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Everything is amazing, but nothing is ours (alexdanco.com)
344 points by yankcrime on Oct 29, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 210 comments

> "Worlds of scarcity are made out of things. Worlds of abundance are made out of dependencies."

A nice way of putting it, though I have a slightly different take - the "worlds of abundance" are made of relationships. And not in a good way.

When I own a bunch of files, I own a bunch of files. Nobody can mess with that. When I use Spotify, I'm in a relationship with Spotify the company. A relationship governed by a lengthy ToS, a relationship in which I'm at a disadvantage, but most importantly, it's another relationship to keep track of.

Things you own are out of mind until you need them. Yes, that sometimes means you'll fail to perform necessary maintenance in a timely fashion. But services are always on the top of your mind. They drain your bank account monthly or yearly. They have terms that keep changing. Their offerings keep changing. If you lose track of some, they'll just keep draining your bank account. Services create cognitive burden. Personally, I'm already confused and unsure about just how many things I subscribe to, and I'm someone opposed to X as a Service as a matter of principle.

I just don't want that many commercial relationships in my life. It's tiring.

Your first paragraph is so salient.

I think most people miss how powerful relationships are in a network of abundance. You really nailed it.

Unless we can turn these relationships on their head, economically speaking.

Been trying to work out the math on this for the last year. Recently gave a talk on it (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1HJdrBk3BlE) would you mind sharing your thoughts on it and on abundance/relationships in general?

One of the technical directors of Silicon Valley TV show and I were talking, and he's very interested in what they call the "Post-Subscription Economy".

Basically Google and Netflix hijacked Hollywood, and now a lot of the studios are interested in what's next, for fear of missing out again.

Ok, so I watched your talk. You're a good, charismatic speaker. That said, I don't think I understood everything on the first pass. I have my concerns that it's not a solid idea, but I like the direction where it's heading. And so, I have loads of questions, like:

1) Is the % daily value a self-reported quantity? You seem to strongly suggest it is.

2) You described a hope - not unreasonable one - that under your ideal conditions, cheating on self-reporting of % daily values will make no sense and naturally disappear. But what about the conditions in which your system exists in parallel to the current one? How to prevent economic arbitrage? I.e. people misreporting their % daily value estimate to extract goods and services from your system, which then they sell for money in our current system?

3) Is there any form of money backing your system? If not, then how the people who have nothing to give to the society are supported? Wouldn't there be a poverty class in your system too? Does it have better economic mobility?

4) Do you have any more details about algorithms underpinning freeism, and how should they be created?

Did you write an article or a paper about this that goes into more details? I'd love to read it.


Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

(1) yes.

This is concerning for me too, but no other model I've explored let's us as accurately get at what the perceived value is other than directly asking.

Have any ideas for novel models? I'd love to connect you with someone that has a PhD in Economic Mathematical Models that is helping contribute to the design of this system.

If the abuses can be more easily adjusted for than the difficulting of interpreting a proxy measure in value, then I think there is merit.

For instance, if at a macroeconomic level we see coffee has a 2% daily value with only 1% variance, then we see some outlier claiming coffee was 69% of their daily value, it might mean something odd is going on. But knowing that for most people that coffee accurately represents 2% has far more possible wins in understanding logistics than the assumptions of other methods.

(2) Correct.

From my design stance, I see this as a feature not a bug. Could you expand on edge cases where this would produce harm for the % system?

It seems the harm would be for the legacy system, and the arbitrage is strategic.

Giving in this system is not obligatory. So if too many abundant goods get scraped, they'll turn into scarcity goods that require a higher Giving Index, OR it will represent market demand for an entrepreneur/startup to scale up the manufacturing/production of that good, to maintain its abundance factor.

Again, note, in $USD often the more of a good there is causes cost to fall. This is not true in %, a good may still have a high percent value, even if it is readily available to all. So there is a lot of profit (higher Giving Index = access to more luxury goods) to be made on these high demand high valued items. $USD is self defeating, the more Tesla you can produce outpacing demand, the cheaper you want to price them. Does this mean Tesla have lower and lower economic worth or value?

Arbitraging the system, skimming goods and selling them to legacy for $USD means you're not gaining inbound % value statements (as in you're not gaining wealth in the new system, the Giving Index) so perhaps you putting high % values on the goods you are skimming is more accurate than you'd think? They're maybe getting more value from it as a result of the arbitrage than purely somebody in the new system using it (say a banana) for average consumption.

This is why it would be an intentional feature. But please, if I'm missing an edge case that results in harm, please illuminate me!

(3) UBI is baked into the system!

First off, UBI doesn't work with money due to the inflation problem.

There is no money. That is because you don't need to pay (transact) for majority of goods (food, housing, etc. post scarce in USA, tho not other places) to be given to you, you just need to state how much value you get from them each day.

Here is a good thread on if Walmart were to give away groceries in this system: https://mobile.twitter.com/marknadal/status/1174489487679709...

So the "poverty class" becomes the consumer class. Their needs should be taken care of, they would be material rich, but not prioritized in luxury or in waiting lines, the Biggest Givers would be able to skip to the front of a coffee shop, bakery, airport boarding, etc.

Better mobility yes, because you wouldn't need capital before doing a startup to pay for rent and employees. All you'd need to do is form a team with your friends (like many do in online games as "guilds") and invest your time into making or distributing products.

Economics mobility is incentived here because gangs of teenagers could go into Costco, get bulk of bananas, and then be last-mile distributors (TaskRabbit, etc.) without needing capital first to buy the bananas (obviously they could not do this for luxury items yet).

(4) yes!

A soft introduction is http://free.eco and the PhD is starting https://github.com/goognin/freeism/wiki/Welcome-to-The-New-E... to help organize thoughts. Plus http://chat.free.eco is a community of people discussing this!

I'll email you to follow up more, thanks so much for your time.

Thanks! I'll watch the talk and share my thoughts, either here or via e-mail, depending on how fast my workload allows me to do it.

> the "worlds of abundance" are made of relationships. And not in a good way.

That doesn't sound entirely true. Imagine TNG, the typical abundance utopia (or Culture, insert your favorite post-scarcity society here). While it's true that you need relationships to be on the Enterprise, you don't need relationships to go to your replicator and get whatever material product you fancy.

Instead, dependencies seem come from two things combined: abundance plus centralization. Or economically: a fixed cost, and abundance beyond that fixed cost. You need a relationship with Spotify because Spotify is the one who holds the keys to the library. Contrast it to a world where piracy is legal: you wouldn't need a relationship with BitTorrent to download music, because it has no entry cost. You might need a relationship with private trackers if you're not content with the public ones, but again - that's because the private trackers hold the keys to the abundance beyond.

You're correct. That's why I put "worlds of abundance" in (scare) quotes - I don't particularly like that term, but it is what the author used. To me, our reality more closely resembles life on Ferenginar than in the Federation.

I'm not against all business relationships, just the proliferation of them. You don't need a relationship with the replicator to use one on Enterprise - just being there (even as a guest) gives you access. But that's Starfleet. I assume that Federation citizens don't need relationships to operate their household replicators either - they most likely own one. And while this is just my head canon, I imagine on Ferenginar you typically rent food replicators from Replicate.ly or some other competing startup.

I'm not agreeing with the author that the "worlds of abundance" need to have everything as services. I'm just complaining that our world is heading this way. Ultimately, I want our world to be more like the Federation, and less like the Ferengi.

The corporatism is rarely seen in sci-fi: either it's overwhelming fascist (e.g. battling corporations, killing innocents by the thousands) or trivial. Philip K Dicks' Ubik was close to where we're heading:

“The door refused to open. It said, “Five cents, please.” He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. “I’ll pay you tomorrow,” he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again it remained locked tight. “What I pay you,” he informed it, “is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.” “I think otherwise,” the door said. “Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.” In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory fee. Not a tip.

You need a relationship with content creators that provides strong incentives for them to keep producing non-trivial high quality content.

Neither Spotify nor piracy do that.

This is related to the dependency problem. Dependencies aren’t problematic just because they’re dependencies, but because too many systems are made of low quality work.

If the infrastructure worked absolutely reliably, no one would care about personal file ownership.

The fact that it doesn’t is the problem.

>When I own a bunch of files, I own a bunch of files. Nobody can mess with that. When I use Spotify, I'm in a relationship with Spotify the company. A relationship governed by a lengthy ToS, a relationship in which I'm at a disadvantage, but most importantly, it's another relationship to keep track of.

