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No competition

There’s no competition for cookbooks on making food out of soccer balls and hockey pucks.

There’s no competition for software that charges you to find out the temperature on Mars.

There’s no competition for a service that counts how many pairs of shoes you own.

In fact, in every market that’s worth entering, there’s competition. That’s what you’re looking for. It’s a sign that people have a problem that they’re trying to solve through commerce.

The goal isn’t to find no competition. It’s to find a better way to solve the problem.

Micropayments for content

This is a problem that comes up every year or two, but no one has implemented a useful solution yet.

Advertising is a surprisingly bad way for a culture to pay for content, because the kind of content that gets rewarded is often dumbed down for a large audience or is optimized for a small audience of people eager to buy something that makes a profit.

It’s also inefficient, as advertisers can’t know in advance what’s going to work, and creators get a very small share of the ad spend.

An alternative is to pay for what you get, the way we treat carrots, baseballs and clarinets. Instead of buying a baseball, though, you’re buying a chance to watch a video.

Micropayments are a system where you pay a penny or a nickel or a dollar for a piece of content.

It introduces two kinds of friction, though:

  1. There needs to be a tech system that can effectively move tiny amounts of money around.
  2. As a reader/consumer of content, you need to constantly make decisions about what’s “worth it.”

About thirty years ago, I described a simple solution to both problems:

For $25 you can buy a content passport. It’s available for purchase on any website that is part of the content network, and you need one to read the content on their site. The site that sells it to you gets $10 in commission for selling it to you.

It keeps track of every member site you visit (that’s really easy now, with a cookie). And then the coordinator of the system allocates, on a percentage basis, $10 to the sites you visit. It’s all gonna go somewhere, whether you visit one site or a thousand. There’s no friction, because it’s a buffet, just like it is now. Read all you want, no ads, no hassles.

The sites that get visited the most get the most aggregate money from the monthly distributions of royalties.

Each site has an incentive to sell a lot of passports (the commission is significant) and the coordinator of the network is making 25% as well.

It’s really clear who the customer is (the reader) and it’s easy for any site to join the network. Aligned incentives, a simple and resilient solution.

Have fun. (PS this is unrelated to yesterday’s post about federations, just a coincidence.)

Some thoughts on Mastodon

It is, by far, the fastest-growing social network in history, growing more than 20% in about a week.

And yet it didn’t stutter much.

How can this be?

It’s a network in the real internet sense of the word. It’s not just a network of users, it’s a network of servers as well. No one owns it. Like email, it’s a set of principles and rules, not a place. A federation is different than a corporation. It might not be as shiny, but it’s far more resilient.

It’s inconvenient. You can’t get started in ten seconds. This leads to less initial stickiness. It means that the people who get through the learning curve are more likely to be committed and perhaps generous. In the early days of email, of Compuserve, of AOL, of the web, of just about every network I’ve been part of, these early users created a different sort of magic. It never lasts, but it’s great to see.

I started one of the first internet companies in 1990, and the new frontiers tend to rhyme with each other. This might be one.

Part of the power of a network is its distributed nature. That’s a plus when it comes to tech and innovation. It’s a minus when it comes to the speed of central agreement as well as the potential for abuse. Email never quite recovered from the open nature of inputs, which meant that spammers, scammers and hustlers could do what they liked, and the defense was imperfect filters.

The intentional decentralization of the Mastodon federation seems designed to make those filters more natural and effective, at the expense of a super loud amplifier in the middle. You can discover new voices and ideas, but there isn’t a megaphone at work, just begging to be hacked by selfish behavior. It’s a bit more like life and a bit less like traditional social networks that create controversy to earn a profit.

And finally–the culture of this federation is still being created. A lot of the folks who just arrived will be the authors of that culture, and if they figure out how to be generous and kind, that’s what will get built. Alas, as is often the case, culture is up to us, particularly when the commercial bias is removed.

