Archive for the 'Internet' Category

How any country can leap frog in technology

What if I told you we could time travel to 1989 — and be given a forecast of what a new implementation of the Hypertext technology (called the World Wide Web) could do. Would you jump at doing whatever you could to be on top of this trend? Smart phones (Apple’s came out 10 years ago), a technology like Hypertext, also made us rethink how we can use the Internet and recreated the world. Well, it’s 1989 and there is a technology that is poised to do this again.

I’m passionate about the future of health, and I can’t ignore what’s going on with cryptography, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and Virtual/augmented reality. But if I had to pick one thing right now, which is ripe for government leadership to leapfrog even silicon valley, it’s this: Focus on blockchain.

It’s a specific technology that’s matured unlike most of these other trends. Its got a hacker community innovating like how I can only imagine when the web started. Its got significant investor interest. It has consumer awareness. It has all the things ready for this to blow up.

This is how you do that:

  1. Make cryptocurrency the same status as any currency. For example, in the US  Bitcoin’s are considered a capital asset which makes it impractical to use unlike regular currency which is treated on the income account. We need to remove this impediment as it makes it not practical.
  2. Offer incentives to businesses working on blockchain. Create a tax free corridor: anyone that that operations in an area is exempt for any taxation. This isn’t to just get the world’s best employing people locally and building technology which will together create an economy of agglomeration, but it will have a flow on affect on other cryptographic matters, such as cyber security which has now become the scariest frontier of warfare right now. Silicon Valley prospered because of technologies building off technologies. 
  3. Force the adoption of cryptocurrency. Require banks to offer it as a service and make all EFT terminals compliant. The moment the economy offers blockchain integrated into the economy — first with currency — we will see an acceleration of blockchain’s potential on the things that are truly exciting (such as Smart Contracts and Distributed Autonomous Organisations)

Implement these three simple policy concepts and it will make that economy the ground zero for blockchain innovation.

As I have already alluded, I don’t think Bitcoin is long term the goal of doing this: it’s the infrastructure that Bitcoin provides that is the exciting thing (ie, the block chain technology which is one of the four technologies that make Bitcoin outside of peer-to-peer, PGP and proof-of-work). The use cases go far and wide: not just for currency, but for things we take for granted like how websites are resolved (like DNS), contracts likes wills, voting, and anything else involving trust (such as simple but critical title deeds).  Blockchain is basically a decentralised database which is in line with the original design goal of the Internet. Efforts like Ethereum are effectively building a computer on top of the Blockchain concept. It’s a whole new paradigm in computing that goes far beyond currency.

But leave that to the entrepreneurs, who are already working on that — I could write many more posts on those ideas alone. But with leadership, anyone one of the three suggestions I’ve made could be legislated into law this year and overnight make that territory a global leader. 

This is what any  country could do to create the world’s best environment to foster this disruptive technology, which I am convinced will create a transformation like what the web did less than 30 years ago. 

 

Web 3.0 will not be on the web

It’s Saturday 7pm. A pretty airline hostess friend of mine was in San Francisco for the night, wanting to do drinks. What to do?

I was knocking on the door of a home in Palo Alto that had a Guy Fawkes mask on a Christmas reef. As for why, it was to attend the first ever Decentralized Autonomous Society Meetup, an event with a minimal description other than a title “Let the revolution begin”. The event reads:

In the early 90s the cypherpunk movement held its meetup in Palo Alto, working through many ways in which cryptographic technology could be used to promote human freedom. Eventually Bitcoin was born.

Today we discuss how the second wave of blockchain innovation can enhance human freedom.

The house was packed. Hours earlier, TechCrunch had posted  Decentralise All The Things! and mentions Ethereum and Maidsafe who are leaders in the movement. In my search to find a solution to a business challenge I have, I inadvertently was now at a meetup where one of the speakers was a representative from Maidsafe and another speaker representing Ethereum. But not just that: I found myself after the talks talking to the globe trotting Vitalik Buterin, the inventor and chief scientist of Ethereum.

