Where’s my daily condensed/editorialized digital news?

There’s an interesting discussion happening on Fred Wilson’s blog about the choice between physical and digital news (including comments from Seth Godin and Jeff Jarvis).

(pic by Jack Cheng)

It rekindled my thoughts around news and the race between digital and physical. I’m probably one of the few people of the ‘new, connected’ generation that actually still enjoy reading newspapers. My parents still buy “Die Burger” (daily Afrikaans newspapers) and “Die Rapport” + “Sunday Times” on Sundays (weekly newspapers).

I enjoy reading it either in the morning or night (usually when there’s no company around the table). Would I buy ‘Die Burger’? Nope. But I still enjoy it for what it is. Catering news to a specific market. However, what I like most about newspapers is that the content is ‘done’, when it is ‘done’. That’s what physical newspapers still provide. There’s no expectation or the possibility of extra content. When we are subjected to a constant fire-hose of information, where there will ALWAYS be more information, it makes people anxious.

That’s why I don’t frequent newspaper’s digital sites. It’s “always-on” news, and you don’t always want ‘always-on’ news. There are news that can wait a day, or 2, or 3. Important “emergency” news will find it’s way through Twitter, Facebook, G+, etc. But most news just aren’t ‘emergency’ news.

Here’s a correlation to this published by Fastcolabs. They coined it: “slow live blogging”.

Here’s what we learned about long form stories—and why quality, not velocity, is the future of online news.

Physical newspapers to my mind have 3 features that make it different than other forms of news consumption:

1) Finite.

Like I mentioned previously. It’s done when it is done. Jack Cheng sums it up well in his blog post about the "Slow Web Movement". Timely vs Real-time.

Real-time interactions happen as they happen. Timely ones, on the other hand, happen as you need them to happen. Some real-time interactions, like breaking news about an earthquake, can be timely. But not all timely interactions are real-time. I’d argue that most are not. And where the Fast Web is built around real-timedness, the Slow Web is built around timeliness.

A great example of a Slow Web product is Instapaper. Instapaper takes the process of discovering a long article and reading it on the spot (real-time) and breaks it apart, deferring the act of reading until later, when we have an extended moment to read (timely). I may be stretching my analogy a bit here, but it’s kind of like boxing up a meal and putting it away in the fridge for when you’re hungry, except in this case, it doesn’t lose as much of its taste.

2) Niche market.

I say this in terms of news. There’s layers of news, and it filters down and down and down, to eventual hyperlocal news. For any type of product, knowing the market means much better content, instead of going for a “shotgun” approach. It feels like newspaper companies, in fear of digital, tries to do a shotgun approach, trying to ‘connect’ news to events that are only vaguely related to their market. 

Sean Parker, in his post lambasting the media for his wedding coverage, says:

A kind of mob mentality reigns supreme in the unrestricted, uncivilized world of social media: whether it is found on Facebook, on Twitter, in blogs, or even in the remnants of traditional journalism, where the old guard is now forced to compete with the instantaneous news cycle of the “real-time web” and the blogosphere. The economics of this new media have, in so many ways, rendered obsolete the economics of the old journalism and the value system that went along with it. The ethics of journalism, a commitment to objectivity, accuracy, and civility, formed a kind of loose social contract between the creators and consumers of news.

Read the whole last section. Poignant stuff. The result is poor news. It’s like news “inflation”. Everyone’s losing, but everyone has to play this game. To compare, it’s like the classic case of competitors racing themselves to zero margins, because they think they can only compete on price. Niche news is valuable because 1) larger news players don’t provide it, 2) it doesn’t have to be “always-on” and 3) it benefits from shared culture.

3) Shared culture.

To continue with the idea of a niche market. Newspapers were cornerstones of shared culture. That’s how information propagated. If you read the local daily news, you’d know that most people would’ve read it, and thus that becomes part of the zeitgeist. With ultra-recommendations, we start to live in bubbles of information. That is going missing.

