A Magic Shield That Lets You Be An Assh*le?

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NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Now that digital platforms drive physical consequences, what does “free speech” really even mean anymore?

Cindy Cohn Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Carol Christ Chancellor, UC Berkeley, and moderator Nellie Bowles of The New York Times

It’s the first amendment to the US Constitution, but it’s also deeply misunderstood. Free speech seems an inviolate right, but when practiced at public institutions like UC Berkeley, or within private corporations like CloudFlare or Starbucks, the concept of free speech is both tested and proven. Join UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn, and moderator Nellie Bowles of the New York Times for a challenging and timely conversation on the role of speech in our roiling democracy.

Nellie Bowles: Hi. We are here today to talk about free speech and the corporation, a nice, relaxing topic for a Tuesday afternoon. [laughter] I know you two both have a lot of interesting things to talk about. To just jump right in, when we talk about free speech right now, that term and that concept, it feels like it’s changing radically. I don’t really understand if the shift in how the term “free speech” is being used is political or it’s about platforms or if it’s generational. If you could both just give me a sense of what has changed in the last year with this concept?

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Fix Boards, Fix Capitalism

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NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy argues that boards are utterly broken. Fixing them isn’t as hard as it might seem. And it’s urgently needed.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy during NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy has nearly two decades of executive leadership experience at consumer and internet companies, including Google, Amazon, Yodlee, Polyvore and Joyus. She’s also an accomplished board member — serving on both public and private boards in a range of industries. In the past two years, Cassidy has focused her energy on theBoardlist, a platform that connects accomplished women to board opportunities. But Cassidy didn’t focus her time at Shift Forum on the issue of diversity in boards. Instead, she exhorted the audience to think about the power and the responsibility of boards, and the role a truly high functioning board can have in changing the culture of business. Below is an edited transcript and the video of Cassidy’s inspiring talk.

(For more on the role of boards, see It All Starts with the Board)

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Put The Damn Phone Down and Do Something

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NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Pinterest wants its users to get offline. And that’s a pretty good thing to be about these days.

Ben Silbermann during NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Ben Silbermann is a founder and CEO of Pinterest, one of the most misunderstood platforms ever born in Silicon Valley. I’ve written about the company extensively, and earlier this year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben at the Shift Forum. Find out why I’m an unabashed fan in the video and transcript below.

John Battelle: I’ve found Ben to be one of the most thoughtful, humble, and non-typical valley founders out there. Please join me in welcoming the founder and CEO of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann, to Shift Forum.

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The Craziest Idea In Silicon Valley

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NewCo Shift Forum 2018

The author of the New York Times bestseller The Lean Startup wants to reinvent how stock markets work. Everyone thinks he’s nuts. But we currently fund US innovation with Russian mafia money and autocratic sovereign wealth funds, so….

Eric Ries During Newco Shift Forum 2018

Equity markets are literally the beating heart of capitalism, and Eric Ries wants to reinvent them. Is he crazy, or on to something big? Read on (or watch the video) for one of the most stimulating and insight-laden sessions of this year’s Shift Forum.

John Battelle: All right. I’m really pleased that Eric Ries is coming and speaking with me. He has an idea for markets that is very important for all of us to consider. He’s well known, of course, for his book, “The Lean Startup,” and his follow-up to that book.

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Great Design Is Ruining Software

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The arrival of the smartphone has convinced the world of the value of great software design, but it’s not all good news

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Originally published on my personal site.

The smartphone has reached more people and delivered more value faster than any technology ever seen. Much of the world has had to adapt to this arrival, but software design suffered the greatest reckoning. As the smartphone ascended, developers finally adopted reasonable design principles, realizing that they could not pack every feature ever seen into the smartphone experience. This recognition of the value of design — and especially, minimal design — is a good thing.

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Winner Take All Platforms Won’t Necessarily Win

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How blockchain, backlash, and breaches may challenge conventional wisdom and reshape your industry


The Official Future Hits Some Speed Bumps

Ask anyone in any major sector of the economy about the future of their industry and the majority will say something like the following:

  • Our industry will be transformed by platforms
  • These platforms will extract the most value from our industry and determine the winners and losers
  • The most likely platform overlords will be the native digital tech giants: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple (or Alibaba and Tencent depending on where you live)

Essentially, what people are saying is that the notion of digital platform dominance is inevitable. In an Accenture survey in 2016, 81 percent of executives said platform based business will be core to their growth strategy within three years. As such, to understand where platforms are going is to understand the future of your industry itself. Either you will be that player (hard for most) or need to find a place to play and win within their ecosystem.

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Facebook: Tear Down This Wall.

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Instead of kicking data brokers off its platform, Facebook should empower its entire user base to be their own brokers of data.

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Late last week Facebook announced it would eliminate all third-party data brokers from its platform. It framed this announcement as a response to the slow motion train wreck that is the Cambridge Analytica story. Just as it painted Cambridge as a “bad actor” for compromising its users’ data, Facebook has now vilified hundreds of companies who have provided it fuel for its core business model, a model that remains at the center of its current travails.

Why? Well, I hate to be cynical, but here’s my answer: Because Cambridge Analytica provided Facebook air cover to consolidate power over the open web. Put another way: Facebook is planning to profit from a scandal of their own making.

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Sure, The Internet Is Broken. So Let’s Go Fix It, Shall We?

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With the launch of 1.1.1.1, Cloudflare thumbs its nose at ISPs and the big platforms (AKA Google), and once again declares itself a business willing to start, and lead, tech’s toughest conversations

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince (Image)

Over the past year Cloudflare became best known not for the impressive services it has built in the Internet networking space, but for an action taken by its CEO Matthew Prince during the swirl following Trump’s Charlottesville comments. After initially defending the free speech rights of its neo-Nazi customer The Daily Stormer, Prince finally had enough. When the site claimed Cloudflare secretly supported its hateful philosophy, Prince kicked the site off the company’s network.

But it was Prince’s post on the subject that really caught everyone’s attention. From it:

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The Weak Case Against Regulation

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Facebook faces the test of its young life. But arguments against regulation fail to understand the larger issues at play.


A scan of the past few days in FacebookLand yields nothing but bad news.

But there was a glimmer of hope in today’s news: Former Facebook board member and Zuckerberg mentor Donald Graham, once the scion of the Washington Post (that title now belongs to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos), argued in an Op Ed yesterday: “Don’t Regulate Facebook.” Why? Because “regulation is political” and politics should be kept away from platforms that support free speech.

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Govern Like You Give a Damn

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Three upgrades for startup and venture capital governance

In recent months, the news has been filled with examples of unethical and sometimes criminal behavior occurring across the technology industry, inside startups, and inside investment firms. This is a wake up call for VCs and entrepreneurs to put more time and effort into culture, values, and better governance systems at the earliest stages of startup formation.

If you want a more detailed examination of the issues, I recommend this Stanford GSB “Closer Look” paper entitled Governance Gone Wild: Epic Misbehavior at Uber Technologies.

Rather than pile onto the mountain of negative news about the technology industry, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and work on solutions.

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