Although I had been tracking Bitcoin for a few years now and evangelising it behind closed doors to influential politicians, business executives and my network, a frustration I had was that no one understands the true impact.  This is something that has been on my mind every since I become aware of after a talk by former Googler Mike Hearn in 2012.

That changed a few months ago, when I stumbled on Ethereum’s white paper and found it the single best document describing the state of cryptocurrency and its potential beyond being simply a means of exchange as Bitcoin is known. Ethereum’s creator might only be 20, but with his former project being the Bitcoin magazine which has been an invaluable resource to understand Bitcoin, he comes across to me as probably having one of the deepest understandings of cryptocurrencies, their potential — and weaknesses.

Both Vitalik and I hold a mutual view that we don’t know what the future of Bitcoin is and if it will last. But after talking to him, I had in no doubt that I had met a genius that one day may be regarded like Tim Berners-lee who created the world wide web.

Separately, I was talking with one of the organisers, and he was excited I understood the potential of DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) and similarly remarked at his frustration that most investors in Silicon Valley don’t seem to get it. Given silicon valley investors are beating the drum roll of Bitcoin’s world domination despite the rest of the world not getting it, you can take that to be a sign this is pretty early days of the Decentralised Autonomous movement.

But let me get to the point of why I’m even writing this — both due to something Vitalik said to me and that I separately read yesterday that he pointed me too. He referred me to a recent blog post on secret sharing and where he writes a money quote in the conclusion of the article explaining DAO’s as follows:

If the blockchain is a decentralized computer, a secret sharing DAO is a decentralized computer with privacy

In a world where no one can really explain it yet, that explains DAO’s beautifully. But let’s back it up: blockchain, one of the four technologies underpinning Bitcoin (the others being PGP, Proof-of-work (such as mining which includes hash functions and Merkle trees ), and peer-to-peer)…is a computer? When I prodded Vitalik about what use-cases he was prioritising ahead the Ethereum 1.0 release later this year (March), he eventually responded: “It’s hard to prioritise one use case when you’re building a computer!”.

And that’s exactly what’s going on. This is all software, architecture and philosophical vision for a decentralised world, bringing the Internet back to its roots. In the process, this will enable a weak form of artificial intelligence. If hypertext is what underpins the web and has transformed the world of communications, then cryptography is what underpins the blockchain and will be transforming our world starting with payments but beyond that such as any system where “trust” is needed like elections, contracts and more. The power being the computers manage the “trust” (no humans tampering with it) and can automate the enforcement.

3D printing and Dones are two long term technologies that I regard as inevitable and game changing. It just might take 20 years for us to fully realise it. Well, Bitcoin, blockchain and crypto-currencies is my other main trend — but the externalities of that trend such as the Ethereum project and the ecosytem building around it, is something I think everyone should have on their radar that I think is akin to the web starting.

This year will see Ethereum 1.0 released (roadmap) with a chat application, a browser, as well as the ability for people to build their own applications with javascript — and we’ll also see the Bitcoin foundation be transitioning to a block-chain based voting system for its 2000 members which if it happens will become the highest profile example of DAO principles in action, beyond the Bitcoin network itself and the blockchain voting by the Danish political party.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not something that I’m early to identify rather it’s been in my face: at my business StartupHouse, we host events for Bitcoin developers and its intrigued me in their grass roots support. Combined with my reading, once you begin to understand the value of a blockchain, the power of cryptography, and what you can do outside of currency — then maybe, just like me and thousands of grass roots community support in silicon valley and around the world, you’ll begin see the emergence of something. A something driven by a frustration to emerge from the world post the credit crunch induced recession, government abuse of power with people’s money, and inequality where the few are owning more of our society’s capital.

A vision that, maybe, just might be a revolution in how the world operates that is as dramatic as what the world was like before the web. Stay tuned.

How to overthrow the government

For a bit of fun, I wrote my first post on the Medium platform leveraging ideas from my reading of The Economist and my previous post. Go on, have a read!

