Posts from Politics

Recount Media

This post is also live on USV.com as we announce all of our investments there with a blog post.

Eighteen months ago, I had breakfast with John Heilemann and he told me that his world, political media, was challenged in the shift from linear television (ie cable news) to real-time mobile (ie Twitter). He saw an opportunity to address that by filling the void in between them with news content that was made for real-time mobile consumption but had the journalistic integrity and production values of linear television.

I said to him “you should start a company to fill that void and you should get John Battelle to join you in starting that business.”

John did exactly that and six months later USV provided the seed capital along with True Ventures and a fantastic group of angel investors. 

Their company is called Recount Media and it has stayed largely under the radar for the last ten months as they built the team and started producing news content that promises “no bullshit, no bad faith, in five minutes or less.”

Having provided the initial funding for Twitter twelve years ago, we at USV are acutely aware that the disruption in media that it caused has been both positive and negative and that there is more work to do to make sure our society is well served by both the Fourth and Fifth estates.

We think that the work John, John and the dream team of journalists, producers, technologists, and business people are doing will make a material impact on filling the void and we are proud to be supportive investors in Recount Media.

If you want to see what Recount is all about you can download the Recount iOS app and/or sign up for their videos delivered via a daily email. You can also follow the Recount on TwitterInstagram, and YouTube.

#mobile#Politics

The Fifth Estate

Mark Zuckerberg, in his speech last week at Georgetown University, called social media “the Fifth Estate.”

The first three “estates” of society, classically, are the clergy, the nobility, and everyone else.

When the printing press arrived during the Renaissance/Enlightenment period and a mainstream press emerged, a fourth voice, The Fourth Estate, arrived on the scene and the mainstream press has had a long, strong, and lasting effect on society.

As far back as the counterculture years of the 60s, the term Fifth Estate emerged to describe underground newspapers. But it was the web, first with online communities, then blogging, and finally social media, that gave a voice to everyone.

And that is why Zuckerberg called social media “the Fifth Estate.”

As someone who has been blogging for most of the last two decades and who has enjoyed a voice that has been amplified by technology, I very much believe in the power of this Fifth Estate. I think it will have as strong and lasting effect on society as the Fourth Estate has had and will continue to have.

I also understand that the platforms that currently host the Fifth Estate have a tremendous amount of power to shape it, regulate it, and constrain it.

The reason this blog runs on open source software (WordPress) and is hosted on a server that I control is that I don’t want my voice hostage to one of these tech platforms.

I do use Twitter regularly and in doing so, I participate in a constrained platform. I don’t use Facebook regularly, partially because I don’t want to be exposed to or constrained by that platform.

But this post is not about Facebook vs Twitter. They are more similar than they are different. They are large and powerful tech platforms where the Fifth Estate materializes in our society.

They are not the only platforms that host the Fifth Estate. There are so many that matter. There is Reddit and the many other message boards like it. There are blogging platforms like Medium. And there are communities that exist to serve particular interests, including ones that cater to hateful and awful people.

The question that Zuckerberg posed for society last week is what power do we want to convey in these tech platforms to shape and constrain the Fifth Estate.

My vote is very little, if any.

I believe that the power that Facebook and Twitter and other platforms wield on society by virtue of their dominance is a fleeting power and that in time they will be replaced by something else that is better for society.

For now they have a lot of power and that is causing a lot of hand wringing in the halls of Washington and elsewhere.

But we should be careful not to hand them more power. Or worse require them to censor some voices and not others.

This tweetstorm by my friend Balaji says it very well.

Particularly this one:

#policy#Politics#Weblogs

The Libra Association

I am sitting in the airport lounge in Geneva waiting to board an airplane. I am here because yesterday was the inaugural Libra Association member council meeting. The Libra Association is a Swiss organization which will operate the Libra blockchain network and the Libra reserve.

Yesterday was an important milestone for the Libra project. We adopted the initial charter for the Libra Association, we elected the initial five board members, and we set in motion a number of important initiatives. “We” are the twenty-one founding members of the Libra Association.

It is fashionable to be negative about the Libra project right now. And it is equally fashionable to call it “Facebook’s crypto-currency project.” Both are understandable under the circumstances.

But yesterday was the beginning of an independent effort, one that Facebook does not control, one where Facebook is one founding member among many, and one where Facebook has one board seat out of five.

But even more important is Libra’s mission to create a stable cryptocurrency that can operate at sufficient scale such that Facebook and others can use it as a means of exchange/payment system in their applications.

The most meaningful conversations I had yesterday were with the members from Kiva and Women’s World Banking who joined the Libra Association because the people they serve are under-banked and under-provided for by the legacy financial system. Like them, I believe a stable cryptocurrency that is broadly adopted around the world will bring new services to people who don’t have access to the financial system that many of us who read this blog do.

One of the powerful things about being in the venture capital business is that we can support projects that are necessary but unproven, unpopular, and/or misunderstood. Not everyone can do that and so it is even more important that we do.

#blockchain#crypto#Politics

Immigration Makes Us Stronger

It is ironic and upsetting that a nation built on immigration is increasingly unwelcoming to immigrants and that the words ” go back” are becoming a political rallying cry.

I am for immigration full stop.

I think opening our arms and borders to people who want to come here, work, build their lives and businesses and futures makes our country stronger.

It always has. Nothing that is great about the United States was accomplished without immigrants.

Immigrants built our docks, they built our railroads, they built our automotive industry, and they built our technology industry.

If we were to close our borders completely, I believe we would be a second rate country within a couple of generations.

Immigration is new blood, new ideas, a work ethic, a belief in a better future, a willingness to take enormous risk, burn the boats, and get it done.

We need that in our society. We will die without it.

