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  • feedwordpress 18:46:48 on 2022/01/10 Permalink
    Tags: blogs, , Internet Big Five, , , ,   

    On Building A Better Web: The Marlinspike Threads 


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    If you want to follow the debate about crypto’s impact on society, which I believe is one of the most important topics in tech today, you better sharpen your Twitter skills – most of the interesting thinking is happening across Twitter’s decidedly chaotic platform. I’ve been using the service for nearly 15 years, and I still find it difficult to bring to heel. When following a complex topic, I find myself back where I started – in a draft blog post, trying to pull it all together.

    That’s where I’ve been this past weekend as I watched the response to a thoughtful post from Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike.  (And yes, the fact that the Twitter conversation was driven by a blog post is not lost on me…)

    For those of you who might not use the Marlinspike’s service, Signal is an encrypted messaging platform favored by pretty much everyone in the tech and media world. Marlinspike’s post laid out several shortcomings of the current web3 world, all of it based on his own extensive “tinkering” with things like minting NFTs and building distributed apps, or dapps. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but to summarize, his critique has three key points:

    First, while web3 is supposed to be about a world free of centralized services, it turns out most of the well-known web3 platforms (OpenSea, Coinbase) are, in fact, centralized just like web2 (this echoes a criticism brought up earlier in the week by Ben Thompson (sub required, worth it).

    Secondly, technical protocols evolve slowly – and protocols are the basis for a lot of web3’s magic. Marlinspike points out that most web1 protocols – like SMTP for mail – are stuck in time and fail to evolve. This is often because the protocols are decentralized – no one is in charge of improving them.

    Thirdly, there’s a lot of room for error, mischief, or worse in how many of these services and protocols currently interact – particularly around fundamental issues of trust and privacy, two pillars of web3 philosophy. Marlinspike uses the example of an NFT he created which was banned by OpenSea and subsequently disappeared from his MetaMask wallet to make his point.

    If you’re still reading, congrats – that’s a lot and we’ve not yet gotten to the good stuff, which for me is the discussion that’s evolved since Marlinspike’s post. Watching the responses come in felt a lot like reading the early blogosphere – one by one, people I admire built on Marlinspike’s thinking, challenging some of it here, deconstructing other parts there. The tone was respectful, considered – no one reacted as if their religion had been impugned.

    The first response I noticed was from Vitalik Buterin, co-creator of Ethereum.

    Buterin challenges Marlinspike’s focus on technical grounds, particularly the term “servers,” and reminds us that there’s still a ton of infrastructure and foundational software work to be done. He points out that 2022 will be a big year for ETH,  given its shift from the slower and most costly proof of work to the more nimble and efficient proof of stake.

    I then realized I had missed Brian Armstrong’s response, which came a few hours after Marlinspoke’s initial post:

    Armstrong runs Coinbase, arguably one of the most centralized “web3” companies built so far. His last point is key: There’s a big difference between a company built to control data (Facebook) and one that acts as a useful wrapper for data owned and controlled by the end user. VC Chris Dixon elaborates in a thread the next morning:

    Dixon is pointing out a key distinction between web2 and web3 services, regardless of their potentially centralized nature: Ease of data portability. I’ve long argued that any apps or platforms based on leveraging our data should compete on the quality of service they provide, rather than the data they lock in. In 2008, I wrote “It’s time that services on the web compete on more than just the data they aggregate.” This is Dixon’s point in a nutshell: “web3 works like web1 did. There will be centralized services built in web3 — and many will be quite useful — but their economic power and overall control will be limited by the lower switching costs due to data portability.”

    The discussion continued later that day with Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic, the company behind WordPress. WordPress drives more than 40% of the current internet, and Mullenweg has long been a standard bearer for web2’s original philosophy – that of interoperability.

    Mullenweg name checks my former partner Tim O’Reilly, whose seminal “What Is Web 2.0” paper kicked off our Web2Summit conference series and has helped frame my thinking about the Internet for the past 15+ years. Mullenweg’s point is that many original web2 services are entirely consistent with web3 philosophies. That is still true today – whether or not web3 technologies are at the core of it (Mullenweg himself might best be described as “extremely crypto curious.”)

    Debate on Marlinspike’s post continued throughout the weekend, and by Sunday, former Dropbox CTO Aditya Agarwal responded elegantly to Marlinspike’s second point, that of protocols.