How to overthrow the government…

A decentralised future

Ethereum, a newcomer this year on the Bitcoin scene caught my eye this weekend. What I like about it is that it’s talking about the future block-chain enabled world that has been introduced by Bitcoin, the true innovation of Bitcoin. If you know nothing about Bitcoin or want to get a update on the latest state of the industry,  I highly recommend you read the white paper.

But the reason I am posting about this is because it talks about one of my other favourite new concepts for the future world: liquid democracy. And it combines it together, under the topic of Decentralised Autonomous Corporations (DAC’s), which I often hear in Bitcoin literature but I’ve only come to appreciate today how they would practically work.

In short, mind blown. Liquid democracy and DAC’s represent two of the most groundbreaking advances in the fields of governance in the last decade.

Scenario
Let me give you a scenario of how these three inventions: Blockchain, liquid democracy, and DAC’s would work.

Imagine an organisation such as a government district representing you or the local supermarket store. Now continue this thought experiment and that you and 999 other people are ‘stakeholders’: as a citizen that can elect a representative or you are a member of the organisation that can elect a board of directors, like how non-profits and as for-profits do as shareholders.

Every one of these stakeholders has a “key” and under the principles of DAC’s, if any one of the 551  of the 1000 stakeholders make a vote, it creates a binding decision on the organisation. That itself isn’t the remarkable thing: what’s mind-blowing is that it’s done automatically through “secure multiparty computation”, allowing real time decisions to be processed by computers reflecting the will of the stakeholders.

Now combine that with the concepts under liquid democracy, where these stakeholders can directly vote on any issue — but can also delegate their vote to someone. This concept is called “delegative democracy” and is like a hybrid of the concepts of direct democracy (where citizens get a direct vote) and representative democracy (where citizens elect a representative) — hence the apt term liquid as the direct vote can be delegated to a representative and reverted back to the actual voter in a very fluid way.

And finally, let’s tie this to the blockchain that Bitcoin has introduced to the world: a way to validate decisions.

So let’s say one day, you get an email from your community saying you need to vote on whether to allow a new super market in the area. Or a vote to determine if the super market should sell alcohol. Currently, these decisions are made by shareholders and citizens by their representatives such as management who are appointed by the elected board of directors or elected representatives.

But under the above scenario, you get a direct vote on the matter — along with your 999 other stakeholders. However,  assuming you don’t want to vote, you can allocate your vote to someone else which generalise’s the concept of a board of directors.

Mind blown

If the above doesn’t rattle your brain with its possibilities from how Fortune 500’s operate to the federal government could transform the way they operate from dictatorships disguised as fake democracy where elections simply give the perception of democracy, then it’s because you need to better understand the concepts.

That the (Bitcoin-invented) Block chain is a like decentralised receipt book of transactions that can prove decisions without the need for lawyers, liquid democracy is a new way to make decisions that evolves our current concepts behind direct and representative democracy, and the principles behind DAC’s means we cut the need for people making decisions on our behalf as cryptography has invented a way to determine a group of people (who are pre-authorised) to make decisions in real time.

The significance of Bitcoin is not that it invented this future, but it inspired it as it’s a the first version of  DAC in existence today. Where an entire financial system is controlled by the people, not a government or bank. Humans are replaced by computer algorithms and therefore enabling a decentralisation of power to the very people who are meant to have that power: you and me.

Secondary value is what is holding back Bitcoin

A few nights ago I woke up in the middle night not knowing where I was. It was pitch dark, I couldn’t breathe. In shock, I jumped out of my bed and  found a door before realising what had happened. Gasping for air, all I could think was “Bitcoin liquidity crisis”.
Freshly jet lagged into a summer Australian night that I was still acclimatising  to,  I probably was impacted by the humidity, dehydrated and still confused from all the travel. But the fact I was thinking of the Bitcoin liquidity crisis, I’m going to call  this a premonition of what’s to come.
According to Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Bitcoin is a bubble. I agree.
Greenspace: Bitcoin is a bubble
What makes it a bubble, is unsustainable prices and to which Greenspan says no ‘intrinsic’ value. This is where I disagree, but does point to a real challenge with any crypto-currency.

