the SAME content from a value distribution perspective. The library is bigger, but I get the same enjoyment out of it as I did out of the smaller library, and in either case I can only consume a small fraction of the material.

B. content creation costs are dropping, driving lower average value (utility/hour) in the content produced: If you only make one movie a year, you tend to try to pick your best script and put your best director on it. When humanity starts spitting out ?thousands? of movies a year, the average drops. So, the second thing that is changing is that the average bit of entertainment content produced in the world is dropping fast. With no hurdle to production some great stuff gets made that wouldn't have otherwise been created -- but far far far more junk gets created per incremental unit.

When there were 3 channels at 10pm I was on average 33% of the time going to end up with Johnny Carson if I randomly switched to a channel -- with 2000 channels, I have a 1/2000 shot of randomly getting CoCo, and a 3/2000 shot of getting Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of NYC, or... Real Housewives of Orange County. So, I bet money the average telegraph sent (expensive) was way way more interesting than the average tweet (cheap). Just as the average message run 26 miles up to Athens after the battle of Marathon was way more interesting than the average telegraph.

In step 2, still forgetting filters, my average media consumption has actually LOST value recently. My consumption volume is constant, but because lower production costs ultimately ends up correlating with a shift down in our average content value curve, I the content I am consuming is actually on average WORSE than it was in a content production constrained environment.

C. Of course, no one actually consumes the mean of the basket of content available to them, filters help us find content that we will enjoy in excess to the mean. we have always had content filters. Social filters have existed as long as friendships -- the are not a modern invention. People were recommending plays/books/etc. to each-other since the beginning of time helping them leverage up the value in their finite entertainment consumption wallet. The TV Networks and Record Labels are both pools of capital/knowledge, and filters that extend all the way backwards through the creative process. TV guide, the New York Times Book Review, Zagats, basically any editorial content about Entertainment is a form of a filter.

Filters look like/function by basically taking your average consumption from the mean (the blue line that has shifted down), across the orange line, up to the blue dot. The 'value' of a filter can be expressed/thought of as the length of the orange vector minus the cost of consuming the review/editorial (in time/money/etc). So, a good filter can be extremely valuable in a world awash with content. Against a backdrop of abundant content, filters help you consume more efficiently, and thereby get more utils/unit of consumption. Filters are the only way we can escape our otherwise clear fate of consuming ever lower value entertainment content (in terms of utils) as the mean content in the market continues to drop.

D. Filters are evolving rapidly: for a long time, filters were relatively simple and provided clear but modest improvements over the mean. The first filters were real world social filters (friends, families, etc)... after that traditional editorial filters evolved - TV guide, reader's digest, etc., as well as Record Labels and TV Networks screening content in early development, and filtering it through to your eyes (while simultaneously financing it, and contributing to it) ... skip forward to search engines (algorithmic filters) and now social networks (filters combining old school friends, families, etc. + algorithmic)... technological points of discontinuity (printing, scaled algorithmic processing, social graph, etc.) have a few times throughout history meaningfully allowed you to step up the entertainment content value curve in relatively sharp jolts.

The key is that the value of a filter in absolute is the positive shift in average consumption value it provides to users... but the value of any given filter is measured relative to other filter options/costs. Filters exist in a competitive marketplace within a type (newspaper vs. newspaper) but also across the whole function (social vs. search vs. newspaper)So, the value of search is not the total vector from average content to editorial options -- it is the marginal improvement that search has over editorial. the value of social is not necessarily the value of social relative to editorial, but it's value relative to search. (Again, this is another stub of an argument/many points fall out here, but hopefully the general concept is captured/serves for our end goal here)...

E. Filtering itself is becoming an ultra competitive marketplace, facing commoditization and declining margins: just to belabor the point... the reality looks more like the below, where the value of any filter is only the marginal improvement on the X axis of one dot (service) over all other possible filtering choices. So, search might plop down on the content curve line on certain categories and have a decided advantage for a while, but that advantage is ultimately eroded by competing services. The same relationship plays out in a derivative with the filters themselves. As more filters evolve, the relative value of any one over the others declines.

F. Why 'entertainment content creation' will start winning this decade, because we can surface great (and scarce content!): Filters are getting really good, and they are going to keep getting better... and this presents the ultimate rub: filters are competing each other to provide excess value so many standard deviations above the mean content, that all of a sudden truly excellent content that I want to consume (and filters want to provide me) is scarce again, which means the balance of power swings back to those that can produce truly excellent stuff.

the basic idea is that when you are just one or two standard deviations above the mean content value, filters dominate because content that hits that richness is relatively abundant and replaceable. There is far more content at the value level required than you could possibly consume, so any given content owner/producer lacks pricing power.... but, I believe that as we approach 2020, we are going to face a scenario where we are a sufficient number of degrees above average content in what is required to compete, that filters will be delivering scarce and valuable content in an effort to compete. If filters start delivering content that isn't replaceable/commodity, then all of a sudden the content owners are going to find themselves with a lot more leverage.

Below I illustrate the point at which content creators/owners gain back power -- where my daily entertainment consumption wallet exceeds the average content available to me. I am looking for a better answer than a simple filter on top of commodity content can provide. I need great content and great filters, not just great filters of mediocre content.

To keep hammering on this, Entertainment content creators will start winning this decade because the filtering business is becoming just as competitive as the content business itself. To create value you need to be so many standard deviations out on the curve that the content itself is just as scarce as the filtering/finding of the content... so, where once we were awash in models of filters/distribution leveraging under-valued content, we now find that to really do well, content and filtering/distribution need each-other.

- historically: content (easy to make), distribution/filters (scarce)
- 2020: content (easy to make, hard to make well). distribution (easy to make, hard to make well)

The result is that to get outsized returns on content, you have to produce and filter content many SDs above the norm. Where once the market had a lot of slack in it, and filters could dominate by finding marginally better entertainment content, I would argue that we now face a situation where incredible content needs incredible filtering, and visa versa to provide any sort of actual value. You need to get all the way down the curve to the extreme right, which requires both extremely good and extremely scarce content, and extremely good and extremely scarce filtering/distribution.

Where does this work?

