Skip to main content

"Rock ain’t nothing but a white version of rhythm and blues, motherfucker." This is such an amazing interview.


"Facebook has created a centrally designed internet. It’s a lamer, shittier looking internet." How Facebook is killing comedy:


My friend Hugh Hancock suddenly passed away this week. He was instrumental in inventing Machinima. Here he is on Charlie Stross’s blog announcing his film Death Knight Love Story, starring Brian Blessed and Joanna Lumley.


WebSkills - a proposal for open intelligent assistants

3 min read

It's clear at this point that intelligent assistants - and more broadly, ambient computing devices that you interact with naturally, rather than holding like a smartphone or laptop - are going to play an important part in our digital future.

Of the platforms doing the rounds at the moment, I'm most excited by Alexa, because of its relative openness: Amazon has made it available as an operating system for manufacturers, so it'll start showing up in cars and offices, and they've treated their product line-up as a series of proofs of concept. Nice.

Still, you need to plug Alexa Skills (their name for apps) through their APIs in a relatively closed way. Back-end deals need to be done for new functionality, and so on.

What if that didn't need to be the case? Picture this:

1. I'm using my favorite web service. It lets me know that I can install its functionality into my WebSkills-compatible intelligent assistant, either using UI on the site itself, or through a strip at the top of the page, a bit like how Safari on the iPhone tells you about relevant apps. I push the button, because I'd love to be able to talk to this service whenever I need.

2. My device prompts me to make sure I want to authenticate with this skill and install it in my assistant. Sure I do.

3. What's actually happening is that an endpoint, referenced in the website's HTML through a <link rel="webskill" href="..." trigger="service name"> tag, is being registered with my device. (No, trigger isn't a valid link propertt right now, but bear with me.) The trigger is the unique service word that can be used to trigger the request. For example, if the trigger was "Wolfram Alpha", the request to the assistant might be of the form, "Alexa, ask Wolfram Alpha what is the GDP of Bhutan?"

4. When a request is made, the intelligent assistant looks to see if the trigger word has been registered. It then calls the associated URL from the link tag using a GET request with a q property that contains the full text of the request.

5. The endpoint returns either text to be read out, or the contents of a WAV or MP3 audio file. The intelligent assistant dutifully plays this out.

This is one example of a simple mechanism that would allow any provider on the internet to add intelligent assistant skills in a cross-platform way. It's unsophisticated, but it would allow a thousand intelligent assistant platforms to bloom, with the web at their core, rather than a few monopolistic platforms.

I'd love feedback! It's easy to talk about these kinds of projects, but talk is cheap, so my next plan is to build a proof of concept.


The Prototype Fund is looking for 25 open source projects to fund with up to €47,500. You need to be resident in Germany, but honestly, this sounds great.


Stellar as a platform (not a speculative investment)

2 min read

I'm starting to more closely follow developments over at Stellar. The platform forked from Ripple a few years ago, and while the former has made hard connections to a bunch of traditional banks (Santander, UBS, American Express are all partners), the latter is trying to create a genuine platform that can be used to underpin a variety of real services that allow people to quickly move funds in a decentralized way, including across borders.

As a result, one of its areas of interest is helping to support the underbanked. That absolutely piques my interest: if services can be built to lift people out of poverty in a non-predatory way (that last part is key), it's a genuine good for the world. LALA, which helps migrants send funds back to their unbanked families, is one such service that just announced it'll be using the platform.

Open Garden is another: a way for people to share internet connections with each other. You share your internet via your phone's wifi hotspot, and earn value that can in turn be traded to use someone else's bandwidth while you're on the move. Theoretically, this should prevent people from taking without also contributing to the network.

A lot has been made of its partnerships with IBM and Deloitte; Stripe is also on the list - and has been since the beginning - which implies some interesting payment integration possibilities in the future. Of course, it might also just be watching the market.

But what's most exciting to me is the advisory board: the founders of WordPress and Stripe are both represented, as is the Director of the Apache Software Foundation, and Sam Altman from Y Combinator. That's a solid combination of platform builders, openness experts, and startup supporters.