Doesn't "dependency" covers all these negatives?

(Dependency not as in "npm/maven dependency" but in the casual sense).

I suppose it does! But between the context of NPM and my own recent work on problems related to dependency resolution, I had only tech connotations of this word in mind when reading the article.

I think u pretty much described dependencies.

Plus , you can't trade or exchange those dependencies with other people. It's cheap rattling chains really.

If you take the non-technical meaning of the word, then I guess I did.

> Plus , you can't trade or exchange those dependencies with other people. It's cheap rattling chains really.

I don't understand what you mean by this. Could you rephrase it?

i mean you can't resell your "relationships" in the open market, like you can do with old records, DVDs etc.

What about the "rattling chains" part?

Yes, you generally can't resell relationships - transfering recurring services is usually impossible on the web, or a huge PITA off-line. That's another problem with them.

Ownership is exhausting. You can only "own" anything by going to great lengths to protect it. Ultimately, you are still reliant on the relationships you have with others and their willingness to respect that it is yours.

> You can only "own" anything by going to great lengths to protect it.

The expense is mostly shared across all the things you own. You protect one flat or house, and store most of your possessions in it.

> Ultimately, you are still reliant on the relationships you have with others and their willingness to respect that it is yours.

Those are relationships with humans, and perhaps fixed number of public services. Each provides something important. 100th commercial relationship that only exists because the industry likes recurring payments for what should be a one-time purchase is tiring.

If the current trend of technology is sweeping us in a direction of “everything is amazing, but nothing is ours”, Technology that’s Actually Yours could be the next great counter-trend

So GNU or it’s predecessors, circa the birth of the personal computer.

if “the cloud and apps” is cognate with “timeshare mainframes and thin clients”, and I think it is, then everything old is new again and i look forward to taking back what’s ours, again.

We’ll need new buzzwords to lead the way.

Let’s face it, “fat client” just isn’t sexy.

I propose:

“Geo-computing” - we’re computing on Earth again.

“Serverful” - servers are back.

“Clear sky solutions” - self-hosted, cloudless applications.

When someone has their head in The Cloud(s), they're not thinking practically. The opposite of being grounded, down-to-earth.

Get your data back on The Ground.

This is more than a buzzword - this a metaphoric tool of thought that could drive a whole marketing (anti-marketing?) campaign by itself.

I love it.

It's also reminiscent of "boots on the ground" and the implication of honest, hard graft that comes along with it.

Take back your data and kiss latency goodbye. When you deploy Boots™ on The Ground, you're in command.

Currently it is being called the dWeb, Internet Archive helping push this along.

Here is an NBC short documentary on it, with me and the Archive in it: https://www.nbcnews.com/video/building-a-new-internet-the-bo...

I think "community powered" or "community rooted" gets at the most important values of it.

Yes, absolutely. Cloud is the new mainframe and SaaS is the new closed-source even if the software it's running behind the scenes is nominally open.

The infrastructure might be open, mostly, but all of the important software the consumers interact with on a higher level is closed and secret.

I'm hoping that the AGPL has or will curb some of this lock in, though I suspect that the people with the funding to run SaaS at scale will route around AGPL.

I’ve been ruminating on this problem for a decade or more and my belief is it’s not the licensing that’s the problem, it’s the infrastructure.

In the old world of tarballs, you could throw a file on an ftp server and someone could take an afternoon, mess with the paths and the make and make install and all that, and have your thing up and running. And mostly keep using it without fuss.

With web services you just can’t. You minimum need security patches applies, and in truth, you need the original author to be able to keep refactoring and updating the service architecture.

We don’t have infrastructure that can facilitate that. That’s the real problem, not licensing.

You can put a Heroku buildpack or whatever in your repo. That gets us pretty close to one-click deploy, and almost automatic security patching. But Heroku will penalize us with a 30 delay for being non-profit, when we access the service, which is pretty much a deal breaker. Even if I am paying them a hundred dollars a month (and I am) they will still pause for 30 seconds every time I access one of my cold “free” services.

If there was a hosting solution, even if it involved users paying a monthly fee, but it solved this issue of shared maintenance of open source services, it would usher in a new golden age of free software.

Ostensibly Ethereum solves this problem, but we’ll see if the ergonomics get where they need to be. It would be nice to be able to do this in a trustless way, although I don’t think that’s necessary for a MVP.

It's even easier to avoid AGPL than that - there is approximately 0 software of any value licensed only in AGPL.

> Technology that’s Actually Yours could be the next great counter-trend

Or technology that's nobody's, aka decentralized networks

The antidote to today's rampant centralization of technical infrastructure isn't rampant decentralization though

The PC revolution happened when people become empowered to work together fluidly in a pyramid of specialization and cost sharing

Where we need to focus is opportunistic clustering, both of development and operations

But how tho? I get what you’re saying but I don’t understand how to act on it.

Good recommendation, thanks!

To give some examples, think about what Linux does for operating systems and what WordPress does for publishing. The antidote for mainframes wasn't every individual maintaining their own system, it was every individual having the right and means to maintain their own system but not needing to because specialization can be distributed across many tiers in an open community.

In those cases you have a ecosystems where you can pick from a plurality of base systems maintained by large projects to start from. Someone who is an expert in something else can get up and running with a functioning system without learning a ton (e.g. installing Ubuntu to build a shared workstation, initializing a WordPress site via Pantheon). You can put your own business content into the system and get your own workflow going. Then you can learn to find and load addons from a community that address shared use cases (e.g. apps, packages, themes, plugins), customizing your system and workflow further to support whatever your operation is. Then you can learn to configure things manually to further tune things to your cases. Then you can hire developers or start learning to code yourself to layer your own scripting and extensions on top that are specific to only your use cases. It's easy to dismiss such installations as poorly architected and unmaintainable, but the 20-year old backoffice desktops and cobbled together wordpress sites are the real workhorses of small orgs operating over the last couple decades.

What is the industry working on to bring these sorts of dynamics to the next 10,000 sorts of on-the-ground operations that are repeated around the world. People are jamming this into WordPress all over the place and it's overloading the publishing platform's design. Where's the hot new app framework that's all about creating ecosystems?

We've built all these tools for developers (npm, composer, etc), but not for implementers and experts of human-scale operational systems that we have thousands of around the world because they're inherently actually connected to humans to scale globally.

For example, consider [Courtbot](https://discourse.codeforamerica.org/c/projects/courtbot)

The courtbot project aims to deploy friendly user interfaces county-by-county that help residents navigate interactions with their local court systems. This is an inherently local problem/opportunity, each county's systems and processes are going to infinitely vary. There's no nationally-scalable business model or system that can be built to solve this, but does that need to mean technology can't help the people alreadying doing these things manually in their communities?

There are a handful of court systems that tons of counties use, the Courtbot deployers all around the world should be able to collectively maintain a handful of base distributions that onboarding communities could get started with quickly if their data can be grabbed from one of the common systems. There can be toolkits and tutorials for those that need to build their own base systems. What template and toolkit do the core developers have to follow for setting up. Everyone is pretty much on their own right now like before all the pieces came together to make Personal Computers successful, and making the Macs and Windows and Linux of that transformation is the next big leap we need.

When need hardened FOSS architectures for multi-user online environments, a next iteration in the lineage of GNU/Linux and WordPress and in many ways a sort of hybrid of the two. Core developers standing up projects for public primary schools, or libraries, or public defenders, or independent/small-chain restaurants, or expungement projects, need patterns and tools to draw from so what they create can spawn wordpress-like ecosystems from the start, without them having to spend 10 years and 6 major iterations to shake out how to make config and plugins and themes and 3rd-party managed devops (i.e. pantheon, wpengine, wordpress.com) ecosystem stable.

How to act on it: pick any civic technology project and start solving the problems of making them easy to redeploy to thousands of communities that need to do more options than forking or requesting increasingly complex and specific new configuration options. If you figure out some stable patterns for that that work, make a project of it and start sharing it with other verticals.

Not sure if you're familiar with Ethereum, but they are decentralized in development and operations. It's really quite impressive.

My impression is that they have failed miserably.

And why do you think that?

Seems rather centralized to me, both from computing resource perspective - and those who were given founders stock / coins.

If Ethereum moves to proof of stake, than centralization / inequality of resources will equal inequality of wealth, which at that impasse asks the question what’s the point of having decentralized development?

Ethereum 2.0 will have a large number of validator nodes even at genesis[+] and the number will grow over time.

A deposit of 32 ether will be required to become a validator — not cheap, but also not astronomically expensive.