- I want to listen to YoYo Ma play Bach
- I want to listen to her majesty by the Beatles
- I want to read stephen pinker
- I want to watch 30 Rock

G. This doesn't mean that your status update is valuable: for note now and expansion later - just because power is shifting back to content creators doesn't mean the personal entertainment Content you generate is all that valuable.... Even if your 50 friends like the photo you took and value it several SDs above the mean content they can consume, don't kid yourself - even when amassed that content isn't worth that much. Your only photo of grandma is priceless, but your 1000th baby photo is mostly worthless.

H. However, all this said, facebook and google still win - just not for the reasons everyone thinks: for note now and expansion later -- If Facebook and Google were just filters, the above would clearly imply that they have issues on the horizon... but Facebook and Google are not just filters, they are content creators. I will go into this more some other time, but for now -- just consider who really is the 'owner'/'creator' of your status update. On one hand, of course you wrote it.... but in reality wen't you just an input to facebook's Content creation pump? I would argue that the best brands going forwards are the ones which are creating contexts which drive people to generate content for them. Facebook and Google are not filters - they are content creators and owners (sorry guys, I know you don't like to think of yourselves as media companies, but I don't think it is such a dirty thing going forward, even if it was historically).

- In closing: I buy the 2020 content business as on a relative upswing information's value is based on it's own scarcity. ever greater leverage means that the spoils are shifting more and more towards content creators - entertainment's value is a function of scarcity relative to other content, but not it's own distribution. the ultra competitive filtering market pushes demand all the way out to the edge, where content is scarce and where content creators have relatively more leverage.


publicity is the new social norm and Heidi Montag knows it

Mon, 18 Jan 2010 22:14:00 +0000

(for starters, just a note that I am posting this en route SFO to JFK at 300 MPH and 30K feet... first time actually using in-flight wifi -- call me a child of an earlier century, but this is totally mind blowing.)

Over the last week or so I have received a bunch of emails and DMs asking me whether or not I agree with Zuckerberg's statement that publicity is the new social norm.

First, to be clear upfront, from what I have seen that isn't exactly what he said -- it is how several blogs decided to paraphrase it... But for sake of argument let's pretend that is the 'quote' we are working from --

I think this is because drop.io's mandate is private sharing people expect that I disagree with this general encapsulation. The reality is that I think the concept that publicity is the new social norm is spot on... and drop.io was actually founded on the premise that for the first time in human history publicity had become the norm, and privacy was becoming the premium service.

To explain, in late 2007 when we started drop.io and started talking about simple private sharing I had a slide in my presentation that looked like this:

the voice over to the slide went like this:

for all of human history privacy has been inexpensive relative to publicity. If I wanted to have a private conversation with you 2,000 years ago, we could sit down for a beer - much as we do today. If we were both hanging out in Rome, the cost of organizing that beer and exchanging some private words hasn't changed much. If 2,000 years ago I wanted to broadcast something to the entire world it would have been almost impossible, and require an immense amount of time and money...now, for the first time in history, it is actually easier and cheaper to be public than it is to be private. Publicity is cheap and privacy is expensive.

Now, if I want to share text/audio/video/etc. with an enormous number of people, facebook, youtube, twitter, etc. are happy to oblige me with fast, efficient, and free services. If I want to share the same text/video/audio/etc. with just my mom, the services offerings are in general not as good, and as a rule paid in some way shape or form. Drop.io looks to borrow the best design patterns from public sharing services (where all the innovation of late has gone) and make private information and media sharing as efficient as possible on a premium model.
Publicity is most certainly now the norm, and for the first time in history 'privacy' is what we pay for. The lines have crossed for the first time in history, and they are not crossing back.

Of course, this begs the question, how did we get here? The answer is that it is all purely the result of economics. Advertising driven businesses margins go up the more a given piece of content is consumed. Whether I am sharing a video with one person or with a billion the economic structure of the content can be generally understood as:

revenue/value: advertising rate (CPM, CPA, whatever) * number of impressions + [ viral value of new user * new users ]
- costs: [ (sourcing/production) + upload + conversion + storage size * time], downstream bandwidth * number of times viewed.

If my content is private and is only used/viewed once, i need to incur the upload, conversion, storage, every time. If my content is public and viewed a billion times, I can amortize all of those costs and my margins improve. So, any advertising driven business at the most fundamental level will always tend towards being public. (Obviously, the above is just basic math. For smarter players the value of a view/impression, etc. is much more than just the revenue you directly extract from it... in fact, for explicitly virally grown systems, the more you share the more you get.)

Why does this mean people tend to go public? because the same math applies for you as an individual. It is pure economics. If you have an incremental piece of information, you want to 'sell' it in the market in return for as much physical capital/social capital as you can get, and it no longer pays to be private, because even for trivial almost worthless pieces of information like 'eating lunch' has some positive value in some way shape or form to someone.... your cost of broadcasting that information has become so ridiculously low, that there is actually positive value to moving it both for you and for your service provider.

my revenue/value for a piece of content: number of people listening * (social credit + ?sometimes a rev share?)
- costs: capturing/creating it + inputing it -

Which leads me to Heidi Montag... I was blown away reading US weekly (or something like that) over some woman's shoulder on the F train a few days ago. What I basically took away from the article is that Heidi basically pre-exposed tons of really person information/pictures/etc about her plastic surgery issues proactively. This is mind-blowing as a child of an earlier time, but very clearly the right move by team Heidi management. This is not just about a publicity stunt. Heidi is working the new modern reality to a T.

The logic is simple: In our brave new world it would have been infinitely expensive to keep private that heidi had surgery (the days of presidents secretly in wheelchairs are over).

So, Team Heidi options are: 1. embrace it and harvest the content for value amp control the initial spin or 2. let someone else profit from the content and incur the same costs without any upside. Clearly, you go public.

Is the fundamental cost structure shift of content and the resulting cultural sift good/bad? I am not sure. but it is very profound... it changes basically everything - down to strategies for privacy, which move from trying to keep information off the grid, to just flooding the grid.... and based on the new interest in privacy resulting from this and some of the offshoot conversations from my 2000, 2010, 2020 discussion... next post is my full current thinking on content.


thus begins the decade of passive data collection...