I do have a small number of Lumens (840 at the time of writing; my only cryptocurrency holding), because I decided I wanted to learn more about the space. I'm very turned off about speculative cryptocurrency investments; it's just not something that's interesting to me, in the same way that hedge fund trading is not in any way my bag. What I've always cared about is open platforms that have a positive societal impact, and I think that's what Stellar has the potential to be. Once the Wall-Street-like crypto buzz has died down, these are the things that will matter.



Edinburgh, Austin, San Francisco - a startup tale of three cities

3 min read

I sometimes tell the story of the three places where I’ve been involved in founding startups.

in Edinburgh, the cost of living was low, and I never worried about healthcare. I don’t think I would have founded a startup, or entered this world, without these kinds of democratic socialist protections. But at the same time, everybody told me it would never work and that I should get a real job. And although it’s changed since, in 2003 there was absolutely no infrastructure for starting this kind of business: precious little money or expertise.

in Austin, there was a lot of enthusiasm; very little “get a real job”. But with the exception of certain pockets, my perception is that investors were primed for more traditional businesses, and didn’t quite have the risk appetite or the value-add in terms of expertise they could offer. (This is changing rapidly, too.)

In San Francisco, there’s money and expertise everywhere. You can get funded and have coffee with people who have been on the journey many times before. Sometimes, you bump into those people in the burrito line. It’s a completely different universe. But, correspondingly, the cost of living is much higher and it’s harder to stand out, because there are a million other startups vying for everybody’s attention.

It’s not quite Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but it’s not three even choices, either.

I don’t think it’s possible to build a technology business and not at least visit the Bay Area regularly. Should you live here full time? I’m actually not sure - although you’re maximizing your opportunities for serendipitous meetings, the whole area is absolutely beautiful, and everyone’s really just a short walk away, you’re also meaningfully shortening your runway. There are lots of people here who don’t work in startups, so it’s absolutely possible to stay grounded, but some people only travel in those circles, and that’s an existential danger, too. And obviously there are the people who are only in it for the hope of VC money, absolutely everywhere.

Like everything, I think you’ve got to work out what’s best for you, your team, and your mission. But start with the individuals. What nourishes you? What kind of place will make you feel supported even when things are going wrong? Where does your joy come from, and where can you be in a place that makes you feel passionate about something, where you feel like being human is beautiful and not something flawed that needs to be improved? Where will you not just work best, but live best?

I’ve found that here, but it’s different for everyone. Start there and work backwards.


Founder conflict: “it is OK to talk about it, put it on the table, and deal with it.”


On Holocaust Memorial Day

2 min read

It’s easier than ever to understand how the Holocaust happened. As many have said, it doesn’t start with concentration camps and gas chambers; it starts with scapegoating, labeling certain groups as inferior, and reducing their rights. It starts with bigotry. And standing by in silence, which is a quiet bigotry all of its own.

The Holocaust was legal. It’s the clearest example of how justice isn’t the same as the law, and how standing up for what’s right is not the same as upholding what is legally allowed.

The people who were silent were patriots. They believed in their country. They believed they were putting Germany first. They didn’t question their leaders because they believed in the greatness of their nation. Or, worse, they just didn’t want to care about “politics”.

After the war, principles were established. If you don’t question authority - even as a soldier - you are complicit. If you’re asked to be part of a war crime, or if a war crime is the path of least resistance, you must refuse. Everyone has agency and you don’t get to hide behind superiors. Soldiers have commanding officers; civilians have peer pressure and social norms.

It’s worth asking, in 2018, what you would do if you saw any group marginalized in the way people of Jewish descent were in Germany in 1933. What would you say? Where would you march? To what lengths would you go to preserve democracy and equality?

Because it’s up to all of us. It always is.


It's two minutes to midnight, for real

2 min read

For 71 years, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has used a clock to represent how close we are to armageddon. Midnight represents the end of human civilization. And today they brought it closer to midnight than it's ever been: just two minutes away.