I say there’s a need for carefully curated, finite news that caters to niche markets. Be like “The Magazine”.

The Magazine publishes five medium-length articles every two weeks on a wide variety of subjects of interest to curious people.

Keen to hear your thoughts. If you have stopped buying local newspapers, why? Would you pay for finite, digitally delivered news? Keen to hear your thoughts!

Bitcoin is not just a state-less currency, it’s also a reality-less currency.

One of Bitcoin’s unique features is that value can be moved around in a much more liquid fashion than any previous forms of money. Anything that can be touched digitally can touch upon Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is the first truly decentralized form of money. No one controls it. This possibility is exciting. It’s a state-less currency. We are seeing the ramifications of this already (people being paid with Bitcoin in jobs where what you create is not bound to the idea of a state: such as digital freelance work). The idea of a state-less currency means any nation’s currency will contend with Bitcoin. There will be countless ins and outs into the currency. I’m not sure yet whether it will happen, but it seems possible that Bitcoin will become the reserve currency of the world, rather than another nation’s currency (such is the case now with the USD). The problem with having another nation’s currency as the reserve currency is the political implications (and trust).

An example of this is the BRICS recent decision to increase trade in their own currencies rather than rely on the USD. Even if a country despises the US, the USD is still regarded as the ‘reserve currency’ and other countries reluctantly have to deal with it, because that’s where trust and value lies. But, if there is a neutral currency, then trust will gravitate towards it over time as distrust breaks down relationships between nation-type currencies.

Now, what I actually want to say. If you look at Bitcoin simply as an equivalent to a real world currency, the in and outs into it will be nation’s currencies. However, as I mentioned, Bitcoin is digital. Anything that is digital will and can affect it’s value.

This means Bitcoin is also reality-less (for lack of a better term) currency. And easily so. Virtual economies have always been valuable, but its always been restrictive in terms of money flowing into and out of it. You have your traditional MMOs where ‘black market’ trading of Gold and items exist (such as in WoW), and then you have your more open MMOs like Second Life and Entropia Universe where trading money into the world is accepted. 

image

Famously, a $635,000 island was sold in Entropia.

However, as I stated, liquidity is hampered like any current traditional exchange. With Bitcoin, there’s no reason why any virtual items and goods can sold in the game for Bitcoin and use the Bitcoin protocol immediately. So, now you can see that not only will nation-currencies contend with Bitcoin, but virtual currencies as well. And it can more easily exist without having to even need a separate currency (such as is the case with current MMOs).

So, just imagine. You walk into your local pub and pay with Bitcoin. Have a few drinks with your buddies. You get back home and play an MMO and with that same Bitcoin, you buy virtual items. All the transactions go through the Bitcoin protocol (you don’t have to use the protocol. You can keep it off-chain). The items sold in the game are immediately deposited into your wallet. It’s seamless like you’ve never seen it before.

There are examples surfacing of this:

Dragon’s Roulette. MMO casino powered with Bitcoin.

Bitstrat (in early beta). Wager on skill-based games.

(I recall seeing another one where the in world game uses Bitcoin as currency, but can’t find it now. If you know, link it please).

I do want to see a fully fledged game that focuses on Bitcoin as currency and uses it’s strengths in such a game.

So yeah. It’s not farfetched to imagine virtual worlds also contending along with nation-currencies with Bitcoin. It’s exciting!

Information Overload, Narrative and Life.

Earlier this year, one of my best friends found himself in a bar, having a drink with another friend. A girl at the table next to them started chatting to him. Not only are they dating now, but one of her friends is dating another friend of mine. This seemingly coincidental event led to significant changes in people’s lives. What if they didn’t decide to venture out to that bar that night? Or simply sat further away? They wouldn’t have met.

These sort of accidental meetings happen every day, and has always happened. You meet people through hops and acquaintances. My first serious girlfriend, for example, I met because of a series of events: 1) failing to qualify for a play, 2) getting a role in another play, 3) meeting the director’s sister, 4) who lived with my ex.

