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Crazy New Ideas (paulgraham.com)
901 points by razin 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 774 comments

Lots of comments already, but I'll chime on in.

I realized this very late in life, but I have a test for when it's time to pay attention to a new technology. It's when technical people look at what seems like a groundbreaking idea, seem unimpressed, and say "couldn't you just _____", were the blank is filled with something a nontechnical person doesn't understand or considers very cumbersome.

The web: couldn't you just transfer a file to an open port and use a rendering tool to view it?

Blogs: couldn't you just update a web page?

Wikis: couldn't you just update a web page?

social media: couldn't you just set up group view preferences and use RSS?

youtube: couldn't you just upload a video and use tags for search?

twitter: couldn't you just not? Isn't that just a worse version of what we can already do??

Honestly, I've overlooked almost every one of these things, because I failed to understand how removing small bits of friction can cause a technology to explode.

Sure, some ideas are crazy new, but some sound too underwhelming to be revolutionary. but they are, there's no question about it, all those things I listed above changed the world, in ways both good and pretty damn awful.

I think of this as my "Kardashian problem".

I don't understand why the Kardashians are famous or wealthy. I mean I get the mechanics of it - famous legal case -> sex tape -> reality TV show. But I don't understand how this works, or why it works.

This isn't their problem. They are very wealthy, famous, and they obviously totally grok how their market works.

This is my problem. I should not attempt to produce a mass-market product until I understand it as well as the Kardashians understand their market. They are experts in their domain. I am not, and I doubt I ever will be. I don't even understand how their market works. Why does anyone spend any time watching these people? Until I understand that, I should stay away from mass-market ideas.

The other replies to your comment don't seem to address your fundamental point that the Kardashians and their kind are in a different category than other celebrities. Their skills are not acting or singing or sports, but rather generating news to keep themselves in the headlines. I don't really recall this being a category until the start of reality TV, and even then it was short-lived after the shows ended. It wasn't until Paris Hilton that I was really aware of how powerful this category can be, and others have figured out the formula as well, leading to the Kardashians and other influencers. The successful ones have the social intelligence to know how and what kind of outrageous or salacious news to generate to attract people who like to feel envy, indignation, and a sense of superiority to famous people to watch their antics, and thus feed the hype machine that keeps them in the spotlight and allows them to reap the rewards of that spotlight.

Yes, this is something the 45th US president did quite well

It comes down to two things: consistency of brand, and constantly creating content. Media does the rest. If you think about 45, he almost always wore the same thing, put his name on everything, applied the same style of opinions to everything (either loved or hated something, with limited nuance). Offered a simple opinion on everything.

He was always slightly outrageous which the left wing media had a job dealing with in a way that did not benefit him. He'd say something a bit bad which was then on the cover of all the newspapers when it would have been politically better to ignore him.

Trump is arguably one of the first successful reality TV stars. He basically laid the groundwork.

The Kardashians took up the ball that Paris Hilton dropped.

Kim Kardashian was Paris Hilton's intern and appeared on Paris Hilton's show. I don't think that was accidental.

This is a solid point about Donald Trump. I owned the Trump board game as a kid. (Released in 1989! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trump:_The_Game) We thought he was such a goof, but he was definitely a social media star before social media networks.

I think you're giving them a lot more credit than is due. they are merely puppets poorly acting out situations scripted by people who do understand how to market their products

That's no different than actors and singers, who act out situations scripted by their publicists and managers who understand how to market their products. Regardless, we are talking about the kind of product that's being sold, which is fundamentally different than those sold by actors and singers.

actors and singers are contributing to the arts, plus they require at least an iota of talent, which is more than can be attributed to those vapid degenerates

Yes, and this is exactly Marcus Holmes's point.

But they are billionaires and we are not

I don't think this category is entirely new. Drama and gossip always was a prominent topic among people, even before global media was a think. But what shifted over time was the quality of content that was allowed to surface in media. In the 80s and 90s cheap trash-content became a think, to feed the growing demand for content, and to lower the costs of production, but also because people learned more about the culture of modern media. And with this movement, many types of content which were former just local stuff that people did privatly, became professionalised for TV and pushed to the whole world. So it really was just a matter of time till even parasocialicer made their appearence.

And with parasocialicer I mean the type of people who's main effect is to be someone who'se existence people can enjoy, without delivering anything actually skillfull outside of social interaction. Similar to cat- or dog-content.

Certainly there's nothing new under the sun. The difference is the degree in which these people are prominent in media and the zeitgeist, to the point where they make a comfortable living from this work.

I sort of see where you're going with this, but a large part of the equation missing (at least in your outline; not to suggest you're ignorant of it) is 1) startup capital (they were already wealthy) and 2) a powerful and influential network. Their skill was leveraging these things, of course, so I'm not saying their success was inevitable, but even having those opportunities in place for Kris, Kim etc. to build on puts them far ahead of most people trying to enter the market. Maybe before trying to figure out how to appeal to the mass-market like a Kardashian, try figuring out how to appeal to a small but dynastically wealthy and famous market like a Kardashian ;)

I think your problem is treating the success of the Kardashians as deterministic

Their initial success may not have been, but their sustaining success absolutely must be, or else it would have fizzled out, one way or another. Many celebrities tried to latch on to this style of success as their careers waned more generally, (Jessica Simpson comes to mind, she had a similar enough reality TV show and was a big star for her time), but there was no sustaining power there. Not saying she isn't in her own right successful (she is), but by all given metrics I can think of, the Kardashians are outliers here

How about these examples? Amiga had customers, and was profitable, yet Amiga is no longer a force in the computing, nor is Commodore.

Both had more (arguably) capable operating systems than Windows (until at least Windows 95), yet, no sustaining power.

Look at the sustaining power of iOS and Android, despite other more capable competitors that tried to win market share (Windows Phone, WebOS, and I really wanted WebOS to win, mind you)

> their sustaining success absolutely must be

Isnt that just survivorship bias?

I find going from 0 to 1 much more interesting than 1 to n though, since 0 to 1 seems far less understood.

As do I, what I'm addressing here is a question of "do they have some kind of special staying power" which is in my mind, an absolute yes.

Its understanding how they managed that that you can work your back to 0, I think. There is value in that

Considering there are now many many more of those type of people on youtube and instagram, I would not call it undeterministic. Sure, there is many luck and several variables involved; not many can do the same, especially not on that scale. But the general process of how it works is today known enough for other people succedding too.

If it's non deterministic, if these people are just extraordinarily lucky, then OK. But that means it's all just luck, just being in the right place and knowing the right people at the right time. And I don't have that kind of luck so I should stay away from mass-market ideas. Or probably, any ideas at all because there's nothing special about the mass-market, and it's all "just luck".

There are millions of beautiful people out there trying to get rich and famous. The Kardashians have managed to do that very successfully, and consistently, for years. I don't think that's luck. That doesn't look like luck. I think they knew exactly what they were doing, had a good plan, and executed it perfectly. And a major component of that was understanding their market perfectly.

There's actually a lot of "Kardashian-like" people out there these days.

People literally throw money at girls talking to a camera, taking photos of themselves and their lives and/or playing games.

I still don't quite understand why :D

People, not girls. There are actually more men than woman with that livestyle. Unless you are also consider Instragram-Influencers who are selling beauty-products. But those usally don't play games.

The Kardashians have just perfected the Seinfeldian idea that people want to watch people doing whatever.

It's a soap opera played out as though it's real life and on social media, and soap operas have been popular since the 1930s.

IMHO the reality and social media aspects of it get all the attention and people focus on those and think it's something entirely new and unprecedented, but really they're just force multipliers. Soap + reality and social media. That's it. The things that actual make it engaging are exactly the same as those in any soap, but even soaps are powerful enough that they can bend some people's reality.

I once saw an interview with the star of a popular soap here in the UK. He played a despicable character that manipulated and betrayed the people about him, especially women. He said that at a certain point when his character was particularly nefarious he had to avoid going out in public. Quite frequently he would be walking down the street and a woman (it was always a woman) would start screaming and shouting at him, telling him how horrible he was, and he should be ashamed of himself. Some of them even threw things at him. An actor in a TV show, it wasn't even a reality show, this was long before they even started. (Dirty Den in East Enders).

A lot of people consuming this stuff, even the explicitly fictional dramas, have a lot of problems distinguishing between reality and fantasy. They will sometimes even acknowledge they know it's just a show, while also directing abuse at the actors. Deliberately blur the boundary between fiction and real life, as reality shows do, and the brew becomes even more viscerally engaging.

Given this, things like qAnon become a lot more understandable. There are a _lot_ of people who are just out and out fantasists. If there are enough to make actors hide at home, that means there are some on almost every street in every city or town in the world all the time.

Edit: https://www.digitalspy.com/soaps/eastenders/a27088763/soap-v...

You should clearly not enter a market you do not understand, because you'll probably lead you to bring a knife to a gunfight.

But your conclusion about mass-market is too broad, this is not a single thing and can really depend on your definition and perspective.

Apple devices can be considered mass-market or niche.

Luck seems to play a big role in the celebrity market

I agree.

I would like to add luck to the theatrical world too.

I look at movie stars, and it seems like a very exclusive club.

If you can read lines, have a bit of charisma, and get that ever so lucky break--it almost seems like you have to work at getting kicked out, and even if you gain a bunch of weight, and fry your liver, and kidneys with drugs; in many cases the actor just gets more opportunities.

It seems like a couple hundred actors get most of the jobs.

As to the Kardiasians I believe it was luck, and a good product. I can't believe I wrote that last sentence. I never thought I would put "good", and "Kardasians" in the same sentence.

I kinda get the success of the Kardasians though. The ladies look multiracial. They are of all ages. For so long the fair skinned starlet was the desirable one.

Now--it's changing, and I like the change.

I'm still baffled by the younger one's financial success in makeup, and what not. She is worth over a billion dollars. MBA programs should be studying her business moves.

Selling to women is an art. If you can crack the mystery you can be a billionaire too? I remember hearing someone say selling to men is easy. Give them a product they like, and they will come back. She said selling to women is more nuanced. I always have that advice in the back of my mind.

I have a very pretty sister who moved to Los Angeles. She skipped college. She felt it was a waste of time, and she was probally right? She used networking to get jobs. She then decided to make, and sell shoes. In a few years, she had multiple stores, and is very successful. (Sadly we are not close. I will always love her, but the greed got mixed in family stuff. I guess that happens a lot?)

I remember looking at her first prototypes, and didn't get it at all. I wished her well though. She got a tiny bit of financial help.

She didn't need any advice from me though. She knew what would sell. She literally started off making the shoes in her garage, with minimal materials, and tools. I was always encouraging. I knew fashion was way out of my wheel house though.

(I really don't have a point? I rambled all over the place? Looking at my writing I hope nothing is considered sexist.)

> I'm still baffled by the younger one's financial success in makeup, and what not. She is worth over a billion dollars. MBA programs should be studying her business moves.

This is not what luck looks like. This is what a good plan being executed perfectly looks like.

Your sister sounds like someone who understood her market well, worked out a plan to tackle it, and executed it perfectly.

I wish I understood a market well enough to create that kind of plan. I don't feel like I understand myself well enough to market to me, let alone anyone else.

The celebrity market (or showbiz in general) is poised to be disrupted by YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok as the gatekeepers (production and distribution houses) have been effectively thrown off from their perch.

Exactly and the pandemic basically disrupted the traditional celebrity info market.. you can't go to a party or restaurant etc... no photo ops.

The problem with luck is that people who are extremely skilled at something seem to usually get inordinately lucky. Part of skill involves setting yourself up to get lucky.

To some degree, problems of luck are also problems of volume: if you are president #45 and you have a 5% chance at creating a viral tweet, tweet 50 times and you will get one.

It’s surfing. The wave is luck, but the successful ones know how to get up on the board and ride it.

Luck also seems to plays a big role in the programming lang market.

Yet the behavior of lang maintainers seems to have an outpaced influence over that luck: individual programmers actively chose Guido over Larry or Matz. In turn, Armin's framework looks about in line popularity-wise with DHH's at present, but the trend seems clear. We trust Node because Ryan rage quit. Oracle has cast a shadow over Java, and their TIOBE descent is finally manifesting. K&R may never be unseated, e.g. A Deepness in the Sky. Anyone who's seen Anders in person has witnessed his presence.

I wouldn't discount the effects of actual human characteristics and behavior, even if choices end up mostly based on fashion and a fascination with infamy. One can influence their own luck.

the phrase "famous for being famous" sums it up nicely. it's a feedback loop.

With respect, I believe anyone who uses the term "famous for being famous" isn’t working very hard to understand the subject. It is roughly like saying a programming language is successful because it uses semicolons.

I think it makes sense, a lot of celebrities that I know, I only happen to know them because someone else talked about them, not because they have some kind of talent that I was looking for.

I met the owner of the garage on Oak Tree road in Edison, NJ several years back. Hia garage was part of Paris Hilton episode where she works with customers visiting for car repair. What he said shocked me. He said we are fools thinking that Paris Hilton is stupid. The joke is on us. He said she was paid a ten figure amount to be part of the show and she very well knew how the market worked.

> This isn't their problem. They are very wealthy, famous, and they obviously totally grok how their market works

Just because they understand how to play the game in their current situation, it does not mean they could replicate the process of getting to their current situation.

The same is true in science.

The same is also true in business (this is one root cause for the "hard-to-place smell" that surrounds the HBS case study approach).

>> my "Kardashian problem"

You need lots of empathy for sociopaths if your aim is to understand the why and the how of their successes. The fact you don't understand them makes me think you're a good person. The world would be a much better place if people weren't trying to copy them.

Thanks :)

I don't want to copy them, per se. I respect them for their business acumen, and I would like to be that good at marketing. But as you say, sociopaths. I would do different things with the power that that kind of money brings.

Pornography for women works completely differently than pornography for men.

This is rather insulting and dismissive. There's a lot of empty media content aimed primarily at men that's no more ultimately meaningful than celeb gossip that's hardly "pornography." Sports are the most obvious. A lot of empty action/comedy shows would also fit the bill, I think.

Can you expand on the idea that the Kardashians produce pornography for women? Sounds like it could explain why I don't get it!

I don't know if I would call it "pornography for women" but in my experience women tend to be more interested in social dynamics. e.g. Who said what to whom and why, X is fighting with Y because of Z and J is siding X instead of K, and so on.

These shows tend to be about groups of characters engaging in what you might call social or political struggles. Tensions, drama, conflict, emotions, and so on. Reality shows like the Kardashians are a distillation of these aspects and create something that is sweet like sugar to people who are disposed to enjoy that flavor.

