Posts from Web/Tech

Stack Today, Stack Tomorrow

Our portfolio company Stack Overflow (which I like to call Stack) is an Internet Treasure. My friend Mark Pincus introduced me to the concept of an Internet Treasure many years ago and I am a fan of the notion.

In my view, an Internet Treasure is a service on the Internet that is wide open, gets better when more people use it, and solves a need that many/all of us have. Wikipedia is an Internet Treasure. Quizlet is an Internet Treasure. Reddit is an Internet Treasure. And Stack is an Internet Treasure. There are many more out there but you get the idea.

Stack has a new leader and his name is Prashanth Chandrasekar. Prashanth wrote a “State of the Company” post yesterday on the Stack blog and I would like to highlight a few sections from it.

First, this is what an Internet Treasure looks like by the numbers:

Across Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network, we saw around 10 billion page views from 100+ million unique visitors over the course of 2019.

In 2019, Stack Overflow added over 2.8 million answers and 2.6 million new questions, with over 1.7 million new users joining the community. There are now over 18 million questions and 27 million answers on Stack Overflow, and over 150,000 people sign up for a Stack Overflow account each month, 12 years after we started.

Every day, users answer thousands of questions on topics like cloud technology, container orchestration, and machine learning. There is an ever growing trove of knowledge on Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.

Our community members and volunteer moderators handled almost two million flags to keep inaccurate, abusive, unwelcoming, or inappropriate content off the site and in line with our updated Code of Conduct.

Hundreds of thousands of engineers leveraged the power of Stack Overflow for Teams to better collaborate and ship products faster.

Over 40,000 jobs were posted on Stack Overflow Jobs in 2019. We now have over 1,000,000 searchable profiles of developers who are interested in being contacted about a job on Stack Overflow Talent.

Almost a million developers found new and useful tools after seeing a company advertise on one of our sites. 

New leaders don’t want to sit still. They arrive, take measure of the people and the business, and then make big plans.

And this is how Prashanth is thinking about the future of Stack:

1/ Continue to invest in the community, insure that the Code Of Conduct evolves to mantain the trust and safety of the community, and broaden the number of developers who fully engage in a the community.

2/ Continue improve and invest in Stack Overflow For Teams which allows organizations to use the same tool for internal knowledge sharing as they use for external knowledge sharing

3/ Expand the Advertising and Talent offerings to offer developers easy access to new tools and new career opportunities.

4/ Build and expand the team so that the Company can be responsive to the needs of developers and move quickly to adapt as the developer ecosystem changes.

5/ Stay true to the mission of supporting the needs of developers and technical workers and help them succeed in their jobs and develop their careers.

I am excited to see Stack flourish under Prashanth’s new leadership. That’s what we should want for all of our Internet Treasures.

#management#Web/Tech

Managing Multiple Twitter Handles

Like Mitt Romney and Kevin Durant, I manage multiple Twitter handles. Although neither is a secret handle.

I use @fredwilson for my personal tweets and I use @avc for this blog. I have done that since I joined Twitter in the spring of 2007.

The idea is to keep AVC blog discussions on @avc and leave @fredwilson for other things. That isn’t how it plays out however and on a day with a lot of discussion about AVC posts (like the last two days), I get reactions on both and engage actively on both.

Moving back and forth between Twitter handles on the Twitter mobile app is a breeze. You just add a second profile to the mobile app and you can switch back and forth in the profile view.

I have not found that to be as easy in a desktop browser and so I run two browsers, one where I am logged in on @fredwilson and the other where I am logged in on @avc. If there is a better way to do this, I would love to know what it is.

I know most people manage multiple email addresses, one for personal, another for business, and possibly a few more. I do not do that and use my main email address for everything. So I can’t explain why I don’t do the same on social media, but I don’t. And both approaches seem to work well for me.

#mobile#Web/Tech

What Happened In The 2010s

My friend Steve Kane suggested I take a longer view in my pair of year end posts this year:

And so I will.