Here's a presentation from Devcon5 earlier this month demonstrating an Eth 2.0 client running on a Raspberry Pi:


[+] https://github.com/ethereum/eth2.0-specs/blob/master/specs/c...

Proof of stake solves a problem with energy and attack incentives, but it still doesn’t solve an inequality of resources within the system. A large number of validator nodes doesn’t run counter to that statement because just because anyone with 32 ether can be a validator doesn’t mean they will.

I respectfully disagree that this is the case.

You mean "technology that's everybody's"

You know what they say, when everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.

GNU is part of the problem. If you depend on GPL software, you depend on something which isn’t yours, in that your behavior is restricted.

I think you are mistaken.

GPL places no restrictions on how you USE the software.

You can use it for any purpose. You can modify it, adding or deleting code in any way you want.

If you don't redistribute the software, it ends there.

The GPL only comes into play if you redistribute the software. You then have the responsibility to pass on the source code with any modifications you've made so that subsequent users have the same rights you do.

Other licenses like BSD and MIT do not have these restrictions. You could fork and close the software, distributing binaries that do things the users might not agree with but would not be able to discern and counteract.

I've been debating GPL vs MIT in my head a bit lately. I've always thought that when I do open source my projects they would be GPL because I always liked the idea that if I am going to share, you have to share as well.

In the last little while I have been wondering if the negative side effects of forcing others to be open outweigh the benefits.

I don't really have a point. I just think its interesting.

I used to be pro-MIT, now I'm increasingly leaning towards licensing my stuff under GPL. Yes, this means some of that stuff won't be usable in a typical commercial settings (and there were times where I had to roll my own implementation of some functionality at work, because the only good library available was under GPL). But I want to live in a world GPL tries to make happen.

MIT & friends are licenses that benefit developers. GPL family focuses on benefits to end users.

You are only restricted from restricting others. That sounds very fair to me.

The core MIT/GPL licensed code is always going to be free.

The license restricts people in what they can do with _their_ modification of that code. E.g. whether they can package _their_ modifications of it as closed.

Sounds like a restriction to me.

As the recipient of an MIT-licensed binary, you have no rights. As the recipient of a GPL-licensed binary, you have the right to ask for the accompanying source code.

Sounds like freedom to me.

Nobody ever defined freedom as in "what somebody can additionally demand when given something for free".

This debate comes up all the time. Does freedom refer to my freedom or everyone's freedom.

My freedom to shoot you is limited by your freedom to not be harmed. My freedoms have been limited but this is very fair.

but it's restricted such that you and whomever you depend on must collaborate on the shared code

You don’t have to collaborate, you are free to fork and reject submissions.

I meant to say that neither party can close off the other. that's the restriction

I'm very sensitive to this. The notion of "buying" a piece of content on Amazon is borderline offensive to me. You don't own anything!

I own a DVD that I can continue to play as long as I own a DVD player. What I'm "buying" from Amazon is a promise that Amazon will continue to give this to me and only me, so long as they are around and available. I can't resell it and I have nothing the moment they cease to exist. That's not ownership.

(Setting aside the somewhat absurd notion of "renting" vs. "buying", when both do the same thing. Renting just requires you to throw away the bits after...)

If you agree with the above, you might like LBRY (https://lbry.com or https://lbry.tech), which in addition to letting you stream or download no-DRM files, permanently records your access rights in a blockchain.

> You don't own anything!

This is true. But the counterpoint is the things you own end up owning you. There's a reason Marie Kondo and the philosophy of minimalism is so popular in this era.

I don't want to have to worry about a thousand DVDs. I don't want to store them. I don't want to keep track of them. I don't want another box to pack up and deal with when moving. I could rip them onto a hard disk. But now I'm managing a virtual inventory instead of a physical inventory. That's an improvement, but it's still a pain in the ass.

Yes Amazon could discontinue its library. No, I'm not worried about it. The chances of a trillion dollar company exiting one of its primary business lines is definitely lower than the chances of me misplacing my DVDs.

There's a reason that services have replaced products to such an extent. Both in consumer and enterprise. And that's because throwing a little bit of extra money at a third party to simplify our already overly messy and disorganized lives is worth the tradeoff.

That being said, I'm sympathetic to Stallman-esque arguments against giving up control. And from an ecosystem level standpoint that's probably bad. But from a purely self-interested standpoint, Amazon is definitely the rational choice. The reality is that services are here to stay, and if we're worried about Stallman-type concerns than we need to build better, freer (as in speech) services.

> Yes Amazon could discontinue its library. No, I'm not worried about it. The chances of a trillion dollar company exiting one of its primary business lines is definitely lower than the chances of me misplacing my DVDs.

Perhaps you should. Amazon isn't likely to discontinue the whole service overnight, but individual videos are another story. See also Netflix, on which most of what was interesting has already disappeared.

> And that's because throwing a little bit of extra money at a third party to simplify our already overly messy and disorganized lives is worth the tradeoff.

I sometimes wonder if that's really true. It definitely is if you have a stable cash flow, and the services aren't really that important. But in general, there are costs of choosing a service over a product you own that are non-obvious, or delayed over time. You can't change, adapt, or improve a service yourself. You can't use it outside of its ToS. A service can raise its prices, or go out of business, or otherwise become useless to you - and there's nothing you can do about it, except hoping that a competitor exists and that there's a migration path.

> I don't want to have to worry about a thousand DVDs

Did you actually buy 1000s of digital movies from Amazon or are you talking about a streaming service (not the same thing)

Paying $10 a month for amazon's movie library streaming access is different than paying $10 per movie for virtual ownership. In one the price is $10 a month. If amazon ends their service I start paying $10 to someone else and pick up where I left off. In the other 1000 movies costs $10k and if amazon ends their service my $10k of virtual ownership is worthless.

It seems to me that the "pets v cattle" argument about servers now also applies to cultural products.

There's so many books and films that you're not supposed to care about them individually. They just make a Content library, and you consume Content. Because more Content is continually produced, you'll never run dry of things to put in front of your eyes.

(I don't like this and think it's bad for culture, as it leads to things like the Disney Vault)

Conversely, that's why I consider exclusive releases prima facie anticompetitive. Cultural products are to a large extent pets, or non-substitutable goods. If you want to watch Game of Thrones, you won't accept the newest Star Wars as a substitute. Exclusive deals essentially destroy competitive pressures that would otherwise apply.

(I'm aware that solving this is not as simple as straight out banning exclusive releases.)

> Yes Amazon could discontinue its library. No, I'm not worried about it. The chances of a trillion dollar company exiting one of its primary business lines is definitely lower than the chances of me misplacing my DVDs.

One word (OK, two):

Microsoft PlaysForSure [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_PlaysForSure

"primary business lines"

Everything can be a "primary business line" until it isn't...

That’s why I’m super happy with google reader. It means I don’t have to manage my own RSS reader and there’s no chance a multi billion dollar company is going to stop supporting it. /s

Standard oil was always going to be around, and then it wasn’t.

AT&T was always going to be around, and then it was broken apart.

There are literally leading democratic candidates for US president that want to break up big tech companies. In two years you could be looking at Amazon being broken up like AT&T into a bunch of shaky companies that sell to other shady ones or just fold up.

The risk isn’t that amazon ends the line of business, it’s that someday they decide they’d like you to pay again, and once they set their minds on that it’s gonna happen with no recourse for you.

Worse than DVDs are books shelved en masse. I've spent more on storage for various things in my life than I ever have for renting content or products. Ends up dominating your house.

The key is to regularly clean out the shelves. Those books you're never going to re-read, those movies you haven't watched in a decade? Just give them away, to friends/family or thrift stores. Keep your collection at manageable size, only keep the ones that actually mean something to you.

I even do that with my digital music collection, just to make it easier to keep an overview.

I struggle with that. Got so many books that were gifts, many of which I might in-theory read. Feels wrong to offload them. And the shelves are bought and installed now.

We also keep original boxes for things like iPads, cameras, etc in case we ever re-sell the product. Then of course, we never do...

This. You can give away or re-sell what you own. You can't do that on digital content.

It's also worth mentioning that even when you own a DVD, it is technically a deteriorating asset that will eventually become unplayable.

Many DVD disks deteriorate within a 30-100 year span to a point where they are essentially unplayable, even when kept in pristine conditions.

And if you are in an environment with extreme temperate swings, they will deteriorate even faster.