Each day is riddled with potential exciting new people you can meet. Avenues that are long and wide, that is simply a proverbial “small door” away.

But today. In our current age, it just becomes worse. Opportunities to connect to people have exploded. I’ve met the most amazing people through Twitter. I’ve seen amazing photos of strangers on Instagram. I’ve connected with like-minded musicians on SoundCloud. The list goes on. It’s exciting!

And then I think. Man. I might each moment be missing out on experiences that define people’s lives. Rian (@rianvdm), recently linked a post by Scott Berkun about information overload. It struck me, that my feelings toward information ‘overload’ isn’t necessarily about an increase the amount of information, but more that increased connectedness brings about too many opportunities that are within reach.

We do heuristically filter information. That I’ve gathered from my Masters research into information overload. Our brains are effective at managing too much information, even when faced with the so-called ‘information explosion’.

But, what we miss, is the opportunity to experience. Our opportunity costs to do anything in an increasingly connected world becomes higher and higher. For example, a second difference on Omegle can mean the difference of entirely different lives! That’s exciting and depressing at the same time. When I told Rian that, he sent me a link to a post by Linda Holmes, and it sums it up quite well:

That’s the moment you realize you’re separated from so much. That’s your moment of understanding that you’ll miss most of the music and the dancing and the art and the books and the films that there have ever been and ever will be, and right now, there’s something being performed somewhere in the world that you’re not seeing that you would love.

And, that’s life, I guess. Just like my friend who met the girl he is dating now in a random moment, we can curate our lives with people we want to, on the internet. We can connect to so maaany opportunities!

—-

As I near the end of my Masters (less than a month left), I’m faced with certain decisions about what to do next. When accidental moments can mean so much, taking much larger life decisions suddenly feel scary. I will take them. I’m not afraid of that. I know what I will decide I will enjoy. That’s who I am. I make the most of where I am. I enjoy learning. I enjoy people, and their stories. But there’s always a small feeling that your life could’ve been vastly different. And with that in mind, I have to decide where I want to steer my life next.

To make that decision, I started to think about what narrative will mean the most to me at this stage in my life. There are several options that seem interesting. Without divulging too much, they seem to be split up between 1) South Africa, 2) Silicon Valley and 3) Travelling. All 3 choices are “big”. They can set me on paths that can forever change my life. And frankly, I don’t know what to choose at this stage. I keep changing my mind every day.

For now, I’ll just greet smiles and hopefully increase those happy accidental moments. :)

P.S. I do realise that this is probably very normal to feel at this stage in one’s life. C’est la vie.

A Primer on Primecoin

(image from Bitcoinmagazine)

No. This is not really a full primer on Primecoin. I still have yet to completely understand the dynamics of it. I just wanted to use that title.

The cryptocurrency field is becoming really interesting. Although Litecoin is the second largest one, I always thought PPCoin was the most innovative one. It had 2 things that stood out from Bitcoin, proof-of-stake (vs proof-of-work) to generate consensus, and its minting process was more akin to gold. The higher the difficulty the fewer coins are being generated. It it thus naturally inflationary in the beginning, but over time decreases until very few coins are being generated per block.

The same creator, Sunny King, recently introduced Primecoin, a new altcoin. It once again shows the genius behind the concept of cryptocurrencies. One of the critiques of Bitcoin is that all the mining and electricity expenditure to perform the proof-of-work (which is essentially just brute-forcing random numbers) goes to waste. The actual verification of the blockchain is quick.

Primecoin introduces a new idea. The proof-of-work is done through the generation of primes. So although it is still more resource heavy than proof-of-stake altcoins, it is going towards a collective benefit. The resources are anyway being spent for nothing, so why not spend it on something useful? Luis von Ahn (creator or recaptcha and duolingo) will be proud. It’s realigning the incentives. Think SETI@Home meets Bitcoin.