Thu, 07 Jan 2010 22:14:00 +0000

last weekend I went skiing with my girlfriend. Using my garmin watch I pulled down location (lat, long, elevation) and heartrate. easily yielding stuff like this... on day 1 on my hellbent skis I was doing 30MPH cruising - next day on my 5 stars, 36MPH was +- casual terminal speed. :)

in 10 years, this will be more the standard than the exception.


I just got tricked by RT

Mon, 28 Dec 2009 22:14:00 +0000

Daniel Delaney just tweeted:

RT @Mashable: Founder of private web storage site Drop.io, Sam Lessin (@lessin) launches yet another storage startup: cumberb.un

this was a cleaver joke back to a funny dinner conversation a month or two ago when we decided it was time to bring back the cumberbun as a fashion accessory ideal for storing tech accessories, and critically, for unfinished leftovers from classy restaurants (in a resealable reheatable pouch).

but... it took me a few min to get the joke, and I must admit that I spent a few min poking around mashable ready to reject the ridiculous claim that I had started a 'storage' company

which leads me to the humorous bit that while I love running around town talking about how people read identity into all sorts of unverified/non-identity rich system, I just got had by the same mistake.

RT is a great way to misappropriate authority
...refutable, sure - about the same as saying billy told me it was true -- but it still works as we re-adjust our expectations online.


thoughts re 2000,2010,2020

Sun, 27 Dec 2009 22:18:00 +0000

decades only happen so often.... and now feels like as good a time as any to pause and do a sketch of 2020, based on a comparison of 2000 and 2010. In Jan the BLKNY30 is going to host an event with the NYC founder's round with a similar goal - but in the meantime here is my personal take and a few calls in the form of 2000 | 2010 | 2020 --

as with all my blogposts - especially exceedingly speculative ones - the standard disclaimer applies that I am writing with an open audience in mind but ultimately as a format to clarify my own thinking, I almost never disclose conflicts of interest, I work in bracketed time so I need to apologize to my mother and proponents of english grammar and diction, and the views expressed might not actually be my personal beliefs, but rather what I choose to represent as my personal beliefs in this format (the medium is the message)

Headlines from the exercise:

A. The Relative 'Resolution' of 10 Years: It is mind blowing to me the seemingly important/formative things that fade away when you step the resolution out to 10 years.

For instance, I started the decade without an ipod, and I am ending the decade without one -- even though it was very important bit of tech in the middle. Same thing with college... which was highly formative, but actually just made up a minority of a period that fit well within the bounds of our resolution. That doesn't mean that college or the ipod weren't critical, but it does underscore just how big a decade really is (especially with the backdrop of accelerating technology)... the number of locally important world events, personal events, startups, people, etc. that get washed out of a 10 year pull-up is just staggering - Bain, Youtube, Twitter, Tiger, Giants/Patriots, and certainly rowing.

B. Acceleration: Chronological time seems ever more disconnected from other measures of definite meaning.

Chronologically the last decade was exactly as long as the one before it (give or take a few seconds based on the speed of the earth's revolution I believe), but in almost any other unit that is not even close to the case. If we measure time in terms of the amount of unique content created, the last decade was probably 10X as long as the one before it. Worldwide births, probably 1.2X (just guessing - not looking it up). If I personally measure it in terms of percentage of my life to date, the number of messages I received, dates I went on (almost all with the same girl :), beers, dinners I ate out, hours I spent in lectures, hours I spent earning money, flights I took, miles I ran, or a myriad of other factors, 2000-2010 looked nothing like 1990-2000, nor will 2010-2020 look anything like 2000-2010. The world is accelerating, and so am I.
C. Core beliefs amp big challenges: I don't think that my core belief system has changed very much/will change very much 2000,2010,2020. In 2020, just as in 2010, just as in 2000, I suspect I will strongly believe that people are good and that free markets solve most problems very well (or at least orders of magnitude better than anything else we have come up with).

In 2020, just as now, I will believe that our big challenges exist where short term incentives and the immediate interests of one generation run counter to our own longer term interest and that of the species. The biggest problems we face now and will face in 2020 involve a growing set of situations where stakeholders are not yet around, or not yet empowered.

I will be then, as I am now, most concerned at a macro level about the environment and privacy, two clear cases where our short and long term interests are diametrically opposed. I will also be increasingly concerned about the worldwide technological/economic/social/and political monoculture that are forming ... because mono-cultures have an unfortunate way of not lasting very long, and not degrading very gracefully - and we seem to be building one at an accelerated rate.

D. Friends: this was a big decade re: personal relationships.

Unlike 1990-2000, where I carried through as friends no more than a handful of people, I truly suspect that the people I became close with 2000-2010 will remain central to my passion, creativity, and enjoyment well through 2020. Further, I suspect that in terms of new meaningful human relationships the next 10 years will be far less important than the last. I think this generally fits into a natural lifecycle, but I also think that I just had the incredible luck, honor, and privilege of coming into contact with and developing personally meaningful relationships with some of the most interesting and wonderful people in the last 10. A very high bar has been established.

E. Technology, moving towards implicit data and central services, maximizing value/bit, with all the pluses and minuses:

We are currently in a period of explicit gestures (double confirmed declared facebook 'friends'), status updates, 'checkins' - we are going to a world of implicit gestures culled from real action by 2020. Not who you declare your friends to be, but how you actually transact with other people... etc. Moving away from 'may I ask who is calling' and towards caller-ID. This is part of a constant trend of maximizing the value/bit of information transmission because while we are *relatively* not storage constrained, we are constrained by our own human IO and processing on the edge.

The winners will be people who have asymmetric privileged information about and around those transactions. Facebook, Google, Credit Card Companies, AWS, and anyone else who can compound their accuracy by owning the throttle points where people give up more and more of what the Betaworks guys call 'data exhaust'....

Because the value of all of this is based on asymmetry (if everyone can plug into your dataflow then your dataflow is worthless) all this will compound around centrally controlled services. Which means that there isn't much room to attack smart incumbents in the next 10 years without some sort of massive discontinuity in the economics of technology.

Leading to the good news and the bad news. The good news is that central power is great for creating new and useful information and services -- The bad news is that this value will be centrally controlled with potentially hugely negative implications for privacy (which matters by my thinking only in so far as there is a feedback loop where the nature of the channel effects the nature/value of the message itself -- living in public alters how people live and think), and certainly for equality. We need to start to watch out for new incarnations of authoritarian regimes - which will not in any way resemble our parent's conception of authority.