    Remember that Marlinspike’s criticism of protocols is that they are slow to evolve. Agarwal explains that while this was true of protocols in the early web, it’s not necessarily true in web3 architectures. …everyone’s mental model of ‘protocols’ is that of current ones like HTTP, SMTP etc. All of those protocols are *stateless*. That has been the accepted (and generally right) model of protocol design. The biggest difference for web3 is that they are stateful protocols. In that sense, I think that pace of protocol evolution isn’t really the right mental model. If the state is generally accessible, then it is much easier to remix and compose. There haven’t been too many instances of such ‘protocols’ which is why it isn’t surprising that all of us are unsure about how to compare this to traditional models.”

    —–
     
  • feedwordpress 23:27:09 on 2022/01/03 Permalink
    Tags: , Internet Big Five, , , , , , web2,   

    Let’s Argue About Web3! 


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    Popcorn in  hand, I’ve been watching the recent religious war between tech leaders, and I find it all quite…wonderful. It’s been a while since we’ve had this level of disagreement about the future of what we used to call “our industry,” and as long as the debate remains relatively civil, I’m here for it. Then again, we’ve already seen trolling (Elon Musk), blocking (Marc Andreessen), and shitposting (Jack Dorsey) from some of the biggest names in tech. But hey, at least the arguments are getting aired out.

    So what are we arguing about? In short, the future. Nothing is more sacred in the world of tech – the industry has defined and owned the future’s brand for as long as I can remember. Arguing about how that future might play out used to be a full time gig for many of us. It was at the center of our editorial mission at Wired – to paraphrase founding editor Louis Rossetto, our job was “to make a magazine that felt like it was mailed back from the future.” But around a decade ago, arguments about the future subsided – what was the point, given that future had consolidated into a handful of technology titans like Facebook, Tesla, Apple, Google, Netflix and Amazon? Whatever gifts or perils the future might bring, one thing was certain: The tech giants owned it. Where’s the fun in that?

    This turn of events was profoundly dispiriting for some, particularly those of us who had taken the red pill at the dawn of the commercial internet. Sure, I moderated a conference on Web2, and I wrote a book on search and Google, so watching Web2 businesses grow into the most successful firms in the history of business was … cool, for a while. But by 2012 or so, I had lost the optimism and excitement I once had for the industry. It felt like our dreams for a better world had been hijacked by centralized models of capital, and the future had become predictable again. Boring.

    But over the past few years, a renewed vision for the future has been on the rise. Yes, I’m going to call that renewed vision by the name absolutely no one can agree about: Web3*. The word itself has morphed over the years – for a brief minute, we thought Web3 might mean “the semantic web,” but by 2012, when I decided to stop producing the Web2 conference, it became something of a private joke between myself and my partner Tim O’Reilly. Whatever came after Web2, we agreed, it certainly wouldn’t take the nomenclature of a software upgrade!

    When we started Web2 in 2003, it was clear the tech world was in the midst of a huge transformation – the first iteration of the Web had bubbled up, gotten traction, been hopelessly over hyped, and then went bust.  A few years later, something new was rising – a second phase of the web that we believed would take all the goodness of what came before, and add a ton more value. The transition took about a decade – the Netscape IPO was in 1994, and the first Web2 conference was in 2004. It’s been 17 years since then. Might such a transformation finally be underway again?

    Well, that’s the rub of the argument. Just a few weeks ago, Tim kicked the debate into high gear with an essay arguing “it’s too early to get excited about Web3.” His core point quotes the technology cycles theory of economist Carlota Perez, whose work notes that technological progress is always accompanied by financial bubbles which over-invest in important new infrastructure. These bubbles always burst – and the true value of the revolution is consolidated afterward. So where are we on this cycle now?  Tim posits a key question: “Is abundant financial capital building out useful infrastructure in the way that we saw for the previous cycles?”

    And therein lies the fodder for the past few weeks of Web3 backlash.  Established VCs poured $30 billion into the crypto space this past year – more than in all prior years combined. The lead dog in the space? Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most profitable VC firms of the Web2 era. This has led many Web3 detractors (and purists) to proclaim that the same forces which begat Facebook (Marc Andreessen is a board member) will lead Web3 into yet another centralized corporate power grab. Here’s how Jack Dorsey summed it up:

    This tweet set off a firestorm – I’ll leave it to you to read the fractal threads and comments (it’s great fun) – a who’s who of crypto leaders, investors, founders, and pundits weighed in. The argument turned on one key idea: Decentralization. Proponents of Web3 wrote defenses of the core thesis – my favorite is Albert Wenger’s Web3/Crypto: Why Bother, which focuses on why “inferior” approaches to technology (in this case, decentralized blockchains/databases) might actually prove far more valuable in the long run. Opponents argued that Web3 is just more of the same bullshit, just with better marketing and, as Jack pointed out, the same VCs behind it all.