I still have to read up more on how it works. With some initial reading, it seems it is generating prime chains. These chains are then used as a replacement for the hashes (as in the case of other altcoins). Bitcoinmagazine has a write-up of Primecoin’s inner workings.

What is amazing though, is the potential now exists for these proof-of-work mechanisms to be useful on its own. Bitcoin’s distributed network is the “largest” (note the quotation marks) supercomputer that exists in the world. We can now both run a math-based currency AND use it for the benefit of humanity.

It begs the question. What if we can realign the proof-of-work even further? What if anyone can use a supercomputer to do some number-crunching and then let it act as a proof-of-work? A free API to a supercomputer.

The cryptocurrency revolution is here and it is changing the world.

Thoughts on Bitcoin and Tax.

One of the more interesting thought experiments around Bitcoin is related to the idea of tax. How do you reconcile a cash-based internet currency with tax in a nation state? Is tax an old idea? How can you tax something if you can’t track it? 

There are a lot really Bitcoin enthusiasts that insist that tax is immoral. It is being forced on people. And that tax is the only reason why any governmental money succeeds: you must earn USD, because you must pay tax in it.

Let’s first look at this perspective. Let’s assume we still want tax in a nation. The benefit of providing social good through taxation in a fair and equal society means cheap healthcare, policing, education, upkeep, etc.

If someone chooses to earn their keep in Bitcoin because of it’s ease of use (freelance jobs through the internet for example), and you still want to contribute to the society you benefit from, how would you pay taxes?

There are 2 ways I see it. You can classify it as assets, which you then have to declare. Selling those assets for fiat, means you then pay capital gains tax. The problem with approach however, is that Bitcoin is a very liquid asset. To declare that I received 0.001 Bitcoin is unfeasible and pointless.

The other way is when you convert it to fiat, you declare it as income (or foreign income). And then get taxed according to income brackets. This is easier for the individual, but the problem with this is, you can function start functioning in a society without having to cash out. There are pubs, sites, grocery stores, etc starting to accept Bitcoin. See the upcoming crowdfunded documentary, Life on Bitcoin.

With the second idea, you could simply monthly declare the Bitcoin at the current exchange rates as income. The government would then still insist on the taxes for that income. You are then REQUIRED to convert the specific amount to fiat and pay the government. Are there any other ways? What do you think?

For the 2nd though experiment, it goes a bit into tin-foil hat territory. Do we still need tax? I’m asking this question not because I think we do not need tax, but rather I think it’s an important question to ask. Technology like Bitcoin forces us to contemplate it at least.

An interesting perspective to this (through discussion on Twitter with Len v. Heerden). A government has nothing do with Bitcoin. They provide no benefit to the functioning of it. Thus, why do we need to give the government value when I earned Bitcoin without the use of my government? If I was being paid in Rand, then sure. They provide the facility of currency in the country. It’s an interesting point, because it sort of pits a nation’s currency against Bitcoin (or global currencies). The government must provide incentives to use Rand over Bitcoin, without trying to force its citizens to use it. They shouldn’t hyper-inflate it. They should create incentives for people to buy Rand, such as saying: if you want small business support we only pay you in Rand. A public park will only be built by paying the contractors in Rand. Tax then sort of becomes like the monthly fee to participate in the benefits that your nation provides. If your nation sucks, then you don’t have to pay it. It’s still a difficult viewpoint to process because public goods can’t so easily be separated.

From my perspective, I don’t see how we can provide benefits for the commons without some form of taxation. However, I do think there are some clues to how this could be feasible. Bitcoin is such an example. We THINK we need centralised creation of benefits, but as can be seen with a well-thought out system like Bitcoin, we don’t. Are there incentives, technologies, machines and systems we can design to benefit humanity without the need for money to siphon to the top and back down again?

For example, what if there is a way to incentivize people to perform policing duties? Conducting acts of good and lawful protection of citizens, and you will be rewarded. The acts of good and lawfulness are mathematically enforced by some protocol? Spitballing here. There are gaps in this argument.

