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This is my attempt to make it possible to respond at length to Morbius's tootstorm on Mastodon, which appears to have started here.
I'm going to keep the toots separate in order to allow for individual threads off each one, for clearer context.
I've also interpreted a bit and left out some interstitial pieces.
"The whole history of Microsoft from its origin is about the primacy of software over hardware. Hardware is a commodity — software is where the value lies."
This ... explains so much.
It's also an interesting example of how framing blinds one to further understanding: do we argue the merits of HW vs. SW in this dichotomy, or look for value elsewhere?
What of computers as nodes on a network: traffic, search, attention, users (you remember users, right?), ads, etc.
The article describes MS and OSes, Vista particularly, but touches on what the different components of a system do: the OS, the applications, the hardware. The network. Netscape and Java as threats to the shrinkwrap moat Microsoft had built.
Too: if SW is your value proposition, what could /possibly/ be more threatening than the concept of Free Software.
There are two ways to control a river: one is to dam it. The other is to steal it. Diverting flows can be far more powerful.
The fundamental problem, for the organisation (or individual) looking at modifying the shape of this space is: how do I sustain my own efforts?
Microsoft threw a moat around a commodity by way of per-CPU licensing -- the phenomenal break which launched an empire.
Microsoft were threatened when its monetisation gateway -- shrinkrwaps, preloads, per-CPU licenses -- was challenged by DR-DOS, Novell, Sun, Netscape, Linux, BeOS. And ultimately Google, Search, Ads. And Gmail.
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If I can call a winner out of the set, I'm leaning to Amazon.
(I don't /want/ to lean to Amazon, but it seems to make sense.)
The problem with Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, is that what they're selling is ultimately what the /user/ does not want: ads.
Amazon, though, has what we really want: /stuff/. Food, clothing, furniture, books, movies, hardware, software. Some of which you absolutely need to live, and yes, much of which you don't (which means an incentive for over-selling).
But stuff is what everything else (and most especially ads) are trying to deliver.
What Apple's got to offer is probably next-best: ideally, a solid set of hardware -- desktop, laptop, and a massive shit-ton of mobile devices. Things you can hold, or at least put your hands on.
Things which don't have to be a channel for slamming more crud down the users' maws (though Apple does seem to be moving rather distressingly in this direction). Which means a much better experience, overall.
Google and Facebook are the Devil and L'il Evil. Both of them are increasingly creepy, spooky, surveilling, and intruding, unavoidably, where users (and non-users) don't want them to be.
The reward systems of each company are fundamentally aligned against user interests. Something a couple of Stanford researches pointed out a while back.
Question I've got is: what other options are there?
Silicon Valley and Ycombinator have been cranking out iterations over the past decade or so with no real relief in sight. Variations on the "we are going to invade your life with ads" are common, anything else, not so much, in the general systems, hardware, or services category.
Business services are the chief exception.
Question I've got, and no, I don't really have an answer to it: where else might the value lie?
Why can't we solve the problem of "provide general information-system access to the masses" without turning into assholes, creeps, thugs, and/or spies? Or insulting the customers?
Are we holding it wrong?
The answer is to put it down and get a different model.
...by which I mean, of course, a different business model: one oriented towards the public good rather than towards shareholder profits. (Stop me if this is sounding familiar.)
(originally posted here)
Models built around shareholder profits seem to dominate though. Why is that?
The answer seems like a no-brainer to me, but I'm having trouble wordifying it...
Okay, short version: because for-profit investors are the entities with the lion's share of resources in our society, as it now stands.
(originally posted here)
"Shareholders have resources" punts on the question why do shareholders have value?
I've been digging into dynamics of joint-stock ownership, limited liability, various mint and money acts, financial conferences, etc., over the past couple of years, with a few interesting hits in the past few days. I apply the principle of William R. Cattton, Jr.: focusing on the /personalities/ involved -- or even some given identifiable social group, strikes me as grossly miscast.
The problem transcends this. It's based on some set of dynamics.
What is it about the overall structure, the feedbacks, the dynamics? How can this possibly be addressed?
For example: what are the types of goods, services, or other phenomena which are priced within an economic system, and what is the behaviour of those prices?
Crack open Smith and you'll find commodities, labour, skilled labour, rent, stock, capital, and money discussed. It's a good start.
And in the case of rents, the salient behaviour is that a rentier is one who is able to extract the surplus value out of a system.
I've been flipping this around for a while, and trying to sort out why, and what it is that rent-producing entities are. What I'm leaning toward is that they are network control nodes. That is, if you own a rent-producing entity, you control a gateway through a network.
And if the orientation itself is a problem, how do you change things such that that orientation is less successful.
How do you steal the river?