F. Ultimately: the world will still be fascinating, I will still love working with wonderful people to make things, ideas will abound, the real value will be execution

--

1. easy stuff: I will get older, I will more than likely follow a normal life trajectory - I will physically maintain myself because I am highly committed to doing so. I will do things I love, and be surrounded by people I care deeply about.

age: 16 | 26 | 36
formal education: high-school | college AB | college AB
living: New Jersey | New York | Northern Hemisphere
living with: Mother, Father, Brother, Sister | Solo | Married
approximate flights/year: 8 | 50 | 50
skiing days/year: 15 | 15 | 20
-- heli skiing days/year: 0 | 4 | 4
biking miles/year: 0 | 600 | 1000
boxing ability: 0 | 0 | recreational
kite-sporting days/year: 0 | 10 | 10
running miles/week: 25 | 20 | 25
maxed out mile/min time: 4:50 | 5:50 | 5:50
resting heart-rate: ? | 66 | 66
human priority: self, family | self, family, friends | self, family, friends
favorite foods: cheerios, cottage cheese, and tortellini | unchanged | unchanged
major illnesses or injuries requiring hospitalization: 0 | 0 | 0

2. technology interfaces amp physical lines:
the trend will be towards interfaces generally becoming commoditized and getting really cheap and open (how original, I know). I don't think we will care very much about our specific boxes that host our connectivity in 10 years, just as now we don't care about a lot of the components that were once central. Apple is the only company that has a even shot of maintaining a premium position in the human interface market.

laptop: Sony Vio | MacBook Pro | Mac XX or vanilla -- laptop is still primary interface
point/shoot digital camera: cannon powershot 10 | cannon powershot 200 -- integrated with phone/irrelevant
cell phone: startac analog | iphone amp blackberry | open handset/disposable -- maker is irrelevant
default screen: 20 inch sony 'flat' CRT | 32 inch dell flatscreen | 44+ inch LCD -- maker is irrelevant
Primary input device: static keyboard | static keyboard | static keyboard, but up to 25% of input via touchscreen.
mobile music: creative nomad | iphone | integrated with phone/not a device -- maker is irrelevant
home projector cost: $15K | $800 -- maker is irrelevant | $150
primary hard drive size: 5GB Seagate | 250 GB -- maker is irrelevant | 5 TB
Primary OSes: windows XP | OSX amp windows XP | Chrome/Browser as OS amp OSX
cell provider: verizon | ATT amp verizon | open/all of the above -- crossed fingers for openness
home connectivity speed: dual tied isdn | cable amp wimax | last mile fiber
TV provider: Direct TV | None | None
Wired Phone: Yes | VOIP | already not worth talking about
Truly Functional Battery Life on laptop: 2 hours | 5 hours | 12 hours

3. messaging/how we speak to each-other: Email will technically still be dominant, but it will have evolved so far (all be it on a relatively kluged core system) that the fact that it is technically email amp called email will not really be relevant to the end user experience - gmail squared is NOT wave. voice phone use will be down on a per user/per month basis... IM and SMS will be massively up, but will be so deeply integrated that we won't think of them as separate services, rather than just irrelevant communication routing options.

Primary digital communication channel: email | email | email
'email' provider: hotmail | gmail | gmail amp facebook
email client: outlook | web based | web-based, but we won't talk about it that way
IM: AIM | AIM, FB, Gchat all abstracted via addium | web based basically ubiquitous fully integrated amp abstracted service
SMS/week: 20 | 50 | 0 not differentiated as an interface/price/etc., fully integrated
Phone min/month: 200 | 400 | 200
Full video teleconferencing/min/month: 0 | 100 | 500+

4. central 'web' services: google will still lead search, but search for static answers will be a relative commodity, and adwords will not be as high margin a business as it currently is (though likely it will be far larger in terms of absolute revenue and dollar profitability). Facebook will dominate identity by dominating the socially validated 'graph' and feed will provide leveraged scarce information - the social 'graph' will not be open, but other communications forms and transactions will provide different topologies of people, places, and things. Overall there will be massive consolidation of time spent on the internet, and most services will go hyper vertical or completely commodity.

search: alta-vista/baby goog | goog | goog, but relatively commoditized
identity: nothing/fractured | facebook | facebook, and hugely dominant
payment: baby paypal | paypal | venmo
marketplace of choice: ebay | ebay | ubiquitous commerce/vanilla % of my personal data in the cloud vs. on the edge: ~2% / 98% | ~30% / 70% | ~70% / 30%

5. content services: content is everywhere and always accessible.... people stop caring about owning it locally entirely and everything is subscription and/or pay as you go. The conduits of content are devalued. The best content creators do relatively well - though the average content producer does much much worse.

TV: tuner card in my desktop | hulu/apple | google
movies: dvds | apple amp amazon | apple, amazon
music: napster | lala/thesixtyone | ubiquitous distribution and consumption
books: NA | Amazon | ubiquitous distribution and consumption
winners in the 'news' game: yahoo news | google consolidating free sources | WSJ/Bloomberg/Reuters, the core guys win
balance of power in media: distribution | distribution | creative talent

6. Personal content: I think that I will passively capture far more about myself in the next decade than I did in the last two, but will actually explicitly capture less as the process of recording/memorializing/storing becomes natural exhaust of the event itself:

photos I take/year: 100 | 2,000 | 500
videos I take/year: 5 | 100 | 200
average length/video: 30:00 | 2:00 | 5:00
long form blogposts/year: 0 | ~50 | ~50
short static explicit message updates/year: 0 | ~300 | ~600

7. public market amp law: Amazon and Facebook will be targeted from anti-trust perspective. we will be meaningfully concerned about oil and water. Most other political macro issues/trends will sadly remain unchanged.

facing anti-trust issues: MSFT (OS) | GOOG (Search) | AMAZON (Cloud) amp FBOOK (Graph)
US 'real' income: flat | flat | flat
resource: OIL | OIL | OIL and Water
reported US unemployment in Jan: 4% | ~10% | 14% (actual rate much higher)
Issue people are fixated on: Economy | Economy amp Terrorism | unchanged
Issue people should be fixated on: Education | unchanged | unchanged
health care: Unchanged | Unchanged | Unchanged
primary innovation driver: US | US | US
dominant currency: US | US | US, but on last legs
dominant economy in terms of GDP: US | US | US (but with China at 75%+ of US and clear path to dominance)

