How exactly is breaking up the tech giants going to solve this problem?
Then this would enable alternative front-ends on twitter.
This would then enable me to filter messages by positivity, or whichever criteria I choose (e.g. non-Russian-bots, non-shills).
This is turn would then change the whole ecosystem. It would remove the perverse incentives of outrage-attention machine.
It's the power of walking away.
If you find an environment toxic, leave it, and ask your friends to leave it, too. Yes, you have to research alternatives first, and make compromises, at least temporarily.
Lately this somehow worked for Facebook. I bet they are going to see that on their bottom line.
So, if you dislike the outrage machine, leave it. Consciously ignore it. Do not retweet, do not link to tweets (instead, quote worthy tweets, they are short).
If enough people did that, and migrated elsewhere, that would be noted. Speak to companies in the language they understand, that is, the language of money. Their money comes from your attention spent on their property. Vote with your dollar — the dollar not spent by online advertisers for your eyeballs that are not there.
What is it about Facebook that has suddenly and inexplicably turned it into a necessity for people when they lived for so long without it? It's not like a cell phone or other technology that has massive utility. Most people don't even communicate via Facebook (from what I hear). They just post divisive nonsense.
I'd assume a lot of casual FB usage is similar. There's 90% outrage posts, political stuff, memes, ads, chain letters, people sharing glamor shots of their vacations - and 10% pics of the grandkids, reconnecting with long-lost friends, networking into chance opportunities, and birth/wedding/death announcements that you wouldn't otherwise see. Missing out on the good 10% is a sufficiently large incentive that people put up with the bad 90%.
It fails when groups are larger or more loosely attached. In my cousin's case - my dad was one of 10 brothers and sisters (many with their own spouses), I have 16 cousins on that side (again with spouses), 3 half-cousins, 10 cousins-once-removed, 1 cousin-twice-removed, and there's a tendency for at least one person to feel offended if they don't get the news when everybody else gets the news. It's somewhat understandable that my cousin would want a broadcast medium rather than trying to remember all that.
Or as another example - a friend of mine died recently, and I found out through FB. I hadn't been in touch with her for several years, since before she got married, I'd never met her husband, and he certainly didn't have my e-mail. Still, I appreciated knowing, and passed on that info to other mutual friends, who also appreciated knowing. That's the long-tail; in my parents' generation, they might've found out at some reunion 30 years in the future, long after the funeral has passed and people are done sharing memories & photos.
One huge problem is that you can't add people's emails with just their name. Another problem is that there's no concept of accepting a friend request.
Sure you can get around it but why bother?
For example, all your friends might be on it, and organise events via it. Then, if you don't use FB, you don't find out about events you might have wanted to go to.
This is the power of network effects, whiuch causes monopolies. The monopolies would be broken up if social networks had to use open protocols to allow interoperability.
As Irina Bolychevsky and James Moulding put it ( https://newsocialist.org.uk/do-we-really-need-a-statebook/ ):
> Can you imagine using WhatsApp to chat to your friends on Reddit or share photos from Flickr to Facebook and still see likes and comments? That’s the power of open protocols.
Facebook provides clear utility to a society that has had no decent online method of replicating their group/communal way of sharing experiences before. Do they _need_ to share their experiences or communicate through Facebook? No, but it’s an obvious extension of what they’ve already been doing.
FWIW the issues I see with Facebook here in the west—fake news and divisive nonsense specifically—are exacerbated there, so definitely a double-edged sword.
Maybe restrictions, similar to gambling could be put into effect? For instance, clearly stating the business intent of the site, requiring ID, limiting to certain hours,.. its sounds weird but it reflects how underregulated the internet is compared to other areas.
Most social sites already impose age limitations.
Is the potential risk of addiction related to why alcohol sale is regulated? Most rationales I've seen for preventing sale to minors relate to health effects and immediate intoxication effects (car crashes etc.) instead.
Don't get me wrong, I'd be thrilled if addictive potential was considered primary among reasons to consider regulating something. I'm just not sure it is.
Facebook et al. are habit-forming, and have been designed to be so.
"Democrats would use their first month in the House majority to advance sweeping changes to future campaign and ethics laws, requiring the disclosure of shadowy political donors, outlawing the gerrymandering of congressional districts and restoring key enforcement provisions to the Voting Rights Act, top Democratic leaders said on Tuesday."
That old joke really is true. How do you know when a politician is lying? Their lips are moving.
There are also bunch of promises that Obama kept (and Trump). Focusing on some that he didn’t keep doesn’t change that.