I think a lot of people judge reality TV shows without watching them and kind of look down on them. If you don't have the taste for something it's easy to look down on it. For example, lots of people look down on Star Trek, which I loved when I was younger and still do. If I had to answer why I liked Star Trek, it's because I like to imagine myself as Captain Picard and figure out what I would do if I were faced with the given moral dilemma of the week. If my fantasy preferences tended towards "How would I handle the handsome jerk my sister is dating while I myself am a beautiful billionaire?" then I would watch different shows.

I think your comment is more sophisticated and useful than my “pornography for women”. What I was getting at in particular was that fantasies of luxury, arbitrary amounts of money, clothes, homes, vacations, and being listened to, resonate with many women on a fundamental level, and this may be entwined with their sexuality. Whether this is a form of pornography or not is complex. The points about politics above are well made. I have always thought that these endless “social dynamic” controversies represents a real time estimation, by the women involved, of their mating attractiveness, which partially governs all the chrome junk they’re enveloped in, but I am certainly a very amateur analyst. Two more thoughts, one from my late mother and one from me. 1. There are no books in these houses and no abstract concepts. 2. It is useful to contrast the details here with men’s obsession with sports.

The parent is actually talking about a far larger category that existed commercially in a studied way long before the Kardashians, it's simply: sex sells.

Madonna knew it in the 1980s. Britney or Jessica Simpson knew it in the 1990s. Paris Hilton knew it in the 2000s. The Kardashians have known it the past 15 years. Hugh Hefner knew it 70 years ago. Every model of consequence knows it.

The Kardashians are extraordinarily talented at selling sexuality. They know how to package it. They know how to market it. They intentionally replicated the system that worked so well for Kim, on to Kylie Jenner as she came of age.

Once you gain an initial position via your sexuality, leverage it into further gains. Sex rarely fails to sell.

And the parent is also correct in that it mostly (not exclusively) works for women, regardless of the downvotes attempting to change human nature and reality. A few male celebrities have benefitted tremendously from the effect, including Brad Pitt and Matthew McConaughey (how many famous male models can you name from the past 20-30 years though?).

There are literally millions of beautiful people trying to make a living out of being beautiful. I don't believe that "being beautiful" or "sex sells" adequately explains the success of any of the people you mention.

And the target market for the Kardashians (I think, as far as I understand it) is not the people who find them sexually attractive. This is different from Marilyn Monroe, who mostly appealed to straight men, and for whom "sex sells" would be a perfect description. The Kardashian's market don't want to have sex with the Kardashians. They want to be the Kardashians (I think).

Yes, I had that thought too. My wife is an artistic, leftist resister type with a background in ballet, dance, and education. She watches the Kardashians, all the Housewives, the Shahs, all that crap. She doesn’t aspire to this either. She buys all her clothes in thrift shops! So it is extremely complex.

Millions of woman try to get famous based on looks and sexuality alone. They (almost) all fail. So I think it is more complicated than that.

I really don't remember tech people poo-pooing some of the examples you gave as "couldn't you..." I think you're looking at these examples with too fine a lens of implementation, especially in retrospect.

the web: I was a teen when people started using local "freenets" to connect to a text-only web and I think most people who tried it were amazed that you could instantly view content somebody on the other side of the world put up

blogs: I suppose "blogging platforms" were things you could say "couldn't you update a web page" but I think it was clear that what they provided was network effects you couldn't get from just your own web page and easy styling

wikis: I remember the idea being amazing because you could edit the page without having to sign in or create an account. That's not something you could just do with "updating a web page"

youtube: it was amazing that you could easily stream videos for free and search them. There was also a ton of copyright stuff in the early days.

Really, a better way to look at whether a technology is worth paying attention to is to ask "what can this allow us to do more easily that we couldn't before?"

Thanks, I was looking for this comment. Most of the examples he gave just seem like absolute straw men to me:

> The web: couldn't you just transfer a file to an open port and use a rendering tool to view it?

Did anyone actually ever say this? The web was clearly a technological advancement that most tech people realized out of the gate.

> Wikis: couldn't you just update a web page?

It was pretty obviously apparent with wikis that letting anyone update the page, from the browser, was a cool technological achievement. I was well into my tech career at this point and don't remember anyone reacting to wikis this way.

> youtube: couldn't you just upload a video and use tags for search?

I mean, these are getting ridiculous. When YouTube came out video sharing was a major PITA, a pain that hit most technical people, too.

I just don't buy GP's premise because all of the examples seem like something only "Tech Support Guy" from those old SNL skits would say.

> > The web: couldn't you just transfer a file to an open port and use a rendering tool to view it?

> Did anyone actually ever say this? The web was clearly a technological advancement that most tech people realized out of the gate.

I don't get why we're even talking about it. The original example is nonsense. The web literally does what that example says - pushes byte streams to computers that use a rendering tool to view them.

Arguably, what made the web popular wasn't HTTP per se. The two core ingredients were, in my opinion, DNS infrastructure and that "rendering tool", AKA. web browser. Together, they made it easy to publish files and let random people access them. Arguably, the third leg would be the <A> tag in early HTML, which kept everything glued together while it expanded exponentially.

I agree. These are examples of things I initially dismissed, in part because I thought didn’t see how they addressed the minor factors that were holding back a sudden and widespread adoption. And yeah, I think there is a technical element to this and I do recall technical people puzzled about how popular web pages in a browser had become (seeing it as an unusually limited interface).

Not all though, for all I know this was an unusual perspective even among technically savvy people. I suppose the people who saw the possibility and could act in it were both technical but capable of seeing things outside that narrow lense.

Also remember I wrote these as examples of things I reasoned incorrectly about!

EDIT - re-reading my comment above, I see I did write "technical people" rather than "me". I'm sure I'm not at all alone in having this tendency, but I'm definitely not ready to defend the idea that this is a universal or even common tendency among technical people. Perhaps I should have written "when I find myself thinking "couldn't you just""...

A somewhat HN-famous example of the "couldn't you..." sentiment would be this from the debut of Dropbox ("couldn't you just use ftp"):


>youtube: it was amazing that you could easily stream videos for free and search them. There was also a ton of copyright stuff in the early days.

Hosting videos back then required plugins on the part of the viewer, which was something we were all cautioned not to download because of security.... Youtube was the first site that broke through the ice and had enough content to start taking advantage of network effects, and didn't blow that lead.

For blogs in particular - this came after both geocities and livejournal. Folks had the ability to host their own websites with relative ease and to write a post history that other folks could subscribe and comment on. Blogging as a verb and Blogs as a noun really came into their own when folks decided that this sort of journal was a common enough task (and shared hosts like live journal lacked enough features) that software to easily throw together a stream of articles had common value.

That is, at least, if my knowledge of the series of events is off. Livejournal existing is about when I got into the web but that predated blogs (and particularly bloggers in the context of investigative journalism) becoming a term by quite a fair bit.

I think you're right about the timeline. I do remember livejournal being around before Blogger, which is around when "blogging" became a term.

I remember getting into a few people's web-based online diaries in the late '90s and definitely some folks used geocities to host their journals. I remember using it myself to post whatever nonsense I was doing to share with friends.

You could use the finger command on users and read their .plan files even earlier than that. Quake developers were famous for those. https://fabiensanglard.net/fd_proxy/doom3/pdfs/johnc-plan_19...

I’m not convinced that’s a good rule of thumb at all, because there’s so many examples where it applies and is wrong, and many where it doesn’t apply but the tech was revolutionary.

Not to mention the greater point: Im not even that convinced tech is ever really revolutionary (at least at the same time it gets mainstream adoption). Usually the big improvement it made existed years earlier or in competitors but the timing was right for it to appear.

Youtube was doing the same thing as daily motion and another (I think Vimeo?). Facebook was just “cool MySpace”, blogs were personal webpages that got suddenly popular: a lot of these just popped up and executed at the right time and in the right way.

My point is: without looking at the technology at all or knowing anything about it, you could perfectly tell what “revolutionary product” would suddenly become the next big thing simply with perfect information about the market and how it will shift at each step.

You could invent the fastest most efficient and cheapest way in the universe to launch spaghetti, but the “revolutionary” nature of your invention doesn’t matter at all because there’s no market for it, even if the very technical spaghetti enthusiasts suggest “why don’t you just build your own spaghetti railgun?”.

Markets matter, products derive their value entirely from those markets and are worth nothing alone.

Consequently, knowing which products WILL BE revolutionary (here I deliberately define revolutionary after the fact, because amazing product with no market isn’t revolutionary) is very hard because even if you know the initial market, you won’t know how things change.

I suspect the best you can do to make or identify revolutionary products is to really know the initial customer and early market, rely on some long term perceived trend that aligns broad markets closer to your early market, then iterate quickly keeping the pulse on the market onwards towards the mass market - which means we’ve just re-derived the lean startup process.

I think the big thing about these innovations was that the nay-sayers didn't expect how big a demand there would be for specific implementations of them after the network effect kicks in. Social media? Technically it is very simple. But now everyone is on it so the dominant platforms are making billions with advertising.

We didn't need a social media platform. We needed a social media platform where most of the interesting people (including our friends) are on.

I just wish social media platforms had adviasarial integration like telephone companies were forced to do.

Let the platforms compete on UX and data handling policies.

That way, the interesting people on one platform aren't gated away from the interesting people on others.

I mean I want a social media product with only my friends on it that filters out all the crap.

In many cases what people failed to anticipate was simply how successful online advertising would prove to be. Many of these ideas were just ways to lose money when they were first implemented.

To summarize: one can't predict user adoption. If they can, I'd encourage them to start the required companies in order to capture it.

> It's when technical people look at what seems like a groundbreaking idea, seem unimpressed, and say "couldn't you just _____", were the blank is filled with something a nontechnical person doesn't understand or considers very cumbersome.

This is basically putting the cart before the horse and pretty much the definition of hindsight bias. We all know the BrandonM/Dropbox quip, but that's just a fun anecdote, not some universal axiom.

I don't really have any dog in this race (I won't use Mighty because my PC/Laptop is more than capable of hundreds of tabs and Electron apps), but if it succeeds, good on Suhail!

> pretty much the definition of hindsight bias

This. The antidote is to revisit examples of "couldn't you just X" where X indeed prevailed. There are even instances where superseding technology was actually better, but it was too late to replace X.

My favorite example is Iridium (and the whole satellite internet industry so far, let's see what will happen with Starlink). It's one thing to remove friction, but only if the new cost structure is still favorable.

Disruption doesn't happen because new tech is better/cooler, it happens when it introduces competitive advantage.

What is the BrandonM/Dropbox quip?

Other users have provided the link, but my heart sinks a little every time I see this brought up, especially when the commenter is singled out by name. People forget that this is a real person. He also happens to be a first-class HN contributor, and has been for many years.

I realize it's internet fun to point neon arrows at people seeming outrageously wrong in the past, but the truth is that people aren't reading that comment accurately and there's a huge dose of hindsight fallacy here.

When he wrote "I have a few qualms with this app", he didn't mean the software. He meant their YC application. (Note the title of Drew's post: "My YC App"). He wasn't being a petty nitpicker—he was earnestly trying to help, and you can see in how sweetly he replied to Drew there that he genuinely wanted them to succeed. We should be so lucky for all responses to "crazy new ideas" to be that decent. This community would be healthier, and actually the current thread is a standout example of how far from true it is.

The criticisms he was raising turned out not to be problems in hindsight, but were on point in 2007, when the idea of file synchronization was widely derided as a solution-in-search-of-a-problem which only technical users would ever care about, users who (as the comment pointed out) could already roll their own solutions. The idea had recently been publicly mocked in a famous blog post—singled out as the prime example of an idea only technical users would ever care about—and even YC funded Dropbox because they believed in Drew, not the idea.


>, but the truth is that people aren't reading that comment accurately and there's a huge dose of hindsight fallacy here.

I appreciate your defense of that comment as it made me re-read it as charitably as possible.

That said, I think you're still overlooking some of the reasons that cause the eyerolling of it that's separate from hindsight bias.

First was the "quite trivially" phrase in the comment. That type of verbiage automatically triggers the perception of haughtiness. Imagine if someone did a Show HN of a new webcam security doorbell and a commenter said, ", you can already build such a system yourself _quite trivially_ by getting some components from DigiKey and soldering them yourself". Can you see how that sounds really dismissive?

Second, it was overlooking the idea that the YC app(lication)s are not intended to create products for Linux power users like BrandonM who can string together curlftpfs with CVS/SVN.

So for him to avoid that comment required stepping outside himself to see the perspective of non-techies. He could still dismiss Dropbox... but for different reasons related to not meeting needs of the end user mass market rather than purely base an opinion off his personal skillset.

I don't entirely disagree but even with all of that, it's not a great example of what pg used to call a middlebrow dismissal, especially when there are so many millions of worse examples. "Quite trivially" sounds terrible out of context, but (a) he scoped it to Linux users, (b) it's clear from the downstream reply that he was speaking from experience, and (c) he immediately agreed with Drew that even that solution had drawbacks and thanked him for the technical correction. That's the behavior of someone making good conversation, not someone being haughty. A haughty dismisser would have seized the opportunity to up the snark.

> it was overlooking the idea that the YC app(lication)s are not intended to create products for Linux power users

I don't think that's an accurate reading. His Linux point was only one of three, and the other two were about the mass market. Given that he had implemented the Linux solution himself, I think the fact that he led with that point was probably more out of geeky exuberance than overlooking non-technical users.

It seems to me that in the context of 2007 all three of those points could easily have popped up in Dropbox's YC interview. Don't forget that back then, YC would sometimes fund a startup even though they didn't much believe in the idea (Airbnb famously so), because of the personal impression made by the founders. That's still the case today, and it was the case back then as well :)

> That's the behavior of _someone_ making good conversation, not someone being haughty.

I meant to focus on the text's tone sounding haughty rather than accuse the person being haughty.

Let me try to explain another way to emphasize the text aspect: that particular sentence in isolation is what is quoted on the internet outside of HN:



The "quite trivially" may only be scoped to one bullet point and may be unfairly weighted when looking at his followup thoughtful conversation -- but it also elevated it legendary HN lore.

Ok, but if you read the text as a whole, it's not true that it's haughty. That it sounds haughty when quoted selectively is the internet's fault, not the commenter's. At most he can be accused of (a) not pre-emptively bulletproofing his text against selective quotation, and (b) not knowing the future. And (a) reduces to (b).

I take your point about lore, and on that level it's just good fun.

p.s. Also, nice use of the word 'haughty'. We need those good English words.

Hello. I’m honestly loving this conversation. Thanks for engaging seriously about it. It also means a lot, dang, that you took the time to both understand my points and also to counter the narrative, all these years after I commented.

As much as I appreciate your thoughtfulness, I really don’t mind the commentary. I’m long past being frustrated about being misinterpreted, and I learned a lot from it, anyway.