> from a purely self-interested standpoint, Amazon is definitely the rational choice

I don't think you really understand what Stallman is saying or else you wouldn't be making consumer choices based on pure self-interest.

An MP3 from one another doesn't make a difference to me. As long as it stays organized.

It's actually slightly worse than that as licensing deals can collapse on the backend that would remove an item that you had paid for from your library.

While it seems unlikely that Amazon would do this, consider that Microsoft has on several occassions with their various attempted music services.

This is exactly what's happening with Netflix. I've heard stories of this happening on Steam, where games receive essentially post-humous updates to remove licensed content for which the license expired (I believe Rockstar did this to Steam users with its GTA3-era titles). One could also argue that shutting off multiplayer servers is like this, when there is no LAN/TCPIP option available.

If you think paying for Netflix means you’re paying for access to anything Netflix has a license for at a certain point time for all of eternity, you’ve obviously got an erroneous model of the business in mind.

Netflix is subject to licensing agreements, just like cable and broadcast is.

Licensing agreements are not the consumer's problem. From their point of view, the service just gets worse and worse because it no longer provides the content they actually want to watch.

They will get used to it, just like they got used to tv channels becoming unavailable or commercials on cable. Or they will find a better way to spend their time and money.

Either by researching before, or by finding something missing, the buyer is going to learn what it is they are buying.

>you’ve obviously got an erroneous model of the business in mind.

If the consumer can have an "erroneous model of the business in mind" then the business is doing it wrongly...

4th item from Netflix FAQ on their website in plain English:

>Netflix content will vary by region, and may change over time.

A, the "plans were on display" defense...

“But the plans were on display…”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

Not sure what the argument is, but if you’re claiming that taking a minute to educate oneself by reading an FAQ on Netflix’s website is too arduous, then I’d have to say I disagree. Life as a buyer doesn’t get much easier than that.

Y'all are terrible techno-utopians if you stop at the consumer having limited access to stuff for a certain time.... the utopian ideal is everything in one place, forever.

Personally I've dusted off my bittorrent seedbox...

Or; as a consumer, why should I care about these things? Just give me my damn TV shows, screw your licensing BS

Rockstar has removed licensed music and other content from their games post-purchase.

In the case of GTA San Andreas, the version on steam is now closer to the mobile/tablet version, with significant gameplay changes over the original release.

Comparing it to my original copies on PS2 and pre-Steam PC, it's very different.

Patches should be for fixing bugs, not taking away things people purchased.

I didn't knew this. This is a disgusting practice, and another reason why you should keep the installers and versioning. At least GOG let's you keep the installer.

This is precisely why I ditched Spotify and went back to a local music collection.

I got sick and tired of albums disappearing and reappearing at random, ruining my playlists. Some of my favorite albums were gone for months at a time, with no warning. Not to mention the terrible state of Spotify's catalogue and curation. Wrong information, spelling errors, multiple artists with identical names being confused, you name it.

With my local collection, I can fix the tags and keep track of the correct information.

Apple did this in 2018 when two movies bought on iTunes were removed from a user. After contacting support the user was offered two vouchers for rental movies, which is obviously worth less.

1: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnarcher/2018/09/13/apple-is-...

2: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnarcher/2018/09/17/apple-res...

Amazon has already done this and pulled a book from people's kindles that they had purchased because Amazon didn't have a license to sell it

If Amazon ever stops serving you the music or movies you’ve purchased, I am quite certain you could get your money back in court. You paid for, and they agreed to serve that content to you in perpetuity.

Monthly subscriptions on the other hand... those could shut down at any time.

So copy the file to a DVD. The idea here is that you are cutting out the physical costs - production, delivery, loss to spoilage, etc.

Fact of the matter is, you probably don't even want the thing when you are done with it - e.g. shitty 20th edition book that your professor wrote and made you use in their class to make a profit.

This is a good take. Ownership is one of those things that I feel intuitively is important, and I experience frustration around losing it incrementally. But I struggle to put my concerns into concrete, relatable examples that the everyday user might appreciate. The 'access until it is no longer' narrative seems to fit that pretty well.

This is something I think we have been hit hard by with video games. The first wave of online enabled games has now had their servers shut down and the games rendered unplayable. One of my favorite childhood games from about 2006 (Viva Pinata) is now unplayable on windows because it used Games for Windows Live which has now shut down. The game is basically entirely offline and single player but is now unusable unless you use the xbox 360 version which works fine because it could be used entirely offline.

Yes, that's the primary reason why I stopped playing most new games. I value the ability to fire up games that I bought 20 years ago (and I do this regularly), and I'm not willing to invest in any that depend on external services.

Check out Good Ol' Games, which includes modern gems like Witcher 3, Hollow Knight, Factorio, Stardew Valley, Indivisible.

Everything on GoG is DRM-free, simple .exe installers that should work without any servers.

Oh, yeah, GOG has quite a lot of my money!

GoG is run by the developers of Witcher, CD Projekt Red, they are eating their own dogfood.

I think a lot of these games are actually drm free on steam as well, gog just only lists drm free games so you can be sure its safe to buy.

I often run games outside of steam so I can let my bf use steam family share at the same time.

You are correct. Being on steam doesn't necessarily mean that a game has DRM. It's up to a game developer to implement steam's DRM or not. Check out the big list of DRM-free steam games:


GoG also provides prebuilt DOSboxes and configurations to allow me to easily run older games, and games on Linux (I only use Linux at home, so that's a big win).

I'm not a fan of Steam, so that's not a real alternative for me.

Same here. I even make a point to grab a cracked copy of any game I buy on steam so that if the service goes under, or they decide to remove it from my library (like when amazon secretly removed copies of "1984" from people's kindles) I'll still have access to the games I paid for.

That goes double for games that come with obnoxious required software like uplay, origin, denuvo, etc.

I really hope someone is maintaining a list somewhere of games we've lost because of DRM or just short sighted design like in the case of Missing (https://www.amazon.com/Missing-PC/dp/B000271MCG) which was dependent on websites and email accounts that the company is either no longer around to maintain or no longer feels it worth maintaining.

Maybe, broadly speaking, that's just the way life is. Things exist for awhile and then they don't. Bands eventually stop touring and seeing them live is a thing of the past. The character of your city is likely quite different as compared to a generation ago. That amazing restaurant went out of business. If those servers were still up, would there be anyone on them to play against?

I don't expect a band to live forever to keep doing live shows, but if I buy their CD I don't expect someone to break into my home and take it at any point in the future, but plenty of people have lost their music because of shitty DRM schemes and for those who are entirely dependent on streaming their music they will very likely not be able to find some of their favorite songs later, especially for more obscure stuff. I'm glad that I was able to pass some of my favorite games and music and books to the next generation and that they can pass them on to their kids. My collection of favorites will outlive many of the new things they enjoy today.

Maybe that's how people think life is. It didn't used to be like that. It used to be better.

The 7" I bought when I was 10 still plays. So do the tapes I copied in school, though I've moved on from tape. The flacs and mp3s will be around as long as I have a server. I can still play Morrowind - I don't need a server up, and most -not all - online games spoil the game by being online. Quite happy with a LAN mode to play with partner or kids, or ad-hoc server mode to play WAN with friends.

Most online games have been updated so they aren't remotely the same game as they were - especially for things like MMOs, Spotify is an ephemeral radio station, Netflix is reducing what they have every month. Whether it's down to company closing, getting bored of keeping service up for an old game, or stopping your monthly sub, the rate of attrition is frightening.

>If those servers were still up, would there be anyone on them to play against?

It was a single player game. There was never anyone to play against. The online aspects were for DRM only.

I can still play all of my c64 games and will be able to in 20 years. Some game I buy today not so much.

I think this happened to many early movies. There are many lost films where we only have written descriptions and still images left. A whole system for film archiving was put in place to prevent this from happening as it was deemed too important to be left into hands of producers. I believe in order to put something out nowdays you are required to provide a copy to archive. Not sure if it is world wide requirement or local though.

Not just online games. Imagine if tomorrow Steam shuts down, you can bet we will lose access to thousands of games forever (as in, some of them are not actively maintained out of Steam anywhere).

It’s easy: when you don’t own anything, you’re at the mercy of your lessor. This is why tenant laws exist (sort of, depending on your location). There’s an inescapable power imbalance involved. Except now more and more goods and services are being leased, and the dwindling middle class means fewer and fewer people can properly own things.

If we intend to continue into a future of perpetual renting, we at least need stronger renter protections.

Europe is heading this way. There was recent news that a country in Europe was planning to require steam to allow users to transfer and sell their games to other accounts.

