Paul Ford on Bitcoin

Paul Ford has written an entertaining essay on Bloomberg, in which he shares his thoughts on Bitcoin:

Whenever I hear people talk about Bitcoin’s limitless future, I think about Dow 100,000. I first saw it in the old Borders bookshop at the World Trade Center. A few years later, the store was destroyed, and the book title was a sad joke. The markets lost interest in tech for years. Today all the Borders are gone, too.

I loved this sentence:

Consider Bitcoin a grand middle finger.

Ford’s view on how monetization can possibly happen:

Here’s what I finally figured out, 25 years in: What Silicon Valley loves most isn’t the products, or the platforms underneath them, but markets. “Figure out the business model later” was the call of the early commercial internet. The way you monetize vast swaths of humanity is by creating products that people use a lot—perhaps a search engine such as Google or a social network like Facebook. You build big transactional web platforms beneath them that provide amazing things, like search results or news feeds ranked by relevance, and then beneath all that you build marketplaces for advertising—a true moneymaking machine. If you happen to create an honest-to-god marketplace, you can get unbelievably rich.

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Also worth reading is Paul Ford’s 2015 Bloomberg piece on “What is Code?”

On Instagram and Facebook

This piece by Paul Ford who compares Instagram and Facebook is well-written, savvy, and less “tech-y” than anything I’ve read since the announcement.

Remember what the iPod was to Apple? That’s how Instagram might look to Facebook: an artfully designed product that does one thing perfectly. Sure, you might say, but Instagram doesn’t have any revenue. Have you ever run an ad on Facebook? The ad manager is a revelation — as perfectly organized and tidy as the rest of Facebook is sprawling and messy. Spend $50 and try to sell something — there it is, UX at its most organized and majestic, a key to all of the other products at once.

To some users, this looks like a sellout. And that’s because it is. You might think the people crabbing about how Instagram is going to suck now are just being naïve, but I don’t think that’s true. Small product companies put forth that the user is a sacred being, and that community is all-important. That the money to pay for the service comes from venture capital, which seeks a specific return on investment over a period of time, is between the company and the venture capitalists; the relationship between the user and the product is holy, or is supposed to be.

Also, props to Paul Ford for one of the best analogies I’ve read in a long time:

In terms of user experience (insider jargon: “UX”), Facebook is like an NYPD police van crashing into an IKEA, forever — a chaotic mess of products designed to burrow into every facet of your life.

Definitely take five minutes out of your day to read the whole thing.

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Unrelated, but “How To Say I Love You” is one of Paul Ford’s gems from last year. A must-read.

On Love, Facebook, Endings, and Epiphanators

Last year, I blogged about Brian Phillips’s incredible essay, “Pelé as a Comedian.” I wrote that it is one of those pieces that you read for the writing, and I absolutely still stand by my decision. If you haven’t read it, take ten minutes out of your life, and do so.

Why do I bring up Phillips’s essay from last year? Because I believe I found a piece, which for so far in 2011, would file under the same characterization: you read it for the writing. The piece is “Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?” by Paul Ford, published in New York Magazine. It’s about social media, Facebook in particular, and our connection (or disconnection) to those around us, but more importantly, with ourselves. It’s about beginnings and endings and the go-betweens. You read between the lines, and you discern so much. Your brain begins to flutter: I never thought of it like that. You will.

The writing is sublime:

I watched in real time as these people reconstructed themselves in the wake of events — altering their avatars, committing to new causes, liking and linking, boiling over in anger at dumb comments, eventually posting jokes again, or uploading new photos. Learning to take the measure of the world with new eyes. No other medium has shown me this in the same way. Even the most personal literary memoir has more distance, more compression, than these status updates.

What is The Epiphanator?

Social media has no understanding of anything aside from the connections between individuals and the ceaseless flow of time: No beginnings, and no endings. These disparate threads of human existence alternately fascinate and horrify that part of the media world that grew up on topic sentences and strong conclusions. This world of old media is like a giant steampunk machine that organizes time into stories. I call it the Epiphanator, and it has always known the value of a meaningful conclusion. The Epiphanator sits in midtown Manhattan and clunks along, at Condé Nast and at the Times and in Rockefeller Center. Once a day it makes a terrible grinding noise and spits out newspapers and TV shows. Once a week it spits out weeklies and more TV shows. Once a month it produces glossy magazines. All too often it makes movies, and novels.

This is my favourite part, probably:

At the end of every magazine article, before the “■,” is the quote from the general in Afghanistan that ties everything together. The evening news segment concludes by showing the secretary of State getting back onto her helicopter. There’s the kiss, the kicker, the snappy comeback, the defused bomb. The Epiphanator transmits them all. It promises that things are orderly. It insists that life makes sense, that there is an underlying logic.

Just read it. Paul Ford makes me want to be a better writer.

Readings: Pain, Woods+, Jeter’s 3,000th Hit

A few reads from today:

(1) “Thinking Away the Pain” [Wall Street Journal] – author Jonah Lehrer probes this question: can meditation and other alternative methods (including cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, and hypnosis) help with relieving pain?

Pain is a huge medical problem. According to a new report from the Institute of Medicine, chronic pain costs the U.S. more than $600 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity. Back pain alone consumes nearly $90 billion in health-care expenses, roughly equivalent to what’s spent on cancer.

Despite the increasing prevalence of chronic pain—nearly one in three Americans suffers from it—medical progress has been slow and halting. This is an epidemic we don’t know how to treat. 

(2) “Woods+” [Ftrain] – What is Google+, exactly? This is a hilarious take from Paul Ford. My favourite part is the allusion to the short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.”

I know it’s confusing. But this is their competitor to Facebook basically. Except you can list your friends. That’s the circles. But it’s easier to remember if you call them holes. Like I could have a friend hole and an acquaintance hole and a K-hole. And they give you a list of friends and you stuff them in the hole, like Silence of the Lambs, except you are sending them images and text messages and hanging out with them on video chats. One of the things that can happen, according to the press, is that you can, if you are very lucky, talk with one of the founders of Google, because he’s hanging out using the service too. And you can ask him about user experience, and show him your cat.

(3) “Was Giving Jeter’s 3,000th Hit Back a Dumb Move?” [The Atlantic] – over the weekend, Derek Jeter joined an elite group of baseball players to have accumulated 3,000 or more hits in their MLB career. His 3,000th hit was a home run. The big story revolved around 23-year-old Christian Lopez, who caught the HR and then returned the ball to Derek Jeter. So what’s the issue? If Lopez decided to auction off the ball:

So how much money might the ball have fetched? According to one Bloomberg report, it almost certainly could have been sold for somewhere between $75,000 and $250,000 at auction…

But I think Lopez did the honourable thing here. In return, he received luxury box seats at Yankee Stadium, valued at $40,000+. However, the point of highlighting the article is for this fact, which you learn about in Economics 101:

Criticizing Lopez’s decision as crazy misses the maxim that “money isn’t everything.” But more importantly, it ignores an important aspect of basic economics that supports that maxim: utility theory. It teaches that money isn’t a person’s ultimate goal. Instead, they seek to maximize their personal utility. Think of utility as happiness: while money certainly plays a role in happiness for many people, it isn’t all that matters.

So, to an economist (and to someone like me), Lopez giving the ball back was a completely rational thing to do. It was the right thing to do.