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  • feedwordpress 23:59:30 on 2018/06/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , blockchain, , crypto, , , , , , , , , , , , world wide web   

    Do We Want A Society Built On The Architecture of Dumb Terminals? 

    The post Do We Want A Society Built On The Architecture of Dumb Terminals? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    God, “innovation.” First banalized by undereducated entrepreneurs in the oughts, then ground to pablum by corporate grammarians over the past decade, “innovation” – at least when applied to business – deserves an unheralded etymological death.

    But.

    This will be a post about innovation. However, whenever I feel the need to peck that insipid word into my keyboard, I’m going to use some variant of the verb “to flourish” instead. Blame Nobel laureate Edmond Phelps for this: I recently read his Mass Flourishing, which outlines the decline of western capitalism, and I find its titular terminology far less annoying.

    So flourishing it will be.

    In his 2013 work, Phelps (who received the 2006 Nobel in economics) credits mass participation in a process of innovation (sorry, there’s that word again) as central to mass flourishing, and further argues – with plenty of economic statistics to back him up – that it’s been more than a full generation since we’ve seen mass flourishing in any society. He writes:

    …prosperity on a national scale—mass flourishing—comes from broad involvement of people in the processes of innovation: the conception, development, and spread of new methods and products—indigenous innovation down to the grassroots. This dynamism may be narrowed or weakened by institutions arising from imperfect understanding or competing objectives. But institutions alone cannot create it. Broad dynamism must be fueled by the right values and not too diluted by other values.

    Phelps argues the last “mass flourishing” economy was the 1960s in the United States (with a brief but doomed resurgence during the first years of the open web…but that promise went unfulfilled). And he warns that “nations unaware of how their prosperity is generated may take steps that cost them much of their dynamism.” Phelps further warns of a new kind of corporatism, a “techno nationalism” that blends state actors with corporate interests eager to collude with the state to cement market advantage (think Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich).

    These warnings were proffered largely before our current debate about the role of the tech giants now so dominant in our society. But it sets an interesting context and raises important questions. What happens, for instance, when large corporations capture the regulatory framework of a nation and lock in their current market dominance (and, in the case of Big Tech, their policies around data use?).

    I began this post with Phelps to make a point: The rise of massive data monopolies in nearly every aspect of our society is not only choking off shared prosperity, it’s also blinkered our shared vision for the kind of future we could possibly inhabit, if only we architect our society to enable it. But to imagine a different kind of future, we first have to examine the present we inhabit.

    The Social Architecture of Data 

    I use the term “architecture” intentionally, it’s been front of mind for several reasons. Perhaps the most difficult thing for any society to do is to share a vision of the future, one that a majority might agree upon. Envisioning the future of a complex living system – a city, a corporation, a nation – is challenging work, work we usually outsource to trusted institutions like government, religions, or McKinsey (half joking…).

    But in the past few decades, something has changed when it comes to society’s future vision. Digital technology became synonymous with “the future,” and along the way, we outsourced that future to the most successful corporations creating digital technology. Everything of value in our society is being transformed into data, and extraordinary corporations have risen which refine that data into insight, knowledge, and ultimately economic power. Driven as they are by this core commodity of data, these companies have acted to cement their control over it.

    This is not unusual economic behavior, in fact, it’s quite predictable. So predictable, in fact, that it’s developed its own structure – an architecture, if you will, of how data is managed in today’s information society. I’ve a hypothesis about this architecture – unproven at this point (as all are) – but one I strongly suspect is accurate. Here’s how it might look on a whiteboard:

    We “users” deliver raw data to a service provider, like Facebook or Google, which then captures, refines, processes, and delivers that data back as services to us. The social contract we make is captured in these services’ Terms of Services – we may “own” the data, but for all intents and purposes, the power over that information rests with the platform. The user doesn’t have a lot of creative license to do much with that data he or she “owns” – it lives on the platform, and the platform controls what can be done with it.