I feel counter-intuitively enough that music is likely the way many people will relate to in a concrete way. It’s all well and good to trust your service provider until at some point you get nostalgia for a song you “had” or even “owned”, go to queue it up, and find it completely missing. Maybe the record company even took it off YouTube and all the other free platforms, locking it behind their own service.

What tasted and smelled like ownership is suddenly revealed in moments like this.

I experienced this fairly abruptly this year. My toddler loved listening to the Thomas & Friends albums. They were "added to my Library" and an almost daily listen. One day, NONE of these were available. Same thing happened earlier when Disney bought Big Block Singsong.

It's funny, because I'm grateful to have an excuse not to listen to these anymore. But in both cases it was quite disappointing to my kid (and irritating on principle).

Kids love to consume the same thing over and over again. Netflix has a similar effect: beloved tv or movies are suddenly gone without a trace, and no warning that they will be disappearing.

Definitely a low-stakes relatable example.

Just to complete the picture - I recently found a box of VHS tapes at my parents' house of all of the cartoons I watched over and over again as a kid. It was fun seeing them again, and of course they still played fine 30 years later.

And nothing is out in the open.

"We just won't tell them this netflix show is going away, it will just upset people. Maybe they won't notice."

(although they do say something about your queue a short time before it disappears)

Youtube kinda gave me a taste of this, a few days ago. They didn't pull the music, but they pulled all the relevant recommendations. So where I used to listen to a song or album and get a long list of relevant recommendations of music from the same artist, label, uploader, or musical style, I suddenly got nothing but local youtubers' nonsense and gaming streams. After I blocked those (not interested & don't recommend this channel again), I got literally no recommendations at all anymore. It was depressing to realize how reliant I am on a company to faciliate music discovery, knowing that they can change their algorithms and/or block certain content any day.

How about when Zune Pass shut down and obliterated the music collections of people who spent hundreds of dollars in subscription fees? Or when Google bought Revolv, shut down its servers, and turned thousanda of home automation systems into expensive paperweights?

To me every new service feels like another leech sucking at my wallet, of which there are far too many. I much prefer the collections of flacs and mp3s to Spotify and my personal media archive to having a dozen different streaming video subscriptions.

Also, it's not like it's totally either/or. You should be able to own your music and movies, but also be able to pay for a service that manages it - removing the logistics burden, while still ensuring the goods you bought will not disappear when the service goes down.

Plex perfectly encapsulates that philosophy.

Actually I would argue with this: Plex used to, but now find themselves trying to “legitimize” and sacrificing user control in order to do it.

E.g: All logins (including local LAN) go through their servers.

Considering the plethora of bullshit like news and podcasts I find littering my plex home screen, I agree with your point.

The occasional post on HN to the tune of "proprietary solution our company relies on just increased price by 10x - what can we do?" validates your feelings. When you rely on something you don't own, you are in someone else's control. And they tend to use that control to benefit at your expense.

> Ownership is one of those things that I feel intuitively is important, and I experience frustration around losing it incrementally.

I feel this too, but at the same time I wonder how much of this feeling is due to a scarcity mindset. It used to be you had a small, finite amount of music, movies, games etc. and so each one individually was valuable. Maybe people who've grown up in the Netflix/Spotify era just don't get personally attached to particular shows the way we do? There's an infinite amount of stuff to consume so if the thing you were looking for isn't there any more, just have something else.

I've always been one to make strong emotional bonds to the music I listen to. I don't think it's got that much to do with scarcity, it's more about what role the music fills in my life.

Having an endless stream of music just isn't quite as satisfying as picking out the tunes I resonate with and hearing them again and again. And this is exactly what happens when I listen to music streams: I get the urge to pick out the tunes I like. But only after I've heard the same song more than a couple times (it takes time to bond).

I think music becomes kind of an anchor you can (attempt to) rely on when everything else in the world around you is changing. Friends, home town, jobs, apartments, all change... that makes music that remains the same after a decade all that much more comforting.

It's hugely important - just look how the companies in possession of our cloud leverage it.

I'm hopeful creative solutions with decentralization will allow you to retain control even though the vault is in the hands of someone else.

decentralization or fragmented market.

This does not only apply to consumer software. I was just thinking that the past decade of business software has been about connecting off-the-shelf saas and cloud systems together to run businesses.

This was good for businesses wanting to quickly get onboard new technologies but it has real downsides because all these systems are scattered across the world and managed independently, making them more distributed, less transactional (more corruptible) and less tailored to the specific industries they're used in.

Overly distributed systems are fundamentally hard and fundamentally inefficient ( https://groups.csail.mit.edu/tds/papers/Lynch/podc89.pdf ). Data that spends more time in memory and cpu cache instead of being thrown over global networks can be processed a lot more efficiently.

Also, if your infrastructure is made of a lot of components that anyone can buy, it's much likely for competition to emerge. You lose an important moat. Plus, oftentimes, the outside organizations holding your data can leverage it to make you pay high prices.

The next decade might be about recreating the logic of these cobbled together generic saas systems into streamlined and fully tailored software systems for each industry. There is now a lot of mature open source code for companies to use as a foundation.

As the article suggests, this could also allow moving towards fully owning data and stack instead of having too much in other companies' platforms. There is probably more incentive for this reshoring of data and software to happen for businesses so it might happen there before it does for consumers.

And to add to that, the more generic saas systems you cobble together, the shorter the likely time window until one of them gets acquired/folds/pivots and disrupts you

Invested in building your workflow on a SaaS system and it's become critical to your business? It doesn't matter how much you depend on it, or how useful it is to you, you have _no rights_ that top the backers' playing their numbers

This effect gets worse the closer to the ground you get, where small orgs don't have the technical capacity to absorb such disruptions. Small orgs are being conditioned to avoid depending on technology, or at least to avoid depending on specialized technology. The net effect this will have is creating yet another bias towards concentrated power winning in the marketplace

Competitive moats are evil.

Learn a trade. Be useful. Save your money. You don’t need a moat if you’re useful and have savings.

By building moats you are selling our children’s future to corporate scavengers.

Knowledge and ability is a type of moat. That's why it allows you to get paid a premium.

> "years ago websites were made of files; now they are made of dependencies."

This is true, plain old HTML files just depended on the browser's compatibility. Whereas modern node_modules based projects also depend on thousands, sometimes tens of thousands additional npm dependencies...

What I've learnt with opening old node projects (2 years+), is that you better be ready to fix some things, thank god it's all open-source!

> thank god it's all open-source!

It feels like there's something super important/relevant about that throwaway comment, but I can't quite put my finger on what.

Beyond the idea that you wouldn't even be able to fix what you had built yourself if it wasn't all open source. Perhaps it just resonates with the idea that if something is open source, everybody owns it and nobody owns it at the same time?

I have a different take. Being open source doesn't matter at all in cases like these, because if half of your NPM dependencies suddenly break on you, you aren't going to even look at them. Nobody has time for that crap. You'll just swear out loud, and pin your dependencies to older versions.

> Beyond the idea that you wouldn't even be able to fix what you had built yourself if it wasn't all open source.

Perhaps GP was talking about working with other people's node projects?

Perhaps 'nobody owns it, everybody can change (fix) it'

There's a darker side to this...

The dependencies on "fonts" or "media" from the googles and the CDNs are tracking plays. (decentraleyes plugin ftw)

This is true of social media content, too. If a tweet/IG post/whatever you like disappears, you'll never see it again; you might not even know it disappeared until you remember it two years later, try to look for it, and can't find it. That's one of the reasons I started Framed Tweets (http://framedtweets.com/).

> our phones are fully in the future ... But our computers are still kind of in the past

I wonder if our app-based ecosystem is really the "future". The reason is simple: apps lock you down. Apps store your data somewhere you don't have access to, and you can't control your data. Sometimes you even can't move your work to another device. On the other hand, file-based storage naturally encourages data migration.

Also, file-based storage allows 3rd party integration. You can use applications from different companies and of different purposes to work on the same piece of data. Even in case of software development, source code can be edited with various editors, compiled with compatible compilers, analyzed with lints and formatters, and revision-controlled through git, svn, or random custom solutions, where all those tools are developed by different parties. I don't think app-based ecosystem can achieve this level of freedom, versatility and flexibility at once.

So, no. Files are not the thing of the past, nor should be buried deep below "future" stack. It should be kept as an official backdoor to give users precise control over their data.

