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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

(Timeless?) Music Today

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile. A conversation with my brother today finally motivated me to do it. He has two kids (9 and 5); mine are 14 and 11.

A few nights ago our family spent the evening with another family. Drinks were had and my buddy, a musician, fired up some Gun's & Roses and Kenny Rogers on the Sonos (via Pandora). The adults all wailed along while playing air guitar. The kids giggled and pointed at us. The next day my son asked me why his generation doesn't have such timeless and iconic music. As we parents do, I responded without any preparation, on my feet, with something like this.


Twenty-plus years ago, producing music for the masses required a lot of capital, and relationships with distribution channels. So, a musician would desire and aspire to access record labels (who had said capital and relationships) for "record deals." Convincing a label to sign your band meant you had to be pretty great at producing a quality product that would likely appeal to the masses. In today's tech-easy framework, a lot of good (not necessarily great) music can be produced relatively easily. In some cases, with nothing more than a laptop. So, there has been an explosion in artists who can create decent music. Yesterday, there were simply fewer bands that could produce material that was fairly easily consumable.


This is where things have shifted most significantly. Yesterday, distribution was accomplished via radio plays, physical media sales, and concert halls and arenas. Importantly, the pinnacle consumption of music, a concert/arena, was something the community would experience together, in a room, with the band itself. Obviously these "shows" still exist today, but when you consider the shifts in access to music, production, and costs, the large-scale shows (arenas) are the stuff of marketers; of manufactured content with no soul. The smaller venues are the only place to see live music with soul, and therefore by definition, the number of people that can share the same live experience together is orders of magnitude smaller. So, this collective bond that thousands or millions of people can establish and share over the course of a band's "tour" (a year or two at a time), has vaporized.

I don't think Streaming actually has much, if anything, to do with the lack of iconic/timeless music production. It obviously has had a massive impact on consumer cost-to-access music, and what musicians get paid, but the connection with timeless/iconic bands isn't so clear to me. I could probably argue that better, cheaper, access to music via Streaming would promote more great bands across an even larger consumer-base. I might argue that because we have such ready access to nearly _all_ music now, that our need/desire to build up, and save up, to go see a big show has dwindled. But, I suspect that interest has waned more because the large-format shows have been commercialized to the point of no longer being as interesting as they once were.


Our kids access music through Spotify, Pandora, and Soundcloud. They listen on over-the-ear headphones, or via speakers driven by Sonos (built-in amp or line-in to a receiver). They have fallen victim to Streaming's general lack of "offline" or "download" support, and realize this when we're in the car somewhere sans cell-tower coverage. That's when they ask me to fire up my music which I diligently downloaded (Spotify Offline).


Coincidentally I introduced my son to Boulder's high-end audiophile showroom today. I needed a component and he was out running errands with me so, I took him in. I introduced him to an engineer who spends his hours tuning amps and speakers and furniture placement and sound baffles and cables and such. I showed him McIntosh amps with tubes and phonographs as beautiful as the female form. We sat. We listened. He came to understand why I take my drivers and amps so seriously. That was a fun parenting moment. I remember when my own dad took me in there when I was a kid. I haven't been the same since.