The reason is tribalism, and more specifically politicians becoming extremely adept at driving and exploiting tribalism. Many of the issues held as cornerstones by both parties are ones that are relatively unimportant. The reason they are held as cornerstones is because they do an extremely good job of dividing people. The reason for the desire to divide is because it helps both establishment parties to maintain a grip on power.
How? In the most recent presidential election what percent of people do you think voted for Hillary thinking 'Yes, this person truly represents what I value most and will make a great president.' By contrast what percent voted for her because the alternative was simply unacceptable? And similarly for those that voted for Trump. By focusing all of their energy on dividing people it makes people ignore the failings of their preferred side and instead focus on the awfulness of their less preferred side. This, in turn, does a fantastic job of getting people to vote against their own interest. And, in turn, this also encourages both sides of the political spectrum to play up to their own villainy (from the other side's perspective).
By continuing to vote for the 'least awful' choice instead of the choice people actually want, this system will be perpetuated indefinitely.
Interestingly enough, I think the efforts made towards sharply dividing people started to happen around the early 90s. And something happened then that was probably not just a coincidence. Ross Perot, at one point, looked set to win the US presidential election. He was polling ahead of both Bush and Clinton. He ultimately ended up taking 18% of the vote and, at the minimum, working as a spoiler. Ross Perot was a complete outsider. And he got those tens of millions of votes running a straight forward platform that he advertised on public broadcasting and infomercials. All these fancy political campaigns, teams, and political strategery was was nearly upstaged by this  guy with some printed out graphs and plain speaking.
And so it looks like works on min-maxing elections went into overdrive since then. It just turns out that getting people ragingly mad at each other over inane issues turns out to be one of the best ways to keep getting elected. And so yes, I do think pointing out how both parties in the US are complete trash does help solve the problem. What we need is people to stop being so scared and tribal. Instead vote for whoever you think will do the best job, instead of trying to decide who's "electable" and will do the least awful job. Trump, if nothing else, should show that the notion of "electability" is a complete lie and tool to maintain power. Anybody is "electable", anybody is "presidential". Vote for who you want instead of kicking in that cognitive dissonance, pretending the future won't be exactly like the past, and voting for the exact same idiots over and over.
 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPIVI0CbCmg
>It's the power of walking away.
Sure, although it seems the power of collective social pressures is far stronger. So while that might work for some people, it won't for most.
Very true. But it would be easier to walk away if there were an alternative to walk to. Such as alexandercrohde's proposed site which is essentially a reality/emotion filtered twitter/facebook stream.
It would require regulating the companies who hold personal data and divorcing them from the entities that tailor feeds and provide a user experience for the data. I don't think it's that ridiculous of an idea, really.
The power to move away is already in the people's hands. You can do it at any moment, without a governmental mandate.
The point is to use this power. But first people have to recognize their power, and learn to use it a bit.
I don't think Twitter or Facebook are anywhere close to that threshold. Maybe that's just because I barely use them. But I'm sure some people were also not using phone in the seventies, so I won't conclude based on my individual case.
Walking away from Twitter is much easier, because multiple global instant or near-instant messaging systems exist, including completely open and user-controlled systems, and even building a new such system is reasonably easy for a group of competent people.
So is the case for AT&T: even if you could build a network competing with the AT&T one it would still have been a largely useless endeavor, unless you could also force AT&T to be interoperable with your network.
It's like saying the CIA wasn't trying to destroy communities when they were handing out crack, because "moral people wouldn't have taken it". Every single person building these platforms knew how addictive they were. It was the entire reason these companies were valued from the start. It was the end goal.
Yeah, a junkie can decide not to go find another needle. But if that is your response to the drug epidemic, you then have marginalized people who you've decreed "not worth saving". And I don't like what that has looked like over the last 60 years.
This only reinforces my point: if you think it's a wrong thing, walk away from it. Leave that job at Facebook data science division; there's a number of other well-paid data science jobs.
But I'm not trying to talk about what "they" have done wrong, and could have done differently in the past, or what regulators should be doing. I'm talking about something you and me can do right now, and what is completely within our own power to do.
When you've planned a thing that's wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
--Fred M. Rogers
It flies in the face of so much opposition from reality – much of it credible – like how the hell do you make money when you eschew walled gardens, engagement boosters, and adtech friendly practices? Do people even want to make the tradeoffs they'd have to? Is regulation too heavyhanded?
Will it be that for as long as these systems can be turned into money machines, old money will use them to print new money? Perhaps.
But the mentality of "open at all costs, profits be damned" feels like one we in the tech industry have gradually let slip from our ethos, and it's so core to the old web. I miss it.
All of the opposing forces you describe simply evaporate if you charge a fee for access to the API.
Something small and unobtrusive but which would at twitter scale add up to an awful lot of moolah.