8. startups: traditional advertising is starting to decrease because it has fully shifted online and it turns out it doesn't really work at scale very well anymore. Good content does well and is paid for. Algorithmic search is about finding personal rich media from a sea of content, social technology has basically lost the word 'friend' to oblivion but the concepts still apply. Location is not it's own interface business - thought from a fundamental perspective it is interesting, in 10 years it will finally be ubiquitous (after 20 years of promise) but as a parameter of social. The internet will still be very interesting, and a small handful of longterm meaningful internet companies will be born -- but the rate of turnover of power will change significantly. Web applications will be mom-and-pop businesses built on scalable clouds and highly abstracted languages. Biotech/Nano/Robotics/Health will actually be meaningful in the real world, rather than just promise (yes, I am willing to say that after people have been wrong it in decade predictions for the last 50 years)

Content Monetization Buzz: CPC/Eyeballs | CPA/analytics | Real-time Generated Personal Offers
Content Monetization Reality: Doesn't Work (isn't ROI positive at scale) | Doesn't Work (isn't ROI positive at scale) | People Pay For Valuable Scarce Content
Search Technology Trend: spyders | realtime based on tags | real-time deep algorithmic contextual search within non-scale media
Social Technology Trend: finding your actual friends | qualifying/defining the edges of 'friendship' | 'friendship' is passe as a term, but central in reality... we move away from explicitly declared to implicit understood networks.
LBS - location based: visible world | everyone and their mother playing | ubiquitous as a parameter of social (facebook), no meaning in a vacuum/no new services.
'languages' which conceptually exciting to me: PHP | Ruby/Sinatra | I have a guess...
'Cloud' dominated by: N/A | AWS | AWS
Personal Quantification Trend: hard drive space | short explicit messaging | passive data, especially health related.
Robotics: not real | almost real | very early but in commercial market
Nano: not real | almost real | very early but in commercial market
Bio: not real | almost real | very early but in commercial market
Health: not real | not real | some basic stem cell therapy for very rich
Energy: not real | early investment | starting to be meaningfully deployed, but still under 10% of power.

Gutter Balls:

major well understood but unaddressed issue: environment | environment | environment
major social issue: hard to disaggrete | privacy | privacy
sleeping giant issue: | | authoritarian implications of central web services
dark personal information: we are going to have a lot of it, how to search it
health-stats: those are going to go in the exhaust category

Completely loaded statistics that have a lot of unaccounted for nuance under them but that I still want to wager on (this is before you take out lots of drivers like unemployment, etc.:

US hours spent watching TV per week: 2X
US hours spent playing video games per week: 3X
US hours spent 'online' per week: 2X
Price of oil in 2010 dollars: 1.5X
US penetration of hybrids + electric cars: 3X
more...


Is it time for a Social Graph CDN/ Facebook CDN (+ Wirehog thoughts)

Sun, 20 Dec 2009 22:18:00 +0000

a long long time ago there was a great service that briefly co-existed with facebook called Wirehog. One way to put it, it was the first 'connect' app.... it meshed your local files with your social graph. It was cool, and maybe just a bit ahead of its time.

Anyway, out of some thoughts about old wirehog, and a really interesting conversation at the drop.io hackathon (which has been a blast)...,

what about building a facebook connect based CDN/content accelerator?
The general idea is that if you are watching video/interacting with content, and then sharing it on your facebook feed, you are basically pointing a bunch of socially (and quite likely physically) close people to the content, and I bet FB could tell you a lot about who is likely to click on it and how much.

If you listen to a song and the post it/like it/etc -- you are basically kicking off a chain where that content will be hit more often by a defined group of friends/and friends of friends.

So, while right now facebook redirects you through to the content/given endpoint that you have indicated... what if you wrote an app that started caching the actual content locally while you are at it. Rather than redirecting back to the original source/origin, why not just keep the bits/some of the bits local and reserve them yourself to your friends.

do the physical distribution while you are doing the social distribution.

I have been taught to be skeptical of peer-to-peer in most instances... you need hyper dense content for it to normally work... but it is interesting to think of meshing a content network with a social network... especially as social networks tend to drive more and more of the hits against content networks... why not spread the content itself along the same social lines that hits to the content spread.


Double Blind Distro: why tumblr is way racier than fb and twitter. When the medium changes the message

Wed, 16 Dec 2009 22:18:00 +0000

for a long time I didn't really get tumblr, now I do... The reason it is really really good, and the reason it matters, is double blind distribution means that I can consume pure content without social overhead.

To explain. -- Let's *pretend* I want content from Jenna Jameson.

Facebook bidirectional friend relationships help grow their system, but also clearly structure and force me to curate my content and connections. Friending someone has a positive value and a definite socially enforced cost structure. I don't want to be friends with jenna because I don't necessarily want her to have access to me and my information. If she did, it would negatively impact my ability to share high value information in the network.

Twitter's unilateral follow is lower touch in several ways, but there is still enforcement. If jenna follows me, it isn't a big deal... Because twitter is open, I fundamentally can't share anything on it that I wouldn't want on the front page of the wall street journal anyway... and she doesn't get much with her follow.

But if I follow jenna, that is a horse of a different color. I am giving information that I want her content/am consuming her content to others (like my mom) OR I need to play where is waldo and follow tons of people (diluting my stream value)

Tumblr is perfect for following jenna.. It is content without implicit social capital flow, only explicit gestures like reblog...
So, with tumblr I don't have to display who I am following, and she doesn't know I am following her!, and I still get the content in a nice streamed format.

I can use tumblr for pure content minus the social strings BECAUSE it is double blind. Making tumblr far racier... (and far more honest perhaps?)

The cool part is that this construct seems to play out - tumblr is about content, no strings attached - and so it is far racier (and has far more book deals)...

And, what is even cooler is that just because the tumblr blind graph isn't shown to users directly doesn't mean it doesn't exist or is worthless... It is actually super valuable data.
Growth implications: The only issue is that double blind doesn't grow on the same dynamics, twitter and fb skim existing social capital to grow, tumblr doesn't - but with scores and reblogging, tumblr tries to short circuit these issues...