“Look, this device is personal. It computes and it’s totally personal, just for you, and you alone. It doesn’t talk to the internet. No sociality. You can’t share any of the content with anybody. Because it’s just for you, it’s private. It’s yours. You can compute with it. Nobody will know! You can process text, and draw stuff, and do your accounts. It’s got a spreadsheet. No modem, no broadband, no Cloud, no Facebook, Google, Amazon, no wireless. This is a dream machine. Because it’s personal and it computes. And it sits on the desk. You personally compute with it. You can even write your own software for it. It faithfully executes all your commands.”

'Isn’t it basically the cliff house in Walnut Canyon? Isn’t it the stone box?'

“Look, I have my own little stone box here in this canyon! I can grow my own beans and corn. I harvest some prickly pear. I’m super advanced here.”


'Why shouldn’t it vanish like the cliff people vanished?'


'Then we look back in nostalgia at the Personal Computer world. It’s not that we were forced out of our stone boxes in the canyon. We weren’t driven away by force. We just mysteriously left. It was like the waning of the moon.

They were too limiting, somehow. They computed, but they just didn’t do enough for us. They seemed like a fantastic way forward, but somehow they were actually getting in the way of our experience.'

- https://www.wired.com/2013/04/text-of-sxsw2013-closing-remar...

> We just mysteriously left.

"Mysteriously", as in "getting dragged out kicking and screaming by an industry that realized providing a service makes for a way better business than selling software".

I honestly don't think many users wanted to give up ownership in trade of access. At least I know enough non-technical people that cling to their files collections for dear life. However, what they of course want is to take part in modern life and not stay behind on technology. And if you don't want to miss that, there is hardly a way around services these days.

(There is the valid point of troubleshooting and maintenance. Your very own personal computer is wonderful until something stops working. However, I think most non-technical people dealt with this problem the same way you'd deal with a broken car: They'd ask someone knowledgeable to "fix" it, either a family member, company admin or commercial service.

However, I don't think many people were desperately wishing for their hardware manufacturer or software developer to have a permanent link to their PC, just so they can fix the occasional problem.)

> We weren’t driven away by force.

The amount of effort Microsoft had to employ to make people stop using Windows XP tells a different story.

Oh please, consumers decide the market. If consumers didn't want services they wouldn't buy it. If consumers wanted "owned" software, businesses would sell enough "owned" software to soak up all that demand. But consumers didn't, and businesses didn't, and so we arrive at today.

Few people kicked and screamed as they bought Spotify. It turns out that streaming a wide variety of music for an access fee is a pretty good sell. Few people kicked and screamed as they picked Gmail over Postfix, turns out a portable, maintenance-free, magic email inbox with practically unlimited storage is exactly what people wanted, no coercion needed. They didn't just desperately wish for their hardware and software to have a permanent link to their PC, they went one step further and gave it money and attention.

Maybe I'm completely wrong. Easy way to find out: go make your own broadly successful "owned" software business. Consumers are clamoring for it, aren't they? I'm sure there's plenty of money in selling one-time-fee project management software for customers to own and setup themselves. I mean, who wouldn't want to pay a one-time fee for self-hosted email software that generously provides the "your own friends and family" support package?

> Oh please, consumers decide the market. If consumers didn't want services they wouldn't buy it. If consumers wanted "owned" software, businesses would sell enough "owned" software to soak up all that demand. But consumers didn't, and businesses didn't, and so we arrive at today.

That's false. Consumers don't decide shit. They don't compare things they see to what they could be, they chose from what's available. Add to that the sales and marketing doing their best to hide the true costs of their offerings, and you have what you have today - customers being played like a fiddle, coaxed towards making suboptimal choices.

> Few people kicked and screamed as they bought Spotify. It turns out that streaming a wide variety of music for an access fee is a pretty good sell.

Spotify was a legal alternative to pirating music, that was one of their bigger selling point.

> Few people kicked and screamed as they picked Gmail over Postfix

GMail, at least for now, still lets you own the data. The story may change if they ever decide to shut down IMAP access.

> Consumers are clamoring for it, aren't they?

They are, after they get burned a couple of times. See also the reactions to Adobe or Jetbrains going SaaS; the latter actually yielded under pressure and brought back the perpetual licenses.

It's hard to compete with SaaS on price and convenience, because benefits are immediate and true costs are delayed. "Free basic, $9/month advanced" for a shiny-looking product is great at the point of customer acquisition; it's only later on that the customer discovers that the service sucks under any reasonable workload, in one year it costs 1.5x as much, and in 5 years it may just be gone, taking all your data with it.

> getting dragged out kicking and screaming by an industry that realized providing a service makes for a way better business than selling software

This wouldn't have happened if they were wrong; after people have seen how much easier it is to let internet businesses handle things for them, most people decide to put more stuff on there for convenience; and new users tend to follow what the large majority of other people suggest when getting online for the first time since those other users know it's easier and more secure for them to just let the third parties handle things. The only people that got "dragged out kicking and screaming" were the ones that saw what other people were giving up when they started suggesting new users not even attempt the on-device method of using their computer/phone. After enough time, the devices themselves were able to directly integrate this lifestyle since not many people would actively protest this sort of onboarding.

I think most people don't understand the risks they take by putting everything on Google Drive and throwing their entire business behind Google and BeyondCorp; but the biggest concerns with this model, such as a user account getting suspended almost never happen to the average user of said service. Negative word of mouth is extremely detrimental, but since nobody that's not doing obviously less-than-normal things (such as installing third-party YT apps that block ads then complaining when their G account is suspended) talks about their account being suspended, regular people only vaguely are aware that they could break <x TOS clause> and lose everything. Services getting shut down are a threat, but I don't think anyone at all thinks YouTube, Gmail, or Drive, arguably their most used services, are going to shut down any time in the future.

> The amount of effort Microsoft had to employ to make people stop using Windows XP tells a different story.

I still occasionally see XP used, usually at places like furniture stores :)

> You can’t share any of the content with anybody.

As if you could do that today.

> It faithfully executes all your commands.

This is part of the reason why industries and governments are trying to get rid of the personal computer. It obeys us and not them. If we decide we want to violate some contract, the computer will make it possible and there's nothing industry can do about it. If we decide we want to encrypt some data, the computer will make it possible and the government will just have to deal with it or become a tyrant that assumes we're all guilty by default. If we decide we want to make "unauthorized" copies, the computer will do it without a care in the world about what some stakeholders think.

We have the keys to the machine. It is obvious why they want to take it away.

> They seemed like a fantastic way forward, but somehow they were actually getting in the way of our experience.

Personal computers definitely got in the way of the artificial scarcity, personal information collection, advertising and other harmful and exploitative experiences. Hopefully it will get in the way of even more.

> I learned, for instance, that a great way to get people to click on your blog post is to make them mad

Ha, this is a common way to get on the frontpage of Hacker News.

Wasn't one of those lesser discussed findings of FB that making people angry makes them more engaged.

Yeah, I think so.

I wonder if is a special case of "surprise" - things that are surprising have more information value, and people react to information.

There's also the aspect of something being wrong - if something is wrong, people want to correct it - often angrily if the source advancing the wrong viewpoint is obstinate - and that's engagement.

I wonder if both of those can be teased out. Like, if something is surprising and correct, what's the engagement of that? That probably doesn't drive engagement as much as surprising and wrong.

As always, relevant xkcd: https://www.xkcd.com/386/

This essay describes very well why I resist anything-as-a-service. I value stability over time as well as convenience.

Fortunately, most of the things that I find valuable are things that I can host myself (giving me both stability and convenience), and I can easily do without those things that I can't.

I favor self-hosting too, but it adds the inconvenience of dedicated maintenance to ensure your stability. For a one-man shop there is a lot to think about. So many balls in the air. I recently found my AWS instances compromised because I forgot to timely upgrade nginx on them. Got me the scares and renewed interest in at least some SaaS where it matters most.

Yes, it's more work. But I've been doing this for years, and on average, it really just takes a couple of hours a month of my personal time (monitoring, intrusion detection, etc., are all automated, so most of my time is spent just eyeballing logs to make sure nothing was missed).

My approach is certainly not for everyone, but it's the best solution for me.

This reminds me of the arrival of the PC (MS-DOS and Mac): file formats were typically silos: proprietary and could only be opened in their special app. Coming from a different tradition this was completely weird and uncomfortable to me so I never really got into those systems. Gradually some open formats pried this open: GIF/JPEG/MP3/ZIP (all only somewhat open at the time) then turning into PNG/HTML... etc.