    Now, if this sounds familiar, you’re likely a student of early computing architectures. Back before the PC revolution, most data, refined or not, lived on a centralized platform known as a mainframe. Nearly all data storage and compute processing occurred on the mainframe. Applications and services were broadcast from the mainframe back to “dumb terminals,” in front of which early knowledge workers toiled. Here’s a graph of that early mainframe architecture:

     

    This mainframe architecture had many drawbacks – a central point of failure chief among them, but perhaps its most damning characteristic was its hierarchical, top down architecture. From an user’s point of view, all the power resided at the center. This was great if you ran IT at a large corporation, but suffice to say the mainframe architecture didn’t encourage creativity or a flourishing culture.

    The mainframe architecture was supplanted over time with a “client server” architecture, where processing power migrated from the center to the edge, or node. This was due in large part to the rise the networked personal computer (servers were used  for storing services or databases of information too large to fit on PCs). Because they put processing power and data storage into the hands of the user, PCs became synonymous with a massive increase in productivity and creativity (Steve Jobs called them “bicycles for the mind.”) With the PC revolution power transferred from the “platform” to the user – a major architectural shift.

    The rise of networked personal computers became the seedbed for the world wide web, which had its own revolutionary architecture. I won’t trace it here (many good books exist on the topic), but suffice to say the core principle of the early web’s architecture was its distributed nature. Data was packetized and distributed independent of where (or how) it might be processed. As more and more “web servers” came online, each capable of processing data as well as distributing it, the web became a tangled, hot mess of interoperable computing resources. What mattered wasn’t the pipes or the journey of the data, but the service created or experienced by the user at the point of that service delivery, which in the early days was of course a browser window (later on, those points of delivery became smartphone apps and more).

    If you were to attempt to map the social architecture of data in the early web, your map would look a lot like the night sky – hundreds of millions of dots scattered in various constellations across the sky, each representing a node where data might be shared, processed, and distributed. In those early days the ethos of the web was that data should be widely shared between consenting parties so it might be “mixed and mashed” so as to create new products and services. There was no “mainframe in the sky” anymore – it seemed everyone on the web had equal and open opportunities to create and exchange value.

    This is why the late 1990s through mid oughts were a heady time in the web world – nearly any idea could be tried out, and as the web evolved into a more robust set of standards, one could be forgiven for presuming that the open, distributed nature of the web would inform its essential social architecture.

    But as web-based companies began to understand the true value of controlling vast amounts of data, that dream began to fade. As we grew addicted to some of the most revelatory web services – first Google search, then Amazon commerce, then Facebook’s social dopamine – those companies began to centralize their data and processing policies, to the point where we are now: Fearing these giants’ power over us, even as we love their products and services.

    An Argument for Mass Flourishing

    So where does that leave us if we wish to heed the concerns of Professor Phelps? Well, let’s not forget his admonition: “nations unaware of how their prosperity is generated may take steps that cost them much of their dynamism.” My hypothesis is simply this: Adopting a mainframe architecture for our most important data – our intentions (Google), our purchases (Amazon), our communications and social relationships (Facebook) – is not only insane, it’s also massively deprecative of future innovation (damn, sorry, but sometimes the word fits). In Facebook, Tear Down This Wall, I argued:

    … it’s impossible for one company to fabricate reality for billions of individuals independent of the interconnected experiences and relationships that exist outside of that fabricated reality. It’s an utterly brittle product model, and it’s doomed to fail. Banning third party agents from engaging with Facebook’s platform insures that the only information that will inform Facebook will be derived from and/or controlled by Facebook itself. That kind of ecosystem will ultimately collapse on itself. No single entity can manage such complexity. It presumes a God complex.

    So what might be a better architecture? I hinted at it in the same post:

    Facebook should commit itself to being an open and neutral platform for the exchange of value across not only its own services, but every service in the world.