In the United States, Russia, and elsewhere around the world, plans for nuclear force modernization and development continue apace. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review appears likely to increase the types and roles of nuclear weapons in US defense plans and lower the threshold to nuclear use. In South Asia, emphasis on nuclear and missile capabilities grows. Conventional force imbalances and destabilizing plans for nuclear weapons use early in any conflict continue to plague the subcontinent.

This is closer than during the Cuban Missile Crisis or any moment in the Cold War since 1947 - which sounds surreal, or melodramatic, even. But here we are.

Somehow we've moved away from global peace and diplomacy to a world full of posturing, inequality, and isolationism. The only way to turn back the clock is to bridge divides and create a more inclusive, empathetic society once again: one where everybody has the ability to prosper and the emphasis is on the global human experience, not the exceptionalism of just one nation.

Turning back the clock is all of our jobs.



Eventually, every app builds for the web. Here's why.

2 min read

Snapchat is letting users share some stories to the web:

By opening up Stories to the web, Snap envisions a way for content on its platform to go more broadly viral — the way Twitter and Instagram posts have captured real-time news and cultural events. News organizations, for example, could link to Snapchat Stories on the web, while celebrities will be able to share their personal Snaps outside of the app.

This is exactly why every social app will eventually allow users to share to the web. A crucial part of every user journey is discovery: that touch point where someone discovers your service for the first time. Building something slick and assuming users will just show up is a massive mistake: they simply won't.

In the name of growth, and because it's a genuinely useful feature, every social service eventually allows you to share content with people who haven't signed up yet. And when you do share to someone who doesn't have the app installed yet, there are really two possibilities:

1. They get a page telling them to install the app.

2. They get a preview of the content that they would experience using the app.

Speaking for myself, I would never randomly install an app from a share - or at least, the barrier is much, much higher. Most people carefully guard what they install on their phones. But if I click through and see some great, personal content without needing to install the app - and then I see more and more of it over time, perhaps via Twitter or Facebook, but potentially sent to me via IM or email - I'm much more likely to install the app and sign up myself. That's the growth story for Instagram. A version of it was the growth story for YouTube. And even Twitter, back in the old days, had amazing web embeds that started to show up on peoples' blogs.

Sharing an experience without asking you to install software is something only the web can do.

It's a sign that Snapchat wants to grow faster and build a much larger audience. It's also a sign that it's growing up beyond what was an exclusive, and slightly obtuse, social network into something it wants everybody to use. Such is the path of every social network.



Could stagnant wages be because we - and particularly non-coastal workers - have a smaller total number of employers to choose from?


I haven't, but that looks like a good read!


Decentralized paid subscriptions for independent publishers

3 min read

A real problem that needs to be solved is making it easier to subscribe to independent publishers putting out great, regular content. Online magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc. Independence and autonomy are important, but discovery and ease of use are too.

RSS is a pretty ancient technology, but it's in far more use than you'd think. For example, every podcast runs on RSS. There are a lot of sites that use MRSS behind the scenes, to power portals like AOL News, and to ingest multimedia content in back-end systems. Readers are largely gone, but not the backbone technology.

What RSS is missing is authentication. Knowing who the user is would allow for more personalized experiences, and it would also allow publishers to add business models to monetize their distributed content.

So what if we added OAuth 2.0 as a really simple auth layer, so that content providers could accurately assess who was requesting a feed, podcast, etc?

Add three new tags to the RSS feed:

  • The URI of the OAuth endpoint
  • A human-readable URI where an authenticated user can pay to subscribe or manage their account
  • Whether this feed contains premium content or not (maybe a label for the content level - "free" / "subscribed")

This way, a compatible feed reader / podcast client could tell a user if it's possible to subscribe to get premium content. They could auth the user (possibly allowing them to register with the publisher) and point to a subscription page.

From then on, the reader makes a signed request whenever it looks for the feed. The publisher is responsible for figuring out whether to serve premium content or not based on the user's identity.

