Software Ate The World. Now What?

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Naqdaw

Seven or so years ago, a famous VC penned a manifesto of sorts. Writing at a time the world was still skeptical of the dominance to which his industry has now ascended (to think, such a time existed, and so few years ago!), Marc Andreessen had a message for the doubters, the naysayers, and the Wall St. analysts who were (credibly!) claiming that his investments amounted to not much more than a bubble:

Software, he claimed, was eating the world.

Seven years later, no one can dispute Andreessen’s prescience. The man was right: If you had purchased a basket of his favorite stocks back then – he name-checked Apple, Amazon, and Facebook directly – you’d be up at least 10X, if not more. Software, it seems, has indeed eaten the world, and those smart (and rich) enough to put money into technology, as Andreessen has been, have done very, very well for themselves.

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Dear Marc and Lynne: Time Needs You.

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The Benioffs join Bezos, Jobs, and others who’ve turned to publishing to cement their legacies. But a hands off approach isn’t what journalism needs right now.

Time cover trump king

The Los Angeles Times was the first newspaper I ever read – I even attended a grammar school named for its founding family (the Chandlers). Later in life I worked at the Times for a summer – and found even back then, the great brand had begun to lose its way.

I began reading The Atlantic as a high schooler in the early 1980s, and in college I dreamt of writing long form narratives for its editors. In graduate school, I even started a publication modeled on The Atlantic‘s brand – I called it The Pacific. My big idea: The west coast was a huge story in desperate need of high-quality narrative journalism. (Yes, this was before Wired.)

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Why Facebook Calls It An Arms Race

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DorseySandbergSenate

It’s the business model, folks. If we’re going to “fix” anything, we have to start there.

“We weren’t expecting any of this when we created Twitter over 12 years ago, and we acknowledge the real world negative consequences of what happened and we take the full responsibility to fix it.”

That’s the most important line from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s testimony yesterday – and in many ways it’s also the most frustrating. But I agree with Ben Thompson, who this morning points out (sub required) that Dorsey’s philosophy on how to “fix it” was strikingly different from that of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (or Google, which failed to send a C-level executive to the hearings). To quote Dorsey (emphasis mine): “Today we’re committing to the people and this committee to do that work and do it openly. We’re here to contribute to a healthy public square, not compete to have the only one. We know that’s the only way our business thrives and helps us all defend against these new threats.”

Ben points out that during yesterday’s hearings, Dorsey was willing to tie the problems of public discourse on Twitter directly to the company’s core business model, that of advertising. Sandberg? She ducked the issue and failed to make the link.

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Google’s Tortured Relationship with China Continues

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A new report reveals the company’s plans to enter the Chinese search market. We’ve seen this movie before. But Android has changed the game, forcing profits over corporate values.

Google’s Beijing offices in 2010, the year the company exited the Chinese market.

(Cross posted from Searchblog)

I’ve been covering Google’s rather tortured relationship with China for more than 15 years now. The company’s off again, on again approach to the Internet’s largest “untapped” market has proven vexing, but as today’s Intercept scoop informs us, it looks like Google has yielded to its own growth imperative, and will once again stand up its search services for the Chinese market. To wit:

GOOGLE IS PLANNING to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, The Intercept can reveal.

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Experiments in Alternate Democracies

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Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

‘[I]t is not enough for democracy to be radical; it must be revolutionary’ argues Wayne Price

One of Winston Churchill’s most notable lines was:

No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were fewer than ten democracies in the world. By the turn of the 21st, that number had reached 80, with half of humanity governed by some form of democracy. Yet, we’ve grown astutely aware of the flaws in the system in the past two years, with some calling for an end to democracy.

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Goodbye, Bay Area. Hello, New York!

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Sometimes you have to just shake it up a bit. Or a lot.

(cross posted from Searchblog)

I first moved to the Bay area in 1983. I graduated from high school, spent my summer as an exchange student/day laborer in England (long story), then began studies at Berkeley, where I had a Navy scholarship (another long story).

1983. 35 years ago.

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The Dawn of Digital Switzerlands

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Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

The tech behemoths’ role in nation-states is evolving

The biggest US tech companies now have powers which challenge the primacy of governments in many domains. In many cases they also have capabilities not available to nation states. We touched on these issues, and the notion of “corporate foreign policy” in one of the previous issues of my weekly newsletter Exponential View.

Last year, Microsoft’s Brad Smith argued that — at least in the realm of cybersecurity — “the global tech sector needs to operate as a neutral Digital Switzerland. We will assist and protect customers everywhere.”

Now in the Pennsylvania Law Review, Kristen Eichensehr looks at the issue of Digital Switzerlands in greater depth, 66 pages of it to be precise. We’ve summarized parts of it here. One key distinction between large corporations and nation states is that they lack territory, control of state-violence, and have very different governance mechanisms to nation-states. But that is as true for many supranational bodies as well.

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AI’s Transition Problem

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Photo by James Fitzgerald on Unsplash

Recent successes in deploying AI point to a crucial challenge the field is facing

I read Martin Wolf’s wonderful essay about the challenges facing government in the light of significant labour displacements. Last week there were two relevant, but distinct, announcements from Babylon Health and OpenAI. I aimed to connect the dots between these in the latest issue of my weekly newsletter Exponential View. (Read the issue | Subscribe)

First, Babylon: the company announced that their AI-based chatbot had performed better than the typical British GP (a GP is a generalist physician rather than a specialist) on the qualifying exams run by the Royal College of General Practitioners. Babylon’s bot scored 81% on a test where humans averaged 72%, although there are some methodology issues. You can read a news story here, and the research paper, which I’ve skimmed, here.

The Royal College of General Practitioners responds with two key points: one silly, the other less so.

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Danny Hillis On How to Think Long Term (And Still Stay in Business)

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Danny Hillis presenting at TED. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

It’s trendy for companies to say they’re thinking long term. Unfortunately, for many businesses “long term” equates to “next quarter’s earnings.” And then there’s Danny Hillis.

Hillis is best-known as an inventor and entrepreneur (he was a pioneer in commercial parallel supercomputers and artificial intelligence). He’s co-chairman of Applied Minds, a research and development company that led to entities like Metaweb (a semantic web innovator) and Applied Proteomics (developed a new way of measuring protein in blood). Previously, among many other things, Hillis was an executive for Walt Disney Imagineering and founded the MIT spinoff Thinking Machines. In his free time, he’s done things like build a computer out of Tinkertoys.

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What If God Were An App?

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A playful way to look at what apps/startups need to do to thrive in the next business cycle. Based on a talk I gave this April at Industry: The Product Conference in Dublin. (Note: this is not religious, but meant to be a fun, perhaps useful, thought exercise.)


Last fall I was remembering my college days as a Badger at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In particular, I was remembering my Philosophy 101 class. In this class we were studying enlightenment philosophers such a David Hume, George Berkeley, and John Locke. They were attempting to solve a big problem of the day: proving or disproving the existence of the Judeo-Christian God through logic. As I recall (and it’s a bit hazy, it was college after all), they converged on four distinct qualities of God.

At the time I was enjoying this memory, I was going through a product roadmap process and helping put together Varo’s Series B fundraising pitch. The college memory and the work situation intertwined in my mind. This led to a little epiphany, namely–those same qualities that God must have (according to those philosophers) are the same qualities that a startup must possess in this coming business cycle. Behold, a new product management framework!

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