In this regard the phones feel like a step backwards as each app really manages its own data. Email programs these days are like that -- for example you can't keep a project's mail folder with its files any more.

Back in the early Windows days, I was helping somebody on Windows get some data somewhere else where I needed it. I started by opening the file manager and finding the data files. He was like "Whoa ... you are in no-mans-land" ... he just wasn't familiar with accessing files outside of an application.

There are a couple of orthogonal concepts are work here a) how data is stored, in files with a well-known format, in files with a proprietary format, or perhaps in some kind of database b) who has control of the data, perhaps defined by who would be able to delete it, or whether the data would cease to be accessible if a particular organization ceased to exist.

See also the book "Information Feudalism", which does a good job of looking at this from an IP perspective.

This is surprisingly out of touch with reality -- at least with my reality and that around me. Then again I'm 30 and in academia, so it might not be the latest update.

Do people access their music through their apps instead of a file manager these days? Sure. But how does it get into the apps in the first place? I couldn't find half of my music library on amazon, let alone the money to actually buy it. The same applies to tech books, even more glaringly so because there is no streaming option.

Do people use GMail as a quasi-storage for everything they need to keep up with in life? Yeah. Do they want to use it that way? Not really. It doesn't scale up that well, and yes, you will slam into Google's 15GB limit soon enough. So at least I only have the "temporary" stuff on GMail, for a wide but not all-encompassing notion of "temporary". I'm not aware of anyone storing family photos on GMail.

And that's just the stuff we consume. As for producing, there's very little you can do without working with files at least a bit. Attach a photo to a post, run a python script, exchange documents with someone who isn't using the same clouds as you... Actually, even if all of your stuff is on clouds, you'll sooner or later want or have to move it around between different clouds, and what do you export it to? Files.

I'm five years your junior and not in academia.

My music collection, my peers music collections, my mother's music collection... they are Spotify.

I have a friend who DJ's and he has the tracks themselves, but only to remove the internet dependency. The consumers of his kind of cutting edge not on Spotify music get it on Soundcloud.

Tech books? I do have some. I did buy some this year. However my consumption of blog posts, wikis, pdfs of papers, forums, moocs and stack overflows dwarfs all physical reading.

I hate to say it, but production has seen movement away from files. There is a Photoshop extension that allows graphic designers to "connect" the image into the wordpress assets (which auto creates varioud sizes) and tye marketer selects the asset from a web ui list.

I've seen CMS' that let you write js "handlers" that are shoved into the db and can be attached to buttons or page loads etc.

For your last point - moving between clouds - you use a service. Multcloud is just one example.

Its scary just how far things have come.

Wonder how Turbosquid is faring with that these days

PixelSquid now has a subscription option. I think the issue with TurboSquid is that convenience is less important. Spotify is ok with giving people access to songs knowing that they can easily rip them and put them online because Spotify's experience is a lot better than just searching for ripped songs. With TurboSquid I think people would probably just turn around and sell the models online and then others could just pirate them. Maybe I'm wrong, though - I don't know a ton about the industry.

You're not out of touch with the technically-inclined. That's not the majority of people. Everything you describe w/ incredulity is what I see, in some part, the majority of non-technical people people doing. They usually have a phone as their primary computing device, too, which further erodes the concept of owning your data (and of files, for that matter).

Well, 15 years ago, the technically non-inclined didn't own many files either... they just didn't use computers much.

Sure they did. Seemed like everyone had a laptop with oodles of malware, popups, browser toolbars and it took 5 or 10 minutes just to open iTunes or Winamp. Loads of techs had a lucrative, but annoying sideline decrapifying laptops - or just annoying with relatives and friends. Then they'd install Kazaa again and be back to square one. :)

If you said 20 or 25 years ago I'd agree, but 15 years ago is a different beast entirely. My ludite mother, who finally got a smartphone _this year_, had already come to terms with needing to know how to use her computer including transferring files to flash drives

Because my phone's not rooted, there are hundreds of files on my phone i don't 'own'. I can't access them, in many cases I can't even see them. My phone tells me i don't have permission. If they were.kine, i could do whatever i like with them.The OS and apps on my phone can access them though, modify them, delete them. WhatsApp for example can delete pictures and messages from my phone at the whim of the person that sent them, if left in the default folder.

Never give anything to your phone that you don't have stored elsewhere on hardware you own.

> I couldn't find half of my music library on amazon, let alone the money to actually buy it.

If those songs disappeared from your favorite streaming apps where would you get them? If you don't have a copy, it can be gone at any time with no warning or notice to you and you'd be left with nothing. If I were one copyright dispute or licensing problem away from losing my media collection I'd be panicked. Music streaming has it's place, but you shouldn't expect that you'll be able to hear those songs tomorrow let alone share them with your kids and your children's children.

If you value something, save a copy of it for yourself in a format free from DRM or accept that one day it will be gone and you will have nothing but your memories and loss.

This concern seems bizarre. Essentially every song is on Spotify (unless it's very small in which case it's on soundcloud or something). This isn't a unique property either - Apple Music replicates it and YouTube/vevo come close. There's good reason to believe that streaming services, or something equivalent/better will continue to exist and I will continue to be able to get the songs I want. When I listen to a song my primary concern isn't about being able to share it with my children's children or whatever. I'll probably forget about it by next year. How often do you dig up songs you listened to 20 years ago?

> Essentially every song is on Spotify

Hardly, but their selection is impressive. What music Spotify has available is entirely dependent on agreements with the artist or, far more often, the music label. Those agreements are subject to change or expire, and songs are routinely offered for a time then removed (sometimes to be added back later) and can be subject to additional limitations such as having their availability limited to specific countries. It's basically the same situation as Netflix with movies and TV shows. Sometimes you can find copies uploaded by others to youtube, pirate trackers, or other hosting sites and sometimes you can't.

Streaming services will likely continue to exist for a very long time. Streaming services that provide the specific songs you want to hear or enjoy on Spotify today are not guaranteed and that likelihood decreases significantly as time goes on and your tastes diverge from the mainstream. If all you listen to are top 40 radio hits you'll probably never have a problem finding copies of the songs you like in some form or another. Whatever has replaced Spotify 50 years from now will likely still be full of The Beatles and Brittany Spears. Even today I find there are songs that are hard to find, albums that are out of print and not available from streaming sites. As people move away from physical media and depend on the shifting sands of streaming music providers I expect the problem will only grow with time.

> How often do you dig up songs you listened to 20 years ago?

Constantly. Not that I'm only listening to songs from 20+ years ago, but my current playlist has songs from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s and most playlists I create tend to as well. Not everyone cares about music and may not mind if they never get to hear their favorite songs again by next year, but I suspect many of the younger ones who feel that way now will at one point in their lives want to go back and hear songs they grew up listening to.

> Essentially every song is on Spotify

Lucio Battisti is possibly the most popular songwriter in Italy ever. His songs were added to Spotify one month ago for the first time. And even now, the catalogue is not complete.

The Beatles today are there, but they were missing for a long time. King Crimson have been added in June.

I don't know what you mean by "essentially every song", but they are just now adding albums from the most popular artists, I would think many minor things are still missing

> I'm not aware of anyone storing family photos on GMail.


2010: There's an App for that

2019: There's a Google service for that*

*: at risk of shutting down depending on the number of years since last product update

Hah! Take my upvote. Also: s/2019/2006/


Interesting that email feels like ours -- "Gmail is the new Finder ... Most importantly, your inbox is yours."

But really isn't it just us trusting Gmail not to pull our access?

I think that the difference is that someone can have a similar experience to Gmail by using their own mail server and any mail client. The same cannot be said about Uber, for example.

You can't call a friend and ask them for a lift?

>But really isn't it just us trusting Gmail not to pull our access Nope, not trusting Google and I do not use it (or any other cloudy stuff) to keep what is mine.

'Ownership' is a pretty overloaded term. It's never really clear which sense of 'ownership' the author is invoking at any given moment.

Also, lol. "100 years ago, food came from a farm, then it came for [sic] a grocery store, and now it comes from DoorDash." I'm pretty sure most people didn't own their own farm in the 1920s... So what is this saying about ownership?

> I'm pretty sure most people didn't own their own farm in the 1920s... So what is this saying about ownership?

But they did own it in the sense of day-to-day control. Soviet Union turned farming into service, a move that caused lots of suffering and is widely remembered today as a Bad Idea.