The publisher gets to decide which CMS to use, which payment provider to use, how much to charge, etc etc - they retain full autonomy. If they want to use Stripe; fine. Bitcoin; whatever. The only major standardization point is authentication itself.

The market is then open to anyone who wants to create a hub for finding content. Publishers might pay the hub to promote their sites - or lots of business models are possible. But paid subscriptions are baked into apps and readers, and are totally under the publisher's control.

Everyone gets to have their own website and content model. Everyone gets to have a standard way of pointing to a built-in revenue model, and decide what that is.

Imagine if Apple News, Flipboard, Medium, and maybe even the Facebook news feed, as well as hundreds of independent apps, could all feed directly into independent publisher revenue streams.

Anyway, just a thought I've been having. Thought I'd share.


This piece was originally a tweetstorm.


The news industry needs to wake up and join the web

4 min read

Emily Bell has a timely opinion piece in The Guardian today about Facebook's ethical responsibility with respect to news:

Facebook’s retreat from news, and the complexities of taking responsibility for the type of content circulating on its platform, has many implications for press organisations in the US and Europe, but at least in rich, western democracies, its actions can be mitigated by other strategies. In countries such as the Philippines, Myanmar and South Sudan and emerging democracies such Bolivia and Serbia, it is not ethical to plead platform neutrality or to set up the promise of a functioning news ecosystem and then simply withdraw at a whim.

Yes, Facebook needs to recalibrate itself and understand the responsibilities that go alongside its position. But in so much news commentary there's a subtext that megasilos like Facebook, and the internet as a whole alongside them, are some unmovable force of nature that require a reactive response.

The internet is an open platform evolving through collaborative means. The web is open source. All of the paradigms we've come to use across software have evolved over time, one set of developers iterating on ideas created by another, iterated upon by another set, and so on. Standards on the web are open source. New movements and innovations are typically created by very small groups of people, failing fast and prioritizing running code over consensus, which are then codified by working groups that themselves are made of loose federations of people.

Yes, Facebook et al deeply need to understand their responsibility to democratic society and adjust their objectives in that light. But the news industry need to deeply grok that it isn't subject to the whims of the internet. If organizations lean in, they can materially help shape the platforms that have disrupted their businesses. They're not doomed to be outsiders; they are welcome to join.

At the beginning of Emily's piece, she notes:

The homepage is back, and not just for those chronically old people over 40, but for every news organisation that wants to survive falling off the great Facebook cliff of 2018.

The homepage's return is a very good thing. Any information business needs to have control over its platform. Returning to the feed economy and innovation around new ways to subscribe to information will also be good; let a thousand reader services bloom. I'm still waiting for the first decentralized reader with integrated subscription or per-item content payments, but those are the kinds of developments we need. And they're the kinds of developments that need to have publisher voices included - or even to be driven by publisher organizations.

Why were news organizations so dependent on one company's algorithmic policies to begin with? Yes, they capitulated to insane supplier power, and yes, it looks like a horrible decision in hindsight (as well as to those of us who worked in open technology at the time). But their business models were collapsing, and it was an easy answer. Most of us would probably have made similar decisions under similar pressures. But it's time to move on.

Publishers need to be supporting and collaborating with teams building products, perhaps through organizations like Matter (selfish plug, but also, the partner program really works). They need to be supporting the evolution of technology platforms by joining organizations like the W3C and participating in groups like WHATWG.

And finally, they need to start collaborating by building the software they want to see in the world, under an open source license, in a way that allows all of them to benefit. It's not about building something that draws a direct profit; instead, they can help create an ecosystem that better supports their current businesses, and provides a clearer framework for supporting them as their businesses evolve into the future. They need to hire teams to build an ecosystem that holistically supports them, and in turn, democracy.

Because honestly, Facebook has put journalism in peril. And there's no such thing as democracy, or freedom, without it.



Very sad to hear that Jon Oberlander died. He was responsible for a lot of important change in Edinburgh informatics and beyond - and more importantly, was a kind, thoughtful man.


America’s attitude to immigration right now is disgusting.