While the innovation right now is on establishing exchanges which create a base level of liquidity, Bitcoin suffers from one critical weakness in its design. Fixable I might add, but critical.

Secondary value
On a base level, the creation of exchanges will solve the liquidity problem: more banks, more currencies, faster conversions, lower fees — will allow more people to convert their government-backed fiat-currency into Bitcoins. This will help in developing the maturity of the currency.

But it doesn’t solve the confidence issue that will impact ultimately its liquidity. This is because Bitcoin or any other crypto-currency has no secondary use if the value falls. It’s going to collapse when the social compact loses confidence. Greenspan is wrong in saying Bitcoin’s doesn’t have any intrinsic value because the algorithms developing the hashes’s are the result of mathematically complex equations ‘mined’ by a global network of  brute force computing. But he is partly right, in that those outputs in the algorithm’s don’t have any secondary value. Unlike gold which has been used as a form of currency as well as a metal for jewelry, Bitcoin’s cryptographic puzzles currently don’t have a secondary use aside from validating the blockchain.

Arguably you can say the same about any other fiat currency: if a government and society didn’t think the USD has value, the pieces of paper would be useless. But unlike the USD, Bitcoin does not have a government guaranteeing the value of the currency.

Long term this won’t be as big a deal, because if you look at the USD, no one questions the liquidity of the US government. Though with a lack of confidence, the same issues would happen if everyone in the world cashed in their Greenback (and yes, the US government wouldn’t handle that crisis and the world would lose confidence). This issue however will hold back the initial foundation of the system as it will be the basis behind a liquidity crisis due to confidence.
Which is partly why we need a Bitcoin bubble: it will lay down an infrastructure that will be a sunk cost that will result in future use “because it’s there”. But if we could invent a way to give Bitcoin secondary value by finding a way to leverage the block chain to give value elsewhere in the world (possibly the mathematical puzzles become a source of validation for the world?) then this would inject much needed confidence in the system to make this a true global currency.

Bitcoin makes sense for the future

Bitcoin fascinates me. Whether it’s the future of currency itself I don’t know, but it will pave the way for the future so it’s worth studying.

There are two reasons that people claim make Bitcoin flawed.

The first is that it’s based on ECDSA (Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithmwhich consists of a private key (a secret number known only to the person that generated it), a public key (a number that corresponds to a private key which is calculated from the private key but that is very difficult with current computing to reverse engineer to predict a private key), and a signature (a number that proves an operation took place that  used a hash and the private key). Values can be determined without the private key ever being disclosed, so that a bitcoin can correspond to a public ledger to prove the authenticited of ownership — for example, an algorithm can determine with the public key on a signature to determine it was produced by a hash and the private key, without needing to know the private key.

And so the critique goes, if someone can build a sufficiently powerful quantum computer, Shor’s algorithm will enable someone to steal bitcoin’s at will as they can crack the secret of someone’s private key. But basically, it’s practically impossible for this to happen. I’m not crypto expert, but I’ll leave this for others to digest further.

The second critique is due to the known limitation that bitcoin will one day cap at 21 million units. If bitcoins go missing, we will never be able to replace them — such is the case with physical currency today which goes out of circulation (but a central authority issuing it can reprint them). And inherently, Bitcoin is considered to be deflationary — the problem with deflation is the decreased price level of goods and services. Meaning, because it’s got a future guaranteed scarcity it will get scarcer and lead to deflation so therefore it’s doomed.

This is what I want to explore further because it’s worth clarifying some fundamental assumptions about the world.

What is value?
Let’s start with a functional definition of value. “Value is energy applied to resources where the perceived utility of the output is more than the inputs.” That definition implies there are three sources of value in the world: energy, resources, and outputs that have used the application of energy on resources and becomes a transformation. And the utility of a transformation, is different from say energy and the resources that went into it, simply due to perception of it. Basically, value is at core about utility.

Resources are finite: we only have a limited amount on earth that we can use. And most of it is not usable, as we don’t have the capacity to extract the resources in a usable way. Energy on the other hand, by the human definition, is unlimited — the sun sends 1.KW for every square metre of the earth surface for free. But what limits energy is the ability to capture it, store it and transport it — so therefore energy has value. We need energy to function: animal and plant life need it to function, and we need it to extract resources as well as apply it to transform resource into new products.