The Soviet Union's troubles with farming stemmed more from politicians ordering the farmers to plant specific crops, with absolutely no understanding of farming, soil, climate, seasons or anything, really.

Fair. But then again, if you outsource your movies, music or farming to one of the megacorps everyone else outsources too, you're still under rule of some distant managers that don't have your best interest in mind.

That fits well with the analogy of the distant overlords with no connection to either production nor the end user.

To them, we're all just interchangeable cogs in the machine, our input and experience is not important, we're just supposed to fit in a predefined box.

Are there any terms that cover the different digital native generations?

Natives that started with 3.5 and 5 1/4 floppies in the 80's vs starting when Gmail went from MB's to GB's in the mid/late 2k's probably view files much differently.

In 2019, we can carry 1 TB+ on a smartphone, so the next gen of natives may actually find a new appreciation for files and ownership (plus newfound privacy, not relying on expensive data plans and working/playing from anywhere w/o requiring a connection for most things).

Once storage and connections can exceed 10 Gb transfer rates on mobile, it'll take around 15 minutes to fill per TB... And the next era/counter trend begins!

The kids nowadays have it so easy (minus getting overserviced by every industry at the same time, being fed doom and gloom about climate change everyday and basically getting raked over the coals by pre-existing debt that was not of their doing).

For me the main problem is the fact when you own a physical copy you own a snapshot of that exact version of a product.

I agree with the practical aspect of having a digital library but the problem is you relinquish almost all aspects of ownership when you purchase a digital product. When you own a digital product you have whatever version its owner decided to share at that time in history and that represents a crucial difference, which enables things like a movie cut differently from its initial release, a remastered/clean/censored version of a song instead of the original, games with certain features, songs or items removed due to expired licenses.

We're now in a situation where most people got used to this model without giving it any second thoughts because of comfort and any changes that give users more control are unlikely to happen.

Yeah like the copy I laboriously sought out, of that one rap song without all the naughty words bleeped out. Or that one "yet another song with a stupid 'car revving' sound effect at the beginning," that I personally chopped off using Audacity.

This reminds me of another rising sentiment: "feeling disconnected while everything is connected". Perhaps a loss of ownership in all things also means trading in pieces of identity?

If everything is a service then is everyone a consumer?

This is exactly why i hate Windows-as-a-service that Microsoft is moving toward. If your software is a service then you can only do what they let you.

Linux is better but the tradeoff is ease & convenience-- like the author said.

Most Linux distributions are effectively services as well. Debian (or Ubuntu, Mint, CentOS, Fedora, Slack, Gentoo, etc. etc.) are not worth much without the repositories, access to them, and updates, provided by those distributions. An extension of the notion that it's the package management that makes the distro: it's the package archive and access which make the distro.

(Details of packagers, packaging, deps resolution, etc., also matter.)

But that is a service offered, to revive an old fashioned term, not based on commerce but with grace.

That's a broader trend of choosing to rent rather than buy and wage labour instead of entrepreneurship. It's also coming to the point though that people's "digital trail" is no longer just a trail, it's their entire output in life. I think people will recognize this and the next iteration of tech will be property-centered again. What we live today is a bubble of inequality and the shallow freedom of not owning things. Neither extreme is good, people always end up gravitating somewhere in the middle.

X as a Service - that's a very positive spin on "rent perpetually" and "you never own".

This is different if you own the service, but that's another matter entirely.

Agreed overall but..

Most people don't want to/can't run their own backup service, so they count on the services they use to keep things alive.

Add to that users wanting to use multiple devices.

Maybe I'm over estimating software literacy but many people who want these things often write their own solutions or do without shiny new things which are often just cloud based versions of the old!

I think what isn’t fully realized in this article is that the real abundance is in the choices we have today.

You can subscribe to Spotify or some equivalent, but you can also buy CDs, buy Vinyls, DRM-free versions of just that one song you want off an album, you can play the song you want off the Piano, or find it in a game, or listen to the radio (AM, FM, even Satellite!), or go to a live show, or download someone else’s recording of a live show. You can partake in all of these ways or any combination thereof, and I forgot to even mention music boxes!

I think it’s more fair to say “Everything is amazing, but you don’t have to own all of it to enjoy it”. Some things are tangible and worth having in a hard copy so to speak, and some things are ephemeral so enjoy them while you can, for nothing and no things last forever.

The problem is when your choices are marginalized and "you own it" becomes unavailable.

Examples: Games nowadays (some have drm, some are online only). Anything adobe. Smartphones. Cars.

Yet there are still games you can buy with no DRM, and there have never been more games available for purchase than now.

There’s an abundance of games, and yes, some of them have a shelf life and abusive to their customers. Those games are what I would call ephemeral experiences, or at least they are deeper into the ephemeral experience end than games available for purchases.

Owning a copy is not possible. Making more copies is illegal. Sending one of those copies to a friend is illegal. Sharing those copies with people on the internet is illegal.

Artificial scarcity means the only choices available to you are the choices the copyright holders want you to have.

Mate, since when is owning a copy of music impossible?

Call me over when you can stop buying music, not for the lone example or two where some artist has gone all in on crap like Spotify and refuses to sell their music anywhere.

"Home taping is killing music"

"Worlds of scarcity are made out of things. Worlds of abundance are made out of dependencies."

I don't necessarily agree with the abundance premise. Worlds of dependencies are worlds that demand time-consuming labor (ours or someone else's) to resolve and manage those dependencies, and time today is considerably more scarce than matter or energy. Even worse time unlike matter or energy cannot be manufactured or extracted with increasing efficiency. We have only so much time, period.

I remain unconvinced that post-skeuomorphism and everything-is-a-service are steps forward. In particular everything-is-a-service seems to work well only in domains where the thing being offered actually is a service in that it actually does require a continuous input of something behind the scenes.

Surprisingly shallow discussion here. Ownership itself is lease. Sibling comment mentioned home ownership and tenant laws.

Home and land ownership is one of trickiest types of ownership. It turns out, that in democratic and civilized sosieties you don't actually own realty. You lease it with significant restrictions.

Inheritance laws make it even more clear. Law might decide that particular part of property is valued $x euro. A trademark. A patent. An option. So, you must cede control of this part of inherited good to state. If you truly owned it, inheritance taxes would be zero.

"Files are dead" is an oft-quoted meme, but they aren't going away anytime soon.

I wrote a piece offering a counterpoint to this view five years ago (in response to a similar article by Fred Wilson) and I think most of the points still hold true today:


This is timely considering google's announcement to dump indexing of flash (swf) assets. I get it, the format is unused, buggy, and possibly insecure. That said, much of the nascent internet was built on that. Even "All Your Base" was originally in flash.

On the plus side, a lot of the non-interactive Flash content is now on YouTube. I was going through old Weebls Stuff animations the other day, it was a real blast from the past.

I don't really care what everybody else is doing, I'm just glad I can still buy a NAS and fill it with 10TB drives if I wanted to. I don't even have to search to hard to find them. It probably even pretty easy to make those drives public.

Indeed, I have a NAS full of my own ripped media and find myself using Kodi more often than the streaming services (I pay for Spotify, Netflix and Amazon) just so I can watch whatever I want to watch rather than whatever they happen to have available at any given moment. Another bonus is it's all ad-free.

Economies of scale work against you. If the consumer hardware market shrinks, there will be fewer players on the market. Fewer players may lead to erratic supply and/or monopoly-driven price hikes (see e.g. pharma). So you should care, on at least some level, what everybody else is doing.

First thing that comes to mind are containers/virtual envs and freezing versions with requirements.txt files.

That could get interesting unpiecing that a decade later. Scavenger hunts for old versions...

"We love services." Citation needed.

sucks how dropbox deletes inactive accounts. with all that ipo and vc money how hard is it to keep things running? I remember in the early 2000s when yahoo mails lasted forever. same Hotmail. now everything shuts down if you don't use it.

Not to contradict your main point, but I seem to remember that I lost a Hotmail account to inactivity sometime after 2005. So maybe Hotmail isn't the best example

My Yahoo account did the same, though that was around 2010 I think.

The author doesn't make the connection explicit, but tools like Figma reduce the need for files as a means of conveying information between parties. Instead, you collaborate directly in the tool, freeing the designer from having to constantly export and send around documents, and freeing engineers from having to chase down exports. Figma also has a feature where you can "shoulder surf" another person as they work. The ability to see what others are doing in the document leads to some interesting interactions. (You see my cursor moving in a way that indicates I'm counting the number of rows in a design; you message me and tell me it's 15.)

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