Posts from Web/Tech

Why Decentralization Matters

So the news over the weekend is that Microsoft is buying GitHub. Many companies and developers are thinking “do I want my source code hosted on a service owned by Microsoft?”

Fortunately, the protocol that GitHub is built on, Git, is open source and there are other Git hosts, like GitLab.

There are also a number of proprietary Git solutions offered by companies like Atlassian and BitBucket.

Moving your source code repositories from GitHub to GitLab or somewhere else is not a simple thing, but it can be done. Kind of like moving your email from Outlook to Gmail.

Lock-in is a bitch. And everyone who has ever been locked into a shitty piece of software over the years knows, there is often no easy way out.

Software built on decentralized protocols offers a different and better way. You can move your data out if you don’t like where things are going. And that is what some developers are doing right now with GitHub.

GDPR Is Upon Us

As we all know from the flood of emails coming into our inboxes explaining that privacy policies have changed and more, the dawn of the GDPR era is upon us.

Technically companies have until tomorrow, May 25th, to get into compliance with GDPR.

USV portfolio companies have been working on getting compliant for more than a year and we have been active in helping them do so and advising them on best practices.

I blogged about GDPR here at AVC last September in hopes that all of you would also start working on getting compliant.

If you have customers or users in Europe, you must comply with GDPR. But many companies are taking the approach that they will be GDPR compliant with all of their customers, regardless of geography.

For this reason, GDPR is the biggest user data privacy regulation to hit the Internet, at least in the last decade, and possibly forever.

There are some good things in GDPR. The basic notions that users have the right to control how their data is used and to opt-out of that usage seems right to me.

But like all regulations, the implementation and compliance details are painful in parts and there certainly could have been a lighter weight way to get to the same place.

My hope is that the US and other countries copy some of the better parts of GDPR but go without the overwrought elements.

The other thing to note about GDPR is that we should expect revenue headwinds from it for the next few quarters. Less emails will be going out. Less engagement will be going on. And less revenue will be generated.

I am OK with that. It’s a price to be paid for a step forward for user’s rights. No pain, no gain.

Email, Twitter, Blog

I exchanged emails today with someone who wanted to connect with me on LinkedIn.

I told him that “I don’t do LinkedIn.”

I have a profile there and I use it regularly as a resume database to check out people. I keep a profile there so others can do the same.

But beyond that, I don’t do LinkedIn.

So to everyone who is sending me messages via LinkedIn, please know that I am not reading them. I suspect that is obvious to anyone who has tried that approach more than a few times.

The same is true of many social platforms. I have profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and a bunch more social platforms. But I don’t use them.

For me, the trifecta is email, twitter, and this blog.

That is a pretty large surface area via which folks can connect with me.

Email is hit or miss. I get hundreds of emails into my “Important” inbox on Gmail and hundreds more than don’t get into “Important” and thus don’t get read by me. Though I try to read every message and actually do respond to hundreds every day, I don’t get to all of my email.

I am better with Twitter. I read every notification that I get and respond to many.

And this blog is yet another place people can reach me.

I understand that it is frustrating to reach me and that I can be unresponsive.

But if you stick to email, twitter, and this blog, you have the best chance of getting a response from me.

The Brave Browser

A number of USV folks are using the Brave browser on their phones and thinking about using it on desktop too.

We are not the average internet users at USV. We tend toward early adopter.

So I polled my twitter followers (which also skews early adopter) to see how many of them are using the Brave browser:

I don’t want to bias anyone who wants to complete the poll, so if you want to see the current results, pls complete it and you will see the results after you do that.

It’s interesting. I will say that much.

1.1.1.1

Our portfolio company Cloudflare announced a consumer DNS service (a resolver) yesterday.

It was not an April Fools stunt.

If you want to use the Internet’s fastest, privacy-first consumer DNS service, then head over to 1.1.1.1 and click the install button.

What you will do is adjust your computer’s settings to change the DNS servers your computer uses to resolve DNS queries (what server address is google.com?).

Here are some mantras from the 1.1.1.1 web page:

Unfortunately, by default, DNS is usually slow and insecure. Your ISP, and anyone else listening in on the Internet, can see every site you visit and every app you use — even if their content is encrypted. Creepily, some DNS providers sell data about your Internet activity or use it target you with ads.

We think that’s gross. If you do too, now there’s an alternative: 1.1.1.1

and

We will never log your IP address (the way other companies identify you). And we’re not just saying that. We’ve retained KPMG to audit our systems annually to ensure that we’re doing what we say.

Frankly, we don’t want to know what you do on the Internet—it’s none of our business—and we’ve taken the technical steps to ensure we can’t.

and

We’ve built 1.1.1.1 to be the Internet’s fastest DNS directory. Don’t take our word for it. The independent DNS monitor DNSPerf ranks 1.1.1.1 the fastest DNS service in the world.