Is energy in itself valuable? Well, only if we use it: if a plant sits in the sun, it’s free — as does a human who will get Vitamin D that helps it function. Just because it’s free though doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value: it’s just the price is low. Humans also need other vitamins to survive, and it requires the expenditure of energy to acquire future sources of energy — that energy could be valued as time to hunt down animals for example.

Do resources have value? If it’s utilised, it has value — and the more it’s used, the scarcer it becomes for other uses which is why it gets regulated by price when there are competing seekers of the resource. Like energy, the question isn’t if there is value: the issue is what is the price of that value. It’s how to price that utility to regulate its usage.

Theoretically, you could say the current available energy in the world that can be used and the current available resources are what is value in the world, as well as the products created through the transformation of resources with energy. Value is what the total utility in the world is. And if there are no competing uses of those pieces of value, then prices are practically nil: but once there is competing needs for limited pieces of value like resources, that’s when we see the price increase.

And that is, why fundamentally, all value is tied to scarcity: the scarcer the value (supply) and the higher the demand, the higher the price.  This is fundamental economic theory which is the study of how to best allocate limited resources in an world that is based on the assumption of unlimited wants — which theoretically, makes sense. What breaks down is that interpretation of the theory.

For example, it’s fine to say there are unlimited wants in the world — but that’s a assumption that says there will always be competing demands for resources so therefore everything needs a price. Which again, is fine: it’s just this assumption of an assumption needs to assume a more fundamental assumption: a price of zero doesn’t make something less valuable than the same resource which has a price of more than zero. If you can buy a diamond for $1 but it normally would be valued $1000, that doesn’t mean it’s less valuable fundamentally: it just has less competition and so therefore less cost to acquire.

What is currency?
Arguably, you could say the sum of value in the world is all the stored energy, available resources, and transformations in the world which has utility. The world’s currency system should be tied to that: if you could exchange all the value in the world, it should be equal that.

Currency should be a way to store value and transport it. The energy I applied with my time which created more perceived value than the energy itself in the form of knowledge,  I want to store for a future use where I can exchange that for something of similar value. Therefore, a currency needs to have a consistent form of pricing (to make value comparable) and it ideally has a stable means of being valued (ie, storing it a year ago should theoretically be valued as the same as storing it today).

But the hard thing about utility  is that it’s hard to measure at the one point in time –even though we know there is a fundamental fixed amount that can be used in the world. But that’s why the assumption that a currency should have a fixed supply makes perfect sense: the price mechanism of currency adjusts for changes in utility (assuming the supply of currency doesn’t degrade, which is another factor why modern day currency can adjust in value).

Bitcoin’s fixed supply
Which brings us to the question: does Bitcoin having a fixed supply make sense? Yes.

But what about the risk of “deflation” in the world due to a fixed supply? Well, it’s not that value in the world goes does — it’s just the pricing of that value might go down.

The above discussion I hope answers those questions.

And what about if there are missing bitcoin’s in the world, which creates a supply constraint on this new currency? Bitcoin’s are divisible up to 8 decimal places which means one bitcoin has 100 million components (yes, they have a name: called a “Satoshi”). Ignoring the clear economic incentive to not lose Bitcoin’s, lost coins get lost in the noise and this divisibility allows it to adapt. With 21 million final bitcoin’s divisible by 100 million, that means 2.1 quadrillion units of currency or Satoshi’s. To put that in comparison, in 2009 there was approximately 8.3 trillion US dollars in the world or 0.0083 quadrillion cents. If one cent was one Satoshi, that would be 2100 trillion US cents or 21 trillion US dollars.

Some say the value of the US economy to be 188 trillion dollars (different from GDP, which simply accounts for   spending in one year). Assuming the US economy in 2009 accounted for one quarter fo the world economy (based on GDP), we can assume the world has a price on the value in the world of about 750 trillion US dollars or 0.8 quandrillion.