What if we could utilize the latent knowledge in a community, and have people teach one another instead of relying on the idea of a school? Is it possible to induce equality in a decentralized system like this? Will equality even be an issue?

Decentralized systems have always failed because we lacked ways to police it. And Bitcoin has in a way solved that philosophical problem. Can variations of it be used in other forms?

All these are interesting questions! What are your thoughts?

Excuse me of I might have gone a bit too tin-foil here. I don’t usually like ascribing to extreme view points, but it is more for a thought experiment than anything else.

A post on medium and a new tumblr.

Quick update.

Tried out Medium.com. I put up a post on there talking about tenacity vs iteration. When do you stop with something when it doesn’t work out, and when do you keep going? I really enjoy the writing experience, but it’s not enough to convince me to move platforms.

Then. I’ve started a new tumblr. It’s more in the vain of how tumblr is generally used. I’ve always had a fascination for spaces and the meanings we imbue it with. From maps, cities and abandoned buildings. Follow it here: A Place for Spaces.

Cheers.

WWW 2013 and Rio de Janeiro.

At the end of last year, after doing some data collection on my thesis, I checked around for conferences to submit preliminary results to. The first one that popped up, was the premier www conference. It always attracts great speakers, great research and great people. This year, it was hosted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Another fantastic reason to try! So I did, and got a poster accepted with my supervisor, Kobus!

I was both nervous and excited about the trip. Apprehensive and amped! Although I’ve been to several countries, it was my first time solo travelling to another country. Adding to the ‘firsts’, I also opted for trying new things such as trying Airbnb. So here’s what went down:

Friday, 10 May.

Leave early early morning with a lift from my brother. Flight was CPT-JHB-Sao Paulo-Rio. Pretty chill flight. I arrive in Sao Paulo, and have to check my bags in again for the domestic flight to Rio. I walk through… and forget my poster tube at the baggage reclaim. Epic fail. So there I was running through Sao Paulo airport trying to figure out how to get back in and get it. Luckily, I found the SAA lost luggage office. The man there was extremely helpful and managed to call a guy working at the baggage reclaim to find it. Luckily it was still standing there. Phew. Successfully retrieved!

I arrive at night in Rio. I opted to try Airbnb and stay in this little place. After getting lost in the building, I found the place. The caretaker of the apartment was a woman living next door… She only spoke Portugese. But I manage to do just fine. Sleep.

Saturday, 11 May.

(view from airbnb apartment)

An acquaintance, Pri, was going to show me around the city. Unfortunately, family issues arose and she couldn’t anymore. I’m still really grateful for her open-ness and willingness to show a gringo around!

Went to see Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer. Amazing views! The tram ride to the top of Christo Redentor is pretty interesting as you slalom through forests and buildings. The combination of navigating a foreign city in a warm summer’s day and lack of human communication left me exhausted. Crashed.

Sunday, 12 May.

Woke up and missioned to Copacabana. Walked along the beach and had a beer and lunch.

Became a bit overwhelmed by all of it: solo travel, can’t talk, foreign city, random apartment (with no hotel creature comforts). Felt anxious and exhausted (also somehow developed complete lack of appetite). Wanted to just get a blanket and crawl under it, which I did.

Monday, 13 May.

Conference time! :D

After struggling to speak with the caretaker and difficulty hailing a taxi, I managed to arrive at the Windsor Barra (a bit outside the main city).

Amazing venue! Attended some talks. And then checked in at 12. Some time before the conference, I checked the #www2013 hashtag on Twitter and saw that a guy (Ted Benson) was looking for a roommate. I thought why not. Cheaper bill, meet cool people!

Also met Ulrich, another South African, currently at Xbox. Was great to also be able to speak Afrikaans. Went to grab dinner and caipirinhas! 

Tuesday, 14 May.