    In other words, free the data, and let the user decide what do to with it. I know how utterly ridiculous this sounds, in particular to anyone reading from Facebook proper, but I am convinced that this is the only architecture for data that will allow a massively flourishing society.

    Now this concept has its own terminology: Data portability.  And this very concept is enshrined in the EU’s GDPR legislation, which took effect one week ago. However, there’s data portability, and then there’s flourishing data portability – and the difference between the two really matters. The GDPR applies only to data that a user *gives* to a service, not data *co-created* with that service. You also can’t gather any insights the service may have inferred about you based on the data you either gave or co-created with it. Not to mention, none of that data is exported in a machine readable fashion, essentially limiting its utility.

    But imagine if that weren’t the case. Imagine instead you can download your own Facebook or Amazon “token,” a magic data coin containing not only all the useful data and insights about you, but a control panel that allows you to set and revoke permissions around that data for any context. You might pass your Amazon token to Walmart, set its permissions to “view purchase history” and ask Walmart to determine how much money it might have saved you had you purchased those items on Walmart’s service instead of Amazon. You might pass your Facebook token to Google, set the permissions to compare your social graph with others across Google’s network, and then ask Google to show you search results based on your social relationships. You might pass your Google token to a startup that already has your genome and your health history, and ask it to munge the two in case your 20-year history of searching might infer some insights into your health outcomes.

    This might seem like a parlor game, but this is the kind of parlor game that could unleash an explosion of new use cases for data, new startups, new jobs, and new economic value. Tokens would (and must) have auditing, trust, value exchange, and the like built in (I tried to write this entire post without mentioned blockchain, but there, I just did it), but presuming they did, imagine what might be built if we truly set the data free, and instead of outsourcing its power and control to massive platforms, we took that power and control and, just like we did with the PC and the web, pushed it to the edge, to the node…to ourselves?

    I rather like the sound of that, and I suspect Mssr. Phelps would as well. Now, how might we get there? I’ve no idea, but exploring possible paths certainly sounds like an interesting project…

    The post Do We Want A Society Built On The Architecture of Dumb Terminals? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
  • feedwordpress 23:54:02 on 2016/01/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , blockchain, , , , , , , , , sports, ,   

    Predictions 2016: Apple, Tesla, Google, Medium, Adtech, Microsoft, IoT, and Business on a Mission 

    The post Predictions 2016: Apple, Tesla, Google, Medium, Adtech, Microsoft, IoT, and Business on a Mission appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    Nostradamus_propheciesTwelve years of making predictions doesn’t make writing them any easier, regardless of my relatively good showing in 2015. In fact, I briefly considered taking the year off – who am I to make predictions anyway? And so much has changed in the past few years – for me personally, and certainly for the industries to which I pay the most attention. But the rigor of thinking about the year ahead is addictive – it provides a framework for my writing, and a snapshot of what I find fascinating and noteworthy. And given that more than 125,000 of you read my post summarizing how I did in 2015 (thanks Medium and LinkedIn!), it was really you who’ve encouraged me to have at it again for 2016. I hope you’ll find these thought provoking, at the very least, and worthy of comment or debate, should you be so inclined.

    So let’s get to it.

    1. 2016 will be the year that “business on a mission” goes mainstream. It started in the hippie era and gained ground with well meaning but outlying companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia; but it took the technology startup era to prove its merits, and the climate crisis to push it to the fore. Businesses driven by more than profit are businesses that attract the best talent, create the most value, and ultimately provide the most benefit to society. Extractive, profit-first businesses are already on the way out, but 2016 will be seen as the year their dominance peaks. This trend will evince itself in many forms: We’ll see massive older companies shift their marketing focus to purpose-based messaging – both to insure top talent considers them as a career choice, and to maintain relevance to a new generation of purpose-based consumers. We’ll see mainstream media outlets start to cover the social and environmental impact of companies in more than just annual “Doing Well By Doing Good” roundups. In fact, the mainstream press will tire of ogling shiny tech startups and idolizing their newly-rich founders. We’ll see the launch of well-funded initiatives attempting to track the “true cost” of consumer goods and services, and rising support for triple-bottom line and B corps. And of course we’ll see politicians pick up the meme – particularly in Europe – appealing to voters by demanding businesses become true citizens of our society. Oh, and our little startup, NewCo, will play a small but I hope important role in all this happening!