If the total *value* of available Satoshi’s in the world one day equals that amount (One Satoshi equals 0.35714285714 US cents  or 750 trillion divided by 2.1 quadrillion) — then who cares if a few bitcoin’s get lost along the way. What we have now is a currency that does what currency is meant to do: store value for the exchange of value in society.

Fixing government with the Internet

” We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness

— Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson

One of the most interesting innovations in the evolution of democracy, is the concept of representative democracy: whereby a few are elected to make decisions on behalf of the population. The lower house of the Westminster System typically has representatives from electorates which are  groups of people clustered in geographies that form a critical mass, whereas the upper house represents a different class: in England, a plutocracy but in America, it was revised to give each of the states an equal vote (though, in is still a plutocracy with just a more accountable way of election).

Overall, I think this is a good model to keep. But with the growth of the party system around the world (which has become the way government is done, a critical function that ironically not defined in most constitutions), it has become broken: using America as the case in point, the Republican control of the lower house during Obama’s first term (and Democrat control of the Senate) had politics get in the way and risked the future of the country at a time when unity was needed the most. As Jefferson said, when a government becomes destructive of the ends, it’s the right of the people to alter or abolish it. The party system is failing our democracy.

The Pirates

A lot has changed in the last 10 years, let alone 100 and 1000 years when a lot of our democratic tradition has been written. In particular, the Internet has become a new force in our society that has transformed every industry that comes in its way. It will only be a matter of time when the government gets its own shake up and that time may becoming. Gregory Ferenstein wrote an interesting post recently on innovations thanks to the Internet, with the most interesting one below:

Pirate Party

They’re less fun than a boat full of drunken sailors, but more influential in Germany than many third parties are in the United States. After winning 15 parliamentary seats in Germany, the Pirate Party has developed an intriguing crowdsourced platform of decision-making known as “liquid feedback.” The trust-based voting system permits members to leave decision-making to those they know are more knowledgeable, while preserving the inclusiveness of direct democracy. The Pirate Party is currently expanding its ranks throughout the globe.

The liquid feedback platform may be the most powerful way to fix the current system of government. Imagine that we all have equal votes, but you trusted my views on the economy more than your own views — you could allocate your vote to me, where I could make it for you. Now let’s say I came to trust an economist on matters of policy, so I would allocate my vote, which includes yours, to that economist when she makes decisions (so in effect, her votes also counts on your and my vote). And so on: what we have here is representative democracy in it’s most beautiful form. It’s only now with the Internet can we allow a system like this to exist.

This is a system that could be built into the current governance of our society. And even better, it it doesn’t need to be written into the constitution, for it to have an impact: it could be done in parallel. A shadow government could emerge where people could nominate their votes to people who end up becoming super delegates on issues. The influence these delegates could be so powerful that it could trigger a vote of confidence on our elected leaders, not to mention additional accountability on their decisions as they are compared to a benchmark by the populace. Maybe even our elected representatives in the legislature could take inspiration for their decisions not by the party they are a part of, but by what the super delegates vote.

And perhaps, this could be the way we fix our democracy. Not by changing the system laid out by the constitution of great democracies in the world like America and Australia, but by changing the way our representatives organise their votes. No more liberal, labor, democrat and republican — but a liquid party, where the people who we elect into government under this banner promise to follow the direction of the population through the votes of the super delegates. Delegates determined by the liquid democracy platform that we all have access to anytime we want to vote on an issue.

The changing dynamics of news

In the recent controversy that has erupted due to the firing of Michael Arrington from TechCrunch, I believe it represents an era in innovation led by TechCrunch that we’re only starting to appreciate.

To start on this thought experiment, consider how four years ago (meaning, things haven’t changed) I wrote about the two kinds of content that exist: data like breaking news or archived news; and culture which includes analysis like editorials and entertainment such as satire.

UnderstandingI argue that each content form has unique characteristics that needs to be exploited in different ways. Think about that before digesting this blog post, because understanding the product (such as news) impacts the way the market will operate.

Some trends of the past
Over the last two decades, we’ve seen the form (and costs) of news be disrupted dramatically.

