Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Few Months of Ad Blocking

Two friends each have competing ad blocking companies/products (Brave and Optimal) that I've been trying out for a few months now. Detailed reactions below, but let me start by saying how much faster the web is without extraneous connections/bandwidth being gobbled up by advertisements; each solution provides a 100x better browsing experience based on performance alone. Nearly 50% of mobile bandwidth is used by moving advertisement bits across the wire. That's not only costly from a monthly data-plan bill standpoint, but it also illustrates the size of the stake mobile carriers have in the game; without ads, they'd lose 50% of their data-plan revenue! So, if either solution takes hold, rest assured the mobile carriers will push anti-ad-block legislation (legal or commercial lobbying) hard. If you flip that model in its head, you can quickly argue that the ad-industry is heavily subsidizing our data-plan costs with our mobile carriers.

I haven't decided which approach is better yet; Brave's browser/client-side approach, or Optimal's DNS-level approach, but both are working great. Each has their bugs/issues, but it's a joy, for the most part, to surf/navigate/read/transact sans advertisements online.

If you're a publisher reading this and are upset that you haven't gotten ad-dollars from me, send me an email and I'll bitcoin you what you'd likely received had I surfed you with ads.


Brave is well, a brave approach as it requires the user to download/install/use a new client/browser. They have support for OSX/iOS/Android, so the platforms that matter are covered which is good. Brave is also attacking the end-user privacy front which is nice. They give you all the privacy/security controls/tech that you'd want as a user. They also provide probably the most important part of this ad-blocking puzzle to me, and that is the ability to pay publishers I choose based on my consumption. This was likely largely motivated by the publisher cries over ad-blockers adversely impacting their revenue, but more interestingly, to me, is that I get to decide how much I want to pay for content, and guess what, it's a heck of a lot more than the crappy ad-industry pays on a per-user basis, so, if I were a model for most consumers (and I admit I'm not unfortunately), publishers would actually make out better.

Brave's challenge is that it's a separate browser. Which plugins/extensions work and which don't? Does this website work in Chrome? etc etc. Getting consumers to switch browsers is super hard.


Optimal chooses to do all of its blocking at the DNS level. This requires an app-install on mobile, or DNS address swapping by hand on OSX. What's nice about this approach is that ads are blocked across all applications/browsers on the system (mobile or otherwise). Downsides here though are that if  you're already using custom DNS (e.g. openDNS) for things like content blocking for kiddos, you have to pick one or the other. Optimal is still sorting out how to backfill lost ad-revenue to publishers, but, there are frameworks to accomplish this that they'll sort out in time I believe.

Optimal's challenge is in getting an alternative publisher payment model in place, and one that lets me, the user, decide who gets my dollars. Also, a DNS approach can ultimately be circumvented by the industry by pushing ad distribution out to the app-level/root-level top-level domain and subdomains of the apps/websites I'm visiting.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Can You Put a Price On Data?

Here's another Dee Hock transcription from The Birth of the Chaordic Age. He does an impeccable job describing the material surrounding so many sleepless nights while we were building Gnip (and while our partners were trying to understand their value propositions as well).

If you're building a company that sells data, or its surrounding services... read on.

In the end, Gnip profited primarily from its services, and the "publishers" of data (e.g. the social networks) ascribed value to the "data" itself (and priced accordingly). We did share in some of that value, but it was a relatively small percentage of our revenue.

Any emphasis is mine.

Old Monkey Mind and I had spent countless hours trying to understand information and its relevance to organizations, asking our endless questions. What is the significance of the “inform” part of the word “information? What is the nature of that which is received from eternal sources and “forms us” within? What is the nature of that which forms within us which we then feel compelled to transmit, and how does it form others when it is received? What allows formation of information, permits it to endure unaltered, yet be available at any time for transformation in infinite ways? Why and from where came the universal, perpetual urge to receive and transmit information - the incessant desire to communicate? Is it an urge at all, or is it an unavoidable necessity - an integral component essential to life? Indeed, is it the essence of life itself? Or is it a principle beyond life itself? Could it be the fundamental, formative essence that gives shape and distinction to all things - part of an inseparably whole universe?