    2. Mobile will finally mean more than apps. Last year I predicted that a new mobile startup will force a “new approach to mobile user interfaces.” I graded myself as half right – I think last year we laid the groundwork for that new approach, but no single mobile startup was responsible for what ultimately is an ecosystem shift. That shift will accelerate in 2016, and by year’s end, we’ll find ourselves interacting with our technology in new and far more “web like” ways – bouncing from link to link, service to service, much as we did on the original web, but with the power, context, and sensor-laden enablement of mobile apps and devices. This will be aided by the widespread adoption of deep links and services like Google’s App Streaming.

    3. Twitter makes a comeback. Ouch, 2015 was not kind to Twitter, especially if you were a stockholder. But in 2016, Twitter will find a way back to mainstream relevance (and stock appreciation). How? Well, I’m threatening my own chances at getting this prediction right by being too specific, but here goes: Twitter will take Moments, which was not exactly a hit with the Twitterati (IE, folks like me), and begin to evolve it to a far more granular level. At present, Moments are very lowest common denominator – NFL highlights, reality TV roundups, you know, standard Yahoo home page crap. But if Twitter can take each of our interest graphs and create automated “Moments” that deliver true value, well, that’s something everyone would appreciate. The first version of Moments was built for those who don’t really use Twitter. The next rev will be for those that do – and that could change everything. Extra credit prediction: Twitter will tap crowd-sourced curators to create Moments, and that will create a new ecosystem of value for both the company and its constituents.

    4. Adtech and the Internet of Things begins to merge. OK, this is utterly speculative, but it just makes sense to me. The Internet of Things requires several things to really take off: First, use cases where connecting the physical to the digital adds true value. We’ve now seen enough of these to believe that “every physical item will have a chip embedded in it.” Examples include sensors in jet engines (and just about everything else of industrial significance), exercise and health wearables, and home automation, to name but a few. But as I wrote earlier this year, we must not forget the Internet when we remember the things. And the Internet wants to connect all those things, and allow them to message to each other, run auctions where value is determined and exchanged, and then transact and account for it all based on a nearly impossible to comprehend amount of data and parameters.  Our current adtech system is perfectly engineered to do do that job. Sure, it currently slings trillions of ads around the Internet on a daily basis. And I’m not predicting that we’ll see ads on your Nest thermostat anytime soon. Instead, I’m suggesting that the underlying technology powering adtech is perfectly suited to execute the highly complicated and highly performant rules-based decisioning required for the Internet of Things to touch our lives on a regular basis. The groundwork for this combination will be laid in 2016. Related: We will most likely see a blockchain-based entrant in adtech in 2016, if we haven’t already (I couldn’t find one, but I may have missed it….).

    5. Tesla’s Model 3 will garner more than 100,000 pre-orders, but Tesla will have a rough year of news. I’m as excited as anyone about a $35,000 all electric car that has a range of 200 miles and a total cost of ownership well below your average mid-market sedan. And I’m guessing when Tesla opens pre-orders in March of 2016, more than 100,000 folks will get in line to reserve one. That’d be four times the pre orders for the Model X, but that car is priced four times as high. These pre-orders will drive Tesla’s stock to untold heights, but it’s not easy being Tesla, and the reality of building both the Model 3 and its gigafactory will force setbacks and delays, and the company will most likely have a volatile year of headlines.

    6. Publishers and platforms come to terms. I like Fred’s prediction that there’ll be a reckoning between large publishers and social platforms, and that it will end badly for one or more publishers. But I’m more bullish on how publishers will leverage platforms, and in 2016, Medium, LinkedIn, and Facebook will all make strides in helping all publishers succeed – especially mid-sized ones. Twitter may as well, if the details in prediction #3 bears out.