It started with hypertext systems that helped humans share knowledge (with the most successful hyperterxt implementation, the world wide web 20 years ago forever changing the world); search engines helping us find information easier (with Google transforming the world 10 years ago), and content management systems helping people reduce the costs of publishing to practically zero (with Moveable Type and especially WordPress driving this).

While the sourcing of news still requires unique relationships that journalists can extract to the world, even that’s changed due to social media that’s created a distributed ‘citizen journalism’ world. Related to this is a movement Julian Assange calls “scientific journalism” where the sourcing of news is now democratised and exposed in its raw form.

Some observations of the present
With that, I’ve noticed two interesting things about the tech news ecosystem, who are are helping shape the trends in news more broadly: tech bloggers kill themselves to break stories, to the point where blogs like TechCrunch have become cults for those that work there; separately, the rise of the news aggregators like TechMeme and HackerNews (or Slashdot and Digg before them) have built the audiences who have been overwhelmed by information overload and crave a filter from a quality editorial voice (the latter being why news personalisation technologies cannot work on their own).

The big secret (that’s not particularly secret due to the abundance of ‘share this’ buttons on webpages) about the news ecosystem is that it’s the aggregators who drive traffic to news outlets that report the news. When you understand that point, a lot of other things become clearer.

Content Aggregation infographic

On the other hand, tech entrepreneurs break their backs for the hope of getting written about on the Tech blogs. The reasons vary from getting credibility so they can recruit talent; exposure so they raise money; and a belief that they can acquire customers (the whole point of building a startup).

Which leads me to think despite all these random observations I’ve listed above, there is a fundamental efficiency evolving in news reporting that may give an insight into the future.

Let’s keep thinking. Other things to consider include:

  • The audience starts with the aggregators for news and the articles whereby the better headlines tend to perform better
  • News in its barest form is making awareness of an event (data); anything additional is analysis (cultural) which is to shape understanding around the event
  • The rise of ‘scientific journalism’ and social media allows society to discover and share information without a third party (due to technology tools).
  • Press releases are an invention to communicate a message so reporters can base their writing on, who often just copy and paste the words.

Some thinking about the future
News should be stripped to its barest form: a description of the event. It should be what we consider currently a “headline”, with preferably a link to the source material. Therefore professional journalists, bloggers, and the rest of the world should be competing to break news not on who can write the best prose but who can share a one line summary based on their ability to extract that information (either by being accidentally at the event or having exclusive relationships with the event maker). The cost of breaking the news should be simply a matter of who can share a link the quickest.

News Article - Wichita Falls Record News

Editorial, which is effectively analysis (or entertainment in some cases) and what blogging has become, should be left to what we now consider as “comments”. Readers get to have the “news” coloured, based on a managed curation of the top commentators.

Tying this together: Imagine a world where anyone could submit “news” and anyone could provide “editorial”? A rolling river of news of submitted headlines and links, and discussions roaring underneath the item reflecting the interpretation of the masses.

You could argue Twitter has become the first true example of that where most content is in full public view but with a restricted output (140 characters); people can share links with their comments; and the top stories tend to get retweeted which further gains exposure. Things could be similarly said about Digg, Reddit and Hacker News. But these services, along with Twitter (and Facebook) are simply an insight into a future that’s already begun. I think they are just early pioneers before the real solution comes, similar to how Tim Berners-Lee created a hypertext system in a saturated market that then became the standard; Google created a search engine in a saturated market that then became the standard; and WordPress created a blogging platform in a saturated market that then become the standard. Lots of people have tried to innovate in the news ecosystem, but I still don’t think the nut’s been cracked.

News has a lot of value, but there is different value based on who breaks it and who interprets it. For example, when I fire up some of my favourite aggregators, I tend to not click on the original headline but on brands I like so as to read their take on the event (though when I’m deeply looking into something, I dig for the source material). But the problem with news now, is there is a fundamental disruption on the cost structures supporting it: the economics favour those who break the news, with those that interpret news suffering as traditionally both these roles were considered the one function. Something’s going on and the answer is cheaper production, faster distribution and more of a decentralised effort across society and not the self-appointed curators.

