- How Visa, Using Card Fees, Dominates a Market — (NY Times) two interesting lessons here. First, that incentives to create a good system are easily broken when three parties are involved (here Visa sets the fees that merchants pay banks, so it’s in Visa’s interest to raise those fees as high as possible to encourage more banks to offer Visa cards). Second, that that value-based charging (“regardless of our costs, we’ll charge as much as we can without bankrupting or driving away all of you”) sounds great when you’re doing the charging but isn’t so appealing when you’re on the paying end. Visa justifies its fees not on the grounds of cost to provide the service, but rather by claiming that their service makes everything more convenient and so people shop more.
- Doing It Wrong (Tim Bray) — What I’m writing here is the single most important take-away from my Sun years, and it fits in a sentence: The community of developers whose work you see on the Web, who probably don’t know what ADO or UML or JPA even stand for, deploy better systems at less cost in less time at lower risk than we see in the Enterprise. This is true even when you factor in the greater flexibility and velocity of startups. I’ve been working with a Big Company and can only agree with this: The point is that that kind of thing simply cannot be built if you start with large formal specifications and fixed-price contracts and change-control procedures and so on. So if your enterprise wants the sort of outcomes we’re seeing on the Web (and a lot more should), you’re going to have to adopt some of the cultures and technologies that got them built.
- Analytics X Prize — The Analytics X Prize is an ongoing contest to apply analytics, modeling, and statistics to solve the social problems that affect our cities. It combines the fields of statistics, mathematics, and social science to understand the root causes of dysfunction in our neighborhoods. Understanding these relationships and discovering the most highly correlated variables allows us to deploy our limited resources more effectively and target the variables that will have the greatest positive impact on improvement. The first contest is to predict homicides in Philadelphia. (via mikeloukides on Twitter)
- Protecting Cloud Secrets with Grendel (Wesabe blog) — new open source package that implements Wesabe’s policies for safe handling of customer data. It uses OpenPGP to store data, and offers access to the encrypted data via an internal (behind-the-firewall) REST service. The data can only be decrypted with the user’s password. Hopefully the first of many standard tools and practices for respecting privacy.
Competition, access to bandwidth, and other issues muddy the net neutrality waters.
It was the million comments filed at the FCC that dragged me out of the silence I’ve maintained for several years on the slippery controversy known as “network neutrality.” The issue even came up during President Obama’s address to the recent U.S.-Africa Business forum.
Most people who latch on to the term “network neutrality” (which was never favored by the experts I’ve worked with over the years to promote competitive Internet service) don’t know the history that brought the Internet to its current state. Without this background, proposed policy changes will be ineffective. So, I’ll try to fill in some pieces that help explain the complex cans of worms opened by the idea of network neutrality.
Network neutrality was on the retreat shortly after the Telecom Act of 1996.
A court ruling this past Tuesday on FCC “network neutrality” regulation closes and opens a few paths in a three-way chess game that has been going on for years between the US District Court of Appeals, the FCC, and the major Internet server providers. (Four-way if you include Congress, and five-way if you include big Internet users such as Google — so, our chess game is coming closer to Chinese Checkers at this point.)
A lot of bloggers, and even news headlines, careened into histrionics (“Net neutrality is dead. Bow to Comcast and Verizon, your overlords“). The Free Press, although oversimplifying the impact, did correctly link the ruling to what they and many other network neutrality supporters consider the original sin of FCC rulings: eviscerating the common carrier regulation of broadband providers.
Even better, many commenters noted the ambiguities and double messages in the ruling. Unlike a famous earlier ruling on Comcast regulation, this week’s court ruling spends a good deal of time affirming the FCC’s right to regulate Internet providers. Notably, pp. 35-36 essentially confirm the value and validity of network neutrality (in the form of promoting innovation at the edges by placing no restraints on transmissions).
A conference report on the IP transition.
Although readers of this blog know quite well the role that the Internet can play in our lives, we may forget that its most promising contributions — telemedicine, the smart electrical grid, distance education, etc. — depend on a rock-solid and speedy telecommunications network, and therefore that relatively few people can actually take advantage of the shining future the Internet offers.
Worries over sputtering advances in bandwidth in the US, as well as an actual drop in reliability, spurred the FCC to create the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force, and to drive discussion of what they like to call the “IP transition”.
Last week, I attended a conference on the IP transition in Boston, one of a series being held around the country. While we tussled with the problems of reliability and competition, one urgent question loomed over the conference: who will actually make advances happen?
Pandemic, a collaborative board game, casts a different light on competition and gaming.
At a recent board games night hosted by Greg Brown (@practicingruby), we played a game called “Pandemic” that made me rethink the meaning of games. I won’t bother you with a detailed description; it’s enough to say that there are four or five players who take turns, and the goal is to defeat outbreaks of disease.
What makes this game unique is that you’re not playing against the other players, you’re playing against the game itself. It’s almost impossible to win, particularly at higher levels of difficulty (which Greg encourages, even for newbies). But you quickly realize that you don’t have a chance of winning if you don’t cooperate with the other players. The game is all about cooperation and collaboration. The players don’t all have equal abilities; one can move other players’ pieces around on the board, another can create research centers, another can cure larger swaths of disease. On your turn, you could just move and do whatever you think is best; but once you get the hang of it, you spend a good bit of time before each move discussing with the other players what the best strategy is, whether there are other effective ways to accomplish the same goal, and so on. You’re always discussing whether it would be better to solve a problem yourself, or move someone else so they can solve the problem more effectively on their turn.
In some ways, it’s not all that different from a role-playing game, but there is never any advantage to stabbing another player in the back or striking out on your own. But at the same time, even though it’s radically collaborative, it’s challenging. As I said, it’s almost impossible to win, and the game is structured to become more difficult the longer it goes on.
It’s a great example of rethinking gaming and rethinking competition, all in a little game that comes in a box and is played with pawns on a board.
Joseph Esposito on Amazon's dominant position and what B&N can do about it.
Amazon is the clear market leader, but that doesn’t mean everyone else should throw in the towel. In this podcast, Joseph Esposito, president of Portable CEO consulting, discusses the current publishing market and how B&N can best compete.
David Farber offers his big ideas about where the Internet is headed: how long it can last, slaying the bandwidth bottleneck, and waiting for the big breach.
The DC Circuit didn't tell the FCC to turn back. It has a job to
do–promoting the spread of high-speed networking, and ensuring that
it is affordable by growing numbers of people–and it just has to find
the right tool for the job.
Visualize open networks–and remember how far we've already come from
the days before flat-rate long distance phone calls (much less app
stores for cell phones).
Opponents can shed their rhetoric and reveal new depths to their thought when you bring them together for rapid-fire exchanges, sometimes with their faces literally inches away from each other. That made it worth my while to truck down to the MIT Media Lab for yesterday’s Workshop on Innovation, Investment and the Open Internet, sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission. The event showed that innovation and investment are not always companions on the Internet. An in-depth look at the current state of the debate over competition and network neutrality.