Because you're not trying to monetise your users beyond that it doesn't really matter if loads of people stop using because the network effect isn't important.
But at the end of the day it's all about monitoring the activities of mass populations as much as it is about direct advertising revenue, and that's too priceless for the big corps to let go of.
I'd suspect that "loads," in fact the majority, of twitter users would not pay anything out of their own pocket to use it.
Firstly, if people want to use it, and pay for it, even small charges at mass scale pay off. Something like twitter doesn't cost a lot to run in particular at unit cost.
If they don't, GOTO 10: "the Internet is hamstrung by overreliance on advertising as a revenue model"
How else do you monetise your service?
To wit: The value intrinsic in the relationships between your users ("The Network") - to the point that you want all users whether paying or not.
That only works if there is something else preventing competitors from monetizing end-user attention instead. That's possible, but (I don't think) probable.
Well, you could charge for it. But of course you wouldn't be able to compete with free - you'd have to have competitors who needed to charge too.
They do exist but are pretty niche. The WELL comes to mind. www.well.com
If it's any help I applaud every newspaper that puts up a paywall, and more are doing it. It only came about when the industry was (is) about to be completely wiped out and there weren't really alternatives though. But if you're not paying your journalists, someone else is paying them to tell you what to think.
I miss the old internet too :-( . It had so much promise.
so much for the promise of connecting the world...
I loved the internet, and Prodigy, when I was a kid in the 90's and 12 year old me would be shocked to hear that sometimes I dream of going to a cabin with just a landline, radio, and desk for writing letters for a month.
Stormfront was probably the best-known forum like that before Gab. And it has been around since early 90s, first as a BBS, then as an actual web site.
Are you sure about that? Twitter's annual revenue is 2.4 billion dollars, and they have 300 million users. $0.55/month per user is all it would take to match their current revenue.
Sure, when a service is getting up off the ground, you can't beat free, but for one that's established, like Facebook or Twitter, the subscription fees can be made miniscule.
As long as the advertising model is used, a set of perverse incentives exist that encourage social platforms to treat advertisers as more important than users, to inflate their user numbers, to lie about views, to tolerate fake accounts and harassment, and to close their APIs.
A $1 premium ad-free option with 50% adoption would increase twitter's revenue and remove the perverse incentives.
For that matter, note that mobile game companies found out it was harder to get all your users to pay $5 for a game than to get 1% of your users to pay hundreds.
It would. A $1 ad-free option would see nowhere close to 50% adoption though.
In my opinion, the problem of hate spreading is not a technical one, but a social one. These platforms are just better exposing it, but if they didn't exist, or were somehow filtered or modified, then the people would just go elsewhere.
You already see this with reddit, where they cracked down on a lot of the hate based subs. The result is that new sites popped up to cater to the hate, message boards, news sites, and others. Plus, these hate groups operate locally too. In Canada there have been many cases where they setup outreach groups in person in neighbourhoods trying to recruit.
I'm not sure what the solution is, but the core issue is that at this point in time, hate sells. Maybe people have lived in such a good time that they forgot what wars were like. Maybe inequity is at such a high that those not in the top 10% are just filled with bitterness and rage wondering why this sort of divide should exist.
But I'm willing to bet strongly that this is people problem, not a tech problem.
The only difference is scale. You had to be a prolific gossiper to spread a message to several dozen people before. Now, it's one click button away for most of us.
There can be an API, yes. But if you want to filter by positivity, you have to expect the company to actually implement that in the API. Otherwise, do you expect to get all billions of tweets over an API and then add positivity on top?
You can't have sustainability, performance and "open for everything" on one single API, there are tradeoffs and constraints involved. Even GraphQL needs certain fields to be filterable even before the API call returns, otherwise one can't just loop over all commits in GitHub universe without exhausting both consumer and provider systems!
Atleast that's what I think. Would be happy to be proven wrong.
One solution is for my client to sentiment-analyze as a filter after the api-call and downrank that way (much like reddit/HN downrank controversials).
Maybe a more generic solution is to allow parties to "tag" twitter accounts. Clients could then make intelligent deductions based on tags (e.g. "political," "controversial," "satirical," "pg13").
I'm sure many other people have many other smart ideas.
As you say, third parties could then come along and build whatever front-end they see fit. Don't want to show or allow clients to downvote? Go for it! Only aggregate upvotes from user ids over a certain age? Be my guest! The underlying information would never change.
Operating costs would be funded by transaction fees, whatever that specific blockchain model may be.
I mean they use it but it's not a high-engagement medium. I'd guess nearly 90% of emails never get read.
That's not my experience.
I use email. At work they use email. My mom uses email.