    7. Search has a dominant year, thanks in large part to voice and AI. In the past few years, search has fallen out of favor, as industry watchers focused on the shinier new social and mobile platforms, and pointed out that search is, at its core, the product of the PC-focused web. But I think we’re very close to an era of ambient intelligence, where the world becomes query-able. It’s now quite common to ask Siri, Google, Amazon’s Alexa, and Cortana just about anything and expect a decent response (my experience is that Google runs circles around Siri, but then again, I’ve never used Alexa or Cortana). And increasingly, search happens without a query – anticipating your needs before you even make them. If you count voice and contextual queries along with more traditional “type in” traffic, search volume will be way, way up in 2016. The only question is – can revenue models shift as quickly as use cases have?

    8. Apple endures a boring year. Yes, those of you who know me well may think this is projected schadenfreude, but in fact, I think it has more to do with the laws of corporate gravity. Apple is the most highly valued company in the world, and therefore has almost unmanageable expectations to meet. With the Watch and Apple Pay already in market, most folks expect a slew of incrementalism from the company in 2016 – updated models and software versions, but short of yet another iPhone folks feel obliged to purchase, there’ll be nothing spectacular. I don’t think folks will be calling for Tim Cook’s head, but many will wonder if Apple is meandering its way toward a boring, profit-milking middle age.

    9. Microsoft and Google get serious about hardware. Microsoft has already committed to its well-regarded Surface line, and Google has been dabbling with hardware with what have essentially been limited-run, high-end products in the Chromebook Pixel and Nexus line of smart phones. But the benefits of tightly integrated hardware and software experiences will prove too tempting to both companies, and I expect them to expand their offerings in 2016.

    10. Medium has a breakout year. I’ve been watching the Medium platform closely ever since it launched, and I think 2016 will be the year Medium breaks into the world’s consciousness in a big way. Key to this happening: A native revenue model that allows publishers to really leverage the platform, and a tightly integrated loop of product development that makes reading Medium feel like reading your own, intelligently curated but still serendipitous personal magazine. Expect a slew of notable publication launches on Medium, as well as a growing number of “traditional” publishers who commit resources to the platform.

    11. China goes shopping. It didn’t really happen this year, did it? We all expected Alibaba et al to start snapping up US-based companies, but perhaps valuations were simply too high. But in 2016, highly capitalized consumer and enterprise companies with large customer bases will start to look for exits, and Chinese companies eager for a foothold in the US will start to open their wallets.

    12. Sports unbundle. The one thing keeping me from abandoning cable altogether is watching broadcasts of my beloved Giant’s home games. That’s pretty much it. I know it, Comcast knows it, the Giants and the MLB know it…and finally, I’ll be able to buy home games digitally. Most likely they’ll be offered a la carte, at a ridiculous markup, but from that toehold will come the eventual demise of the cable bundle altogether. Fear not for Comcast’s margins, however, because by 2017, Comcast will have become a major streaming competitor in its own right. But that’s a prediction for another year.

    Well, that’s a dozen, and while I could go on, I probably shouldn’t. And yes, I didn’t talk about VR (everyone else has already said it’s overhyped), or AI (it’ll be the talk of the year to be sure), and I held back from predicting any major Facebook news. Time will tell if I missed the boat there, but in the meantime, let me know what you think, and point me to your favorite predictions for the new year as well. Have a great 2016, everyone!

    Follow my work at NewCo with our daily newsletter here

    Related:

    Predictions 2015

    2015: How I Did

    Predictions 2014

    2014: How I Did

    Predictions 2013

    2013: How I Did

    Predictions 2012

    2012: How I Did

     

     

     

     

     

    The post Predictions 2016: Apple, Tesla, Google, Medium, Adtech, Microsoft, IoT, and Business on a Mission appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
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