I've just installed this forum extension and have never used it before, but it looked very promising. It doesn't have avatars yet, but that's apparently in the works (and if they take too long implementing them, I'll do it myself) -- and:
- it does seem to use MediaWiki's text-handling code (hence comments will go through the spam filter, which was not the case for the last forum extension I tried
- It supports different views of threads, e.g. you could insert a discussion (or a link to it) on a relevant page, and the contents would be updated as the dialogue continued
- Comments are threaded, and the threading is actually legible (take that, WordPress...)
- Comments can be previewed (because they use MediaWiki's editor) (tt,WP encore)
- Comments are individually linkable and displayable (as in Reddit/LessWrong)
- Threads can be categorized
- Seems generally flexible
So, let's see what this looks like.
Addendum: Although my other wikis allow anonymous posting, I think for this one I'd like to restrict it to logged-in users. Unfortunately the way the forum software handles this restriction is a little unfriendly (e.g. it doesn't link you to the "create an account" page). If anyone has any thoughts on this, please let me know.
Hmm, no way to add a reply to a reply that I can see... nesting only goes one level deep. That's bad. See above subcomment...
Also, I just noticed that previewing replies doesn't seem to work.
Except that this one did. I tried it twice in a row and it didn't; I go to make a comment about how it doesn't work, and it does. Go figure.
My gut feeling is that one thing we really need in order to start building something is a means of exchanging value, and of converting between that and the more conventional units of exchange required to pay our bills (and in which we sometimes get paid by others).
It looks like the economic crash has inspired a lot of work along these lines -- here are a couple that I ran across just today:
- About Money: see especially the section about Demurrage
- The Ripple Project: peer-to-peer credit management
Here are some things which I think would be necessary for a system that is usable, durable, and corruption-resistant:
- De-centralized, peer-to-peer -- there can be nodes with multiple users, but there should be no central node upon which the entire system depends
- Not tied to any existing currency -- the value of units in the system should be effectively tied to the economic value of the system. If more mainstream currencies crash (and they all seem to be heavily corrupted and prone to such crashes), the value of units stored in this system should be maintained.
- De-centralized exchange rates with other currencies -- the exchange rate should be set by bidding, i.e. people could offer to buy or sell a certain number of units at a preset maximum or minimum price; rather than posting a single exchange rate, or the rate being offered by a few large exchangers, recent sales statistics would be posted (mean price, standard deviation, mean time between sales at a given price, etc.) so buyers and sellers would have a good sense of how to set their bid prices.
- Backed by something concrete and measurable, at least initially; perhaps there should be two tiers: backed currency and fiat currency. There is much discussion to be had on this topic.
- Individually issued -- individuals should be able to issue units of exchange backed by goods or services they have to offer.
The Ripple Project is a good start, but there needs to be a way for multiple Ripple servers (and servers running Ripple-like software, such as ShireHours and MultiSwap) to interoperate so the system isn't centralized (maybe that's part of the design, but they don't mention it... unless that's what this is).
It looks like what we need is a multi-layer design -- sort of the way networking works:
+------------------+ | other currencies | +------------------+ ^ | V +----------+ | person A | +----------+ ^ | V +-----------+ | p2p money | +-----------+ ^ | /-------+-------\ | | V V +--------------+ +--------------------+ | transactions | | credit negotiation | +--------------+ +--------------------+ ^ ^ | | \--------+---------/ | V +-----------+ | p2p money | +-----------+ ^ | V +----------+ | person B | +----------+ ^ | V +------------------+ | other currencies | +------------------+
We need a list of problems any given system should solve (bugs it should fix). Here are a few:
- Hoarding of units of exchange (hoarding material wealth essentially isn't a problem -- it has inherent value and requires economic activity in order to not lose value)
- Monetary musical chairs, where debt is paid back with interest -- so either some people lose out or else you have to continually create more money with which to pay the interest
- The need to tax non-liquid assets in order to pay for infrastructure
- Unemployment, where people have debts but "can't find work": there should always be some value for one's work, even if all you can do is menial labor (and if you are not capable of doing work that is sufficiently valued for you to survive on at a basic level, then there should be a social safety net to take care of the difference -- which is a form of infrastructure)
This is slightly off-topic, but does kind of relate to the way that the idea of money as being the only true value distorts our system:
It seems to me rather unconscionable, even if one completely accepts the need for taxation of personal property, that one cannot satisfy such tax debt by surrendering ownership of an appropriate fraction of the property. ...or am I showing my ignorance, and this is effectively what a "lien" is? Is a lien more like a secured loan (of a fraction of the property), or more like a sale (selling part of the property to the tax office to settle the debt)? Is a lien considered adequate settlement, or is it more like a hook to get you to really settle the debt (by paying cash, possibly with penalties for late payment)? The question can only be resolved by knowning the details of how liens work, which I don't.