Here are the big things that happened in tech, startups, business, and more in the decade that is ending today, in no particular order of importance.

1/ The emergence of the big four web/mobile monopolies; Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. A decade ago, Google dominated search, Apple had a mega hit on their hand with the iPhone, Amazon was way ahead of everyone in e-commerce, and Facebook was emerging as the dominant social media platform. Today, these four companies own monopolies or duopolies in their core markets and are using the power of those market positions to extend their reach into tangential markets and beyond. Google continues to own a monopoly position in search in many parts of the world, has a duopoly position in mobile operating systems, and controls a number of other market leading assets (email, video, etc). Apple owns the other duopoly position in mobile operating systems. Amazon has amassed a dominant position in e-commerce in many parts of the world and has used that position to extend its reach into private label products, logistics, and cloud infrastructure. Facebook built and acquired its way into owning four of the most strategic social media properties in the world; Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Most importantly, outside of China, these four companies own more data about what we do online and also control many of the important channels to reach us in the digital world. What society does about this situation stands as the most important issue in tech at the start of the 2020s.

2/ The massive experiment in using capital as a moat to build startups into sustainable businesses has now played out and we can call it a failure for the most part. Uber popularized this strategy and got very far with it, but sitting here at the end of the 2010s, Uber has not yet proven that it can build a profitable business, is struggling as a public company, and will need something more than capital to sustain its business. WeWork was a fast follower with this strategy and failed to get to the public markets and is undergoing a massive restructuring that will determine the fate of that business. Many other experiments with this model have failed or are failing right now. When I look back at the 2010s, I see a decade during which massive capital flowed into startups and much of it was wasted chasing the “capital as a moat” model.

3/ Machine learning finally came of age in the 2010s and is now table stakes for every tech company, large and small. Accumulating a data asset around your product and service and using sophisticated machine learning models to personalize and improve your product is not a nice to have. It is a must have. This ultimately benefits the three large cloud providers (Amazon, Google, Microsoft) who are providing much of the infrastructure to the tech industry to do this work at scale, which is how you must do it if you want to be competitive.

4/ Subscriptions became the second scaled business model for web and mobile businesses, following advertising which emerged at scale in the previous decade. Startups that developed the skills to execute a subscription business model with positive unit economics delivered fantastic returns to investors and capital flowed into this sector as a result. This was a very positive development as subscriptions better align the interests of the users and the developers of mobile and web applications and avoid many of the negative aspects of the free/ad supported business model. However, as we end the decade, a subscription overload backlash is emerging as many consumers have signed up for more subscriptions than they need and in some cases can afford.

5/ Silicon Valley’s position as mecca for tech and startups started to show signs of weakening in the 2010s, largely because of its massive successes this decade. It is incredibly expensive to live and work in the bay area and the quality of life/cost of life equation is not moving in the right direction. The physical infrastructure (transit, housing, etc) has not kept up with the needs of the region and there is no sign that it will change any time soon. This does not mean “Silicon Valley is over” but it does mean that other tech sectors will find an easier time recruiting talent to their regions and away from Silicon Valley. And talent is really the only thing that matters these days.

6/ Cryptography emerged in the 2010s as a powerful technology that can solve some of the web and mobile’s most vexing issues. Cryptography and encryption have been around for a very long time, well before the computer. Modern computer cryptography came of age in the 1970s. But the emergence of the internet, web, and mobile computing largely did not integrate many of the central ideas of cryptography natively into the protocols that these platforms were built on. The emergence of Bitcoin and decentralized money this decade has shown the way and set the stage for cryptography to be built natively into web and mobile applications and deliver control back to users. Credit to Muneeb Ali for framing this issue for me in a way that makes a lot of sense.

7/ Technology inserted itself right in the middle of society this decade. Our President wakes up and fires off dozens of tweets, possibly while still in bed. We are all hostage to our phones and the services that we rely on. Our elections are conducted using machine learning technology to segment and micro-target important voting groups. And bad actors can and do use the same technologies to interfere in our elections and our public discourse. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle in this regard, but the fact that the tech sector has such a powerful role means that it will be highly regulated by society. And there is no putting the genie back in the bottle in that regard either.

