Posts from Current Affairs

Union 2.0

I wrote this post below on labor day two years ago. From where I sit, very little progress has been made on this since then. That is a problem and also a big opportunity.

Some Thoughts On Labor On Labor Day

When one looks back over the history of the development of the modern economy from the agricultural age, to the industrial age, to the information age, the development of a strong labor movement has to be one of the signature events. Capitalism, taken to its excesses, does not allocate economic value fairly to all participants in the economic system. The workers, slaving away to build the railroad, the skyscraper, etc, provide real and substantial value to the overall system and yet, because they are commodified and interchangeable parts, they don’t always get their fair share of the economic value they help to create. So the labor movement provides the market power that each worker individually cannot provide.

The emergence of the middle class in the developed world in the 19th and 20th centuries has as much to do with the emergence of a labor movement as it has to do with anything. And a growing middle class in turn drove economic development as the obtained earning power was spent on needs like homes, cars, education, etc.

I am a fan of the idea that labor needs a mechanism to obtain market power as a counterbalance to the excesses of markets and capitalism. I think we can look back and see all the good that has come from a strong labor movement in the US over the past 150 years.

However, like all bureaucratic institutions, the “Union” mechanism appears anachronistic sitting here in the second decade of the 21st century. We are witnessing the sustained unwinding of 19th and 20th century institutions that were built at a time when transaction and communications costs were high and the overhead of bureaucracy and institutional inertia were costs that were unavoidable.

One has to think “if I were constructing a labor movement from scratch in 2015, how would I do it?”  My colleague Nick Grossman coined the term “Union 2.0” inside our firm to talk about all the organizing tools coming to market to assist workers in the “gig economy.” But I think Union 2.0 is way bigger than the gig economy. The NY Times has a piece today on workers in a carwash in Santa Fe organizing outside of the traditional union system. One can imagine leveraging technology, communications, and marketplaces to allow such a thing on a much larger scale.

I don’t know how much the traditional union system taxes workers to provide the market power they need. But if its like any other hierarchical system that we are seeing replaced by networks and markets, the take rates are in the 20-40% range and could be lowered to sub 5% with technology.

That’s a big deal. And I suspect we will see just that happen in my lifetime. I sure hope so.

Headlines

One of the issues in all of the concerns about “fake news” is the way headlines are used on the Internet. Newspapers and magazines certainly took the construction of headlines into account to drive readers into the stories. But on the Internet, headlines have become that and more. They are the links themselves that fly around the Internet and “convert” someone into coming to your site and reading a story. They are “clickbait.” If we want to address the veracity and authenticity of content on the Internet, we might want to start with headlines.

I’ve had my issues with headlines for years. Many years ago, I allowed a number of publications to repost content I write here at AVC on their online publications. The publication that does that most frequently with my content is Business Insider. You can see the hundreds of posts that BI has republished on my author page at Business Insider. When they started doing this maybe seven or eight years ago, I would notice that they would leave my post intact, verbatim, but rewrite the headline. It would drive me crazy because I view the headline as an integral part of my post. I think about the words I use to title my posts. So I would send them angry emails and most of the time they would change it back. But it was a lesson in the difference between a headline that I liked and a headline that would drive clicks.

I also have seen hundreds of stories written about me, USV, and our portfolio companies that have sensational and often inaccurate headlines followed by stories that are essentially correct and well reported. It drives me nuts but I don’t often do much about it.

It makes me think that someone, or some company, or some open source community ought to build software that parses headlines and the stories that follow and rate them for how well the headline represents the article. That “headline veracity ranking” could then be offered to anyone who presents headlines to readers. That would be social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. That would be email applications and browsers. That would be search engines. Etc, etc, etc.

It would be nice to see some competition in this sector so that one company doesn’t become the arbiter of what is an accurate headline and what is not. That doesn’t sound like a good outcome. But if this is done via open source, or is community powered in some way, this could be a very helpful tool in getting publishers to behave and represent their stories accurately.

And that would be a wonderful thing for the Internet.

Leaks

I like what Larry Lessig wrote here about leaks, particularly this part:

Neera has only ever served in the public (and public interest) sector. Her work has always and only been devoted to advancing her vision of the public good. It is not right that she should bear the burden of this sort of breach.

If we needed to add more reasons why someone would choose to avoid public service, we now have one more – wikileaks will out your emails and embarrass the hell out of you.

There was some stuff about me in the Clinton leaks. There was some stuff about me in the Sony leaks. I’m with Larry. I don’t care to have that stuff outed. And I understand how people talk about others privately. That’s how it is. I am not upset at anyone at Sony or the Clinton team for what was leaked. That’s life.

But I do think wikileaks has gone overboard here. There is, as Larry says, a difference between leaks of substance and leaks of embarrassment. Let’s try to keep the leaks to stuff that matters and avoid the petty stuff please.

What Do You Do? What Do You Say?

It’s friday morning and we are waking up to yet another story of a twisted madman engaging in mass murder. We did this last friday.

What do you do? What do you say?