UPDATE: a few people have pointed out that you can get a list of followers on tumblr (i hadn't known that!) most of the above still works/applies because that list is private... but I guess Jenna will know I am in to her after all (even if my mom doesn't know it)


spell check is nice - but I want emotion check

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 22:18:00 +0000

Before I send an email, I want a button next to spell check that saysemotion check, when I click it google grabs the words and phrases (+ some historical sets) and computes:

  1. The negative/positive tone of the email relative to other emails I send (0-1 scale)

  2. The relative negative/positive tone of the email to all emails sent by all people (0-1 scale)

  3. The negative/positive tone of the email relative to emails I send to that person (or that person receives)

4. Most impt: the expected response rate and time to respond.

  1. The expected negative/positive tone of the response. I bet you could pull this stuff out using: words and phrases in the email, the recipient, gender?, ethnicity?, historical emails sent and responses, etc.

Cap it with a suggest function (a la spell check), that tells you to add a smiley face here or there, or switch words/phrases.

Eventually, get to a health meter next to all of my contacts showing the imputed positive/negative stance of our relationship based on message flow, I like it. Time for Gmail Labs to get crackin’.


URL shorteners, 'this link will self destruct in....'

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 22:18:00 +0000

I just read the WSJ article (http://wless.in/shortener ) about the risks associated with bit.ly / tinyURL etc and maintaining link integrity. The ideas, as has been commonly addressed in the tech industry for a while, but is crossing over into mainstream consciousness, is that if a redirection service, like URL shortener, disappeared, billions of links would go dead. People who want to preserve those links feel that this is 'risky'

I totally agree that this is a big risk if you want to preserve your links... but it actually got me thinking that there is probably a value in a service that actively removes those links after a window of time or non-use. For instance, the WSJ article speaks about a risk around legal discovery -- if you send a link to someone, and then the link dies, how will people know where you were sending them? Thinking that a bad thing seems to be only half of the equation.

So, just like 'going off the record' in Gmail chat -- perhaps it is time for someone to create a self destructing redirection/URL shortening service -- so that when you email your buddy a link and he stores it in Gmail -- the link itself will only works once, or for a day, etc. Not sure how big the market is, but I suspect it would provide value to someone.


information's value, restated via restaurant recommendations

Sun, 15 Nov 2009 22:22:00 +0000

last weekend I spent a wonderful lunch with a good friend, Mollie Chen, who is an editor at conde nast traveler... as often happens, the conversation moved towards content, and the future (what an original topic for me to get hung up on, I know)...

that said, I espoused my normal position, which is that the value of information is based on scarcity, and really is JUST a function of scarcity.  that means that there will always be a way to sell content.  The business of information isn't going away at all, in fact there is an argument that it will become MORE potent -- but what constitutes 'scarce' information / what sells is changing...

in the process of the conversation, we came up with a new description of what is really happening via the metaphor of restaurant recommendations, which I think is interesting if not elegant

Regardless of whether it was 1910 or 1990 or 2015, if you want to know where to go to dinner in New York, you have various means of discovery at your disposal along a continuum.  The more you 'spend', in time or effort, the better an answer you get.  You can 'spend' in the form of time, money, or social capital - and your 'return' is based on how you value the correspondingly better restaurant experience.

Your restaurant picking mission is simple -- you are looking for the highest ROI answer based on how you value your time/money - and how you value an incrementally better meal -- (you are NOT necessarily looking for the 'best' answer). 

general options along that scale that have always existed:

1.  (lowest cost bracket) You could base your decision on your own memory and personal experience to date (basically free - fast and cheap - likely a relatively bad answer, unless you have already built up a very large private data store)
2.  You could ask a friend or two...  of various knowledge levels (spend social capital perhaps, requires legwork/time)
3.  You could ask a lot of friends...  and try to ask good ones (more social capital / more legwork)
4.  You could hire a food taster to go around the city for you and/or socialize the cost by publishing an annual guide (more expensive in cash/less expensive in time)
5.  You could hire lots of food editors to go around the city for you and/or socialize the cost by publishing an annual guide (more expensive in cash/less expensive in time)
6.  (highest cost bracket)  You could personally go and eat every dish at every restaurant, create and catalog your own personal and specific judgments, and decide where you want to take your gal (almost infinitely expensive - but probably gets you the right pick)

what is changing?

same thing that is changing for every other industry - absolutely nothing except the cost of data acquisition, storage, processing, and publishing.... which is changing the locally optimized answer.

150-100 years ago - your best answer most nights was to go with the bar/club/restaurant you knew because the friction of finding something better was too high for the incremental bump in meal quality/experience... (surprise surprise, there was a club culture then) - if you really wanted something special you could ask a friend or two if they were in your office, sure.

30 years ago - your best answer day to day was to collectively hire a bunch of people to review restaurants and compile a guide.  This took a lot of the margin out of 'knowing' locally all the 'best' restaurants...

1 year ago
- your best answer day to day was to ask twitter or yelp.  This took a lot of the margin out of the guides.  Lower cost answers from both a time-to-answer perspective (better interface), relevance, and breadth

0 years ago
- your best answer day to day is to ask socialgreat.com.  This uses real-time data to take most of the margin out of twitter and yelp, by giving you insight into real trends, with higher relevance, etc.

but

the reality is that any of these technologies only get you a 'locally' correct answer if you value your time and money on a normal curve 
if you don't/if you are looking for premium answers - that is where guns for hire / buying content - will save you.

put differently...  restaurant guides/basic communication wiped out the 'eating club' culture that dominated 100+ years ago.  current tools like yelp are putting serious pressure on existing reviews.  social tools are putting serious pressure on yelp, but none of these tools is really putting serious pressure on the michelin guide.

or - more information/cheaper communications means that more information is commodity.  The bar goes up... and it goes up fast.  BUT there is still a bar, and there is still incremental return on premium services that get you to the next level of knowledge/access.  Those premium services will have to get better and better at adding value by mixing the available tools with incremental information/perspective -- but it is very doable.