As I’ve stated since[1], I was an undergrad when I made those comments. I know how much I’ve grown since then. It feels like someone else said them, and everyone is talking about “not me” when they remark about it today.

I definitely appreciate the love, though. Thanks!

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16661824

I don't know about everyone else, but I always read your comment with the mindset of "this could definitely have been me", not "hah, look at this idiot". I hope most other people read it the same way, because I don't think anyone is 100% correct in their predictions of which product will do well.

>I’m long past being frustrated about being misinterpreted,

Thanks for adding to the discussion. While dang was trying to defend your character, I was emphasizing the peculiar wordsmithing of your text being an enduring magnet for memes. Are you aware of snowclones[1]? Here's a recent snowclone example[2] from HN: For a Linux user, you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by installing an x11vnc server on your host, setting up a SSH tunnel to a remote server which forwards the host's VNC port, [...]

Here's my theory on the phenomenon and why your old comment keeps getting cited...

Your 1st bullet point's text about ftp was so poetic that it hijaacks the mind and it overshadows the rest of your comment(s). It's like people think Bruce Springsteen's song "Born in the USA" is a celebration of patriotism when actually, the total lyrics are about disposable veterans from the Vietnam War. It's the "born in the USA" chorus that more people remember and not the nuanced verses of sadness.

If you had written about ftp in a more hesitating way with more qualifiers...e.g. "Maybe I'm reading the Dropbox application incorrectly but it seems like it duplicates what ftp already does [...] blah blah blah" -- your skepticism would have been forgotten because the text would have been boring and safe.

But your text of, "For a Linux user, you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by getting an FTP account," -- combined with obscure tools unknown to the masses like "curlftpfs/SVN/CVS" -- was irresistibly quotable. That unintentionally became your "born in the USA" chorus.

Even before your 2007 comment, there was already a "too many techies are out-of-touch about the needs of non-techies" criticism in the air and the internet punching bag to express it was the famous 2001 Slashdot comment[3] about the iPod: "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame."

So the HN collective found a new example of "out of touch techies" in the "famous Dropbox comment". But only the 1st bullet point and it doesn't care about the rest of your thoughtful nuanced conversation and replies. It's unfair but I'm glad to hear you've made peace with it.

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

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24230416

[3] https://slashdot.org/story/01/10/23/1816257/apple-releases-i...

Haha, thanks for pointing me to that comment. It’s especially hilarious to me because I wrote a blog post nearly 10 years ago about exactly how to configure SSH+VNC like that[1][2]. It was even featured in the now-defunct Hacker Monthly.

I appreciate your theorizing on its staying power. It’s interesting to think about why a particular phrase sticks with people.

[1] http://shebang.mintern.net/tips-for-remote-unix-work-ssh-scr...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3364025

When Drew Houston first posted Dropbox on HN, BrandonM had the top comment that doubted its viability/usefulness as a product. It's been the topic of a lot of discussion since then, including between the two themselves.

>I have a few qualms with this app:

>1. For a Linux user, you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by getting an FTP account...

From: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9224

Sorry, I can't resist... I just noticed from the URL that my comment was the 9,224th item ever on Hacker News. Hacker News was a very different place back then. YC wasn't well known at all. Hell, the iPhone hadn't been released yet. We still had to walk uphill both ways to get to school and back.

Few seem to consider that contextual difference. Poor word choice aside for a moment, "quite trivially" meant something very different in 2007 than it has come to mean today.

"For a Linux user, you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by getting an FTP account, mounting it locally with curlftpfs, and then using SVN or CVS on the mounted filesystem. From Windows or Mac, this FTP account could be accessed through built-in software."

It’s not hindsight bias if you think it’s face smackingly obvious at the time.

I agree there’s still a conundrum here, why is something obviously one way to some very smart people like BrandonM while the exact opposite seems just as obvious to other people. I suspect it’s more about what people value than what they know technically.

> but if it succeeds, good on Suhail!

Well, not exactly. There's plenty of people who have been successful at, frankly horrible things.

I count this kind of "not your computer, ours" rent seeking change as "bad if successful".

I don't really buy this. A lot of complaints are about the privacy of the whole ordeal. That's kind of moot considering Google has access to all of my banking emails, Dropbox has access to all of my invoices, Apple has access to all of my photos, and Equifax already leaked my SSN years ago.

Most of my life already doesn't happen on my personal locked-down device.

Fwiw, unlike the examples above, we have permission to your data (if you give it to us) but we don't own or control any of it. We don't store it elsewhere. We don't sell it to the highest bidder. We don't mine it for some other purpose.

Let me be clear: we plan to charge a subscription. That's our only business model.

I think we can improve privacy and security for most users who have trouble managing it. For instance, we can patch Chrome zero-days (many have occurred this year) a lot faster for everyone.

What we offer today is a faster way to use applications that do own your data so you can be much more productive and hopefully enable a new set of applications never before possible.

We help improve decentralization of the web over duopolies like Apple/Windows. We make the browser more powerful, not less.

We improve the market share of Linux as a consumer computing OS as it underlies our tech.

In time, we might be open to people owning their own hardware and running Mighty on it but I think a lot of people will prefer we make it "just work" for now. I don't view either world as mutually exclusive.

If there's an opportunity to research making things trustless, we'll work on that.

I dont have an issue with this specific case, more the industry shift to rent seeking. Cars have subscriptions. Next your thin client hardware needs to pay rent to work. It is a slippery slope and claiming virtue doesnt decrease the gradient.

Also, history tells us when companies say they wont be evil... they mean "not yet". It is a middle man power play pure and simple.

The rest feels like classic SV/startup window dressing to get the job done.

>I dont have an issue with this specific case, more the industry shift to rent seeking. Cars have subscriptions. Next your thin client hardware needs to pay rent to work.

I think that's just called "switching to a subscription model". "Rent seeking" has a different meaning.


> "Also, history tells us when companies say they wont be evil... they mean "not yet". It is a middle man power play pure and simple."

That's factually incorrect that, that always happens and I am not sure why you think we're grouped into that without any evidence or a basis of reasoning.

i have a hard time classifying mighty as 'rent seeking' - they are providing you computational resources in return for money, not seeking some sort of gatekeeping money by virtue of owning a scarce or critical-path resource.

Agreed, my concern is about the trajectory of the product offerings more broadly. Embrace-extend-rent seems a common theme. I hope the case of Mighty has better intentions. Perhaps I am too cynical.

I wonder if the pitch deck had the same value proposition we are getting or if it said "lets own consumer virtual desktop starting with Chrome". Both are valid.

Feels like a bait and switch.

This seems related to Clarke's First Law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Second Law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke%27s_three_laws

That is a great list. I also felt the same about many of those technologies, but I never thought to put it so succinctly -- as you have!

For years, I never understood the point of Twitter. It felt like nano-blogging -- Why not just use a regular blog platform?. Later, I realised it is a single global open forum of "random" chats that are interlinked via @person and #idea links. So if a bunch of random people who don't know each other are nano-blogging about #idea, it's like they are part of a chat room called #idea. And, of course, you can cross-post to multiple @people and #ideas in same Tweet. And there is no gate-keeping: You don't need to ask to join an #idea and I don't think it is possible to block other people referencing your @name. Other social media platforms seem to integrate with the @people and #idea thing -- no sure if that actually came from Twitter.

Technology and concept aside, I still think most of Twitter is garbage content. /Once in a while/, I see a Twitter thread from an economist or hedge fund manager that is referenced by FT Alphaville (https://ftalphaville.ft.com/). And to be fair: A lot of interesting discussion about racial injustice in last five years originated as complaints or short stories on Twitter... then blew-up in more traditional media. Else... it seems like noise.

Related to your list: One thing I have never understood: Brand names create social media precense, like Coca Cola on Facebook. And people subscribe. Why? That is so weird. Coca Cola... really? I dunno... maybe they have fun photos on their Instagram. I assumed social media was for human-to-human contact, not business-to-human contact. I was wrong! Some of those brand names have massive social media following. Campbell's Soup! Tide Detergent!

“For a Linux user, you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by getting an FTP account, mounting it locally with curlftpfs, and then using SVN or CVS on the mounted filesystem. From Windows or Mac, this FTP account could be accessed through built-in software.” - Dropbox

- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9224

I knew this would show up again. It's a comment that will live in infamy.

I love how what ended up happening was "Or you can pay Dropbox to not have to do any of this".

I don't want to manage my backups or I guess file syncs between machines.

Dropbox became a thing among technical users before it bridged to mainstream users. We all knew other, kludgy ways of doing the same thing, but it made it a little easier so we adopted it. Soon enough we were telling mainstream users that it's a good solution. Wikis and blogs began among technical people and grew out from there. Reddit was basically /r/programming in its early days.

I didn't pay attention to early Twitter, but I'd wager it probably leaned pretty heavily to the software dev demographic.

There is a bit of a disconnect that a lot of people are casting technical users as if it's the group that you shouldn't listen to. As if you can find single cases and say "See!" and that proves the point [1]. Yet an overwhelming percentage of products in the technology space first saw success among the most technical of all. If you don't get that group, it often is doomed to failure.

[1] - just as an aside, there is a tendency of many to point out some "top" comment on some site like HN as if it therefore is the majority opinion. It doesn't work that way. We all don't have mandatory votes on every comment, and even a tiny amount of clustering can send a minority opinion to the top.

Thank you! I wanted to write a positive comment but couldn’t put my finger on it. This is exactly what has me interested in Mighty: making things ever so slightly easier. I already have a fast computer, but I’d still like to try, as there is room for surprise. And the service suggests it is aimed at reducing all manner of friction in using a browser: tab management, etc

This may or may not work but there seems to be obvious potential and In don’t know why people are so dismissive. If it improves worker productivity or saves on hardware upgrade costs, every business will want this.

Yeah but if you found out a quicker and more efficient way to stop people from reading HN, every business would want it because their workers would stop bloviating 4 hours a day for those who know what it is, and the rest of the world would continue on ignorant of it as it always has.

But it's not worth anything. Sometimes you just can't clean up garbage. Graham has too many dishonest people in YC. They're like gollum and want their precious but think they're Gandalf.

We all know HN mods fuck around with rankings, but you know how I know they fuck around with rankings?


This post has 30 upvotes, it got those 30 upvotes in 30 minutes. It's now at the very, very, very bottom of this thread just above all the dead guys because it is critical of Graham.


This post has over 60 upvotes and is critical but is also completely relevant. It has been "detached" by dang.

This is not proof of what you think it is. It may be evidence but it isn't proof.

dang detaching off-topic subthreads is the opposite of mods opaquely fucking around with rankings. He explicitly detached the thread, and posted that he had done so. That's a judgement call which you're welcome to disagree with and I'm not going to affirm or second-guess because I don't care much.

As to the other: we don't know how HN sorts comments, but I would be surprised if it was as simple as the highest-valued comments floating to the top. It is far more likely given what we know about moderation goals, that controversial comments are penalized.

So maybe your comment got 50 upvotes and 20 downvotes? The mods don't want us making huge subthreads about stuff which people disagree about, for the most part: they want some of that, but anything which is drawing a lot of karma from both sides is that much more likely to draw low-quality replies.

Again, this isn't a comment about your comment: pretend I didn't read it, I barely did in fact.

But it certainly doesn't prove that dang put his thumb on the scale. The mods here seem to be pretty transparent about how everything works, without leaking actual formulas which are subject to change and could provide ammunition with which to game the system.

> dang detaching off-topic subthreads is the opposite of mods opaquely fucking around with rankings. He explicitly detached the thread, and posted that he had done so. That's a judgement call which you're welcome to disagree with and I'm not going to affirm or second-guess because I don't care much.

Yeah, you don't care about it much, it wasn't you that it happened to. I don't care that much either. I do care about this easily abused behavior, though.

> As to the other: we don't know how HN sorts comments, but I would be surprised if it was as simple as the highest-valued comments floating to the top. It is far more likely given what we know about moderation goals, that controversial comments are penalized.

I know, as do anyone that has experienced it, that they are penalized. If you say sane but controversial things around here you get downvoted, hidden, silenced. This sounds melodramatic, but think about what you are saying - HN is looking for boring, safe, everyone agrees commentary.

> So maybe your comment got 50 upvotes and 20 downvotes? The mods don't want us making huge subthreads about stuff which people disagree about, for the most part: they want some of that, but anything which is drawing a lot of karma from both sides is that much more likely to draw low-quality replies.

> Again, this isn't a comment about your comment: pretend I didn't read it, I barely did in fact.

With all due respect, I know. I can tell.

> But it certainly doesn't prove that dang put his thumb on the scale. The mods here seem to be pretty transparent about how everything works, without leaking actual formulas which are subject to change and could provide ammunition with which to game the system.

Yeah that's how abuse works, that's how loopholes work. Rules for me and not for you. Rules that are arbitrarily applied.

That's what I've never gotten about HN. You guys are so smart, but it's like you skipped politics 101.

How do you determine how many upvotes a post has received?

They're his posts?

Oh, of course. Thanks.

The problem is that success in Silicon Valley means how much money you can make from a product and not about how the product improves the lives of the users in a balanced and morally acceptable way. Is it really successful to disregard user privacy and capitalize on their lack of knowledge, or to build unsustainable tech on top of already unsustainable tech rather then fixing the real issues.

The problem I see with this heuristic is that it is going to give false positives for, well, the vast majority of cases where there's a supposedly new idea that actually is just an unnecessary rehash or combination of things that already exist but with a new coat of paint. I don't see how the heuristic can possibly have any predictive power. Look at pretty much every tech startup, every get-rich-quick scheme, every cryptocurrency project, etc. and they'll be making grand claims that their idea is groundbreaking, and technical people are going to say "couldn't you just x?" or "isn't this worse than the existing x?" and those dismissals are actually going to be reasonable and proven valid in the overwhelming majority of cases. Of course, your heuristic will also catch the tiny number of cases that do turn out to be groundbreaking (or at least extremely successful or popular).

This is something I have thought about before when it comes to Docker. "It's just a fancy chroot" is what people often say.

While there is some truth to that statement, the real "innovation" is getting millions of people to share and collaborate using the framework. How do make it easy to share and collaborate? Making the technology as frictionless as possible.

I don't see Dockers rise to prominence as a result of some spectacular technical innovation. It's a group of technologies which already existed but now with a great UX around it.

That's just the realization that opinions of technical people don't really matter that much. They don't add up to a critical mass that puts enough buck in the game to make it bang.

> twitter: couldn't you just not?

This is, actually, still true :)

Great observation! It feels to me kind of like the 'blub' problem [0], in that these are both cases where technical folks misjudge the utility of something new (to them) because it merely makes it easy to do something, instead of making it possible to do something. And maybe that 'something' they either don't know they want, or don't realize how often they would use it if it were available, or don't appreciate that others want.