Yes, we should Pray For Nice. They can use our prayers.

And yes, we should give generously to the victims and their families. I did that just now.

But it doesn’t feel like enough. What is an appropriate reaction to these horrors?

And what if you are the CEO of a rapidly growing company who has to stand up in front of the team today at the weekly all hands? What do you do? What do you say?

Do you ignore it because stuff like this doesn’t belong in the office? Should we just focus on our jobs and keep doing what we are doing?

Or do you talk about it with the team? And what do you say?

I don’t even know what to say to all of you. I didn’t know what to say to my friend who is from Nice when I wrote him an email this morning. “I’m thinking of you. I hope everyone you know is OK.” What else is there to say?

There is an epidemic in the world, a sickness that is spreading and afflicting more and more people. It is mental illness. We need to diagnose its cause and treat it. Until we do that, we will be facing more of these mornings.

I think many of us are wondering what we can do to help with that. I certainly am.

Furious Friday

Typically on fridays, we do something light and easy to get the conversation flowing here at AVC. Fridays are less about me writing and more about us talking.

But I’m not feeling very light and easy today. It’s been a bad week here in the US. It started with yet another fatal shooting of a black person by law enforcement and ended with snipers killing officers in Dallas last night.

We have a problem in the US with gun violence and race relations. And our law enforcement professionals are at the epicenter of these issues.

It is all so tragic and ghastly and awful.

The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Like everyone, I was horrified to read about what happened in the Pulse nightclub on Saturday night.

The scourge that is at the heart of this awful event is hatred, hatred so deep that a person could walk into a nightclub and kill fifty people and wound many more. I can’t imagine that. I am saddened that anyone can.

For me, the only response to this kind of hatred is love, unconditional love.

And my act of love was giving to this Crowdrise that will help pay for the funeral and medical costs for Pulse victims.

Please join us if you are so inclined.

Conversation with General Keith Alexander

I follow Emily Chang’s Studio 1.0 podcast on SoundCloud. It’s very good.

She recently sat down with Former NSA Director General Keith Alexander to discuss privacy vs. security and why there needs to be more collaboration between Washington and Silicon Valley in the on-going encryption debate.

I enjoyed the conversation and you may too.

A Decade Of Twitter

So Twitter is ten today. I celebrated with this tweet:

I do love Twitter. It is my news feed. Like most people who use Twitter, I mostly use it to consume information. I have never met a web or mobile service that gives me what I need to know better than Twitter.

I think that’s the thing that many people don’t understand about Twitter. They think of Twitter as a social network, like Facebook, where everyone posts and everyone consumes. Twitter is different. It’s a network and it can be social, but at its core, Twitter is a user configurable broadcast network. It has a very different read/post ratio than a classic social network and that’s part of why it is so good as a news feed.

Anyway, here’s to the next ten years Twitter.

The Twitter Contradiction

So everyone around here knows I’m bullish on Twitter and we own a lot of stock. So take all of this in that context please.

I just don’t understand the narrative around Twitter. “It is in trouble. It isn’t growing. It’s time has come and gone. The kids all use Snapchat and Instagram.”

That last part is true, to a degree. But it isn’t as simple as that.

The presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States has largely conducted his campaign on Twitter and in massive public appearances that feel like rock concerts. He has avoided the traditional media channels and taken his message direct to the people on Twitter. Not on Facebook. Not on Instagram. Not on Snapchat. Not on Pinterest. Not on his website or mobile app. On Twitter.

My brother in law and I watched the best basketball game of the year so far on Saturday night. Steph Curry was unreal. And he won it with a few seconds left in overtime with a bomb from something like 40 feet that everyone knew was going in. And what happened next?

This:

And this:

And this:

Steph’s opponents expressed their appreciation for what he is doing on Twitter in the moment. Not on Facebook. Not on Instagram. Not on Snapchat. Not anywhere else. And you don’t have to be on Twitter to see that. You can see that here and many other places.

Here’s the thing about Twitter. You don’t need to be logged into Twitter to see these tweets. You can see them on Twitter logged out. Or you can see them embedded in other places on web and mobile or on TV and elsewhere. You only need to be logged into Twitter to tweet.

So anyone who is focusing on the logged in monthly active user number is missing something bigger. Twitter is where people who have something to say go to say it. And right now we are witnessing Twitter being used for what is arguably the biggest thing out there. A run for President of the United States.

That is the contradiction of Twitter.

Fun Friday: The Culture Caucus Podcast

My friend John Heilemann (Bloomberg Politics, Game Change, etc) and his friend Will Leitch (Deadspin, etc) have launched a podcast called Culture Caucus. They are going to talk about sports, television, film, and culture at large and its intersection with the body politic.

The first episode has two parts. The first part is about the changes in late night television shows, who is rising and who is falling, and how politicians think about going on these shows. I sat through the taping of this part and I found it fascinating. The second part features me talking about tech and Twitter.

It’s a long podcast, almost an hour in total. Here is the first episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can follow Culture Caucus on SoundCloud here.