While the newspaper industry is collapsing, something more fundamental is happening with news and we’re simply in the eye of the storm. Stay tuned.

Why ICANN’s changes to TLD matter

ICANN two months ago made an announcement that domain names can now be extended beyond the generic TLD’s set (they also are allowing the use of non-Latin characters such as Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, etc). Meaning, instead of everyone competing to get a “.com”, people can buy “.yourbrand” and create websites off that. I think it’s brilliant — Ester Dyson, the founding chairperson of ICANN, doesn’t agree.

As someone that’s developed multiple online properties, organisations (both for-profit and not-for-profit) and had people try to rip-off several brands I’ve created, I’ve experienced enough to welcome this as a huge step forward — and here’s why.

ICANN’s strategy originally wanted to disrupt a market place player, which is why they assigned these generic TLD’s like .org and .net (.com was controlled by a corporation). But what matters now is not the historical reasons but what will benefit the world based on historical experience (and failed strategy). That benefit is better consumer protection and reduced costs of business.

Let’s rethink this
Consider the following:
(1) The purpose of a trademark is to allow customers the ability to distinguish what they are buying. It’s for the customer’s protection first.
(2) A domain name is simply a human-intelligent way to to access ip address. Whether it’s apple.com or apple.eats.microsoft — the point isn’t one of branding, but for humans to be able to identify a resource they seek.
(3) While there are plenty of domain names available, good ones no longer exist. There is a bias to having a “.com” and it’s why many companies from the web2.0 era had to resort to creative domains like del.icio.us and missing vowels like flickr.com

What the historical DNS system has done is create an unnecessary scarcity where domain name registrars and brokers of ‘premium’ domain names benefit. Having a company own the name space like “.IBM” makes perfect sense because “.com”, “.org”, and “.net” have lost their original meaning of distinguishing “commercial” businesses over “non-profits” and the like.

What matters more is that when a consumer wants the comfort of the company they seek, they can do it with the assurance it’s correct. “.paypal” for example could have huge implications for fraud detection for consumers (some fraud is done due to misspelled domains similar to the target or switching .com with another TLD). Better still, it actually decreases the cost of businesses for companies because they no longer need to chase the unlimited TLD variations of their name to protect their brand — which they only did so, so they wouldn’t lose customers confused by confusing branding.

ICANN’s changes are a radical change, but they are perfectly in line with the original intent of trademark law. Sorry Ester, but you’re wrong on this one.

Veokami is an awesome new concert video curating service

I’ve been in America now two years (wow!) and one of the best things that’s happened to me since moving here is being involved in the Aussie community of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley (which actually is filled with New Zealander’s as well!). I don’t know all the Aussies, but the ones I do know have entirely justified the life-changing decision I made to move to America: the combined economic impact this group have had and will have in the next decade on the Australian, Kiwi and US economy really is amazing.

So it’s exciting to see one of my good friends and upcoming entrepreneur’s in the group Brett Welch strike it out on his own with his startup Veokami. Chris Hartley and Brett have built this funky piece of technology that aggregates all the video taken from a concert. For example, hundreds of people will record a show with their camera phones now and some upload it to youtube. Veokami synthesises all these videos and puts them in a timeline, so that it not only will organise the songs in a timeseries order, but will put them parallel to the timeline with videos shown from a different perspective. It’s like watching a TV recording of the concert, with you being able to switch camera angles…except the difference is, all this video is automatically organised and the video comes from hundreds of amateur footage shared by the Internet.

Check the video below for a sneak peak. And please vote for them on the hacklolla challenge as I’d love to see this service get integrated into concerts around the world, which further enables the power of the Internet and computing to transform our lives. It’s tools like this that put more power in the hands of the consumer and that alone is a reason why we should be supporting startups like this.

The potential of this technology really is interesting when you consider any public organisation of people — from political rallies to conferences to parties — the ubiquity of mobile camera’s now is unleashing a new collective intelligence in our world and Veokami helps stitch that intelligence together in a curated way.