The letter from a Birmingham jail is an important piece to reflect on today, in a world where many still hold the law to be more important than justice.


Bad UX and the Hawaii missile scare

2 min read

It turns out that the origin of the missile scare that terrified Hawaii the other day was a poor UX choice. Instead of triggering a test alert, a civil defense employee accidentally triggered a real one - which then wasn't rescinded for 38 minutes:

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert.

He "feels terrible", according to reports. I bet.

It reminded me of a UX story that was relayed to me by a university advisor.

My computer science dissertation was on accident reporting: I built a system that allowed you to log events that led to an accident, and then draw weighted causal links between them (using primitive JavaScript, because this was 2001). You could then determine the root causes of an incident using graph theory, often revealing issues that might not have been obvious.

This particular advisor had been involved in assessing the incident at Three Mile Island. The controls to shut down the reactor were, as you might imagine, in a prominent, protected place in the operations room, to avoid accidental shutdowns. It wasn't quite a big red button, but it was close. Which was all fine, until a maintenance officer had to change the overhead bulb: they were observed climbing onto the console and placing their feet on either side of the shutdown control.

I don't know how true the story is, but it's good even if it's just a parable. Observing your user and understanding their context is vital if you're going to design something for them. That's particularly important if the consequences could be life or death, when surprising insights can mean the difference between war and peace.

I feel really awful for the people of Hawaii. I'm also not at all keen on the Cold-War-esque atmosphere that seems to be ratcheting up. May cooler heads prevail.


Facebook is deprioritizing news posts, and that's great!

3 min read

A lot has been said about Facebook's upcoming changes to its news feed, which will downgrade posts from Facebook Pages and news publishers in favor of people you actually know. Facebook stock fell 4.5% in response: not a lot, but enough to be felt.

It's easy to see why they're changing their strategy here, even though it will result in shorter visits to Facebook and fewer ad dollars spent in the short-term. In addition to having been instrumental in the Brexit referendum and the instrument for foreign actors hoping to sway the US election (not to mention a propaganda weapon for the likes of Duterte), passively reading your Facebook feed makes you feel bad. Over time, that can only result in fewer people using the service. (It's also worth noting that linking itself so tightly to journalism may cause it difficulties in China.)

Publishers are variously up in arms. Digiday's post was particularly alarmist:

The end is nigh. Facebook is planning a major change to its news feed, starting as early as next week, that will decisively favor user content and effectively deprioritize publishers’ content, according to three publishers that have been briefed by the platform ahead of the move.

The end is nigh. Later on in the piece, one anonymous publishing executive is quoted as saying, "we're losing hope".

But I don't think any of this fear is warranted. This is the web, and Facebook isn't the only game in town. Publishers are already diversifying away from it in order to acquire readers, strengthening their businesses in the process. Facebook's monopolistic supplier power has been overwhelming for the last few years, and the result has not just been felt in the publishing businesses themselves, but in democratic society. A change is long overdue.

Some good thought experiments for web technologists in publishing houses are: what does it look like to retake control of our distribution? How can we work with other publishers, as well as startups and technology companies, to make reading the news easy and fun? We've been hacking the monolithic social network model to be a news distributor for the last decade, but what else is already out there, and who can we work with?

There's a lot out there, from new kinds of technologies explicitly designed for distribution that gives publishers more control, to new ways to pay for content, to interesting new platforms for discovery. And this is before we consider new paradigms like ambient computing (Alexa etc), AR and VR, which are all on the up.

Overall, a lot is possible on the web, if you speak to experts, understand your audience (and your potential audience) deeply, and approach distribution with an innovation mindset.

And to think, not so long ago, publishers were contemplating moving themselves wholesale onto Facebook itself. What a disaster that would have been.


Yes! I would VERY much like to see Chelsea in government. (Suboptimal description from the WaPo, though.)


This. All of this. I'm so glad I got to go to university for free.


This isn't just investing.