Email is just "there" at this stage. Your emails appear in your inbox and you're not really constrained by a provider.
I was taking aim more at the comparison with twitter and facebook which require constant engagement.
With email you just get it the way you want it, on your terms mostly.
Sounds pretty perfect.
I think that the monopoly companies provide the platform with the large network. This platform is desirable. The monopoly control over it is not.
We can replace the monopoly platforms with decentralized peer based platforms running on technologies like Swarm Framework, IPFS, WebRTC, cryptocurrency, etc. Diverse companies can build varied opportunities that leverage the common platform and large network.
Its a challenging goal and most distributed technologies haven't been proven at Twitter scale. However I believe it is attainable and should be attempted.
Social fixer, for FB years ago, made the feed much better and was purely client side. Personally, I got sick of the real estate websites where I live and just made my own frontend for them, crawling with Scrapy. I haven't gotten a 403 yet.
Not sure how to make money off of it, though - short of selling people software in exchange for money.
A lot of useful features are free because they can make money on the backend or through paid promotions (search, email). Take away that ability and a lot of the services people enjoy will be forced to be paid or have annoying amounts of advertising.
I agree there is serious concern and we need to have discussions. I would consider breaking up companies a last resort though.
This also assumes that a large fraction of Twitter users would use such filters. What makes you think they will?
The reason I have doubts is that people who tend to be influenced by evil Twitter posts are not the type of people who are amazingly self aware and look for ways to reduce that influence.
I get how it would enable alternative front-ends, but just looking at other platforms, these clients don't get used nearly as often as the official clients, so their existence wouldn't have much of an effect on the overall system. Look at Discord, Telegram, etc.; only a tiny percentage uses anything but the default client.
Plus, you can already filter messages like that, but in a much simpler manner: just follow people that feed into the "outrage-attention machine." If you get upset when you read a certain person's tweets, just unfollow them, and only try to follow people that you either personally know or really respect.
One of the things that I've realized is that I become more unhappy when constantly buffetted with bad news that I can't change. Things like country- or international-level news, international forums that feed off of negativity, etc; they all feed off of a number of views, or upvotes, or replies, or whatever, so they constantly have negative news. And because I can do nothing personally about the vast majority of these news stories, they simply make me frustrated or unhappy for no reason.
TL;DR following less people (or not having an account at all) fixes Twitter, not access to a public API.
I'm afraid this is a slippery slope leading to things far more dangerous than we have now.
The opposite reason being that it would allow people to eliminate censorship if they so choose.
Facebook and Twitter have public APIs.
But that's probably because the same day they removed that events API, they launched the Facebook Local app that shows all the events around you. Can't have anyone competing with your app.
Hatred is basic - complex emotions break down to something more direct and blunt when your message gets boiled down to X number of characters.
Then take interpretations of that message in mass, again each one distilled to simpler tones: most will mirror or concentrate the negativity.
Even in your response you implicitly concede that the root problem is human nature. You're implying that if we get rid of Google, or Twitter, that there is some kind of alternative technological method, (which you haven't elucidated on), by which we can mitigate the effects of the root problem.
I've been thinking a lot about this interview with Jaron Lanier, and I'll just share an excerpt because I think it provides some insight: "The problem, however, is that behind the scenes there are these manipulation, behavior modification, and addiction algorithms that are running. And these addiction algorithms are blind. They’re just dumb algorithms. What they want to do is take whatever input people put into the system and find a way to turn it into the most engagement possible. And the most engagement comes from the startle emotions, like fear and anger and jealousy, because they tend to rise the fastest and then subside the slowest in people, and the algorithms are measuring people very rapidly, so they tend to pick up and amplify startle emotions over slower emotions like the building of trust or affection." https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/delete-your-account-a-co...!
One thing to do about the blind engagement machines is to make more people more aware of them. Think about ways people handle hazardous substances. Knowing that a substance is hazardous is the most important bit, to my mind.
What's funny to me is that even your response I read as very negatively conveyed. But just reading it word-for-word, there's really no sort of animosity whatsoever.
But to the main point, I didn't mean to imply a side to the argument the article makes. I didn't even read it. It was meant to be isolated to the context of the parent comment. Yes I know that's nonsensical given we're all commenting ABOUT this article.
We should never do something so stupid as to get rid of Google or Twitter. Forces will act as they must to create these technologies. People will run them as they will, and they'll be influenced by other people, which may direct the impact of the technology in question.
That's a long-winded way of saying next to nothing. Rather than there being some kind of alternative technological method, it would go farther to address the issue if people just all implicitly understood that free speech is built into all technology, and built under the constraints of law.