I’m reposting my daily blog here, and might dip in from time to time, and I’m eager to see how this peer to peer experiment unfolds.

If you’re a developer with chops in APIs, apps, and what’s happening in the Mastodon world, I’d love to hear from you for some future projects I’m noodling on. Simple form is here.


If you often find yourself saying “sorry” in a way that doesn’t advance the conversation, it might be interesting to substitute “thank you” instead.

So, “I’m sorry this came out of the kitchen after your other dishes,” becomes, “thank you for waiting so patiently.”

And, “I’m sorry we got disconnected,” becomes, “thank you for calling back.”

It’s a subtle shift, from separation to connection.

Neither here nor there

It’s tempting to imagine that mixing half a glass of milk and half a glass of orange juice might get you a hybrid that’s better than either.

Alas, not so much.

The goal is to find something that is in and of itself. That becomes the very best version of what you’re trying to do, the solution to the consumer/user/member problem you’ve identified.

Here works. There works. But here and there and everywhere generally doesn’t.

In a world filled with choices, specificity in service of extraordinary results tends to outperform.

Now on mastodon

Update: You can subscribe to this blog by email (but it often gets filtered by our evil tech overlords.) You can also get regular daily updates via FB , LinkedIn, Twitter while it lasts, and now, Mastodon, a distributed, free alternative to more chaotic social media outlets.

The best way to get it is by RSS. Unfiltered, fast, free and not noisy. Just add this link to a newsreader.

But how will it fail?

The wrong answer is, “it won’t.”

If you buy a piece of tech, it will break.

If you buy an asset of some sort, it’s likely to go down in value one day.

If you start a project, you will one day walk away from it.

And everything that is alive will die.

Refusing to answer the question doesn’t make it more likely that it won’t fail. All it does is make the failure more painful.

Whining and status

Toddlers don’t get afforded a lot of respect. They whine all the time about how unfair things are, and it’s difficult to take them seriously.

Lately, in our quest for victory, we’ve established that some winners get there via whining, and perhaps this is a useful strategy. It seems as though working the refs, blaming the conditions and questioning the score is all good as long as it helps you come out on top.

In fact, whining isn’t resilient or scalable.

People with confidence, power and reserves are able to admit when they are wrong, when things aren’t working and when it doesn’t turn out the way they hoped.

If you’re hoping to demonstrate power, confidence or status, taking responsibility is a better signal than whining.

Palliative care

Few branches of medicine have created as much comfort, solace and relief.

When we realize that traditional Western medicine is not going to be able to cure a life-threatening illness, the palliative care team is able to help. Instead of torturing and bankrupting patients, they can offer connection, humanity and closure.

Too often, we view the fight as an unalloyed virtue. Instead of sharing our preferences and desires before we get ill (as though it’s some sort of bad luck charm), we simply hope for the best and then wait far too long (and create too much family stress) before embracing the next step in our journey.

And, since I often look for metaphors, it’s probably worth noting that the same approach works for projects, companies and even relationships. We might all come out ahead if we focus on a productive and comfortable way to wrap things up, instead of fighting to the last moment.

Placebos and objective reality

A placebo is a human intervention that changes the story we tell ourselves. And those stories are powerful. They can alleviate pain, make wine taste better, improve our golf swing and even grow hair.

Because the placebo is so powerful, we spend a lot of time and money on it. Entire industries (like fashion) are built on bringing people something that changes the way they interact with themselves and the world. If you think that copper bracelet is going to relieve your arthritis, it might.

But in the last few generations, we’ve built more and more of our world on a foundation of measured, consistent engineering. There’s nothing you can add to your gas tank that will make your car mileage go up. It doesn’t matter whether you believe the car is running more efficiently–it either is or it isn’t, and it isn’t.

If you’re a maker of placebos, then, it helps to recognize that what you do is change the story. The more a market is based on mutually agreed upon measurements, the less appealing it is to the maker of a placebo.