2 min read

It's been a long week of 8am starts and 8pm finishes. It's such a privilege to do this job. When I started, I met a VC investor who told me I'd lose my idealism because I'd realize investing was just moving money around. But that's not what we do.

We take people who want to make the world more informed, more inclusive, and more empathetic. We support them with a little bit of money, yes, but more importantly, we plug them into a community and a structured program to help them be more effective in reaching that goal.

When these ventures grow, they have more and more influence. Hearken is changing the way news organizations serve the public on a grander and grander scale. NextRequest is making government more transparent. It's a privilege just to know these people. There have been 61 of these companies (so far).

In the last few months I've spoken to hundreds of teams, all of whom share this goal. 2017 was a tough year, but it was made so much better by meeting so many people who wanted to make a more empathetic, inclusive, informed world.

I can't believe I get to do this. Honestly, I can't. It's a privilege and an honor to get to meet the people I do and learn from them (as well as the incredible team I get to work with).

I'm profoundly grateful.


Seeing pitches as a former founder

2 min read

I've been seeing a lot of presentations lately as part of the run-up to Matter Eight, and thinking a lot about my experience as an investor vs as a founder. I think there's a longer piece on this that I should write.

I actually applied to Matter twice (once with Known, and once with Wavelist, a social network for podcasts) and got to the finalist round in both cases. Known was, of course, funded, and I've been a part of the community ever since.

The result of that experience - and the other two startups I either co-founded or had a core part in running - is that I can't help but put myself in the shoes of anyone who's pitching me. It's hard. It's nerve-wracking. It can feel really awful. And the truth is that if you don't get funded, it's not a value judgment on your project; it just might not be a fit.

It might also be that the investor, or one of their partners, is wrong about something core about the venture - not because you described it badly (although storytelling skills are vital), but because of assumptions they have. We've started running mini bias training sessions before each day of pitches to try and prevent this. But declaring your core assumptions and justifying them is a really smart thing to do - at least then you can have an informed conversation about them.

Anyway. Seeing pitches is the best part of my job, but making decisions is the hardest - I ideally would love to support everyone. In most cases I can see the potential, and I can definitely empathize with what the founder is going through.


I'd missed this: AngelList's $35M fund to back founders who want to be angel investors. Founders have 15% carry and can write checks directly (not a given).


Insta capitalism

2 min read

Fascinating story about Instagram dropshippers by Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic:

Ganon searches out some lion-themed objects, including the one that he anticipates making the most money from, a gold-plated lion bracelet that he puts on sale for $0. He gives some tips for finding popular dropshippable items, too. He sorts Shopify-hosted sites by traffic with, and then digs below the most popular stores, which generally sell products they make themselves. Deeper into the top 1000 stores, there are dropshippers reselling Aliexpress goods, just like Ganon is, so if can ferret out what products are selling at high-performing stores, he can siphon off some of those dollars. All he’d need to do was do reverse image searches to find the listings in Aliexpress, suck those products in with Oberlo, and he could effectively clone the store in a few minutes.

There's nothing particularly new about any of this, but I've seen an uptick in ads for these Everlane-lite products in my Instagram feed and had wondered what the model is.

I'm curious about the effectiveness of the storytelling involved: one store discusses a founder who "had a constant desire to present himself well but didn’t believe fashion and style should come with such a high price". I don't think I could count the number of times I've seen an online store with a founder story like this. It never came across as authentic, but over time the bullshit factor surely becomes overpowering.

Also, importantly: the cross-platform techniques described aren't going to work under the GDPR, because they heavily depend on targeted advertising. Embedding a Facebook pixel in your Shopify site is going to necessarily be a thing of the past, at least in Europe. So hounding someone with ads because they happened to visit a product page on a website may become a thing of the past, forcing marketers to find more authentic and user-friendly ways of reaching potential customers.

This seems like such a soulless way to build a business, and if these aren't technically scams, they sit on the very blurry edge of the border of scamland. I won't be sad if, through a combination of legislation, better privacy features, and new business models, this kind of dropshipping becomes a footnote in the history of social media; just one more reason why targeted advertising is insanely bad.


