Eli Pariser and David Carr at SXSW
Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser sat with David Carr at SXSW for fireside chat format conversation. The Guardian has a great summary of the talk. There are so many good nuggets in here that help illuminate why Spark made its investment in Upworthy. Here’s an excerpts, but it’s worth reading the whole piece.
[Eli] suggested that because important, high-quality but not necessarily engaging stuff has “had a leg up for so long” it hasn’t had to compete on being compelling.
“It gets on the front page anyway. Now we have this real challenge where the story about Afghanistan or new policing methods or whatever has to compete in the same pool with Kim Kardashian or Candy Crush or everything else that’s begging for attention from the algorithms,” he said.
“Unless we figure out how to make the important stuff really engaging, I don’t know that it reaches a broad audience.”
Pariser said we’re moving into a period with a power curve where “news junkies have never had it better… but for most people who don’t seek out content about important stuff, and expect to just have it surfaced in their media environment may be having that happen less. And to me that’s worrisome.”
Not All Distributed Is Made the Same
Not all “distributed” is made the same. Like any good internet geek, when I first learned how DNS lookup works, I was in awe.
The beauty is in the design: DNS is a distributed database in which anyone can add a name server to participate and store knowledge. It naturally routes around any failures in the network by design, so it is resilient. With only very minor exceptions, there is no single point of failure, no choke point.*
By comparison the Bitcoin protocol is also a distributed database (a specific subset of database to be exact: a ledger). Anyone can operate a bitcoin client to participate and store knowledge. It naturally routes around any failures in the network by design, so it is resilient. With only very minor exceptions, there is no single point of failure, no choke point.
But the differences are even more interesting:
1) DNS is a network of trust and altruism, whereas Bitcoin is a network of distrust, specifically architected assuming all participants are both A) greedy and B) malicious if possible.
2) DNS is a hierarchical network structure, whereas Bitcoin is peer-to-peer network structure.
3) In DNS, no single node on the network has perfect knowledge of the entire contents of the distributed database, whereas in Bitcoin, every node on the network has a complete copy of the entire database.
The design decisions in (2) and (3) help enable the consequence of (1). It’s wild to see how Internet-inspired distributed design has evolved from DNS’s invention in 1983 to Bitcoin’s invention in 2008. Their respective stances on both trust and hierarchy reflect a maturation of the internet, that sadly leads one to pessimistic conclusions about human nature.
* The resiliency by design and lack of choke points are why I’ve long been disappointed by the rise of URL shorteners in the last 7 years. They take such an elegant system and shove it through a crude single point of failure.
Self-Flying Planes Long Bet
In 2002 Eric Schmidt (then, CEO of Google) made a bet with Craig Mundie (then, Chief Strategy Officer of Microsoft). The bet was:
"By 2030, commercial passengers will routinely fly in pilotless planes."
Doesn’t sound too surprising of a bet, right? Except, Schmidt took the negative side of the bet! He doubts this outcome, and put his money behind his doubts. Google is pioneering self-driving cars, acquiring robot companies, and experimenting with drones, and yet Schmidt doesn’t believe in the prospect of automated, commercial flights.
I wonder if 2014 version of Schmidt would change his position on this bet today, given the progress we have seen in autonomous navigation of all kinds.
I’m also generally surprised that Schmidt would take any form of pessimistic view on technology in general. I guess, it’s really more of a pessimistic view on the FAA and government regulation to be fair, when you read the rationale for his bet.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s Identity
I feel very torn writing this blog post, and thought hard about deleting it a couple times. But, in the end, I’ll just put it out in the ether… because this blog is little more than me thinking out loud, and this is what I’m been thinking about for most of the day.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s (Creator of Bitcoin) identity has been revealed in an article by Newsweek. The article feels very voyeuristic, as the reader takes on the role of the author, stalking Satoshi and trying to piece together circumstantial evidence in a painful, stretched way. Despite no clear proof that the author has correctly identified Satoshi… it feels quite conclusive when you look at all the small pieces and connections through a holistic lens.
I’m not linking to the article in this post because, in the end, I don’t like the ethical lines the author crossed. She acquired Satoshi’s email address through social hacking a model railroad retailer. She stalked Satoshi to the point he had to call the police. She seemingly mislead friends and family in interviews. Worst of all, as a result of this piece, I’m certain both Satoshi and the Newsweek author will need 24-hour protection (Satoshi needing protection from weirdo Bitcoin criminals that want access to his $400MM in private keys… and the author needing protection from libertarian Anonymous-esque weirdos that hate the methodology of her exposure of Satoshi… or just hate that the mystery is over).
But all that crap didn’t stop me from reading the article with perversely piqued interested. Cue self-loathing.
The real story here that has been rattling around my brain the most is the story of innovation at the fringes beyond normalcy. Chris Dixon said when he made the investment in Coinbase that Bitcoin, “is one of the 5 best computer science ideas from the last forty years.” I agree. And, the idea that this brilliance came largely from one guy, acting in isolation, motivated largely by paranoia and distaste for existing financial infrastructure, is just wild. In this light the profile of Satoshi is the profile of an artist, or better yet, a maker. And like all makers, he is quirky, weird, one of the crazy ones.
More so than any of the circumstantial facts provided by the author, this is what makes the Satoshi identification story so believable. He looks and feels like other edge people that have made dents in the universe. Watching the ripples from a sole savant’s splash build into global tidal waves is mesmerizing.
Connectivity in Emerging Markets
Facebook is potentially buying Titan Aerospace. The purpose of the acquisition is to help bring Internet connectivity to emerging markets by flying Internet-bearing drones repeatedly back and forth over developing nations. Facebook’s master plan regarding free Internet connective in third-world countries is called Internet.org. Similarly, Google is working on their own third-world-country-connectivity project, called Project Loon which would distribute Internet via hot air balloons.
These both are interesting initiatives. I’m in favor of anything that helps make the Internet more widely accessible. I applaud both Facebook and Google for their altruistic efforts, even if the primary goal is just to get more people to use Facebook and Google at the end of the day.
However, I don’t quite understand why emerging market Internet penetration isn’t just going to get better naturally?
Given global Internet adoption curves and nearly ubiquitous accessibility in developed nations, why do these projects assume it won’t be better over time in emerging markets through private business competition? Is there something fundamentally wrong or difficult about building a wireless Internet carrier that serves emerging markets? If so, I feel like that would be the more important issue to fix first. I’d love to hear from people that actually know a thing or two about wireless Internet infrastructure.