- the data that is cheaply collected and socialized may make people happier/more efficient, but it is technically worthless
- 'social graph' data / other semi-private conditional information is a leg up further, but if it is shared it has limited value (and you are only as good as your friends)
- the real juice comes in with premium content when you want a better answer than you can get for free from friends... and that is the future of restaurant reviews.

so - once upon a time - your restaurant picking was only as good as your personal experience/memory  -- now - your restaurant picking experience is only as good as your friends -- in either case, you are still willing to 'buy' better information. 

a hiccup to consider


what if asking people isn't a social capital cost, but a social capital credit?  If asking for help is a positive value/a granting of credit then that changes the equation somewhat (do you like it when people ask your opinion, or just hate the interruption?)


communication margin

Fri, 13 Nov 2009 22:22:00 +0000

for a while I was really into twitter, and it made sense for brands to embrace twitter - because there was margin in the medium.  The floor was open, but people hadn't started speaking up yet... now, everyone is shouting, so no one can hear, and there is no margin in speaking.

more and more it is obvious to me that 'economic' margin, informational margin, and communication margin all function the same way... and that the grand unified theory is something like Shannon + Hayek 


Why the 'iPhone' is yuppifying lower manhattan/brooklyn, and causing underground bars

Wed, 11 Nov 2009 22:22:00 +0000

Midtown is on a grid.Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn is not.
This landscape difference matters, and technology is changing how.
Years ago I remember discussing with my dad how the fact that Manhattan is on a numbered gird must have some subtle but meaningful impact on the efficiency of the city, especially for foreign business travelers.  It is hard to get lost in midtown, or not know where you are supposed to go -- making it a great spot for international business and which makes it easily navigable and likely saves millions of hours of work and missed meetings.

Let's update this story

Google maps, the iPhone, and much much more are all chipping away at the grid-advantage of Midtown.  All of a sudden, getting to restaurants and bars downtown has become much much easier, even if you don't live in new york/don't have a sense of how the city works or where you are going.  The friction of maps/not knowing the cross street on an address is a thing of the past.

Based on zero information, I would guess that the amount of tourist traffic below 14th street (where things start to get really crazy) has been rising as a percentage of all tourist visits/foot traffic like crazy.

Mid-town's grid-based structural advantage is over, probably bringing down the appeal/rents on the grid, and raising the appeal/rents of places which are harder to navigate to without location based services and always on instant maps.

and all those cool bars/restaurants

which used to be insulated from tourist traffic/ and over exposure. So long....  information on how to get around lower manhattan has been commodetized, more people rush in - and there is no more excess margin in the system for hipsters that know the really awesome local spots.  Everyone now knows those spots, and knows exactly how to get to them

so, a return to speakeasy and clubs

when the informational landscape equalizes, the hipsters/oh la la chic new yorkers seek other refuge.  1.  they start going to places that are not on google maps and have unmarked doors -- that will keep those pesky equalibrum driving tourists out 2.  private clubs work well also... sure, there is some extortion in the system, but at least you keep the rif-raff out.

just like exotic world destinations, physical location is dropping as a barrier -- so the key is to create other types of informational barriers (like cool bars tucked down unmarked alleys) in order to maintain profits from informational asymmetry. 

p.s. -- just in case you don't know me that well I AM that yuppie that now feels comfortable navigating lower manhattan/brooklyn -- i am not at all the 'hipster' who actually is in the know

 


I broke down, I am now mac centric

Tue, 10 Nov 2009 22:22:00 +0000

I have loved my IBM thinkpad for a really long time, but it was finally time to demote it from my primary computer to more of a stay at home casual function - I am not proud of it, but I went osx as primary. 

As a highly literate person but clearly non-developer, I couldn't be happier.  The pre-installed snow leopard build lets me seamlessly dip in and out of the shell, curl, crontab, a bit of pre-installed python/ruby to get stuff done...  last night i installed mac ports, at the suggestion of Chris Ricca, simply amazing. 

I on occasion would mess around to try to get something accomplished in windows, but inevitably since I am not a developer and mucking around with installations isn't my primary skill or job -- I would get stuck and frustrated for hours -- with my new mac, in a matter of a few minutes, and zero hassle, I have several fun little scripts churning away in the background making my life easier.

I very much expect that their will be a point with my little apple toy where I hit the same walls, but my easy access playground just expanded considerably -- which means that I will be able to more frequently make the decision to automate -- which will hopefully make me far more effective.  So, I will still need to boot windows for excel, but well done apple - you got me hooked for a while.


facebook will naturally take over the copyright 'registry' function

Mon, 09 Nov 2009 22:31:00 +0000

on various occasions I have found myself in very deep conversations about the nature of copyright with a set of people whom I very much respect...   It seems clear that copyright is a natural extension of identity... 'I am me' --> 'I made this' --> 'I made this first at this time/date'  -- it seems like copyright registry is a perfect longterm extension of facebook, especially as they are gaining traction as the 'users' table of the web via connect (just like banking)

we will all be voting via facebook connect soon enough, so passively 'registering' our original works by posting them to our wall seems totally logical.

I don't think they will announce this as a mission/mandate any time in the next 10 years, I think they will just back their way into it over time, and one day release a small function that changes everything 'see who posted it first' - people will use that in legal disputes as evidence, and then they are done - fait accomplit


2 Points From Last 24 Hours,

Sun, 25 Oct 2009 21:31:00 +0000

in SF - conversations tend towards information theory...  here are my two distillations from the last 24 hours:

1.  email is a 'liberal' form of communication, vs. centralized services:  I have been obsessing recently over how massively useful and awesome email is, and how certain properties of central services actually make them less useful forms of communication (although, obviously, the simultaneously benefit from several other characteristics).

- the property I find most interesting about email is that it simultaneously transmits all information and permissions around storing/using/reusing information to the edge in one package...

- central services, by contrast, have the ability to send data to the edge, but not necessarily unlimited rights to the data.  Data itself and permissions end up being decoupled... Data can be sent to the edge, while permissions over that data are relatively maintained.

There are lots of ways of reading this -- but how about trying this one on for size.  -- Email is a traditionally 'liberal' free form of communication...  where other central services are not.  -- This is something that requires further thought/discussion -- the flip-side is that because it is a 'liberal' form I am actually likely to put less in email than in centrally managed services...  