Designing consent for the GDPR is onerous - and that's a good thing

3 min read

PageFair has some really interesting GDPR consent designs:

In late 2017 the Article 29 Working Party cautioned that “data subjects should be free to choose which purpose they accept, rather than having to consent to a bundle of processing purposes”. Consent requests for multiple purposes should “allow users to give specific consent for specific purposes”. Rather than conflate several purposes for processing, Europe’s regulators caution that “the solution to comply with the conditions for valid consent lies in granularity, i.e. the separation of these purposes and obtaining consent for each purpose”.

The sample wireframes they've come up with are hilariously onerous, and Europeans will have to opt in on every single site where data is collected. The result will be that almost nobody agrees to give their information universally across all sites, which is the current status quo (because right now, nobody's being asked for anything).

As David Carroll points out on Twitter, it's a fairer negotiation:

I see two big wins from this:

1: Constraints breed innovation. In order to allow advertising and tracking companies to continue to survive, they will need to become more compliant very quickly. We're going to see a new breed of technologies that respect user privacy.

2: More importantly, we're going to see publishers and platforms move to different business models. I'm particularly excited about this. Targeted display advertising has been a catch-all business model for a long time, and the GDPR removes this lazy route to monetization. Everyone is going to need to think harder and more carefully about how they make money - and the result is likely to be something that aligns readers and publishers (or users and platforms). Display ads do the opposite, as the arms race between ad companies and ad blockers has shown.

Sure, there's an argument to be made that the EU shouldn't be interfering with the digital economy in the way that they are, but I think it's dead wrong. Government should be adjudicating and legislating around issues like privacy. I strongly suspect that similar legislation will make its way to the US and other countries - and either way, this is the internet, so the effects will be felt worldwide.


Skeptically dabbling in cryptocurrency

2 min read

I've been pretty cynical about cryptocurrency, not least because of a lot of the community around it. It's hard for me to get excited about something when it presents as bro-fessionally as crypto does. But it turned out over New Year that a $20 joke investment in Dogecoin that I made in 2014 was worth almost $500 - so I decided to pull it out and invest it in a "real" currency to see what all the fuss was about.

Eventually I identified Stellar Lumens as something that fit the bill for me: a kinda sorta fork of Ripple that has a much more palatable governance model and ambitions. The project is trying to make it easy to build global financial applications for humans, and one of their stated goals is to help immigrants send money back to their families. Okay. That sounds interesting to me.

But to get my funds there, I had to sign up to a bunch of services that all made me feel like they were going to take my money and run. I needed to convert Dogecoin into Ethereum, then move it to another exchange, convert it to Lumens, and then withdraw it into my own private wallet. Various exchanges went down while I was doing this, and none of them made me feel at all safe. It looks like I made it under the wire with at least one, which has decided to close registrations for new users.

Stellar has done okay since then: I'm up, but not by a lot.

Contrast with Coinbase, which provides a beautiful, safe-feeling interface for Bitcoin, Ethereum and LightCoin. It makes trading those currencies significantly easier - and it and related services are likely partially responsible for their value. User experience leads to real value, and it'll be interesting to see the effect if and when it adds others. (I'm sure they're aware of this.)

My bigger question is: is this socially useful in any way, or should we be worrying about bigger things?


Changing how I post in 2018

1 min read

This year, I’m moving back to blogging on a regular basis. Blog posts are shorter than full-length articles, and usually contain some brief thoughts around an issue or a link. I’ve been blogging since 1998, but sadly not in a consistent place, and over the last few years I’ve let Twitter take more of a focus.

If you use a feed reader (I’m a paid user of Newsblur), you can follow my posts by subscribing to - or I’ll continue to cross post to Twitter. I may add a newsletter later (although, aren’t we all fighting our inboxes almost all of the time?).

I’m writing this on public transport, and this will also encourage me to keep improving my own mobile posting experience.

And finally, comments are off - so if you disagree with what I write about, you’ll need to post your replies on Twitter or on your own site. I’ll see them.