#Politics

New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act

The lawmakers in Albany have passed legislation known as the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) and it is sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.

There is plenty of debate on whether CCPA is good policy or bad policy. All you need to do is Google “New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act” and read the NY Post (against) and the NY Daily News (for) and you will see the various sides of the debate.

What this bill does is commit New York State to some of the most agressive goals of any city, state, or region:

This is a legally binding legislative act to achieve an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a goal of net zero.

My view is that we need ambitious goals like this and penalties for not reaching them (the stick).

But we also need new policies and new funding/investment to allow us to reach them (the carrot).

Most of the “green new deal” style legislation that is getting passed in NYC, NYS, and elsewhere, and being proposed in many other places, is long on sticks and short on carrots.

I believe CCPA is a good first step for NYS and I hope the Governor signs it into law.

But legislators and activists and the business community should not stop there. We need to follow these goal setting/penalty setting laws with more work around how we get there and there are many good ideas floating around on how to do that.

As hard as if has been to get CCPA done, I think the hard work is just starting because reaching these goals will require creativity, innovation, new technology, and a massive amount of investment and the willpower to see it through.

We really don’t have a choice. So let’s go.

#climate crisis#hacking energy#policy#Politics#Uncategorized

Cloudflare's Galileo Project Turns Five

Our portfolio company Cloudflare provides a suite of mission critical security services, and increasingly other services too, in the cloud to their customers. Among the most well known of these security services is DDOS protection (aka denial of service attack protection). A DDOS attack is a massive traffic burst aimed at a website to take of offline.

Among the most vulnerable and attacked websites are those belonging to non-profits and other organizations doing work that upsets those in power.

So Project Galileo is Cloudflare’s effort to provide security services to these sorts of organizations for free so they can stay online and continue to do their work.

And Galileo turns five years old this week.

Matthew Prince, Cloudflare’s CEO and co-founder, wrote this blog post yesterday celebrating five years of Galileo and he explains why this is so important to Cloudflare, the Internet, and the world.

#Politics#Web/Tech

Do The Right Thing

Airbnb has been operating in NYC and NY State for about ten years now and yet we still don’t have comprehensive home sharing legislation on the books in NY State. The reason is that the enemies of Airbnb, mostly the hotel employee unions, have been fighting Airbnb’s existence in NY State very effectively in Albany.

Many of the largest cities in the US and around the world now have comprehensive home sharing legislation on the books. It makes sense. It allows homeowners to share their homes legally and earn extra income but it also protects neighbors and neighborhoods from bad actors who abuse the system.

It is time for the folks in Albany to join that group and put fair and balanced and serious home sharing legislation on the books.

The good news is that we have good comprehensive bills before both houses of the state legislature right now.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and Senator James Skoufis have recently proposed comprehensive regulations for short term rentals in NY State.

An increasing number of New Yorkers rely on home sharing services not only when they travel, but also for the additional income they generate by opening up their homes here in New York.

The bills proposed by Lentol and Skoufis will create fair and restrictive rules to govern short-term home rentals in New York. Existing NYC legislation has unfairly penalized everyday New Yorkers for sharing their homes and left many confused about the law.

The proposed legislation bans short-term rentals in all affordable housing and also limits NYC residents to listing only one home. The bills also mandate data-sharing with New York City to boost transparency and enable NYC agents to target and take action against bad actors abusing the system.

The proposed legislation also allows Airbnb to collect and remit taxes on behalf of its users. Currently, NY State is missing out on badly needed tax revenue.

It is time for the NY State Legislature and Governor to pass clear and commonsense legislation to safely and responsibly regulate the home sharing industry. I would like to acknowledge Assemblyman Lentol and Senator Skoufis who have the common sense and courage to lead the way.

#policy#Politics

Get Your Message On Mobile

I finally got around to reading the Political Advertising Report from Tech For Campaigns. My conclusion is we are going to see our phones light up with political messages over the next year and a half. Here is why:

Only Trump spent a percentage of total spend on digital that is close to what companies do
When you buy Facebook ads, you are buying mobile ads
The older you are the more likely that you click on ads on your phone

So let’s brace ourselves for the messages that are going to start coming into our phones from politicians over the next 18 months. Mobile advertising works.

I am closing comments to this post because I don’t want to turn this blog’s comments into a soapbox for certain people and we all know who they are.

#mobile#Politics

Fewer Cars More Mass Transit

Well it looks like NYC is finally going to get congestion pricing, a technique used successfully in a number of cities around the world to reduce the number of cars on the road and increase the investment in mass transit.

The concept is simple. Tax cars coming into the center of a city and use those tax revenues to invest in other ways of moving people in and out of the city.

I have been a supporter of this idea going back to the Bloomberg era in NYC when it looked like we were going to get congestion pricing and then it fell apart due to political opposition.

I wrote about congestion pricing late last year when a report came out from the Governor’s committee on metro area transportation which recommended congestion pricing and increased investment in the MTA.

I think this is the right policy. We need to create financial disincentives to drive in NYC (with the proper exemptions like people with disabilities) and we need to invest more in mass transit.

This will be good for the tech sector in NYC, where employees largely use mass transit to get around. Julie Samuels, Exec Director of Tech:NYC, explains why in more detail in this op-ed.

I do have concerns about giving billions of new tax revenues to the MTA which has not been great at using the billions we have already given them to deliver better mass transit. I mention those concerns in my post late last year.

But we should not let perfect be the enemy of the good. NYC needs congestion pricing and we need it now. It will reduce traffic in lower and midtown manhattan and it will provide the resources we need to modernize and improve our mass transit options.

If we could couple congestion pricing with structural reforms of the MTA, then we would be really cooking with gas.

#NYC#policy#Politics