I'd say you're a hoot at parties.
Maybe the magnitude is larger, but that doesn't make it worse. It may make it simply faster.
As it stands today, it seems that any new technology company with a decent idea/product/service, is heavily incentivized to exit the market by being acquired and left to languish. Nest comes to mind and is only a single example. Another one: I was at ARMTechCon2018 and an up-and-coming RISC-V competitor of ARM was trying to be swallowed by, you guessed it, ARM.
The giants are truly monopolies and there are some of them that are capable of influencing entire economic market segments. Do we want that to continue?
EDIT: Grammar...I sometimes suck at it.
The implication is that maybe some of the tech giants will one day fall due to their own Achilles Heel. For example, Twitter's case that you cited.
How will the effect of 'bad actors' be limited when they can just move elsewhere? You don't need sites of the scale of Facebook or Twitter to have emergent, viral or culturally relevant effects occur.
What makes the big sites like Facebook and Twitter isn't their size per se but their capture of network effect and discoverability... they are content aggregators (among other things) and so the content they aggregate can by definition be found elsewhere.
If those sites are broken up, then users have to put in more effort at discoverability (which was the case with the "old" web), but that problem can be solved by smaller sites, other aggregators, other search engines, apps, etc.
It's like the Force in Star Wars.. the light side or dark side doesn't matter, the Force doesn't seek good or evil, only balance. With the web, you can't reduce the propagation of information, or bias it effectively towards one moral or political alignment or another, just distribute or centralize discoverability. Either way the web will still find a balance.
Are you unaware or ignoring the censorship of thought that Google and Facebook have been doing lately?
You are acting like it’s 2005 internet, and it’s not.
Google can only censor Google, and Facebook can only censor Facebook. Neither of them can censor Twitter, which can't censor 4chan, which can't censor Voat, Gab, etc. No one controls the entire network, and no one can censor the entire network.
>You are acting like it’s 2005 internet, and it’s not.
It actually still is, people have just gotten so cynical that they've forgotten how to see the forest for the trees. Being popular on the internet is not the same thing as having authority over it beyond one's own domain.
It operates in a successful niche. And it also is home to many far-right actors who hate Jews and minorities. Yet the claim is that breaking up the tech companies would help stop hate.
Tim Berners Lee has no salient point here whatsoever, and I don't think anyone would care about what he's saying if he wasn't who he is.
Not to mention he's calling for government regulation of tech companies at least partially to cut down on hateful speech (which is very much against the right to free speech).
This is the most troubling aspect of his call. "There's too much hate speech, so let's take action against platforms until it goes away."
I'm tired of all the terrorist attacks too, but to my mind, you handle that by having your counter-terror people do what they do. It's not like the terrorists would go away if you break up Twitter.
The existence of competition doesn't mean they're within the spirit of anti-trust regulations. Twitter using their network to eclipse other markets would be the concern.
Can you imagine Twitter's hosting provider taking them offline because they have objectionable content? Can you imagine their registrar revoking their domain name? It would be unheard of. It would be a catastrophe. They're too big to fail in the way Gab failed.
I'd hazard a guess that many more people are angry about hate speech on Reddit than about hate speech over email. The difference is that one is a company and the other is a federated standard. If I've understood Tim Berners-Lee correctly, he wants to replace Twitter with a million Mastodon instances rather than a hundred different versions of "Twitter, but for the far-right/far-left/radical-centrists".
When you compete with a monolith, your early adopters will be the people thrown off the bigger ship, and most of those people were thrown off for a reason.
Very few alt-repreneurs seem to understand this
It happened that the existing websites were censoring far-right viewpoints.
So...by default the predominant users were far right.
And the article also lumps together wildly divergent companies in the same bucket while ignoring where scale is necessary. If you're talking about Apple for example that necessarily means talking hardware since they're primarily a hardware company, but hardware capex is getting ever higher. What's the plan for getting technologies to market where combined upfront expenditures are in the many billions of dollars? Fabricators and state of the art SOC design aren't getting cheaper. Neither are blue sky but critical next generation technologies like future display improvements (microled, direct retinal projection, or whatever).
I mean, a lot of this can be argued as a failure of government. Ideally there would be way more basic R&D happening there with way less red tape with the results then available for all. Government (at least in a democracy) is the natural place to be doing public service security help, and to handle authentication services when two strangers want to have a trusted identity foundation between them. But in reality government is not doing a great job of any of this, nor does it seem set to do in the near future, but we need it anyway. I don't even think giant scale corps have actually been all bad by any means for things like privacy vis-a-vis government, because while sometimes they can cooperate they can also oppose and be impossible to trivially knock down. Would a bunch of tiny random generi-phone corps really have been more effective then Apple at opposing the FBI for example?
