“Free” means you pay for it

Today, the internet has made many services “free” in appearance. For example, previously to search something, one had to buy a lot of books or travel to the library to study a lot of books. Today, all one needs to is to enter the search on an internet search engine. Voila! We have all the answers at our fingertips.

The amazing thing is that this process appears to be free! However, one needs to think a bit if this is really the case. From a basic arithmetic viewpoint, one needs to bring in income in order to pay for the expenses incurred in providing such a service to millions of people. The income in this case, comes from ads.

Search engines (and social media services) collect information about users to build individual profiles. This is done so that ads can be tailored based on these profiles. Thus, online advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry which is being fueled by the activity of millions of people who use search engine and social media services. Thus, what appears to be “free” is in reality being paid for by the clicks and the attention span of each user.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the advent of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies could change the online search and social media spaces. Cryptocurrencies offer a model of explicitly charging end users for using online search and social media services. This could occur in a seamless and automated manner as cryptocurrencies can be transferred from person-to-person and computer-to-computer without the intervention of third parties. Many users of online services could find this attractive because it offers some level of anonymity or pseudonymity. It will be interesting to see how this phenomenon unfolds as this technology develops.

We should see the gates by mornin’

When one truly understands the tremendous potential of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, and other so-called blockchain technologies, it is quite staggering.

However, at this relatively early stage, people find it quite hard to understand the concept of bitcoin. It is somewhat similar to back when the internet was young and the general public were beginning to grasp it. This 1995 segment from the Today Show illustrates how people were trying to wrap their heads around this new technology in the mid 1990s.

When thinking about what the people currently in this space in terms of their careers and/or businesses should be saying, I am reminded of these lines from Not To Touch The Earth, written by the poet-singer, Jim Morrison:

We should see the gates by mornin’
We should be inside the evenin’

In these lines, he is referring to his surreal journey into a rich and luxurious mansion on top of a hill.

In a similar fashion, I think the bitcoin communities consisting of networks of users, developers, speculators, miners etc, not to mention the various businesses being built on top of this technology, are on an almost surreal journey into changing the way the world works. This video with Naval Ravikant, for example, talks about the potential of this technology.

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Learning from Seinfeld

When watching the TV series, Seinfeld, on one of my many rewatches of this timeless series, I sometimes go back to front, i.e., new seasons first, then old seasons. When doing this I was fascinated to see how the storylines and characters were so well thought out quite early on.

It is almost as if the characters’ fate and stories were predetermined. I think especially where George Costanza and Kramer end up in the last few seasons makes total sense when watching the first few seasons. This showed how the series creators had this great vision from the beginning of how the series was going to pan out and finally conclude. Of course, as the seasons went on, minor changes were made. But they did not fundamentally alter the vision of the series.

Famous novelist John Grisham advises fiction writers to know the ending before beginning to write the first chapter. In his foreword to The Lord of the Rings, J.RR. Tolkien mentions that the chapter ‘The Shadow of the Past’ was one of the oldest parts of the tale much before the other chapters. I think this too is quite illuminating.

This idea could easily apply to other areas of life too. For example, when starting a software project, it is good to have an idea of how the end product is going to look like from the start. It may also pay to have a end of life strategy in place from the beginning. The same may apply to business ventures etc.

Another example of this approach is how bitcoin has evolved. The original creator behind Bitcoin undoubtedly had some approximate idea how the currency would eventually turn out, and especially because they made it peer to peer and decentralized, it has become self-sustaining and antifragile. A similar decentralized protocol which has sustained and grown is BitTorrent.