Edit: It might also be an example of the curse of knowledge: what seems trivial to an expert may be a showstopper for a layperson. An expert suffering the curse would implicitly assume that everyone else has the same knowledge sufficient to make convoluted method seem trivial.

[0] http://paulgraham.com/avg.html [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_knowledge

Another perspective; blogs and wikis are two use-cases of essentially the same interaction. The different designs guide and inspire people how to use them. Then, they discover that the use-cases are beneficial.

In some ways, all of social media consist of apps tailored to specific use-cases that haven't been new for decades, but they "invite" normal people to use them.

There are two types ideas:

1. ideas which improve the current broken system (blogs, wiki, youtube, dropbox, etc.)

2. ideas which admits that the current system is broken and just to try to ride on that wave (mighty app, random "fix you wet iPhone", and numerous other failed ones)

The second type of ideas are just are "bad" regardless of how crazy they are. But they will make some money.

Except for twitter, all the alternatives you wrote doesn't even fit the criteria of "couldn't you.." because it is not replacing the given product MVPs. What do you mean by update a page. Blog and wiki just "update the page" more than most other form of sites.

All of those examples boil down to making technology more accessible for the millions or billions of less technologically savvy people.

Indeed, anyone with the knowledge would overlook a lot of these. They're not revolutionary on a technical or individual level, but they are on a social level.

In other words, “we were promised flying cars but ...” You might as well celebrate stock buybacks.

I think there is an analog here to the great man theory vs zeitgeist. Maybe this tech was underwhelming and its massive impact was due to fortuitous timing. So you weren’t wrong about the tech just how it would mix with the spirit of the moment.

This is just cargo culting the Dropbox "you could just use FTP" comment.

I’m curious if you got this idea from the famous HN comment about Dropbox.

No would you post a link? It does fit with the general idea.


Note the date of course - this is well before Dropbox was a household name.

This argument have been attempted already, you can also take Juicero, "can you just squeeze the bad yourself?" , and was indeed a dumb idea. This "crazy idea" is not removing any friction to regular people, regular people browse youtube, or instagram, tik tok, etc... this is targeted to techies, look at the homepage, people who are pointing out the "crazy new idea" , is neither crazy, new, or good at all, are the target of this product. Just because some successful companies had bad feedback in the beginning, doesn't imply "you missed it" or their product will become the next thing. The HN crowd of today is also not the same as the crowd back then(dropbox founder comment fiesta...).

Pretty much everything you listed is a free consumer product.

Yes exactly. Technical people suffer from curse of knowledge and miss great opportunities. Or the idea has to boil the ocean or it's a bust.

u r talking about the small changes that can be disruptive. This is different than the crazy ideas mentioned in the article. Ideas like the earth is round or that a large mass can bend light.

I guess Clayton Christensen explains the difference best in his youtube videos. Also Peter Thiel talks a lot about the difference of ideas in his talks on youtube!!

Canva - couldn't you just use photoshop? This isn't a dig at Canva, but praise.

> It's when technical people look at what seems like a groundbreaking idea, seem unimpressed, and say "couldn't you just _____"

Sounds like HN's reaction to cryptocurrencies

Good heuristic.

It would only be a good heuristic if the same thing isn't being said about actual bad, failed ideas. But I'm pretty sure you can find similar "can't you just" remarks for those.

There are incremental/larger/easier improvements and then there are populism "improvements." The one tends to amplify the other. Facebook was incrementally better than Myspace at first, and then became more popular and much better. Myspace was much better than Friendster. It's an evolutionary model where some improvements are made, some features are lost, and specialization meanders.

I think the transition point is when incremental improvements amplify themselves to the point where they are both way more popular and way more efficient than what came before.

"twitter: couldn't you just not? Isn't that just a worse version of what we can already do??"

This is correct though. Twitter is not a good idea, or a good product (if your metric for good is being useful and improving lives, rather than simply profit). Twitter succeeded because it became a "meme": everyone was caught up in what it could be. By the time it became clear that all the things it could be were bad, it was too late: too many people were on the platform, and their gravitational pull could keep things going indefinitely. Twitter, like a lot of recent "ideas" in tech, is a cake that's all frosting. It runs almost entirely on FOMO.

I learned of the true magnitude of the pandemic weeks before the rest of the world, thanks to twitter.

There are a lot of bad things about it but it genuinely surfaces information you could not have got otherwise or previously.

Nonsense. There's no such thing as a "gravitational pull" that's all "frosting." If that were to be the case, you would see startups investing in Superbowl ads or sponsoring the Olympics. If it worked, there's enough VC money around to make it happen.

MAU metrics highly depend on retention, and the retention highly depends on PMF. If Twitter didn't have PMF, it wouldn't have retained such a huge global userbase.

I also disagree. Twitter has plenty of issues, that I'll grant, but being entirely run on FOMO? Plenty of domain experts in niche areas have twitter accounts, I've been able to learn a ton I otherwise wouldn't have without Twitter's platform.

Twitter, while poorly run at the moment, is one of the best platforms on the web for spreading information. I hope it never dies

Twitter deserves a full time CEO

Wow, I came here to say that this was possibly Paul's best essay ever. There is so much to learn here. Completely surprised by the negative comments and so many of them :). Specially on an essay that is essentially asking to not being critical right away.

In my short startup life, I have had the opportunity of meet many founders, VCs and also get solicited and unsolicited opinions from friends and family. Most of the VCs, friends and family members were critical of my ideas or simply didn't spend the effort to really listen. I see the same thing happening to other founders and startups. Specially fun is meeting VCs who have never built a startup themselves or coming from a non technical background be overly critical and share their strongly held opinions on how my startup could fail. I ran out of fingers counting how many ways.

Ofcourse a startup can fail. Thats why it's not a company yet. There is a saying that it takes many miracles to make a startup a success. Most founders know that already. We are already scared.

Paul is suggesting a different approach. A more positive one. And given the statistics around Paul's and YC's success versus other VCs, you would think that the HN crowd of all people would at-least pay attention.

P.S: My startup was rejected multiple times by YC. So not a fan exactly.

I don't know if I'd say it's Graham's best essay ("Beating the Averages" still ranks as one of my favorites), but reading this most recent essay, I was thinking of Elon Musk.

Say what you will about the guy, and there's an argument to be made that Tesla at least is incremental and not a crazy new idea, but Musk co-founded Paypal and is now pushing limits in spaceflight.

>> but Musk co-founded Paypal

I don't think that's correct: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk#X.com_and_PayPal

Do you not think there is a balance between unalloyed boosterism and lying (the YC way) and not giving you any good feedback?

There are just way more people that I know and trust personally that I think could give positive, but constructive advice. I would believe absolutely nothing coming out of Paul's mouth because he hasn't shown that he's an honest person. He's not disinterested about any of this, but feigns like he is above it.

I think some of us are very sick of the absolutely fake and fraudulent way he and others like him and Musk operate. They do not care about the truth or other people, they care about their own egos and people for whatever reason buy that.

You can't post personal attacks like this to HN, regardless of who you're attacking. Perhaps you don't feel that you owe $person better, but you owe this community much better if you want to participate here.

You crossed badly into bannable territory in this thread. I've responded in more detail here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27066921.

How exactly would we deal with this issue then? I'm sure you've seen where people have accused you of editing Austin Allred's username on his account. Nobody else can do that.If I believe that lambda school or coinbase has been involved in shady business practices, is HN not the place to discuss that? Do you not have a conflict of interest here?

(Although your account is rate-limited because of the quantity of flamewar comments you've posted, I've temporarily turned the rate limit off so you can reply. You don't need to create new accounts, which HN's anti-troll software is rejecting anyhow.)

You posted surprisingly vicious smears in this thread, even blaming one person for the death of another. Some of that you edited in an extremely misleading way, so that the community's original response seemed unreasonable, when in fact it had been appropriate. Even in the above comment, which is still up, you've accused someone of being fake, fraudulent, and dishonest, with zero basis. When asked not to do any of this, you haven't even acknowledged what you did—instead you're changing the subject dramatically. Isn't that a little distasteful?

> I'm sure you've seen where people have accused you

Since you saw the thread where people were bringing it up, I'm surprised you didn't see the explanations:



> is HN not the place to discuss that

People discuss companies, including YC-funded companies, at great length on HN all the time. That's not the issue here. The issue is that you've been breaking the site guidelines very badly, and we need you to stop.

> Do you not have a conflict of interest

I've written extensively about that over the years. If you or anyone is interested, some of those past explanations can be found at the following links:



The short version is that we don't moderate HN to suppress criticism of YC or YC startups, because that would be (a) wrong, (b) futile, and (c) dumb. We moderate HN to try to keep it interesting and in line with the site guidelines (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html) — that's all. I'd never claim to be immune from bias (who could?) but I can tell you what principles we try to apply and can at least claim to have years' worth of practice at them.

There's nothing secret here, by the way, in the sense that anyone can get an answer to any question about how HN works (other than technical details about anti-abuse software, and that only because they would stop working if they weren't secret). Trying to run an online community any other way would be inefficient and self-defeating. We try to never do anything that isn't defensible to the community, because the community's good will is the only asset HN has.

I completely understand how easy it is for unexplained details to compound into weird and sinister pictures. That's a fact of human life that we all have to deal with, especially online. But really the cleanest and freshest way to deal with it is to check what's actually happening, when that option is available. HN, even though it has millions of users, is still small enough that that option is actually available. Why not take advantage of that?

My "smears" involved talking about how Reddit didn't ban the watchpeopledie and greatawakening subreddits until they became a public issue. People were making death threats in the latter, talking about secret messages from Trump. It's preying on mentally ill people. It's wrong.I said that Graham's influence encouraged Swartz to take the actions he did. To believe that the world was his oyster that he could hack without consequence, and that now the conspiracy subreddit thinks that Swartz is some kind of martyr for freedom.I promise you nothing I said is factually incorrect. You consider them smears because they "smear" the people that pay your salary. You do get paid for this, I hope?I accuse Graham of being dishonest because he won't actually directly discuss issues he has, instead he does it this roundabout way of posting essays, essays which you review and you have banning and moderation power over. You don't see the conflict of interest? It's punching you in the face. I consider Musk a liar, because well, he's a liar. I know Sam has interviewed him before.I did edit my post, but that's because I knew it wouldn't fly. You accused me editing it to be neutral of being "abusive". But I was editing it so it would not ideally cause trouble. But it did anyway because damned if you do, damned if you don't. Now you're trying to portray my edits as abusive. Come on, dude.You've never stood up for me, dang, when people are being pedantic and bullying. What do you want me to admit to? That I have a really strong dislike of you and Graham because here you are being manipulative for all to see? Yeah, I did. That you aren't honest with yourself about the "essays" that Graham attacks people in? Yeah, I feel that. That your moderation is arbitrary and selective and doesn't scale? Yeah. I'll admit, I'd never heard of that essay is French excuse, but it's a good one. I'll have to teach it to my kids (re: Uncle dang).This is a new account, not to be "abusive", because I logged out and don't have the password to the old one. I'm not so offended to call your accusations "smears", but please be aware this is a two way street.I wonder if you would have banned Musk when he called an innocent person a pedophile? Hell of a smear.

This account is getting caught in HN's anti-abuse software (correctly), but I've let the comment through because I don't want to prevent you from replying. (You may need to edit it to fix the whitespace - sorry, that's our bug.)

I don't want to keep doing this, though, so would you please use your main account? I removed the restriction from it, so it should work.

A few responses: if you say you didn't intend to mislead by editing your comment, I believe you; nothing factual that you've said about pg remotely justifies the abusive language you used; Elon Musk has nothing to do with any of this; if someone was bullying toward you on HN, or you felt they were, that sucks, and I'm sorry we didn't stand up for you. I try to stand up for someone who's being unfairly criticized when I know about it—don't forget that we don't see the overwhelming majority of what gets posted; I consider it a smear when people say awful things about others without justification; it doesn't depend on payment.

After marriage and running a decent sized org, I learnt that all people are not exactly like me. They are different. In many ways. While some like PG like to support others and shy from confrontation, others like Steve Jobs etc found success by being more direct. Looks like both ways can work. And I am teaching my team at work the same - that there are many paths to a win. This was not easy in the beginning for me personally, I could not appreciate the differences. But I am learning.

I think "attacking" Crazy New Ideas is how we develop them, iron out the kinks and test our understanding. Criticism is an essential part of the journey from crazy new idea to accepted wisdom.

However, the main problem I have with with this article is that it divides people into domain experts and the rest. This kind of black and white thinking is pervasive in PG essays, and always lead to a cute conclusion. You can have two domain experts that disagree. You can have an idea that spans multiple domains, and there are no (or few) experts in all of them. Maybe the Crazy New Idea seems brilliant to experts in one domain, but only because they don't grasp the others.

Likewise, one of the best, most valuable, things that Albert Einstein did was to attack quantum mechanics in every way he could.

>I think "attacking" Crazy New Ideas is how we develop them, iron out the kinks and test our understanding. Criticism is an essential part of the journey from crazy new idea to accepted wisdom.

It depends upon the level of attack. Outright dismissal without consideration compared to critique. Is the intent to destroy the idea so it goes away or to test it for flaws? That's done by the suggestion given to ask questions. Instead of saying "this is stupid", figure out why your think it is stupid and turn it into a question. Such a question is a soft attack, one that may be met with an explanation without needing for direct conflict, or which may be met with a 'I haven't considered that, let me think on it' or a 'That's one of the flaws I'm still working on'.

>However, the main problem I have with with this article is that it divides people into domain experts and the rest.

While the presentation did present this as an overly binary classification, I don't think the intention (that I perceived) is wrong. Some people have more experience in certain things, and given we are all mortals with limited time, we need to have some way to decide how much attention we give ideas and using relative expertise in domains seems a decent filter. This does not have to be perfect, because the result is not accepting the idea but instead not outright rejecting the idea. In cases where the idea still is mistaken it will still be revealed under critique. It is a test to determine what should be given the chance to be critiqued given limited time and resources.

It would lead to experts overlooking ideas from sources who don't have expertise, but I think that is acceptable for two reasons. First, there are already a flood of ideas so applying a filter that lets more through will still lead to ideas not being considered, but this time due to a lack of time and resources. Second, this is all relative so a good idea from a non-expert would still pass the filter for someone who is slightly more of an expert. If they find it passes their critique it now is able to pass filters of people who are more of experts in their fields. Good ideas can still bubble up (we just need to take care that they are correctly attributed).

That two domain experts disagree on a radical idea is irrelevant, if the one presenting the radical idea turns out to be right. There are no points given out for merely participating.

This happens all the time. And the most interesting ideas are rejected by almost everyone, except the tiny minority that happens to be positioned to understand the change. So you can’t make predictions by tallying up expert votes either.