Our system is very, very far from perfect. But it's also got us some frankly amazing and wonderful stuff. I think everybody should be instantly and inherently suspicious of "revolution" type change proposals. There is a real risk of tossing the good with the bad and unintended consequences and even opening the door for something way worse. Incremental, focused changes with clear specific goals in mind and then seeing how they work (auto sunset would be nice to see more) normally seem like the more effective way to go.
FAANG companies are incredibly bad at detecting bots. It’s not how they make money so they don’t invest much in it.
There are companies that specialize in this that are used _everywhere_ behind the scenes and are growing quickly.
You’re not going to see that kind of development in house. You’ll see a new market for protection which actually already exists.
Providing confidence to advertisers that the ads they pay for reach particular humans (which requires providing at least as much confidence that they reach actual humans) is exactly how the F and the G, but not the AAN in between, make money; detecting bots (or, perhaps more precisely, detecting humans and excluding bots) is obviously part of that.
G is somewhat well-known for it's tools for this, including at least one that is widely used by lots of other actors on the web.
Detecting humans is not the same as detecting bots. The algorithms are different, running a simple "negate human" clause isn't how it works. It's well known Facebook has a bot problem and is now working on addressing it.
>G is somewhat well-known for it's tools for this, including at least one that is widely used by lots of other actors on the web.
G's captcha solution is a great freemium service but any sophisticated attacker will spend the time and money to bypass it. If it solved the bot problem the paid services wouldn't exist (they're definitely not cheap). The other issue with G's service is that the automated garbage is still hitting your compute resources. So even if you captcha you're spending money on automated bad traffic.
Short of search becoming a lot less important soon... we had the baby bells, we'll have the baby Googles. The same goes for Facebook.
And please note that there are well-known processes by governments are held accountable by countries' constitutions and courts. A user of Google has no such recourse.
I don't think it's unreasonable that a company with impact larger than any single government in the history of humanity (yes, even larger than the EU) should have more than a little accountability. (Honestly, I think the Google board of directors should be elected at this point -- just like we elect leaders of governments -- but I know that's going to be a contentious view.)
Ideally, I would like to see tech giants split into 3 companies, with 2/3 residing outside of SV so as not to be subject to the group-think of that region. This coming from someone who grew up in the heart of SV, got into tech, and eventually left.
Furthermore, you are implying that all that people do has to be done with the societal value in mind. What about the value for individuals? Look at yourself for example. Do you do everything you do for the societal value or to pursue your own separate interests?
I agree that for a lot of research you need to be of a certain size but I don't think you need to be a multi-hundred-billion dollar company. Apple was pretty innovative in the 2000s when they were much smaller. From casual observation it looks to me that they are doing less innovation now than they did back then.
If you don't think companies bring societal value, ask yourself what the alternatives are. There were a bunch of attempts in the 20th century, however it never ended good for the population.
Car dealers, patent trolls, for-profit health insurers, security-theatrics firms, content-distribution conglomerates (ISPs in the US) all are exploiting regulation or lack thereof to profit at societies expense. A lot of finance industry behavior is about unproductively extracting money from other participants. (for example 401k holders)
It's my opinion we should aggressively curb all counterproductive business models, but they tend to be good at protecting themselves. They either win over the masses through PR and deceit, or use more direct corruption of regulators.
There's a lot of space between companies with 10 million dollars in revenue and ones with 10-100 billion where lots of R&D can happen.
Smaller companies can be very good at new product development, and are probably better at supporting those products once they catch on and become established. The really far-out R&D is probably better handled by university research labs than by big-company monopolies and semi-monopolies, which then will spin off small product development companies.
> How many startups comes up with new medicines, for example?
Seems like quite a lot, actually:
> A crucial part of the allure: Pint-size ventures are driving pharma innovation. The majority of drugs approved in recent years originated at smaller outfits—64% of them last year, according to HBM Partners, a health care investing firm.
So to answer your question, one might say that 100% of medicines that are not addictive pills to treat symptoms were developed by startups.
To be fair, a lot of the addictive pills to treat symptoms were also developed by startups.
Lots, and lots try and fail (the ones that succeed, or even make it past the first few big hurdles, often get acquired by the big players, because buying work that's done is less risky than early research...)
Is that a serious question? The answer is plenty, you just don't hear about them because they're bought up once the FDA approves their medicine.
That's a weak argument. Email existed before Gmail, web search existed before Google Search, maps even online ones, existed before Google Maps, mobile OSes existed before Android.
> Photos is not exactly innovative
That's what I used to think - another photo sharing/storage thingie. But it has all sorts of crazy machine-learning powered features.