8/ The rich got richer this decade. Axios wrote in a recent email that:

“The rich in already rich countries plus an increasing number of superrich in the developing world … captured an astounding 27% of global growth.”

But the very poor also had a great decade as Axios also reported:

The rate of extreme poverty around the world was cut in half over the past decade (15.7% in 2010 to 7.7% now), and all but eradicated in China.

The losers in the 2010s were lower middle class and middle class people in the developed world whose incomes stagnated or fell.

Technology played a role in all of this. Many of the superrich obtained their wealth through technology business interests. Some of the eradication of extreme poverty is the result of technology as well. And the stagnation of earning power in the lower and middle class is absolutely the result of technology automation, a trend that will only accelerate in coming years.

9/ This a post publish addition. A huge miss in my original post is the emergence of China as a tech superpower and a global superpower. There are many areas (digital money for example) where China is light years ahead of the western world in technology and that will likely accelerate in the coming years. Being a tech superpower is a necessary condition to being a global superpower and China is already that and getting more powerful by the day.

I will end there. These are the big mega-trends I think about when I think about the 2010s. There is no doubt that I left out many important ones. You can and will add them in the comments (wordpress for now), emails to me, and on Twitter and beyond. And that is what I hope you will do.

#crypto#entrepreneurship#machine learning#policy#Politics#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Adversarial Interoperability

As I’m gearing up for two big posts tomorrow and wednesday, I will simply give you a link (courtesy of Nick) to read.

Cory Doctorow’s EFF post on Adversarial Interoperability explains the move we need to make to fix what’s wrong with big tech, monopolies, duopolies, etc, etc. Basically everything that is wrong with the Internet, mobile, and web.

If I was able to issue required reading to everyone who is regulating tech or running for offices that are in a position to regulate tech, this would be it.

#policy#Politics#Web/Tech

Subscription Tracking

My brother in law Jerry is working on a project to collect all of his family’s digital subscriptions; subscriptions to streaming video services, music services, subscriptions to online news and other publications, subscriptions to software services, subscriptions to education services, etc, etc. He is planning a dinner in which he will review all of them with his family and understand which ones they are using and which ones they are not using. Then he can prune the list.

I am sure this isn’t something only Jerry wants. With the explosion of online subscription services, we all have been collecting a plethora of subscriptions and many of us are wondering how much we are spending on them and if we are using all of them.

I asked a few of my partners if they have seen companies working on this problem. What I got back is there are a few financial management packages like Truebill and Trim that offer this feature. And there is a service called Bobby that focused on managing subscriptions.

I am curious about a few things about this category of services:

  • Do we want this subscription tracking functionality bundled in our financial management software or do we want it broken out as an independent app that can integrate into our financial management software? I suspect the answer is the latter.
  • Do we want to use different subscription trackers for the various categories or do we want to use one for all of them? I can imagine a video subscription tracker being an app on our AppleTV that allows us to measure usage. It could be that you can improve utility by making trackers by application sector.
  • How do the developers of these subscription trackers make sure they get all of the subscriptions? Some of our family’s subscriptions are direct debit, some are on one or more credit cards, some are via Apple, some are via Amazon, etc, etc.

As digital services have evolved from free and advertising supported to subscription-supported over the last decade, we are collectively spending billions on digital subscriptions and we need tools to properly manage that spend.

The tools that find their way into this space between us and our subscriptions can become quite strategic over time.

I am curious to hear if the AVC community has experience with products and services in this category and thoughts about the questions I posed about it.

#Web/Tech

Breaking Up Big Tech

With the news that two-thirds of Americans favor breaking up big tech combined with the news that Liz Warren (the biggest advocate of the idea) has broken out of the pack in Iowa, I thought I would return to this topic.

I wrote about this back when Liz first put the idea forward.