It helps to think what information is not. Certainly it is not just another “thing”; on more finite, physical entity. Certainly, information is far moe than digits and data. They may be components of it - the shape it sometimes takes. They may be of it, but they are not it. In a rare insight, Gregory Bateson proposed that “information is a difference that makes a difference.” If something is received that cannot be differentiated or, if once differentiated, makes no difference, he asserts it is just noise.

Bateson’s perspective is fascinating but limited, for it implies only mind-to-mind communication. If you are hiking alone in the wilderness and a rock comes bounding down the mountain, breaking your leg, that is certainly a difference that makes an enormous difference. The same can be said o running barefoot through the house and breaking a toe on a chair leg. Is that information? Both are certainly a difference that makes a difference. Both certainly convey meaning. If your broken leg and crushed toe are a difference that makes a difference, then, by Bateson’s definition, condensed, inanimate matter and gravitational force clearly have the ability to communicate. Locked in our box of self-awareness, we think of it as one-way communication - rock to leg, or chair leg to toe, but we truly have no way of knowing what information , if any flows the opposite way. Unlike finite physical resources, information multiplies by transfer and is not depleted by use. Information transferred is not lost to the source, yet is a gain to the recipient. Information can be utilized by everyone without loss to anyone. As far as we know, the supply of information is infinite; therefore, it does not obey any of our concepts or laws of scarcity. It obeys only concepts and principles of infinite abundance, infinite utilization, infinite recombination. We have only dim perceptions of what those principles might be, or if they exist at all.

Projecting onto information our old notions of property, thus turning it into a method by which one person can extract wealth from another, neither reveals nor changes the extraordinary nature of information. It reveals only the limited nature of man and his reluctance to change internal modules of reality or external behavior.
Information is a miser of energy. It can endlessly replicate, move ubiquitously at the speed of light, and massively condense in minute space, all at minuscule expense of energy, in other words, cost. In countless ways, it is becoming a replacement for our present enormously wasteful use of matter. To the extent that we increase the value of the mental content of the composition of goods and services, we can reduce the value of the physical content. We can make them lighter, more durable, more recyclable, more versatile, and more transportable.

Information breeds. When one bit of information is combined with another, the result is new information. Information is boundary less. It cannot be contained. No matter what constraints we try to put on information, it will become the slave and property of no one. Efforts to make information conform to archaic notions of scarcity, ownership, and finite physical quantity - concepts that grew out of the agricultural and industrialized age - merely lock humanoid into old, mental boxes of constraint and exploitation.
Information is ethically neutral. Its immense power is as applicable to destructive, inequitable, violent ends as it is to constructive, equitable, peaceful ends. The history of modern sciences has been an effort to divorce the ethical dimensions of life from the physical to divorce subjective values from objective observations; to divorce spirituality from rationality. The effect has been deification of the rational, physical, objective perspective as ultimate truth, and demonization of the subjective, ethical, and spiritual perspective a superstition, delusion, and ignorance.

Products, services, and organizations in which the value of the mental content begins to dwarf the value of the physical content require wise people of deep understanding. To endlessly add to the quantity of mechanistic information, knowledge, and technology without similar evolution of values and wisdom is not only foolish, it is dangerous. To massively develop means and act in accordance with what those means permit without careful consideration of ends in the context of values is equally idiotic.

Thinking about a society based on information and one based on physicality requires radically different perspective and consciousness. However, we prefer too often to ignore the fundamental differences and carry over into the Chaordic Age of managing information, ideas and values, concepts, and assumptions that proved useful in the mechanized, Industrial Age of machine crafting, the age of managing things; concepts such as ownership finite supply, obsolescence, loss by conveyance, containment, scarcity, separability, quantifiable measurement, statistical economics, mathematical monetarism, hierarchal structuralism, and command-and-control management.