    Over the years I’ve become less of a starry eyed techno-optimist, and more of a “show me the results” kind of pragmatist when it comes to what technology can do. I can nod my head along to both lines of reasoning – but I see no value in maximalism at either extreme. If Web3 is really going to be a thing, it must incorporate the lessons of the many, many things we got wrong with Web2’s business models and governance. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the billions of dollars of risk capital being injected into our industry, most of it with the express goal of building something utterly new. Oh, and by the way – most of the value in today’s crypto world was built with absolutely no venture investment (the same was true for the original internet, for what it’s worth).

    No matter what, it’s refreshing as hell to see our industry actually debate important ideas like trust, governance, and decentralization, and to fret – openly and loudly – about how the future might turn out.  Onward!


    *If you’re looking for a quick primer on why many are excited about Web3, read Chris Dixon’s “Why Web3 Matters” and “America Onchain” by Jarrod Dicker. Yes, I’m aware they’re both VCs, and I’m OK with that…

     
  • feedwordpress 20:53:20 on 2022/01/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Internet Big Five, , , , tiktok   

    Why I’m Still Worried About TikTok 


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    (image credit)

    News came last week that TikTok eclipsed both Google and Facebook as the most visited domain and most downloaded app in the United States. The mainstream media response can be summed up in this piece from CBS, which notes the news, then quotes a TikTok public policy executive. I wish I was making this up, but here’s the quote:

    “TikTok is about entertainment and bringing joy,” TikTok’s head of public policy for North America Michael Beckerman told CBS Mornings in October. “You put a premium on authentic content, uplifting content. But like all entertainment, you want to watch with moderation, and we put tools in place, take-a-break video, screen time management, and tools for parents like family pairing to make sure that they can have conversations and do what’s right for their family and their teenagers.”

    Sounds great, right? “Bringing joy”! Here comes TikTok, the “happy app” that has learned from all that bad stuff Facebook has had to deal with over the past five years. The story goes on to note that there’s been some “controversy” around the platform, like viral vandalism at schools and other “challenges.” When asked about these issues, “A TikTok representative did not respond to a request for comment.”

    But nowhere in that coverage, not at the WSJ, or Cnet, or many others, is the problematic reality of TikTok’s ownership structure noted. Nor is it mentioned that Tik Tok’s parent company, ByteDance, sold a stake – and a board seat – to the Chinese government. Even before that governance story broke (in the fall of 2020), I was expressing my discomfort with what TikTok represents given its perch at the intersection of surveillance capitalism and high-stakes geopolitics. More than two years ago, in “Tik Tok, Tick, Tock….Boom”, I wrote:

    1. China employs a breathtaking model of state-driven surveillance.
    2. The US employs a breathtaking model of capitalist surveillance.

    We on the same page so far? OK, great.

    Now let’s consider TikTok, which is a robust combination of the two. Don’t know TikTok? Come on, you read Searchblog for God’s sake. Ok, well, fortunately for you, there’s the New York Times. Or…maybe not. I almost threw up in my mouth as I watched the paper of record run through its decades long practice of “Gee, Golly, Isn’t This Shiny New Tech Thing Culturally Significant, and Aren’t We Woke for Noticing It” journalism last weekend.

    I then go on to review TikTok’s  Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which, if you read them closely, offer absolutely no assurances that the data TikTok collects won’t be shared with the Chinese government. I just re-read them, to be sure they hadn’t changed, and nope, it’s all right there in black and white. From the privacy policy:

    “We may share all of the information we collect with a parent, subsidiary, or other affiliate of our corporate group.”

    and

    “We may disclose any of the information we collect to respond to subpoenas, court orders, legal process, law enforcement requests, legal claims, or government inquiries, and to protect and defend the rights, interests, safety, and security of TikTok Inc., the Platform, our affiliates, users, or the public. We may also share any of the information we collect to enforce any terms applicable to the Platform, to exercise or defend any legal claims, and comply with any applicable law.

    Well folks, what “government inquiries” and/or “applicable law” do you think this means, given TikTok is owned by a Chinese company? And let’s just remind ourselves, China takes a very keen interest in its Internet companies. And as the Washington Post reported, just today, “China harvests masses of data on Western targets.