Since nearly everything you do on the Internet starts with a DNS request, choosing the fastest DNS directory across all your devices will accelerate almost everything you do online.

So if you want speed and privacy, install 1.1.1.1 and you will get both.

The Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2018

Every year our portfolio company Stack Overflow surveys its developer community and publishes the results.

This year Stack had over 100,000 respondents to its survey from all over the world, making this survey possibly the most comprehensive view of the global software developer community.

There is a ton of data here. It’s a 30 minute survey. You can see the results here.

But since many of you won’t click that link, here are some highlights from it:

First, we know that software engineering is a largely white male profession. The data shows that:

If we look at the gender and racial/ethnic mix of the students who answered the question, there is some promising data on racial/ethnic diversity, but less promising data on gender diversity. Efforts like I blogged about yesterday are badly needed to change these numbers.

I found the technology questions interesting.

Javascript is by far the most common programming language.

But Python is the most “wanted” programming language. And Go and Kotlin are rising fast.

Some great news for our portfolio company MongoDB in this survey. Mongo was the most popular non-SQL database and was the most wanted database of them all.

Finally, some data on how important Stack Overflow is in these developers’ work:

Any service where 2/3 of its users visit daily is a big deal. And for developers, Stack is very much that.

The Promise Of Parkland

This post is not about the tragedy that happened at Parkland or the gun safety debate that has been re-energized by it. Those are both worthy topics but I’m not opining on them today.

I do hope that this tragedy, among so many like it, will result in meaningful changes in our society in terms of how we protect our children in school and also how we allow responsible and healthy people to own and secure their weapons.

What I am going to opine on is how Parkland is re-shaping the debate about how social media and technology more broadly is impacting our culture, our collective conversations, and our politics.

In the beginning, the tech sector believed, and told everyone, that connecting the world via technology was going to be great, a technological utopia as it were.

That, of course, turned out not to be true and what we have are both vast improvements (truly global real time communications that everyone can tap into) and equally vast problems (you can’t believe and can’t trust anything you read on the Internet).

It is the classic good news/bad news situation.

In the past few years, but most notably last year, the discussion of this topic has focused on the bad side of these changes. Fake news, hacked systems, bots, ad systems gone haywire, and so on and so forth. We collectively lost trust in social media and technology and became angry about it.

Then comes Parkland. These amazing brave and vocal young adults, victims, with the same tools in their hands.

And we see, again, the good side.

The promise of Parkland, for me, is that this technology we have built and use every day can be an impactful tool for real people with real things to say to get their words out, and for the rest of us to see them, amplify them, discuss them, debate them, and understand them.

I feel the pendulum on this issue swinging back to center, where it belongs, and I am very encouraged by that.

The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

I listened to Sam Harris talk to Niall Ferguson yesterday on Sam’s Waking Up podcast.

Niall is a historian, an author, a journalist, and an academic.

He has just published a new book on a topic that is near and dear to me, USV, and many of you; networks and hierarchies, and how these two forms of information flow and management have impacted society over the last five hundred years (or so).

The book is called The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.

I bought it for our Kindles today and will get into it asap. But just hearing Niall talk about the ideas in the book tells me that this is going to be an important read for many of us.

We may think that the power of information networks to shape society is a new thing (Facebook, fake news, Trump, etc, etc) but Niall argues that there is nothing new here and these sorts of things have been going on in analog networks for hundreds of years. As Shakespeare said, “what’s past is prologue” and we should learn as much from the past as we can. That’s what historians are for, after all.

I plan on doing that and you may want to join me.

DuckDuckGo Moves Beyond Search

Our portfolio company DuckDuckGo which offers a search engine that doesn’t store your search history or track you announced some new offerings this week.
Here’s a quote from the announcement:

Over the years, DuckDuckGo has offered millions of people a private alternative to Google, serving over 16 billion anonymous searches. Today we’re excited to launch fully revamped versions of our browser extension and mobile app, extending DuckDuckGo’s protection beyond the search box to wherever the Internet takes you.

As I understand it, you can get this browsing protection via the DuckDuckGo mobile app and from their browser extensions.
You can get them here:

FirefoxSafariChromeiOS, and Android

DuckDuckGo is moving beyond search into a broader suite of privacy offerings. They have built up the trust of users over the years and can now apply that to a wider set of problems.

Along the way DuckDuckGo has built a great business too. As founder/CEO Gabe Weinberg explains in this interview with Techcrunch, DuckDuckGo has been profitable since 2014.

It’s very satisfying to me to know that in an era where billions are being made walking all over our privacy, a great business can be built protecting it.