Category Archives: Tech

The Implicit Meaning of Advertisements

Dalton Caldwell on his latest creation, App.net:

App.net is a different kind of social platform.

We’re building a real-time social service where users and developers come first, not advertisers.

We believe that advertising-supported social services are so consistently and inextricably at odds with the interests of users and developers that something must be done.

Help us create the service we all wish existed.

It’s no secret how much I love Twitter and what it does. App.net looks to do a similar thing, except this time you pay up front for it.

There’s essentially two routes of monetizing something on the Internet today:

1) You pay an up-front fee for the service or product.

2) You access the product for free with the understanding that you will see advertisements at some point.

I like the first model better. Not because I hate seeing advertisements, but because what seeing advertisements implicitly means. Everything that is sold is slave to to who or what is paying the money for it. If I pay, that means the product is slave to me. If advertisers are footing the bill, it means the product will adhere to what the advertisers want.

In the instance of using ad-supported products, what the user wants and what advertisers want are inherently at odds. Users want to enjoy the product. Advertisers couldn’t care less about that; they’re more interested in you buying what’s being advertised. Because advertisements without people seeing them are useless, it then becomes the job of the product providers to strike the right balance. Within reason, product providers are going to first look to the needs of who or what is providing the funding.

I want to be explicit here: some people don’t like advertisements because they don’t like being the product sold. This doesn’t particularly bother me. Yes, I understand that Facebook and Twitter essentially advertise products that they think I’ll buy based on personal information that I’ve given them. I’m saying I’m OK with that as long as Twitter and Facebook put my wants and needs above those advertisements. The problem is that this is not the world in which we live.

There are a ton of arguments against App.net. (The one that worries me the most is that the majority of people won’t buy in, thus rendering what makes Twitter great–its ubiquity– null.) But, if I truly like the first model better and I feel a well-designed Twitter-like service is something that adds value to my life, it’s my job to fund it.

You’ve got about 17 hours to throw in your $50.

Update: I assumed the App.net alpha would be private for those who funded it early, but it looks like you can join anytime.

Slim – The Thinnest Wallet Ever.

Supr Good Co. on why they created their Kickstarter for the new Slim Wallet:

We believe that all you really need in your wallet are your essential cards. Slim was created with this in mind – to be a super-thin card-carrying over-achiever.

I couldn’t figure out why I’d been looking for a slimmer wallet, but this is why. With smart phones being near ubiquitous, we’re way past the time where you need to carry anything in your wallet but cards and occasionally cash (even that’s becoming rarer and rarer). Why do we still need to carry bulky wallets?

No brainer funding on my part (and picked an extra one up for my brother).

via Kenton Glass

Knowing Is Half the Battle

During this year’s State of the Union address I tweeted:

In the next ten years, the lack of widespread affordable high-speed Internet will fragment the country. That needs to be solved now. #sotu

That’s inaccurate. But, in my defense, it’s inaccurate because I was limited by how much I could say at one time. Since I’ve been invited to the White House Tweetup this Monday, I wanted to take a couple of paragraphs to flesh out this idea, since I think it’s what got me invited in the first place.

Let’s start out with why that statement is inaccurate: the lack of affordable high-speed Internet isn’t what’s going to fragment the country, information asymmetry is the culprit. Information asymmetry may be correlated with the lack of affordable, high-speed Internet, but the Internet in and of itself is just a tool for delivering information; it’s meaningless without content.

So what is information asymmetry? Essentially it’s when one party has more information than another and is better able to make decisions because of it. Most definitions you’ll find include both parts (more information and making better decisions), but truly the first part is all that’s necessary.

The second part of that definition, though, is why this is such a pressing problem. We see one group of people who continually become more and more informed and thus are able to make better decisions because of it. Eventually the decision equilibrium is thrown off and someone starts to win and someone starts to lose. That’s when information asymmetry goes from being an inconvenience to a pressing problem. This may be simplifying matters a bit too much, but many of the problems we’re facing today come from the fact that one person is able to take advantage of another person based on information that he or she has that the other person does not.

To make matters worse, information is a process. It’s stackable. What I’ll learn about tomorrow is built upon what I learned about yesterday. There’s no way to get around that; it’s why you have to go to first grade before seventh grade. While learning has non-linear tendencies, it’s a decidedly linear process. This means that this isn’t a problem we can turn around overnight. It’s a problem that needs to be solved now, so that we can stop reaping the consequences in ten years.

But, how do you solve for this? It’s not like you can (or should) force people to become more informed (as if “informed” is a palpable, achievable goal). But, what you can do is break down the barriers that are preventing people from getting there. Widespread, affordable, high-speed Internet access can contribute. Putting information in a forum that people pay attention to (e.g. social media) can as well. Tailoring information to target specific groups is another way. These are all easier said than done and there are a thousand questions that need to be asked (What is information? How much needs to be spread? What constitutes as something that people need to know?), but it’s a direction we need to move in quickly, before we lose the attention of the general public.

I wanted to say this now because in my application to the White House Tweetup, I mentioned that one of the things that interests me about Twitter is how it’s engaged people with issues. Folks who would never pick up the New York Times or the Economist are now exposed to those ideas on a daily basis. Granted, it’s a shallow exposition, but knowing is half the battle. Acting on this knowledge may well be the other half, but that’s a struggle for another day.