    It astonishes me that US-based tech reporting doesn’t at least point out this obvious conflict of interest when covering TikTok’s domination of US internet culture. Yes, the last administration completely mishandled the issue, and perhaps nobody wants to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe Trump was actually right about something (lord knows I cringe just writing that sentence). And yes, sure, TikTok representatives will look anyone who asks directly in the eyes and declare “We do not share information with the Chinese government.” But we already know that our own social media executives have bent the truth repeatedly to the press, to Congress, and to themselves over the past ten years. Are we really going to take TikTok’s word for it?

    The Department of Commerce is still working on reports detailing processes for determining whether TikTok and apps like it might be a security threat. This kind of grinding bureaucracy tends to anesthetize ongoing coverage. Meanwhile,  I started checking out TikTok a few months ago. And damn, the product is impossible to look away from. It’s a brain candy rabbit hole, and media companies, including The Recount, have flocked to the platform. But I can’t help thinking we’re making the same mistake we made when we all embraced Facebook a decade ago. Sure, we can assume there’s absolutely no data TikTok could possibly gather from any of us that matters to the CCP. I certainly hope that’s right. But the history of social media has proven that comfortable assumptions are often wrong. I guess we’ll find out…eventually.

     
  • feedwordpress 19:08:46 on 2021/12/31 Permalink
    Tags: alphabet, , , , , , , , future of work, , Internet Big Five, , , , oculus, , , , , , , , web 3   

    Predictions 2022 – Crypto, Climate, Big Tech, Streaming, Offices, Tik Tok…and (ugh) Trump 


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    Welcome to year nineteen of these annual predictions, which means….holy cow, twenty years of writing at this site. Searchblog has been neglected of late, running a media startup during a pandemic will do that to thoughtful writing. I hope to change that in 2022, starting with this bout of chin stroking. If you’re an old timer here, you know I don’t really prepare to write this post. Instead I sit down, summon the muse of flow, and let it rip in one go. Let’s get to it.