Attended early morning session with Bert Bos (one of the creators of CSS), talking about CSS3. Quite interesting. Although… some new features of CSS3 seem really arb, such as the plethora of gradient tools. Gradients feel very 90’s… Attended linked data workshop and REST workshop (this was quite cool). The night, there was a party hosted by Facebook (recruiters + employees). Don’t really know how they choose to invite people (feels a bit like high school, vying to be ‘popular’), but got in as a +1 with Ted. Met cool people, had free beer and snacks.

Wednesday, 15 May.

Conference only started at 1pm today, so went for a morning run along the beach. Took a swim. Leisurely breakfast and lunch and then attended first keynoye from Luis von Ahn (recaptcha and duolingo).

Great talk. Afterwards attended an entrepreneur focused Q&A with Luis. Was great to hear his advice! Attended a session on web economics and monetization and a Q&A with Tim Berners-Lee. DRM and copyright was a hot topic. Someone even asked timbl about Bitcoin! The night was poster reception time. There was more caipirinhas. Had a few interested people stop by! I’m just surprised there were actually other people doing research about lists on Twitter!

Thursday. 16 May.

Same as yesterday. Walk along the beach. Go to breakfast, and see that Max (a friend I met earlier) was sitting there. Fun guy. More people joined, included Tim Berners-Lee that sat next to me. For academics in the web circuit it might have been normal, but for me it was pretty surreal. The topic somehow went from weather to gulf streams and South Africa. Great to have met him!

Day went from surreal to mind-blowing as Dr. Miguel Nicolelis spoke about brain-to-machine interfaces. From monkey’s brains being able to develop virtual limbs to control, to mice’s brains being connected (as one) across time and space. Bizarre, sci-fi-ish! See this TED talk about it. (very similar talk). What was awesome: this tech is planned to be used at the Brazil 2014 world cup opening. A paraplegic person, connected to a robotic exoskeleton will stand up and kick a ball. Spectacle! FUTURE.

Afterwards there was net neutrality panel discussion (more DRM + copyright talk). Attended a session on social network analysis.

Then, one of the best moments of the trip: the gala dinner. After a lengthy bus trip, we arrived at the venue. Samba band was playing, caipirinhas was had. Fun. Then the meat extravaganza! So. Much. Meat. Then everyone headed back out for what was one the coolest live gigs I’ve seen. A Beatles cover band adding a samba twist. The people in the group were all young. I was so envious, as the cool guys and cute girls jammed it out. It seemed like a such fun thing to do. They handed out masks, confetti, hats and bowties, and the party kicked off.

There was plenty of conga-lines (at one stage I somehow led one). And at the end, a rather punky version of Yellow Submarine led to a mosh pit. The “It’s Saturday night at the indie stage at a music festival. It’s 9pm, everyone’s a bit drunk” kind of mosh pit. The fun kind! Perfect way to end it.

Friday, 17 May.

Due to my flight leaving early, I couldn’t attend Friday’s sessions. I left on the first rainy day I saw (luckily). All in all. Great fun.

Conclusion:

Overall. It was what I expected. It was going to be a whirlwind of experiences! And boy was that the case. The conference itself was amazing. Loved every minute of it. Met incredible people and saw fascinating research! Rio de Janeiro is a picturesque city. In some ways, it reminds me of South Africa. Incredible natural beauty. But poor people live right next to rich people. The brazilian people I met were all really friendly, even though I couldn’t speak Portugese. Would I try Airbnb again? Yes. But for specific reasons. One thing you kinda forget, is that hotels include stuff like breakfast. Being in a foreign city, finding great breakfast is a mission. Foursquare helped a bit, but I still had to try and order with broken Portugese. So it depends. Airbnb would be a perfect fit for a group of people, and when you are sure you know more about the area (like finding convenience stores to buy breakfast cereal or eggs to make).

Overall, unforgettable experiences. And on that note, would just like to express gratitude towards my lab (MIH Media Lab) that offer these travel  opportunities to us. I don’t know how to say thank-you enough!

Upwards and onwards.