 George William Gray - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_William_Gray
Think about that statement. Think about it carefully.
You're a consumer. You and people like you are the entire means by which this company earns its money. You really have no interest in how it does so? Even when it has massively significant (statistically speaking--if not you then hundreds of millions of people like you) influence on your life?
Read the series https://steveblank.com/secret-history/
I mean, you could split up Google into Search, Youtube, and Mail. But in the end, Youtube would still use Analytics and provide Search with all the data they need for their Ad business and Mail would use the Ad tech from Search. With Facebook, it is mostly the same story.
Federated Systems, on the other hand, let you build a distributed network of providers where no provider has all the data in one place, and you can choose which provider you want to trust (or if you want to be provider yourself).
That would just turn the issue in to an accounting problem. Facebook would license their logo from Facebook Logo Inc, the like button from Thumbs Up Ltd, their servers from Facebook Servers PLC, and so on. Every one of the companies would make, at most, $999,999,999 in revenue.
A much simpler and easier legal solution would be to tax companies based on the number of users (based on an independent audit). For example, the first ten million are free (yay startups!) and then the company has to start paying $1 per user for the next 100 million, $5 each for the next 500 million, and $10 each user for the rest. Companies would be encouraged to actively limit the size of their platform by ejecting users and bots who don't make them any money, or to charge users for access.
...A type of problem which government agencies the world around have extremely powerful tools to manage and prevent abuse in. Sure, abuse still exists (some of it significant--see "too big to fail" etc.), but such oversight is massively better than nothing, especially where direct to consumer social media/marketing platforms are concerned.
> A much simpler and easier legal solution would be to tax companies based on the number of users (based on an independent audit)
That's just another metric upon which you have to trust an oversight agency. Users might be a better metric than revenue, but it's still going to result in highly imperfect (but, again, better than nothing) regulation.
Besides, there's nothing stopping social media companies charging right now other than the fact they make more money by not charging, arguably to the detriment of everyone in society. Who do you think should be paying to solve that problem? No one?
We're trusting the government to go in and properly split up a company. Or you're trusting the government to properly regulate a company.
The people who don't trust the government, don't want the government to take ANY action. They believe the market will solve the problem.
So all sides presenting in this discussion, trust the government.
> The people who don't trust the government, don't want the government to take ANY action
Which is it?
Corporations (sans legal monopoly) have power over their constituents insofar as their products are desirable.
Governments have power over their constituents with physical force.
It is 1000x easier for me to delete my Facebook account than for me to move to another country and change my citizenship.
If the government is being attacked by a specific 'group', the government will then have the power to impose specific, targeted regulations on that group's web presence. Without the legislation, this is a matter of freedom of speech and is quickly resolved by the first amendment. It would be incredibly difficult to fight that off.
However, with legislation in place that affords the government the power to impose such regulations, they can quickly and most importantly (read terrifyingly) silence people on the web.
We already do it with every other industry, social media only enjoys a lassaiz-faire regulation environment because of how new it is, the law hasn't caught up.
The reason why I think a law would be the appropriate solution is
- that the companies have no interest in changing anything towards an (e.g., privacy friendlier system) as it would endanger their market position and therefore their profits
- in the current situation, the majority of people has few alternatives, so they can't 'buy their facebook somewhere else'
- for new competitors, it is quite hard to compete even with a single product not to mention a whole set of them
So it doesn't look like the market will find a solution anytime soon. I am not a fan of too much regulation either. Many laws have problems addressing the real issue and take too long until their are changed appropriately, but most laws cause costs anyway (not just financially).
You'd think that after the Trump administration the nation would have a greater appreciation for federalism and a smaller administrative state.
No, it's human nature. Stop blaming companies for the imperfections of the human race. If you put us into large groups, we will inevitably gossip, bicker, argue, and kill each other. We've been doing it literally since we were banging rocks and sticks together.
The delusion that technology feeds us, and it is especially potent in America, is that there is some higher power leading us all to be terrible people online, and that technology should be able to fix the problem.
But technology can't fix the problem. We are the problem. We also evolve incredibly slowly, and we're competing against technology that evolves in a matter of decades. We are too inflexible as a species to be compatible with the social effects of technology.
Why can't technology be created with human nature in mind? Forms of democracy with checks and balances became so dominant because it acknowledged the deficiencies in human nature.
We can certainly blame companies for producing bad/harmful technology just like we can blame forms of government for producing bad outcomes for its citizens.
On a side note, based on influence and entrenchment, comparing FAANG companies to governments actually seems more appropriate that I initially thought.