2.  all information is fundamentally probabilistic, but people find it easier to think of scarcity:  the probabilistic nature of all information is a frequent hobby horse of mine, give me time in a bar, and I think I can give you a good read on what that ultimately means -- but I am realizing that people like to think of information as scarce.  That is totally fine / it is workable that way - future blogpost will need to bridge the two concepts


Translation at drop.io is our newest example of the real power of the 'cloud', and the verticalization of the net

Mon, 19 Oct 2009 21:31:00 +0000

Call me a child of an earlier generation... But I still get a kick out of looking at analytics and seeing that every day users in almost every country on earth use drop.io (ok, looks like we are missing about 5) - there is something really gratifying about that... Only in the Internet world can 12 people sitting in Brooklyn provide services to people across the earth.

Over the last few months, more and more users in various countries have been offering to translate our site for us. Generally what they do is take a screenshot of a page or two, and then overlay the Chinese or French words for each function. We really appreciate the gesture, but the sad reality is that getting a website properly translated to function in other languages is a really hard problem. Our options have been:

#1 don't do anything on our end, assume that english is the lingua franca of the web, and let the translations happen at the edge (translate.google.com, etc.) - this is a terribly inefficient way to approach the issue, and leaves us with little control/ability to provide good accurate translations of our service. The babelfish just isn't real yet.


#2 invest a ton of resources in prepping our service for translation: this requires significant overhead for a growing service - generally it means turning each static text field into a table, where you can slot in each language. This isn't just a one-time cost, it is an ongoing drag on the speed of development.

#2.a. then spend a ton of money translating each language we want to use: we would have to work with a consulting firm, or some other agency for translation. From our quick research these guys are very expensive and not designed for growing startups


#2.b. set up a system to crowd source translation: works for facebook, but takes massive massive scale to do and takes a ton of curation anyway. Not a practical option.

OR - put differently - there is significant one-time and ongoing technology cost to translation, and then after that there is a significant human resource/organizational cost to building up and maintaining languages manually. So, as much as we would like to be in all languages, it just isn't realistic using traditional means.

Enter 'The Cloud' & service by smartling.com:

After I had been complaining about this issue for a while, Jack Welde, a New York entrepreneur, proposed a very modern solution -- why not build a company that exclusively focuses on the tech infrastructure and translation sourcing to allow companies like drop.io to just 'turn on' translation with a few html tags. The idea is to let a third party build and maintain custom human translated text tables off-site, and do real-time delivery of translated content. Basically, why not use a little bit of DNS magic, and allow a third party service to build up and maintain all the translations for a site like drop.io -- so, if someone requests a drop.io page in Spanish, a third party service delivers all of the static text in the correct language via its translation delivery network, similar to the way that Akamai delivers static assets from a server near your physical location. To over simplify, this is exactly how google translate works, but rather than relying on google and the users on the edge - with Jack's company each service can get and control phrase specific high quality human translations, and Jack's service can deliver translated interfaces in a matter of a few milliseconds...

why does this work? A big appeal to us is that we are both using Amazon Web Services, so the bandwidth between our services is pretty close to free. Basically, for this to work, drop.io needs to send smartling a request (not the assets), - smartling then needs to do on the fly translation delivery (a few miliseconds), and deliver the relevant interface translations to a user on the edge. Since both drop.io and smartling use Amazon Web Services, the transit between our services is in the same network, and is very very fast and low cost. Earlier I have written a lot about how the value of 'clouds' actually compounds. Amazon Web Services is now more valuable to drop.io because smartling is in there... our services can reliably talk to each other very quickly, and for incredibly low cost.

And, of course, this fits completely with a verticalizing vision of the internet. Drop.io facilitates content and rich media between exactly whom you want how you want - across platforms and in real-time. We are not a translation company, just as we are not a server rack maintenance company, a distribution company, an identity provider, or a restaurant. Companies are getting better and better at doing one thing within an ecosystem of quickly and cheaply interoperable systems. We are happy to not do our own translation. Of course, this verticalization comes at the risk I have outlined several times of APIs on APIs on APIs looking a lot like packaged financial products, but with proper research and a measured approach with a good backstop, we are happy that Samrtling is providing us with a lot of good, clean leverage.

So, check out smartling.com as an example of where the world is going - and check out drop.io in Spanish and Chinese - and let us know what you think.

P.S. SF - take notice, us little NYC startups are starting to breed and multiply... ;)

P.P.S FTC, in case it isn't totally clear, drop.io does have an economic arrangement with these guys


diminishing marginal utility... what does the next generation think?

Fri, 25 Dec 2009 22:53:00 +0000

Last night I watched several Robert Shiller lectures on financial markets on the Yale Open Courses website (sorry big H, Y actually has more meat open to the public)...  one thing that struck me was his early reminder that almost all finance strips back to the basic economic theory of diminishing marginal utility, namely that the value of an incremental dollar of wealth falls the wealthier you are and ultimately tends towards zero.  The curve is supposed to look something like this:

Thinking about it this morning, I can see why this general curve makes sense and is correct on the ultimate macro level, but I don't think it very accurately models my personal utility, or that of many 2008/09 young and educated Americans.  I think that my wealth/utility curve looks like one of the following variants - while I can make arguments for each, I don't know myself well enough to make the specific call from the below options:

What does this mean?  What does it matter?  Because if people are not incentivized by the generally accepted marginal utility curve the structure of finance and the economy must change to some degree.  I am tempted to launch into a discussion of hedge fund blowups, or why the internet and exceedingly cheap access to information and communication is the driving force behind the change -- but even I see these tangents as a stretch.  For now I will just propose that we live in a time of staggering change - (fact of the week:  it is estimated that 4 exabytes of unique information will be generated this year... == more than previous 5,000 years http://bit.ly/14VIN)

utility curves on a micro/human level are shifting in the 'developed' world -- and it is worth examining the changes and considering the impact. 


Ted-X talk on the end of ownership

Mon, 19 Jul 2010 22:34:08 +0000

Skip the first minute… http://youtu.be/9XOf-GUMCXk

Me - I am Sam Lessin. Father of Lion and Maverick. Husband of Jessica. Lover of Skis and Kites (but more skis).

Fin - I am the co-founder of Fin, a company focused on the future of human + machine knoweldge work. I did some other stuff before...

Slow - I used to invest personally, but now I do as a partner at slow venures

The Information - I intern here and write a column called Modest Proposals... I strive to be about as modest as the original