> I think "attacking" Crazy New Ideas is how we develop them, iron out the kinks and test our understanding.

Criticism is the crucible in which crazy new ideas are forged into crazy viable ideas.

> However, the main problem I have with with this article is that it divides people into domain experts and the rest.

Let's be honest: in this day and age "the rest" are far too vocal and need to STFU on things which they have no knowledge. Sure, domain experts can disagree - let them be heard, but the know-nothings should be given zero attention.

Except for children, who often ask the best questions.

Asking innocent questions is okay, good even. Five whys comes to mind.

But stating opinion as fact or "just asking questions"[0] is not conducive to understanding.

[0] - https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Just_asking_questions

HN comment section pessimism is a new metric for evaluating your odds of success. "It's too expensive" or "Nobody needs it because we have X" on a project lead by a domain expert is not constructive criticism or conservatism, it's pure envy.

PG isn't defending Mighty, Dropbox or Coinbase because he has skin in the game, but because he knows what the teams have achieved and what they could potentially achieve.

I don't understand, it seems so obvious to me. Dropbox started as a better FTP, Coinbase is a better Bitcoin wallet, Gmail is a better SMTP, Mighty is a better Chrome. All of these products are meant for the masses because the core technologies/protocols are too complicated or restrictive to directly interact with.

People always bring Dropbox to these discussions as an example of a startup that was dismissed by HN but turned out to be huge, but turns out there are examples of the opposite thing happening too!

Does anyone remember Color Labs? Go read this thread and marvel at the similarities: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2364463. A stellar team backed by top VCs who invested (extraordinary at the time) $41M sets out to build a location enabled photo-sharing app. VCs tout it as "the next Google". Most of HN is pretty critical with some voices advocating caution and saying "let's not be so dismissive, maybe there is something more to it". Well, it turned out there was nothing more to it.

So no, being dismissed by HN does not automatically mean that your idea is good and you will be successful.

I see this as a pessimism/optimism spectrum. We are on the extreme left if we can reliably predict successes and on the extreme right if we can reliably predict failures.

As we pick a few datapoints (Dropbox, Coinbase, Airbnb) and we average it out, we are pushed towards the left.

More data we pick (colorlabs for example, and I'm sure many others) we are pushed more towards the right.

Most popular article dealing with VC news, startup promotion, funding news, valuation bragging, acquisition gossip, startup failure reports picks data that push the narrative towards the extremes.

My instinct says we are squarely around the center where we can't predict shit.

> My instinct says we are squarely around the center where we can't predict shit

Completely agree. There are a lot of people in this post trying to rationalize their own biased opinion on what predicts success or failure though.

To expand on your model, I think our ability to predict success and our ability to predict failure are separate things not on a continuum with each other but orthogonal metrics. We need to count false positives and false negatives here.

I predict that HN is no better at predicting success than average. It might be better than average at predicting failure but given the distribution that might not be that hard: if you dismiss every idea AND most ideas fail, then you always look like you are getting it right with a few occasional wrongs. Think about it in the inverse: if most startups succeeded spectacularly but a few failed miserably and you always were bullish on all startups, people would just say that you are almost always right.

The only real difference between predicting success and the result being failure and the opposite is that in this world success is unbounded (your valuation isn’t constrained since you can create a whole new market segment), but failure is always bounded. Therefore getting a success wrong sucks more than getting a failure wrong: you could have made a lot of money by correctly predicting a unicorn.

> I predict that HN is no better at predicting success than average

I can't fully agree on this. In a fair game (coin toss) your chances are just that, average. In a game where your experience, network and wealth can influence the outcome, things can be different. This is common in the enterprise market.

In the consumer market (which isn't more fair, but just works differently), that model fails miserably, that's where we start seeing the failures of the predictions and bets made.

What I see happening, is the vested parties (VC, Founders, investors) trying to cherry pick data points (from both markets), and then bragging about how they are good at predicting in both markets, but when you add in more data you see, that is not the case.

I am really surprised that you didn't choose the more obvious line of reasoning, which would be to bring up examples of companies that PG predicted to be breakout successes and then they failed. PG marveled about Instacart and Flexport well before anyone else, including myself (I know members of the founding teams in both companies very well, and think very highly of them... but even so, I didn't see their companies as the type of breakout successes that they became until PG made his case for them). The constant hate against PG is really starting to get tiring, especially when you see such sloppy reasoning. Why judge his reasoning based on what other VCs thought? Saying PG = VC industry is a really stunningly poor argument IMO.

Yep, you can actually go through the list of companies YC has funded on the website and most of them are out of business today (as you’d expect based on the stats on VC backed ventures). Of course, nobody talks about those.

I am struggling to understand what you're trying to say. Technically what you said is perfectly correct, but in a "the sun goes up in the morning and comes down in the evening" kind of a way. I doubt there are many people on Hacker News who don't realize that most VC backed ventures fail.

What would have been more insightful is a conversation around relative benchmarks. For example, "do YC companies fail at a higher rate than the cohort of equally funded companies?" (hint: no).

Or perhaps, if you're trying to criticize the VC industry, perhaps ask, "if a VC put in money in every YC company since the beginning of YC, what would their IRR be today?" (hint: massive).

I'm trying to say: 'Of course, nobody talks about those.'

Since it's soooo obvious that we should all hide our failures and glorify our successes without questioning this practice (I did say 'of course'), I understand how you missed the point.

There were people also defending Theranos and WeWork.

I take all articles and comments here with a huge grain of salt. Especially Paul Graham.


Way back in 2005. Back when lemonodor was a thing.

The essay is really just self serving to keep stoking the YC starmaking machinery (see lyrics to 'Free Man in Paris' by Joni Mitchell). Keep people dreaming and some of the crazy ideas will hit.

People often forget that even Apple (or might not know if young) was not wildly successful and almost went bankrupt (or close to that) and had to be bailed out by Microsoft.

Also forgotten is that the quality of the execution matters a great deal. Dropbox or Coinbase w/o good execution and attention to details would not be where they are today. Ditto Color Labs with great execution would not work necessarily.

Dropbox got big because iPhone users were so desperate to be able to share files between people and desktops that they started using it in droves. The desktop users that took it on were simply looking for some more storage and it just took off from there. There was no reason to pay attention to it initially (and still isn't imo) and over in android phone land everyone had no reason to either other than to retrieve files their friends sent them.

That’s not how I remember it at all. The first time I heard of Dropbox it was in 2010-ish (1 year before I got an iPhone and several years before iPhones had a usable file system) when folks in my dorm were using it to share music libraries. I was a CS major and had never even heard the word “samba” (yeah, I know) and it seemed super useful for all kinds of things.

I mean, that’s just me, but my understanding was that it didn’t take off on mobile until after it had established a secure foothold on the desktop.

> HN comment section pessimism is a new metric for evaluating your odds of success.

It's not. This is survivorship bias from the infamous stories about Dropbox, Coinbase, etc. There's plenty of "Show HNs" of HNr's criticizing companies that go nowhere. Including one of my own!

What you're referring to is effectively called "non consensus and right"[0]. The problem with this concept is that it can only be verified after the idea is deemed right or wrong.


Non-consensus and right is the best framework for making investments, since you need non-consensus in order to get a cheap price. But for merely estimating the probability that something will succeed, consensus (whether positive or negative) is probably slightly predictive in that regard, as you point out w.r.t. survivor bias.

I do put a lot of stock into Paul's essay, though. If someone credible and highly intelligent has some non-consensus opinion, it's a good idea to suspend judgement and really listen to their reasoning.

Mighty's problem is different than the others though, in that it is a thin client for a thin client. If web apps are too big to the point people need to stream Chrome in a container to get them to run well, why wouldn't you just stream them a full operating system where developers didn't have to target the web with all of its oddities and instead could just target Windows (or Linux)? The entire point of web applications was that they didn't require an install and were lighter than their desktop counterparts, and now that isn't true, so can't we ditch them?

Linux has low market share, Apple won't let you on non-Apple hardware, and Windows has high fees to license in that way.

The only path is the browser and most desktop apps are web apps.

Feel free to read my post that goes deeper about our thinking: https://blog.mightyapp.com/mightys-secret-plan-to-invent-the...

Microsoft keeps cutting the cost of licensing Windows for VDI though. Microsoft 365 E3 costs $32 a month (when you're already probably paying them $15-20 per month, not a bad increase) and includes Windows 10 Enterprise licensing for VDI. $12 + compute (which we could presume is $30-ish per month for a VM similar to the one Mighty ships? depending on if you buy the servers vs go to a cloud provider, etc), and it seems like you could get there for the cost Mighty is charging for Chrome. You'd need a sysadmin to set it all up, so a service like Mighty where you could just show it you have the correct licenses and get a beefy VM turned up would be really nice (Microsoft is working on something, but who knows when it'll be out).

I read your article, and the technology sounds interesting. I also understand you pivoted from offering a simple VDI service, presumably because of licensing (and of course, everything I just said goes out the window if Microsoft decides to alter the deal). But for the worker who doesn't 100% live in web apps (I'm thinking of the legions of accountants who have 8GB of RAM tied up in Excel all day long) and needs more than their garbage corporate machine can handle, I don't see this being enough.

Maybe I'm wrong, and they'll hold me up as the next "Dropbox is just FTP with extra steps!" person. I would be fine with that. But maybe, just maybe, once the streaming tech is proven (it looks like it is, honestly), reconsider?

>most desktop apps are web apps.

Not yet.

for the average user, they are.

I'm not sure who the average user is, but everyone I can think of in my life that fits that description definitely does not have more "web apps as desktop apps" than pure desktop apps. Not by a long shot.

very valuable is it possible to get beta access @suhail

Why doesn't Heroku simply give you a linux instance to do whatever you want like you'd do with EC2? Because it's easier for end users to deal with something that has a higher level of abstraction. Mighty is addressing an existing problem with a complex technology that seems simple on the surface.

> why wouldn't you just stream them a full operating system where developers didn't have to target the web with all of its oddities

Ahem, that ship has long since sailed. We have an entire generation of developers now where all they know is the Web, and industry investments, tooling, etc has all shifted in that direction

Maybe they’ll do that someday. Bootstrap to there, and then switch around and save us all the hassle of writing webapps.

That would make this comment thread look more hilarious than «less space than a Nomad, no wireless».

This is so common in SV, you are just being arrogant and salty in general, because people are showing how dumb, privacy unfriendly, and dangerous this product is, it has nothing to do with envy. Using Dropbox as an example is even worst, thats like saying "X celebrity is famous and smoke weed, then if I smoke weed, I will be famous". PG is clearly biased and he is just trying to get a return on his investment, thats all, and if he needs to hype this product to make money he will. People are not dummies, if the product is meant for the general public and not the HN crowd, then start a Google Ads campaign, or get in the Tonight Show or something.

This is so pitch-perfect an example of what pg used to call a middlebrow dismissal (which we reworked as 'shallow dismissal' on HN), upgraded to 2020-21 rage levels, that I'm not sure one could improve upon it as a parody. Is there any note it doesn't hit?

If they pivot, does that mean the negative feedback was right or is it always wrong? What if the feedback precipitates the pivot?

I have no idea if Mighty will succeed or not. But I suspect it will not succeed as a a $30/mo consumer product. Indeed, I'd bet money on it. The companies everyone keeps referencing were free products. I got excited about Dropbox. So did my friends. No friend has excitedly sent me a link to Mighty.

I'm sure some professionals will pay though. How many and how many they need to hit their numbers is another question. They can still probably ride the hype machine to an exit.

Mighty isn't "better chrome"! It's a whole thin client proxy-service privacy-nightmare. It's more and more centralising of everything under corporate control with the payoff to users of marginal gains in speed. Kill it with fire.

The money will be made by charging corporations, edu's & gov's who want just that : centralized control.

Yes. Unless they can figure out how to be free to consumers.

Don’t forget my favorite: “Slack is just IRC with clever marketing.”

TBH, I still don't understand what people like about Slack. I'm not trying to insult Slack users, but it seems like the chat-version of an open office floorplan, where everyone is yelling into a crowd, and supposedly the crowd is sitting in front of their screens, scrolling through this noise and occasionally yelling back. I'm surprised employers allow such a productivity hit, let alone pay to have it in their workplace.

Interesting metric. The underlying principle is:

"No one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

HN just hasn't internalized it quite yet, so we have the counter-indicator.

> Mighty is a better Chrome

yes, it's better in the sense that the privacy issues are even better; well, worse in the viewpoint of the user, but since when VCs cared about it?

And other than that I don't even think Mighty is better that Chrome, because it wouldn't work if you have a bad internet connection speed or if the connection drops

> HN comment section pessimism is a new metric for evaluating your odds of success.

The success of a startup depends on many factors and pessimism on HN is definitely not one of them. HN is a forum where people intellectualize things from their limited point of view. It is usually not the primary forum where the founders seek feedback. I think HN is a remix of the old slashdot forums with a healthy mix of digg + reddit.

> PG isn't defending Mighty, Dropbox or Coinbase

Those are not needing defense. Those are quite mundane business.

Dropbox for one, everyone thinks it's useful. The controversial part is whether or not it's a good business. Turns out Dropbox is not so great a business. I mean, if Dropbox is in China, it will be crushed by copycats and die very quickly.

Similarly for coinbase. It's useful. The question was whether or not btc and crypto currency will be big enough for coinbase to be a great business. Of course, given the success in crypto currency, coinbase is a great business.

But neither of these are “crazy new ideas”. They are not even new ideas...

there are lots of links to casey's twitter account but the real gem is[0]. it reads like the famous jurassic park quote: 'Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should'


The reference to the Copernican Model of the solar system is an interesting one since it produced less accurate predictions than the Ptolemaic Model. Improving the predictions of the Copernican model initially involved the introduction of epicycles, diminishing the value of the crazy new idea.

It took the work of Kepler (elliptical orbits) and Newton (a physical basis for elliptical orbits) to elevate the heliocentric model to the status that it enjoys today.

There are two reasons why I bring this up: one is the validity of many of Paul Graham's assertions and conclusions. The other is to point out that things aren't so simple. Copernicus did not reap the rewards of his ideas since it took the work of others to prove those ideas. In fields outside of science, there is little reason to expect people to arrive upon similar conclusions. (Even within the sciences, there is no reason to believe we would converge on similar conclusions in the same time frame via different paths.)

I think there's a very strong analogy between the Copernican model vs Ptolemaic and computer languages (for example) - you can have something like C which has obvious defects (grant this for the argument, substitute something else if you like), but a replacement like Rust isn't taking on just C, but the entire ecosystem around C and all the tooling and knowledge therein.

Similarly the Copernican model was "more correct" depending on how you look at it (currently we model everything relative to everything else, the earth and sun "orbit" around a midpoint that is inside the surface of the sun but not the exact center, for example) but it provided WORSE predictions than the Ptolemaic model of the time.