    1. Crypto blows up. 2022 will be a chaotic year for crypto – both the decentralized finance and social token/NFT portions of the industry, which will grow massively but be beset by fraud, grift, and regulatory uncertainty, as well as an explosion of new apps based on scaleable blockchains such as Solana and Avalanche. Most of these apps will fade (much as early dot com stocks did), but the overall space will be markedly larger as a result. And while 2021 was the year most of the world learned about crypto, 2022 will be the year crypto dominates the tech narrative. I’m holding off on calling a crash – ’22 feels a bit more like ’98 or ’99 than the year 2000, which is when “web1” topped out. But that first top is coming, and when it crests, look the f*ck out. Crypto is a far more integrated into the global economy than we might suspect. In fact, I’ll toss in a corollary to this first prediction: In 2022, a major story will break that exposes a major state actor has been manipulating the crypto markets in a bid to destroy US financial markets.
    2. Oculus will be a breakout hit, but it’ll  immediately be consumed in the same controversies besetting the rest of Facebook’s platforms. The company throws money and lobbyists at the problem, including enough advertising budget to mute mainstream press outrage.  Apple will try to capitalize on all of this FUD as it introduces its own VR play. Regardless, the Oculus division becomes a meaningful portion of Meta’s top line, which starts the change the narrative around Facebook’s surveillance capitalism business model.
    3. Twitter changes the game. I have no particular insight into new CEO Parag Agrawal, but the company has had a long suffering relationship with its true value in the world, and I think the table is set for an acceleration of its product in ways that will surprise and even delight its most ardent fans (I count myself somewhat reluctantly among them). How might this happen? First, look for a major announcement around how the company works with developers. Next, deeper support and integration of all things crypto, in particular crypto wallets like MetaMask. And last (and related), a play in portable identity, where your Twitter ID brings value across other apps and environments.
    4. Climate has its worst – and best – year ever. Worst because while 2021 was simply awful (I mean, the year ends with a winter draught, then a historic fire in… Boulder?) things can always get worse, and they will. Best, because finally, the political will to do something about it will rise, thanks mainly to the voice of young people around the world, and in particular in the United States.
    5. The return of the office. Yes, I know, everything’s changed because of the pandemic. But truth is, we work best when we work together, and by year’s end, the “new normal” will be the old normal – most of us will go back to going into work. A healthy new percentage of workers will remain remote, but look for trend stories in the Post and Times about how that portion of the workforce is feeling left out and anxious about missing out on key opportunities, connections, and promotions. One caveat to this prediction is the emergence of some awful new variant that sends us all back into our caves, but I refuse to consider such horrors. I REFUSE.
    6. Divisions in the US reaching a boiling point. I hate even writing these words, but with the midterms in 2022 and a ’24 campaign spinning up, Trump will return to the national stage. He’ll offer a north star for Big Lie-driven tribalism, a terrifying rise in domestic terrorism and hate crimes, all fueled by torrents of racial and economic anger. I really, really hope I’m wrong here. But this feels inevitable to me.
    7. Big Tech bulks up. Despite a doubling down in anti-trust saber rattling from the EU and the Biden administration, Big Tech companies must grow, and they’ll look toward orthogonal markets to do it. Meta and Apple will buy gaming companies, Amazon will buy enterprise software companies, and Google will buy a content library. Google’s always been a bit confused about what its entertainment strategy should be. YouTube is so damn big, and its search business so bulletproof, the company hasn’t really had to play the game the way Meta, Amazon, and Apple have. That likely changes in 22.
    8. The streaming market takes a pause. The advertising business has yet to catch up with consumer behavior in the streaming television market, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the consumer experience is fracking awful. In 2022, those chickens will come home to roost. There’s only so much attention in the world, and with more than $100 billon to invest in content in 2022, something’s gotta give. Plus, if we get through Omicron and back out into the world, consumers might just find themselves doing something besides binging forgettable, algorithmically manufactured programming. I’m not predicting that streaming crashes, but just that the market will have a year of consolidation and, I hope, improvements in its consumer experience and advertising technology stack.
    9. Tik Tok will fall out of favor in the US. Everyone is predicting that 2022 will be The Year Of Tik Tok, but I think they’re wrong in one big way: This won’t be a positive story. First off, the public will wake to the possibility that Tik Tok is, at its core, a massive Chinese PsyOp. Think I’m crazy? I certainly hope so! But you don’t have to wear a tin foil hat to be concerned about the fact that the world’s most powerful social algorithm is driven by a company with a member of the Chinese Communist Party on its board. And second, US-based competitors are already learning, fast, what makes Tik Tok tick. YouTube, Insta, Snap and others will take share all year long.
    10. Trump’s social media company delivers exactly nothing.  Hey, I needed one sandbag in the mix – and this one comes with a heaping side of schadenfreude. The company will become mired in legal fights, and Trump, having grifted a billion or so from favor-currying investors, will move on to ever more ruinous pursuits.

    Well, that’s ten, and I wanted to keep this year’s version under a thousand words. Have a wonderful New Year’s, dear readers. I hope I see you out there in the real world, and soon.


    Previous predictions:

    Predictions 2021

    Predictions 21: How I Did

    Predictions 2020

    2020: How I Did

    Predictions 2019

    2019: How I did

    Predictions 2018

    2018: How I Did

    Predictions 2017

    2017: How I Did

    Predictions 2016

    2016: How I Did

    Predictions 2015

    2015: How I Did

    Predictions 2014

    2014: How I Did

    Predictions 2013

    2013: How I Did

    Predictions 2012

    2012: How I Did

    Predictions 2011

    2011: How I Did

    Predictions 2010

    2010: How I Did

    2009 Predictions

    2009 How I Did

    2008 Predictions

    2008 How I Did

    2007 Predictions

    2007 How I Did

    2006 Predictions

    2006 How I Did

    2005 Predictions

    2005 How I Did

    2004 Predictions

    2004 How I Did

     
  • feedwordpress 18:24:38 on 2021/12/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , Internet Big Five, , , ,   

    Facebook’s Pretty Bad, No, Terrible Awful Game Changing Year 


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    I don’t usually do this, but as I graded my annual predictions for the year, I ended up creating a pretty dense, link-filled syllabus of Facebook’s terrible 2021. I thought it deserved its own entry in the database of intentions, so herewith I present to you the full accounting of my 2021 prediction on the company: Facebook’s chickens come home to roost…2021 will be a dismal year for Facebook.

    Oh my, was it ever. Facebook’s year was so terrible, the company decided to change its name as a result. Because I took notes all year, here’s a brief review of Facebook’s 2021:

    I’ve left off dozens of ugly narratives while compiling this list – and admittedly, I’ve also left off a fair number of pro-Facebook responses  as well.  But overall, I think this particular prediction was pretty spot on. Let’s call it a win and move on…

     
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