The birth of the Chaordic Age calls into question virtually every concepts of societal organization, management, and conduct on which we have come to rely. Clinging too rigorously to old concepts, dismissing new concepts too lightly, protecting old forms that resulting from those concepts too fiercely, imposing those rooms on a changing society too resolutely, are a certain path to failure. As Sir Francis Bacon put it precisely centuries ago, in admonishing those who apposed the mechanistic concepts of Newton and Descartes: “They that reverence too much the old times are but a scorn to the new.”

The new concepts Bacon so ably defended with that assertion are excruciatingly old today. They are concepts that we now reverence too much.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Are You Really a Leader?

The following transcription from Dee Hock's Birth of the Chaordic Age says it all. Whenever I'm asked about leadership, I always fumble around with some incongruent response that only makes sense to me. What I really need to do is memorize this and just regurgitate it.

If you lead a team, consider this.
Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes choice. One who is coerced into the purposes, objectives, or preferences of another is not a follower in any true sense of the word, but an object of manipulation. Nor is the relationship materially altered if both parties accept dominance and coercion. True leading and following presume perpetual liberty of both leader and follower to sever the relationship and pursue another path. A true leader cannot be bound to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. The moment they are bound, they are no longer leader or follower. The terms leader and follower imply the freedom and independent judgement of both. If the behavior of either is compelled, whether by force, economic necessity, or contractual arrangement, the relationship is altered to one of superior/subordinate, management/employee, master/servant, or owner/slave. All such relationships are materially different than leader/follower.
The remaining paragraphs do an amazing job picking that apart and diving into how "there is no spoon."

Somewhat aside, this is an amazing book.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Main Stream Media And Me: A Year Later

A year ago I cut myself off from going to mainstream media sources for content consumption (with the notable exception of the New York Times in paper form Sunday mornings). I'm here to report that I generally feel more calm, balanced, smarter, and informed. I also feel more aware than ever of just how tied our media consumption is to financial interests. It's been great to disassociate from that to some degree.

I've found it pretty challenging to find regular good sources of "news" and interesting media content. The sad practice that Techcrunch introduced us to so many years ago is now the "norm" for new/alternative online media outlets (such as Huffington Post and Buzzfeed and Medium (kinda reluctant to put Medium in here, but not really.?) and their ilk). Algorithmic content creation, and/or content farming (Techcrunch's original M.O.) that incestuously drives the SEO beast plagues online content creation in the name of "clicks." It's a sad state of affairs out there unfortunately.

I still like my idea around effectively representing the journalist. It'd be a small piece of the puzzle, but an increasingly necessary one as we consume more and more content en-masse that is created by a) machines directly or b) humans that have no journalistic understanding whatsoever. Having an understanding of who/what, and ultimately why, created the content is crucial.

Anyway, I've eliminated mainstream channels of content from my flow. I rely on Feedly to surface content from sources I curate myself (individual's blogs who I care about, Ars Technica, products I care about, companies I care about, etc). I increasingly prefer email "newsletters" that I proactively subscribe to, to provide regular doses of content from curators I care about. That list looks like:

  • - to eat my regular spinach and broccoli.
  • - for Colorado-local stuff
  • - for music, style, and media stuff
  • - for nytimes digital stuff
  • - I use this a little bit, but not much.
  • - my dirty secret
I use Instapaper and Pocket to collect things that I want to "read later." I use Highly to markup and share content I find interesting with my friends as well as Twitter/Facebook communities.

About Twitter and Facebook. Twitter Moments (and Apple TV app) has become a solid go-to when I'm curious about what's happening "right now."

Facebook is the trashy magazine one flips through to numb their mind by the pool. It's also a great place to stay connected to longtime friends/family. If you consider it a news source, I worry for you to the same degree I worry for Fox News viewers.