And this had real practical implications in the technology of the day - navigation charts, etc, analogous to trying to use new tooling and finding it doesn't support aspects the old tooling did.

To add to this:

He lists two reasons why people want to dismiss "crazy new ideas": envy, and the desire to seem sophisticated. Using Copernicus as an example simply does not fit these claims.

Reasons to dismiss Copernicus's ideas:

1. They were worse predictions, so for all 'practical' purposes of the day (essentially, only knowing where the wandering stars would be), adopting his ideas would be poor.

2. Most crazy new ideas like this proposed by people on the fringe of a field are flat out wrong. The Copernican Model is a good example of a common mistake, really: Someone saw a complex but accurate system and tried replacing it with a simple system that is easier to understand but rejects the actual data. Turns out the world is complex and doesn't care about being intuitive. See all of quantum mechanics for an example.

3. Classical relativity was only established later by Newton. The moon, sun, and other planets were poorly understood at the time. It wasn't until Galileo's observations that evidence was gained for a rocky moon. The idea that the whole Earth could be moving and spinning without violating everyday observation, and therefor the other bodies in the sky follow the same rules as those on Earth, is simply a large and unnecessary leap in intuition. Sure, it's a correct leap, but the path of reasoning there is backwards. It is only with Newton's laws of motion that heliocentrism begins to make any sense.

4. Further, much better evidence (as discussed above) came to light far before Copernicus's ideas had any effect on non-academic matters. Other than finding things interesting, and generally liking to know how the universe works, heliocentrism has no practical affect on life even today. Sure if you work at NASA it's super important, but most people don't. Trying to force an idea before it's time, when it won't effect things anyways has little practical value.

The crux of this is that this article is not a response to people dismissing a new idea. It's people dismissing a new business. He seems to be arguing that new ideas by domain experts shouldn't be criticized because they might be right, while ignoring that people can have strong financial motivation to promote incorrect ideas. Fighting such ideas is good because:

- If the ideas prove correct, internet criticism of it really won't matter. Only a few key investors need to be convinced, and yeah they'll make a lot of money.

- If the ideas are wrong, healthy skepticism is the strongest force against snake oil salesmen.

90% of starts fail, so the criticism will usually be on the correct side, even if the exact criticisms don't point to the true cause of failure.

> heliocentrism has no practical affect on life even today

I disagree. These discoveries (showing that we aren't "special" or at the "center") had huge religious/philosophical implications and through some intermediate steps ultimately led to the kinds of secular states we (most of us) spend our every day in practice.

Yes and no.

Humans are dogmatic about politics, the backfire effect is a thing, etc. Why should things be magically different for scientists?

There’s a reason “science advances one funeral at a time “

Graham has a tendency to use hindsight to show that, yes, indeed he is contrarian and genius.

The Ethereum people do it, too. They use the example of old massively successful tech to prove that Eth too can catch on, but they don't cite all the failures.

Paul Graham is high on his own ego. Unfortunately, too many people take what he says at face value, like he's some sort of magical preacher of the Valley.

Please don't cross into personal attack on HN, for any meaning of $person. And please stop creating accounts to break HN's guidelines with. You're damaging the community you're part of by doing these things, and that is self-defeating behavior—especially if you consider how fragile this place is. I'm sure you're not the kind of person who would drop lit matches in a dry forest or even litter in a city park. Please stop doing the equivalents here.

The odds are high that the internet converges to suckage. We're spending a lot of energy trying to stave that off. Since you're such an active community participant, wouldn't it be in your interests to help that effort, rather than hurt it?


This is an interesting idea, but I feel it's not calibrated right -- I'm an academic, so I'd imagine I work with many "domain experts" (if you don't think so, that's of course another valid discussion). I don't think "if you bet on the entire set of implausible-sounding ideas proposed by reasonable domain experts, you'd end up net ahead.".

I hear a implausible sounding ideas all the time. I think one of the main points of academia is to give people the chance to explore those ideas. But they don't turn out good "on average", not even close.

The median implausible-sounding idea is bad, for sure.

But if you never bet on any implausible-sounding ideas, you exclude the chance of being an early participant in any big paradigm shift.

A good exercise is to back-test your rule against big ideas through their history. Would you have invested time in solving Schrodinger’s weird equation in 1925? 1927? 1940? Would you have invested time in public key cryptography in 1975? 1976? 1980? 1990?

People who got in early, got to make the big discoveries in those fields.

> A good exercise is to back-test your rule against big ideas through their history.

Everyone assumes they would always have been on the right side of history. It's basically impossible to know what you would have been like had you been born in those times. Better is to back-test your rule against paradigm shifts that have occurred in your own lifetime. What are some ideas you dismissed that turned out to work? What are some products or projects you have a revulsion against that are still succeeding years later? What caused you to reject them? What did you miss?

I've found that you can get surprisingly far in life simply by being willing to fix your mistakes and switch your bets once it becomes apparent you're wrong.

I initially dismissed the WWW as a disorganized mess when I first encountered it in 1994 - I liked Gopher better. By 1997 I had changed my tune and was all-in on learning HTML and CGI and even some of the new technologies like Java applets, RealAudio, and DHTML. (Note that Java and RealAudio were themselves eventually losers, but by then I was all-in on Javascript.) It felt like I had missed the boat in 1997; the dot com boom was in full swing and people were getting rich off much more sophisticated stuff all around me (TBF, I was in high school). But the WWW and Javascript/DHTML remained a lucrative career for 20 years afterwards.

A lot of people, once they take a position on something, dig in and don't change that position for a lifetime, then miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime because they dismissed it to begin with. But truly world-changing ideas usually have a lot of room to grow. If you're wrong for 2-3 years and then change your mind, you'll feel really stupid, like you totally missed the boat, but that's nothing compared to the 20-30 years left of growth that the idea might have.

A very smart professor of mine once thought "They added pictures to hypertext, that's sort of cool I guess."

Looking backwards definitely biases you to seeing things you didn't see at the time. Even memories get tinged. But memories are probably the most accurate you can do.

I missed bitcoin entirely despite knowing many people who bought as I still don't understand what the appeal is. It doesn't seem efficient to me as a payments technology or from a privacy perspective. I kind of wish I bought early even though I probably would have cashed out way too soon, as the money would have been nice.

I liked Stripe due to my revulsion to PayPal but wasn't exactly going to be on them winning. I was pleasantly surprised. Ditto Shopify because of my dislike of Amazon stores. I think I underestimate the chances of good ideas and good products winning because I know it's very hard.

I took a few bets early in my career on start-ups. I think I underestimated the difficulty of selling into retail on one company that I still think had a good idea. The others ended up being acquisitions, although the products weren't continued. I still believe social notetaking is an interesting hard problem in need of a good solution but I don't think we had found it.

I think the big lesson for me is to not get taken in by the cult of personality around strong founders and focus more on the merits of the ideas. That can be tricky as you're not getting the full picture when you interview making it even harder to see a crazy idea as good for the right reasons but it's the right approach.

Yeah, and some ideas are just ahead of their time, like the noted pets.com 90s failure contrasted with chewy.com's success today.

Good point!

Ordering pet food over the internet in 1995: crazy moonshot weirdo stuff.

Ordering pet food over the internet in 2021: just another day.

This is an excellent point, and I think this comment thread would have much less negativity if everyone asked themselves this question.

But then they’d have to own up to the nauseating idea of callously dismissing some truly spectacular sea changes, such as failing to buy 1000 Bitcoins for a few dollars in 2009. I think most people are too full of envy to do that.

How many can honestly say they kept an open mind to the handful of such paradigm shifts we’ve experienced in the last 20 years?

You only have to be right a few times in your life to make your career. Most people are right zero times, and hardly anyone is right 10 times. Von Neumann might have hit 10.

So regretting past mistakes is a big waste of time. Learn from them, but don't let it get to you emotionally. (All easy advice to give, and hard to follow.)

But keep in mind each of those was one of n implausible sounding ideas at the time. Even if you might have been willing, would you have had the resources to put into it, or would they have already been wasted on implausible ideas we don't remember?

Ending up "net ahead" does not necessarily mean maximizing the fraction of successful projects. I don't think pg is saying that implausible-sounding projects usually turn out good. He is saying that when they turn out good, they have outsized impact, precisely because they initially sounded implausible and therefore produce lots of new information if true.

Yes, because even when those implausible ideas fail, your more likely to learn something than when experimenting on an existing hypothesis with just a minor change.

Your framing of the question totally ignores opportunity cost. All that time spent working on ultimately failing crazy ideas is time you did not spend working on anything else, either marginal and likely or less risky/crazy.

As you point out, it depends on how we define "domain expert". I may be a "blockchain domain expert" but I also need to understand what consumers need from a blockchain in order for it to be a profitable venture. My idea may be very innovative, but if it doesn't solve people's problems it's not going to make much of a difference.

In other words, a successful business requires not only producing an innovative product, it also requires knowing if people actually demand this innovative product. One half is the core idea, the other half is how this idea interfaces with the world.

The central thesis

> Most implausible-sounding ideas are in fact bad and could be safely dismissed. But not when they're proposed by reasonable domain experts.

Is later contradicted by a discussion on the quality of criticism

> The lowest form [of criticism] of all is to dismiss an idea because of who proposed it.

So which is it? Judge an idea by who proposes it or not? I think the essay stands without the tangent on ranking criticism, and it could perhaps be discarded entirely.

But that's too easy, and I think the discussion of criticism is a strong (unintentional) counterpoint to the essay. You have gated the hard work of weighing an idea behind the reputation of the person who proposed it. History all too often labels a genius only in retrospect and in their own time were more likely to be considered fringe or even crackpots.

In short, I think the essay is boiled down to "find the right people to trust/engage/pursue, and especially don't discard their implausible ideas". The tack on of trying to localize to a "smart domain expert" in whatever you're interested in seems.... uninspired. The tack on of being more open to implausible ideas is more interesting. But the fundamental work is unchanged from basically all of human history- "find (or become) the people who are going to be successful/transformative"

Those two statements are not inconsistent.

The first statement isn't a suggestion that implausible sounding ideas can be dismissed on the basis of a lack of credibility of the person communicating the idea.

But I share in the dislike of an appeal to authority. The idea should stand on its own merits.

Surely it is saying exactly that? Changing the "but" to "except" I think makes it clear without changing the intent

He's saying implausible sounding ideas should be dismissed because they are implausible, not because of the credibility of the person behind it. Then he makes one exception which is when the person is credible.

That's different to saying that the idea should be dismissed merely due to lack of credibility of the person, which is what the second statement is talking about. The primary reason for dismissal in his first statement is the idea's implausibility, not the credibility of the person.

If his first statement said "all ideas should be dismissed, but for ones proposed by credible people", then that would be inconsistent with his second statement.

Wouldn't a criticism of the form "you have no idea what you're talking about here. You don't have credential x or experience y" satisfy both constraints? You've demonstrated the person does not have the necessary domain experience. And yet you've not addressed the idea at all and only the person who proposed it.

It wouldn't because the way that is worded suggests that the reason for dismissal is the credibility of the person and not if the implausibility of the idea.

What would follow from his first statement: "Your idea sounds really implausible, and so I'm going to dismiss it on that basis. And since you're not a domain expert I'm not going to put special effort into suspending judgement, I'm just going to go with my initial implausibility determination."

What would follow from his second statement: "I'm going to dismiss your idea because you're not a domain expert. The idea's plausibility didn't really factor into my decision."

I would agree though that his use of very simple language has left some ambiguity here.

Something I’ve noticed a lot lately is that the people who have crazy new ideas are often the absolute last people that should be communicating them to the world. I’m not sure if it comes from the insularity of academia or just a basic inability to write clearly.

My theory is that many domain experts haven’t needed to communicate with a lay audience in decades (if ever) and thus aren’t aware of their own baseline assumptions. Seems like a startup idea, maybe? Convert academic papers into comprehensible English. Two Minute Papers does this but it’s only for technology.


This probably applies to early Apple. Wozniak, while clearly a technical genius, needed Jobs’ communication and design skills to sell “personal computing” and make Apple a mass-market company.

I think many (but not all) domain experts end up that way because they are so interested in a topic, they've internalized all the jargon and assumptions required to get there. It takes quite a bit of effort (and practice!) to keep the viewpoint of the common person in mind as well.

Feynman loved explaining things, so he had to keep trying to explain them in a manner that the ordinary folk could understand, but he also loved physics, which kept him diving deeper, and playing with it.

Having charisma and knowing what people want, and how to sell was Steve Jobs portion of the game, once the initial technical hurdles were solved. Woz likes to minimize circuits and do clever things, that was his part of the game.

Here on HN, the balance seems to be keeping it focused enough on hacking technology, while still appealing to those who want to make money off of it in yacht loads.

It's all about balance between at least 2 domains.

We’re building this for clinical papers! inpharmd.com We have 10k summarized so far

Off Topic : The site is sending a GET request to


every 5 seconds.

Anyone have any idea what it is?

Note : The address keeps changing for every request.

Edit2 : Is it only on my PC, or are others also able to see it?

I see it too, but my ad blocker prevented the request(s).

A quick search for "lexity.com" shows that it's an analytics company.

> Lexity - Apps to help grow your ecommerce business

> Commerce Central is the easiest way to grow your small and medium ecommerce businesses. We provide the best real time analytics and insights for ecommerce for free, and apps to advertize your store through Google, Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

I see those requests too but my adblocker takes care of it.

Lexity.com looks like a Yahoo service and maybe this is the analytics being collected. AFAIK pg's site is still hosted on Yahoo.

Sometimes crazy ideas like SSL aren’t so crazy. I wonder if the HTTPS failure is due to the Yahoo part of this?

Very interesting. This sounds like a response to the Mighty [0] launch which Paul Graham has been defending on twitter recently after an outcry from some of the 'hardcore' developers such as Jonathan Blow [1] and Casey [2].

[0] https://www.mightyapp.com/

[1] https://twitter.com/Jonathan_Blow/status/1387101172230672389

[2] https://twitter.com/cmuratori/status/1387645578067124224

There was this product[1] to browse internet offline by downloading something called “Web Packs”. This was back in 2005 just when I was graduating when I spoke to the founding team. They were naturally quite confident about the product taking off. Something seemed off to me I couldn’t point out what so I didn’t take the job offer. After all these years I realized the source my discomfort. They were actually betting against the speed of internet getting better. While most of the businesses like Amazon, Google were betting for the internet tech to improve this product did exactly the opposite.

To me Mighty sounds like a similar category of product. They are betting that PC/Laptop/Mobile hardware will stagnate from this point on. Exactly when Apple has launched M1, which blows the previous version out of the water, at a non crazy price. From this point it’s a matter of time other hardware also catches up in terms of performance and price.