I am in favor of reigning in the monopoly/duopoly/oligopoly power of the large American tech companies. I am also in favor of reigning in the power of large tech companies that are not resident in the US.

Doing one without the other is bad policy and could give large tech companies outside of the US (particularly in Asia) a competitve advantage.

A better approach, as I advocated for in my earlier post on this topic, are policies, like the European’s GDPR, that would impact all companies doing business in the US equally.

I do not love GDPR. It is overly bureaucratic and for the most part has resulted in all of us robotically opting into being cookied everywhere.

But users do have a right to online privacy. We also have a right to self sovereign identity and ownership of our data.

Apple is offering Sign In With Apple in iOS13 to help us reduce our reliance on signing in with Facebook and Google. That’s great but it just replaces one boogyman with another.

What we need is an open sign-in protocol in which users control their sign-in keys and also all of the data we create and have created over the years once we are signed in.

Government can force industry into a regime like that with regulations that dictate that tech companies of all sizes adopt such approaches.

That is what we should be doing to reduce the market power of big tech instead of breaking them up. That is because their market power comes from this single sign-on oligopoly and the data that comes with it.

Government should not dictate the design of such a protocol or any of the technology that is required to produce such a regime. The market can and will do that once the requirements are put in place. We have much of what we need already in the form of cryptography and user centric wallet infrastructure.

We just need a forcing function to get big tech to adopt these technologies, which they won’t do on their own because they will reduce their market powers. Which is exactly why we need to do this.

#crypto#Current Affairs#entrepreneurship#hacking government#law#mobile#Web/Tech

Tumblr

The news hit yesterday that WordPress has purchased Tumblr from Verizon (which owns it by virtue of its acquisition of Yahoo! and AOL).

USV seeded Tumblr along with our friends at Spark in the summer of 2007 and were actively involved in the development of the company until its sale to Yahoo! in 2013.

I maintained an active Tumblog from before we invested in 2007 until October 2016, when I stopped posting there. There was no moment when I decided to stop posting there. I just did.

The narrative around the sale of Tumblr to WordPress is all about Yahoo! paying more than a billion for it and selling it for $3mm. It is absolutely true that Yahoo! never figured out how to turn Tumblr into a business and ending up losing its shirt on the investment.

But it is also true that Tumblr was bypassed by native mobile applications like Instagram and Snapchat where it was even easier to post about your life. Tumblr was both a blogging platform and a social media application and while I always loved the versatility of the platform, native mobile applications benefit from simplicity, not complexity.

There was a time around 2010 and 2011 when Tumblr was the most engaging social platform that I was on. I followed and met quite a few interesting people there and it was a lot of fun to be on it.

David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, always focused on making Tumblr a “positive” experience. That is why he refused to have comments, even though I pushed him to do it and hacked Tumblr by putting Disqus on mine. That is why he made the primary (only?) form of engagement a heart.

And it worked. Tumblr was a happy place and using it made people feel good about themselves.

While the world of social media has evolved a lot in the last six years, since Tumblr sold to Yahoo!, it has not really gotten better. One could make a very strong argument that it has gotten a lot worse. Tumblr was an example of how to do social media right and we can learn a lot from it.

#mobile#Web/Tech

Awesome Features That I Did Not Know About: Version Management In Google Sheets

One of the joys of using technology for me is discovering awesome features that I did not know about. This happens to me every so often and always brings a smile to my face. So I thought I’d blog about this when it happens to me.

This recently happened with version management in Google Sheets. When I work with a big spreadsheet, I always worry about making some change and messing the entire thing up. I have been using spreadsheets since Lotus123 and have messed up many a spreadsheet. So I like to make copies of my work regularly so I have something to roll back to.

Sometime in the last few weeks, I accidentally deleted a row and could not undo it. So I searched for “version management in Google Sheets” and got this one box answer:

This works for all Google apps but is particularly valauble for Google Sheets.

So now I can stop saving my work regularly. Google is doing that for me. Awesome.

#Web/Tech

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