And those systems have tons of flaws as well. Have you seen the voter turn out in the U.S.? How many Americans are making informed voting decisions.
You're shifting the blame back to the technology. I get it, as a technologist we'd like to think it must be a mistake in the product. But the reality is that our idealistic notions of how the world should be do not match the capabilities of human nature.
This is actually the exact opposite of idealism. Try to account for the reality of human nature in systems and they will have much better results for the humans they affect.
The human problems, as you stated, have long been well known. These technological communications problems are new.
It seems pretty self-evident that the character limits, the incoherent way conversations are rendered, and how easy it is to take tweets out of context are all detrimental to the quality of discourse and understanding between users.
This is one of the side effects of an open web, and one I feel we should live with in the interests of freedom. The only alternative of which I am aware is to police speech through some kind of authority. I'm not sure that there is an authority in existence that I would trust with that level of power.
In a perfect world, we would be able to de-platform those that incite violence against others (for any reason), but we can't even come to an agreement on what that means. Some people argue that criticizing a marginalized group is hate speech and further argue that hate speech is violence. Should some people be shielded from valid criticism because they identify as a certain group?
It sounds like a simple concept, but the more you explore it, the less simple it becomes.
I strongly believe this is nor correct. You can mitigate a lot of this stuff through better design, without censorship. Most important point: Open Web is the idea that people can find info they're looking for, not that anyone on the web can bombard everyone else with information. Modern social media is optimized for the latter. Algorithms chose for you, and they chose badly, and you have no control over it.
Jaron Lanier has a lot of talks about incentives and why current social media is bad for you. His hypotheses seem plausible.
Without actual censorship (which I'm against) the offending material still exists, but would only be found by those who seek it. I do like that approach personally, but I don't think it would be enough to satisfy many people who prefer to eradicate offensive speech through authoritarian measures.
The algorithms don't choose badly. They actually choose very well. It's just their optimization function is different -- their optimization goal is more clicks and more ad revenue, not the society's good.
Click-based revenue model encourages pretty dark sides of humanity.
Should we really do it for any reason? Are there not some groups of which a certain level of violence (enforced by the state) is good? I can think of many groups of people who engage in actions which we agree it is good to respond with some violence to enslave them in cages. Well, that is one interpretation of what we do when we put someone in prison, but I think we cannot divorce imprisoning someone or putting other punishments on them that are backed by imprisonment from the threat of violence that is put on prisoners to comply with the rules of imprisonment.
At the core, laws are enforced by violence or threat thereof and are largely based upon subjective morals. Talk about adding laws is thus talk about bringing violence to some group of people. And sometimes (say laws against murderer or theft), it is required for us to have a civilized society.
The problem is unjustified violence. And I agree with you that most proposals for new laws (including the subject of this article) are advocating for unjustified violence.
None of your "debatable" examples would be justified because the actions you are proposing a violent response to are not themselves violent. Even when the original action is violent, the response must be proportional: applying the death penalty for theft would not be justified because it isn't a response in kind.
I'm American and racists have always been here, Trump isn't new. And in Europe, it isn't insane to want to control your borders and not have rules made in Brussels that you must follow made by bureaucrats that aren't accountable to your nation. It's a crazy idea I know, but politicians have problems with these notions and blame the tools the opposition used to organize instead of being better.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter have problems and they need some reforms, but the rise of companies is not nearly the sinister event people make it out to be.
I'm sure there are some people who fit your first paragraph, but I don't think that's the major issue.
The ideal of free speech is that people can honestly disagree, and state their positions, a discuss the issues. Then the best ideas will win out. But our current social media environment does the exact opposite.
It appears that the way social media now works is that it drives people farther apart. The Red team is moving farther to the right, the Blue team is moving farther to the left, and very little real discussion of issues is happening between them. Much of the cause of that seems to be built into the way our social media is designed.
“Tim Berners-Lee says…” is better.
Hence 'entertainment', right?
> when it didn't turn out the way he originally envisaged
Sure but who cares if that is the case? And he didn't imagine and invent the modern web nor did he even popularize it or put much effort into making it what is is today.
By his statements I take it that he is jealous that he feels that he has not played a bigger role in what happened after his 'invention' (which was based on a great deal of work prior to his involvement). Many of us used the arpanet in the 70's not to mention the US Government's involvement. Honestly (and nobody will agree I am sure) if there was no conflict with Russia the Internet would not exist (most likely).
And I am not seeing what he had a vision for any more than solving some simple issue he saw which was:
> Instead, it was hard work, the experience of working in computer science and an attempt to overcome the frustrations of trying to share information with colleagues and students
That is not the web today or even close to it and for that matter it wasn't the web even in 2000 or 1998.