Besides, yet another company to handover my entire browsing history and data for purported improvement in latency? I don’t know.

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

> They are betting that PC/Laptop/Mobile hardware will stagnate from this point on

No, they are betting that no matter the processing power of computing devices of the day, developers will always push things to the limit and ship products that can end up being slow on devices used by a large share of the population.

This has always happened, because software product makers always want their products to have as many features/capabilities as possible, and release them to market as quickly/cheaply as possible, which means there are lesser incentives to limit functionality or to invest in performance optimisation.

There's no reason to believe this trend will cease, so Mighty is offering a service that allows people to get much higher performance of their webapps without always needing to have the highest-power computing device in their possession.

> developers will always push things to the limit

Agree, it's an arms race at this point between end consumers and app developers. However, it also means once Mighty becomes popular they have to contend with developers overwhelming their computing resources as well.

As long as Mighty keeps providing a better experience than the local browser on the average user's own device, they'll have utility for a significant number of people. Developers still need to provide satisfactory-enough performance to the bulk of their audience. Mighty is for the users in the right tail who are willing to pay for better-than-satisfactory. There's no reason to believe that right tail will ever disappear.

Yes and mighty will keep increasing prices as the developers can now ship any horribly optimized thing.

Mighty can succeed yes, but it's success would be bad for the ecosystem.

Centralized processing of all computing, would just make current issues like censorship, security issues worse.

> developers can now ship any horribly optimized thing

No, they can't. Only the right-tail power users will ever pay for this. Unless almost all of a product's users are in that group, the developers still need to offer satisfactory performance to the rest of their users, or be vulnerable to a new competitor.

> Centralized processing of all computing, would just make current issues like censorship, security issues worse.

People keep saying this. I doubt even Mighty believes they or their paradigm will take over "all computing" - just the niche that really needs it. Even a small market share can make them a big/successful company, but without making the whole internet significantly more centralised than it already is. I don't get the panic.

The Mighty model is timesharing CPUs. At least 80% of the time my computer isn't even used. And when I use it, I doubt average load is over 25%. So the Mighty model has a 20x utilization advantage by those numbers.

That should easily support twice the peak CPU power for me when I need it.

Another thing is that the Mighty CPUs will (presumably) be upgraded continuously, while my laptop CPU gets no faster after purchase. If that makes me only buy a new laptop every 4 years instead of 2, I've saved a lot of money and hassle.

I'm not saying this means Mighty will conquer the world. But there are reasonable arguments behind the model. Especially if you assume bandwidth will keep improving.

>> And when I use it, I doubt average load is over 25%.

So the idea is you can get your laptop utilization down to 1% by pushing your load to their cloud? Fascinating.

> The Mighty model is timesharing CPUs.

Yeah, but I think it's better to think about it like virtual/remote desktops, where the granularity is a browser tab.

At least, that's the only way it makes sense to me. I might understand that to do 4k high res 3d on my phone - my phone will need help. And once that "help" is available - my TV, and my tablet and my smart watch can make use of it.

But I'm not generally willing to trade latency for cpu time sharing. What is interesting is an always on, always working desktop session. It's why I like screen/tmux and ssh, rdp - and would consider running a Linux terminal server, so my laptop(s) and desktop(s) could be a disk less, stateless thin client.

Make the observation that the browser tab is the new process/application granuality - and it makes sense to host tabs in the cloud.

Personally I'd want to self host it - but the idea doesn't sound quite so inane.

Hmm, I feel like this is missing that those cpu workloads are "bursty", and probably all burst around the same time for a given region. This analysis of unused computer time assumes they can sell your unused time to someone else, which either means network latency to another region or more capacity in the same region as you when you have similar usage times as everyone else. I have no idea if this idea works but I don't think it does for that reason.

>The Mighty model is timesharing CPUs.

It's not. It's literally spinning up a VM in the cloud to run Chrome and stream a video to you

> At least 80% of the time my computer isn't even used.

Yes, but Mighty isn't running (and will never run) on your computer.

Wow you are really not understanding the comment you are replying to. He's discussing the business model.

And I've responded with the reality of the business model. There's no "CPU sharing" on "my computer". It's a beefy VM in the cloud.

Well, it most likely shares the CPU with other VMs, but that depends on the cloud, and the instance. And since the browser is always open, Mighty will always run that VM, with no sharing: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27063554

"They are betting that PC/Laptop/Mobile hardware will stagnate from this point on."

Me playing the devils advocate...

Perhaps not //forever//, but perhaps for the next few years (enough for them to make some good money).

Why? Chip shortage, GPU shortage.

Anecdotally, I just bought a computer for $7500, that, two years ago would have cost about $2500 (granted, it is the new tech, but even so, new tech of this tier two years ago would have been approx. $2500). On top of that, have to wait two months for it to be assembled. (ouch)

I agree with you that speed will probably not stop increasing, but if prices continue to go up, or even just level off, few people will be able to afford the new tech.

That being said, would I invest in Mighty? No since I agree with you in general....and agree with you about the zero privacy issue...very regressive position for someone like PG imo.

That assumes that AWS/Azure/GCP won't have the same issues getting chips to run Mighty on that PC manufacturers have getting chips to sell to consumers though. If the shortage keeps up, that is not necessarily true.

What if the future is that you don't necessarily just buy a machine in the future.

What if, when you purchase your machine, it includes a host of features including a could suite of things like; VPN, Cloud Browser, An actual amount of decent cloud storage, portable applications, hosted in your cloud bucket, but accessible from any device (If I have Illustrator, I can just run it from any machine - not just my own. I can allow guest access to my paid licenses - like Say i want my brother to be able to draw stuff on my Illustrator license while I am not using it.


Imagine if instead of that $7,500 "computer" you bought a $7,500 'stack' and the access terminal you happen to be using most is the physical laptop that youre used to.

I tried to build something similar to this more than a decade ago (2007 or so - but wrote about it in 2004).

My biggest issue is better information/knowledge management.

I have TBs of files and data strewn all over. We should be focusing on "my information" and let me manage and secure that - and access it from any device easily, and securely.

If augmented reality tech works better the necessity of cloud as your machine will become ubiquitous.

However I think we gonna do have RTX in our mobile devices - AR glasses, whatever modern mobile tech - because of decentralization (security/ethics purpose)

Couldn't they instead be betting that despite improvements in hardware speed the web will bloat faster than the hardware improves? Betting on that doesn't sound that crazy to me.

That is indeed one of their premise. However that also has, perhaps unforeseen, implications. To start with, their VMs have to be at least one step better than the end consumer's machine. Can they do it without increasing their price? Secondly, there's no guarantee that developers will overwhelm even Mighty's cloud resources?

All that said, it's worth noting that the first set of customers seem super impressed. So maybe Mighty are on to something.

Not only that but you can just use a different browser.

My hang up with Mighty isn’t about their idea or their technology or their execution. It’s impressive to see what they’ve done.

My issue is that it’s not a product I could feel good recommending to anyone, at least at the high pricing that was proposed in the last discussion. In an era of $999 M1 Macs (and even cheaper AMD laptops) and readily available financing options, it doesn’t make sense for anyone to throw their money away at a SaaS service that simply cannot perform as well as local Chrome on a modern machine.

I could see the narrow use case for limited situations where someone has

1. Weird IT department restrictions that require them to use old, slow computers but also

2. Budget rules that allow them to spend monthly money on a SaaS but not on financing the hardware they need to get their job done and

3. Guaranteed high speed internet all of the time and

4. An IT/corporate security department that is okay with them sending all of their keystrokes, login info, and browser data to a 3rd party service

Surely this situation exists, but it still feels like Mighty is targeting a broader audience by providing untrue claims about remote thin client technology somehow being faster than a halfway decent local machine. I’d feel equally uncomfortable if Stadia was charging $50/month while claiming to be lower latency than local gaming.

The counter arguments about disrespecting hard working startup founders or doubting visionaries feel like a strawman response to legitimate questions about the value of their service. The technology and execution look to be good, AFAICT. It’s the product, pricing, messaging, and value that I can’t recommend.

I was going to try Mighty but even in my somewhat relaxed work environment item 4 is not really solved by Mighty apart from "we will not access your data". Obviously they are very smart and will surely be working on E2E encryption but they do not seem to have it.

> E2E encryption

How on earth would that work for their product? They need to access the data so they can render it.

Surely that could happen client side.

The whole value proposition is that the beefy remote machine is handling the rendering, isn't it? At least half the performance of a web page is wasted on DOM re-shuffling.

Not to mention, it's not like Chrome can run Javascript without looking at the data, and if they're not running Chrome, they'll start getting into compatibility issues.

It's endpoint security as well. All browsing goes through Mighty.

If Mighty behaves like a full replacement for a modern web browser on my system, it will have to give the web pages I visit (opt-in) access to my GPS, camera, microphone, Bluetooth, battery information, and other peripherals, I sliding all of my mouse and keyboard input. It will have to allow me to upload or download files from the web page. Also, all my tabs are running on the same remote VM, so this only protects other systems, not my banking or JIRA.

Sure, it's the ultimate sandbox for the code itself, it probably protects me perfectly from Meltdown attacks against other programs on my main system, but I don't think that's enough to call it 'endpoint security'.

I don't have the faintest idea, but the notion of having my session cookies and credentials stored in a VM somewhere makes me very nervous and I am not even half paranoid.

So they need to figure it out otherwise it's only valid for personal use, which is not exactly the money is, imho.

Maybe some self hosted solution for corporate departments? Or waiting for an acquision from Citrix or VMWare...

>4. An IT/corporate security department that is okay with them sending all of their keystrokes, login info, and browser data to a 3rd party service

Or just an IT/security department that is blissfully unaware of the shenanigans that some of its users are up to. Especially if people are accessing this from outside of the corporate network to start with.

No but it makes a lot of sense for Mighty App to be the middleman between your computer and the Internet. If I was them I’d just give it away for free and sell your data to Facebook (anonymously of course!)...

RE: 4.

My company uses webmarshal which fronts requests and blocks pages deemed not good for productivity/data security. In that type of situation you already have an intermediary so mighty could make sense - make everyone use mighty and give it a custom blocklist. Obviously not a situation that employees would be a fan of, but it’s something that corporate is already doing, and mighty could improve the experience.

I agree with your stance. I was confused to come here and read that people thought he was referring to Mighty. I think Mighty is a pretty small, easily proven/disproven, not-crazy idea, not-that-new idea, with niche applications. To me that is a bit different than how this article reads. I think the debate is market size. The only real debate I hear with Mighty is whether it is good for <10M people worldwide or >1B people worldwide.

From what I understand of both the recent tweets and both of their fairly radical/extreme (and mostly correct) views about abstraction being a net negative, the criticism is less "Mighty doesn't work" and more "We shouldn't need to use an app like Mighty to get good performance on a basic website".

Sure, but the disconnect seems to be that Mighty is advertised for people who essentially use their browser as an OS (I see Figma mentioned a lot), rather than people who just want to do basic browsing.

I think Mighty has unfairly taken the brunt of a lot of growing discontent with bloat on the web. I'm not ready to fork over $30+ for faster browsing, but I'm glad someone is working in this space, because I genuinely would like to rent a fast virtual computer for the occasional video editing task and think Mighty is a step in that direction.

> I genuinely would like to rent a fast virtual computer for the occasional video editing task and think Mighty is a step in that direction.

Can't you already do that pretty easily on AWS or Azure?

At minimum it seems like I’d have to choose an instance size, an OS that was compatible with my software, install the editing software, mount a common storage location with my footage, etc.

What I’d like to see is a service that let me add my credit card, click a button, and launch a video editor on a high-RAM machine that I pay for the hour (including the software license fee).

unfairly? privacy concerns aside they just added another huge abstraction on top of an already huge pile of shit we call modern web.

I am actually in Mighty's market if it cost ~$10usd per month, not $50.

At our startup we have a small org of customer service reps. They basically live in four tools: Notion, Slack, Chrome, and Front.

These four tools have one thing in common: they are all Electron apps. They SUCK. On any windows computer slower than a $1.5K lenovo, our reps can't have more than ~10 tabs open before their computer starts to stutter.

One answer would be to buy everyone an M1 mac. However, most of these reps are not familiar with apple (they use PCs at home) + they are still a bit too expensive (we're in Mexico where they cost 1.5 - 2x).

I would love to be able to buy our customer service reps a setup (monitor + mouse + computer) for ~$500 USD and have them use Mighty to run our customer service suite for $10-$15 bucks a month. That would scale to a customer service org of hundreds.

At $50 bucks a month I should just buy them a mac.

IMHO Suhail's pitch about "running figma" is wrong. I'm happy to buy a designer any computer they want. But outfitting a CSR team of 50+ people? Mighty + a thin client would be amazing.

How long before the $500 Lenovos and Dells have same ballpark performance to the 2021 M1 Macs? AMD or NVidia will inevitably release an ARM chip that competes with M1, and it will just be 12-24 months before this is commonplace.

I don't buy the argument that performance will always get tapped out by developers. There is an upper limit to what even a horribly architected 2D web app needs to consume.

Maybe! Hopefully! But it begs the question: why is the situation so bad now? What will change? It's not like the apps I mentioned are inherently complicated.

I think the situation is bad because developers are expensive, and really expert devs that know how to optimize app performance are even more expensive. You mention Notion and Slack and other Electron apps. Not to disparage the teams on these projects as they are impressive from a pure UX perspective. But building these complex apps cross-platform native is particularly difficult today. So Electron is used as a shortcut. The usage of Electron allowed Slack and Notion to grow rapidly with a smaller team than they otherwise would were they to try to replicate in Windows, Linux and Mac as well as web... not to mention mobile. And once an app is established and has tons of features, as they both do, doing a rewrite is both expensive and risky. Big rewrites almost always fail, and they divide your precious dev resources even more.

You can probably buy them a VDI desktop for $20 per month (Amazon Workspaces and Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure are in this ballpark) and run Chrome on that. Especially with WVD, there are thin clients made specifically for it (or you can just use an RDP client on any OS).

Can't you buy a decent desktop and have them chromote into it? A desktop should be more than enough to run the apps of many people.

Edit: Although, I'm not sure it supports multiple separate logins.

Well, if the Lenovo or Apple M1 were 3.5 to 5 times cheaper, they'd also be a good deal, right? In fact, they'd be a better deal than a 5 times cheaper Mighty, I would wager.

Then you'll simply have to wait a few months.

They didn't reveal their true business model or pricing yet.

The $50 subscription is a way to simply not flood their servers while beta-testing them, and also getting a bit of money from rich/dumb early adopters.

If that were the case you’d expect them to reply to the several beta test requests this rich/dumb early adopter has sent over the last year+.

Maybe the tech was not yet ready?

Fake it until you make it is still a thing in Silicon Valley.

It is fascinating to me how quickly people reject the premise of Mighty, even after PG lists all the good reasons for replacing judgment with curiosity.

I’ll admit, my initial reaction to Mighty was “I can’t imagine it ever being faster than my behemoth PC.” But then I stopped for a second and got curious. What is Mighty, really? It is a thin-client. That’s it. And are thin-clients a bad thing? Well, if latency is an issue, sure. But “high-ping” is a somewhat solved issue, whether in multiplayer gaming, in terminal utilities like Mosh, or even in optimistic GraphQL mutation updates. Where’s the use-case where near-zero latency is vital? The only cases I can think of are games like Rocket League: fast-twitch games where even the latency between my controller and my PC is something I happily spend hours optimizing — where latency prevents the necessary feedback loop for learning (akin to trying to learn how to hit a baseball while drunk).

But beyond near-zero latency use-cases, why would a thick client ever be better than a thin client? At the edge of performance, this question is easily answered: I would never attempt to train a PyTorch model on my admittedly powerful GPU. That’s what the cloud is for. So when it comes to my browser, why am I content to eat up memory and cpu-time with hundreds of tabs open that almost always include one or two that are broken, soaking up my resources, and have to be hunted down and killed off so that IntelliJ can return to its normal lightning-fast speed?

Might goes even further and asks why I would want to run IntelliJ on my machine at all. Wouldn’t I rather run IntelliJ like I used to run Vim over Mosh, where I never have to worry about storage space, about download/upload bandwidth, or about my computer becoming sluggish?

And that’s the killer idea here: that thin-clients almost always beat thick-clients. One could even argue that the entire internet is premised upon this reality.

I’d happily pay Mighty to try it out for a bit. Even if it doesn’t work, I’ve dropped more money of less fascinating ideas. At the very least, I’m rooting for their success, because it would change a lot more than how you consume content over the internet.

> I’ll admit, my initial reaction to Mighty was “I can’t imagine it ever being faster than my behemoth PC.”

I haven't found Chrome slow on my mid-range PC (i5-7500). Or my phone (Pixel 3).

I feel like I must be in some parallel universe to everyone else talking about how slow Chrome is.

Just now, I loaded the first 6 links on Hacker News. 1 didn't load at all due to a server error. The other 5 all loaded in under a second (measured by DOMContentLoaded). I have uBlock Origin enabled (only in Firefox on the phone). Maybe that helps.

I can have 100+ tabs open without slow down if I want to. The bigger problem is I'm less productive with 100 tabs open because... there are 100 tabs open. It's just too cluttered.

I'm willing to admit Mighty might be a good product if people have this problem with slow browsers. I just never found this was an issue. Maybe it's a problem on low-end machines, but how many people have a low-end computer but are willing to pay $50/month for Mighty?

Do you use AdBlock? That makes a huge difference.

I just set up a new computer and I was wondering why Chrome and Firefox was so slow. Then I remembered I hadn't set up AdBlock yet.

I wonder if Mighty has ad blocking? It's an interesting question of which will be better for their business -- blocking or no blocking. (I won't try it because of the obvious privacy problems, because I use a fast computer, and avoid slow web sites. But it probably has an audience.)

I use uBlock Origin for ad blocking. Maybe ad blockers are the secret.

The post is about crazy-new idea. This app is a RDP solution that is not a crazy or a new idea. It all depends on economic viability and marketing to the right people.

> It is fascinating to me how quickly people reject the premise of Mighty, even after PG lists all the good reasons for replacing judgment with curiosity.

I was curious about Mighty and looking forward to their technology. That’s not the problem.

The judgment came largely when they announced that it cost up to $600/year. It costs so much that it’s actually cheaper to buy a whole new computer if you might need it for a year or more. Once you put a price tag on something and ask people to pay for it, judgment is fair game.

This whole dismissal of people saying that they couldn’t justify the product for the price as some sort of anti-curiosity thing feels disingenuous.

If people will pay 2x or 10x the price of self-hosting for AWS, then I have no doubt that some people will pay 2x or 10x the price of a laptop for Mighty. (I wouldn't, but I also don't use AWS :) )

>even after PG lists all the good reasons for replacing judgment with curiosity

PG wants you to think that they're mutually exclusive. They're not, but he has a product to hustle.

The problem (for PG) is that curiosity is not uncritical. Curiosity poses more questions than those in the category "how well does this product work?" Anyone actually curious is going to wonder about the problem space, not just one proposed solution.

Pretty obvious questions include: "how did software get us to the point we're exploring this as a design?" and "could the problem it seeks to solve be addressed in a way that eliminates assumptions about the solution space?", "What are peripheral ramifications of design decisions, and how much do I care?" "Would other approaches solve the same issues, have the same ramifications?" or "Are they synergies to leverage by trying multiple things in concert?"

> Where’s the use-case where near-zero latency is vital?

I would say typing is a pretty big one. It is extraordinarily unpleasant when typing lag is anywhere above maybe 50ms,and even worse when it is variable, like it would inevitably be if going over the Internet. It's even worse with mouse movements, where occasional spikes in lag can ruin your day.

This is a solved problem though, with optimistic updates. See Mosh, which does this for the terminal. If you've ever had to run Vim on a high-latency remote connection, it feels like having superpowers.

Sure, but it's not solved in Chrome, is it? Mighty is just a VM running Chrome as far as I understand.

Not to mention, the problem is fundamentally simpler in a terminal, with a very limited range of outputs. The problem of optimistically drawing the result of your input on the screen is much harder when that input could affect any portion of the screen in any way, like it can on a JS-powered web page.

You just described a Netbook

> It is fascinating to me how quickly people reject the premise of Mighty, even after PG lists all the good reasons for replacing judgment with curiosity.

His arguments are too vague to specifically defend Mighty. You can insert any technology and his arguments are neither valid or invalid.

This is the standard network computing paradigm. In the past you had terminals connected to a mainframe etc.. Same thing. X11/RDP and what not.

The biggest gain here is security, you won't ever run code natively. The caveat is you also have to trust the host.

The biggest gain is the security of all of the code running on someone else's hardware.

The biggest loss is also security: all of your keystrokes, passwords, traffic, etc. are stored on someone else's hardware.

> The biggest gain here is security, you won't ever run code natively. The caveat is you also have to trust the host.

That assumes any malware cannot bust out out of mightyapp's sandbox to the host's host.

I think the key difference between a pytorch model and your browser is that you’re actively using and manipulating your browser and a pytorch model is a long running process without the need for second by second interaction.

And as you note the need for more power goes beyond a browser, IDEs, gaming, rendering, Bitcoin mining. Why just do it for the browser? You can, and some people do, remote into a more powerful machine for all of their work. This was the norm when terminals were true terminals. We could go back to this, but having your own computer historically had much larger benefits for people.

What's mosh?

Edit: Managed to find the right string of words to google: mosh = Mobile Shell

> why would a thick client ever be better than a thin client?

Because thick client distribute the load among many computer. With a thin client all that load is way more centralised.

> I would never attempt to train a PyTorch

No one is asking you to do that. We're talking about Mighty, a thin client that:

- runs a beefy VM in the cloud

- runs a single app, Chrome, in that VM

- streams video to the client

If a million people run Chrome on their laptops and keep it open for the entire day (and your browser is usually open throughout the day), that's... just a million people with their laptops.

If a million people run Chrome through Mighty, Mighty needs a million VMs always open, and a million video streams, also always open.

See how a thick client is better than a thin client?

I have no dog in the fight either way, but I think it's weird that their demo product shots are on a Mac when part of their pitch is

> "50+ tabs without your computer coming to a crawl"

On Macs, people can just switch to Safari for free and solve that problem. Yes, Chrome is a memory hog. Stop using Chrome, don't send all your browsing data to a third party.

Perhaps Windows would be a better choice for Mighty demo shots, since there may not have a better option than Chrome for Windows.

I just bought an used Lenovo desktop that’s a few years old, but has an i7 and 32gb of ram. It handles a hundred tabs without blinking. I think the bigger problem is the artificial constraint we’ve put on ram, why are we still selling computers with 8gb of ram?

If a “Crazy New Idea” (CNI) is getting VC funding from establishment tech capital to deliver a twist in an existing product, it doesn’t seem like it could be so crazy.

Reading this I thought of CNIs like the Internet of the 1980s, women’s suffrage in the 19th century, Project Mercury, The Eiffel Tower.

The CNIs gaining ground today in tech seem to be crypto, brain-computer-interfaces, quantum computing, and CRISPR gene editing.

I follow Blow's work and opinions quite closely. I am quite confident he was NOT criticizing Mighty specifically. Instead he was deploring the state of software engineering in general and web programming in particular. He is saying something like "I can't believe web engineering sucks so bad that a tool like Mighty actually makes sense". See his talk about preventing the end of civilization (!!):


Fascinating video as always from Jonathan.

Definitely highlights something I've always felt, which is that we're really making life complicated with all those tools and processes that are less than ideal.

I get the feeling business and the need to "ship" stuff is the thing really bringing technology down, even though it looks like it's moving it forward.

I did not take Jonathan Blow's tweet to be saying it's a bad idea, or won't work, but rather that it's an indictment of the whole web stack that it's necessary.

Watch any of his talks and you'll know for him it's definitely the latter. He's complained about bloat and the web stack in particular plenty of times.

Here's a really good talk by him that dives into it, titled dramatically "Preventing the Collapse of Civilization": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSRHeXYDLko

Also note he's currently developing a programming language called JAI that's trying (and seems like it might ultimately succeed) in being a faster and smoother alternative to C++ for developing games.

Yeah. Also, Suhail Doshi, the founder of Mighty, is mentioned as one of the people who draft read this essay.

Graham does this often. Instead of directly saying what he wants to say, he beats around the bush. When Allred was getting criticized for shady business practices, Graham wrote haters and thanked him and Musk and a bunch of other people. Not sure why he does it, it is very underhanded, as though he's afraid of actually getting in a legit argument with the person. Easier to pontificate form his essays, have them posted to his website, then have the mods defend him.

"Essay is french for attempt." There are good and there are bad attempts, of course.

I think he genuinely believes these issues are much broader than a single company. So he wants to encourage discussion about the general issue, instead of sparking even more unproductive, repetitive argument about a single company which would overshadow the broader and more interesting issue he sees.

(As we can see here, where a quarter of the comments are debating the business model of Mighty.)

Probably terrified of outrage mobs.

I'm not upset about Mighty itself - I'm sure it's a fine product made by some decent people.

No, I'm upset that Mighty is necessary. That we, as an industry, have failed so hard that multi-gigahertz mult-core machines with gigabytes of ram can no longer consistently and quickly render documents without offloading it to a central server.

We have game streaming services from NVIDIA and amazon has had Amazon workspaces. With the global chip shortage which will affect a large amount of people I think that this would be the best time to prove your product to have a good effect.

Not only that but a great amount of people here live in a literal tech bubble and we believe that everyone has a reasonably fast laptop or can setup a large workstation.

> Not only that but a great amount of people here live in a literal tech bubble and we believe that everyone has a reasonably fast laptop or can setup a large workstation.

By that same token the average persons browsing habits are also not the same. Optimising for Chrome power users who have eleventy billion tabs open and run hefty web apps isn’t the normal usecase. My families browsing is mostly taken care of on a 2012 MBP and a couple of ancient iPads. Mighty would be functionally useless for us.

Heck my entire day is spent in Chrome working in Drive and writing code in our own development environment in our web app. I am a browser power user in that sense on a three year old gaming laptop and I don’t understand the Mighty usecase. It’s a niche within a niche at the moment although I understand the appeal of the business model.

The business model is obvious. Data. The new petrol. The use case is the question. The general trend against personal computing. The naïveté of todays startups and VC in general. But this is nothing new. It will pass, some people will get rich, some will lose money. Do I like it? No. Do I care? No. Why? Because I have learned my life lessons well. If something survives as tech standard, it will be used. So I focus my attention on not being early adopter on any kind of tech.

Chromebooks maybe?

Geforce now or even renting an entire computer with shadow is for graphics performance, and is not 30 bucks a month. You also won't be entering any sensitive data while playing games. I think it's a cool thing they've done, but it requires you to put full trust into them as a company.

We have a game streaming service from Google, too (Stadia)... which is apparently struggling.

If there was a similar offering as mighty for certain development tools including Xcode and android studio together, that would be awesome and something I would look into. Basically something which would reduce the build times.

I don't understand how Jonathan Blow of all people, figurehead behind several great video games that would have been impossible to run on a supercomputer 25 years ago, could possible have this take.

He is very much in the church of hand-optimized low-level programming and anything that abstracts over that being where computing is going wrong.

you can't just compare a game and a web page. vastly different requirements.

Has mighty app announced what pricing will look like? I’m assuming that you couldn’t offer something like this for free.

yeah, they mentioned 30-50$ monthly on their site.

Mighty is a good idea, marketed to the wrong people. I mean, who wouldn't just upgrade their computer? New software is a cost, even if it's "free."

I'm sure there's a niche, though. Like low-paid workers needing to do a lot on their crappy personal machines.

I think that corporations may want to force all their users to use Mighty so that they can control exactly what goes on in the browser -- it is easier to pay Mighty to "virtualize" the browser, than it is to keep all computers up to date and without malicious extensions.

Maybe even prevent browsers from downloading files onto the local computer. A full recording of each user's sessions. Integrated password manager that uses the Mighty login to tie them all together.

So I view it as valuable to corporations and thus mighty falls into the B2B category of company which makes software end users hate, but corporations love.

Probably a fair bit of money in that.

> easier to pay Mighty to "virtualize" the browser, than it is to keep all computers up to date and without malicious extensions.

Not denying your other points but Amazon Workspaces[1] is a product that perfectly fits their needs.

From a top-level exec's stand point I would imagine they would be more willing to buy something like Amazon Workspaces which gives them 100% control and peace of mind Vs piecemeal approach such as browser, conference call client etc.,

[1] https://aws.amazon.com/workspaces

Except VDI products for enterprise already exist and are much cheaper than Mighty. AWS, Citrix, VMware, and probably others play in this space.

Don’t they already do this with VMs for less cost?

Do you think low paid workers are going buy a cheap laptop for 500$ and pay 30$ or 50$ per month for Mighty instead of just getting a more powerful Window laptop for like 1000$ or 1500$?

M1 macs can be had for $999, and they can even be bought with cheap financing options to convert it to a monthly payment.

Maybe there’s a market for people stuck on old computers but whose companies still spring for super fast internet and $50/month SaaS bills per user instead of just spending that same money (or less) financing the laptops they actually need, but it would be a small market.

Is it just the price that's the problem? What if Might were $30 to $50 per year?

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