WhatsApp in Search of a Business Model

So today we apparently heard that WhatsApp is going to discontinue all consumer-centric monetisation, such as charging for the app or charging any subscription fees. Instead content owners and business that want to interact with me have to pay for connecting with the 900m user base.

Not obvious what that means for the WhatsApp user experience and how attractive this channel will be for advertisers. Seems like early days.

But what is obvious is that this is another indicator for how difficult it is to monetize consumer products, where advertising (especially on mobile and also in the context of communication services) really doesn’t work very well and where it’s incredibly hard to get people to pay beyond an initial app download fee.

And even that is hard enough.

Q3/15 Reading List

Lionel Davidson: Kolymsky Heights. Strong.
Mike Hawthorne: Hell of a Journey. DNF
Ivan Vladislavic: Double Negative. Solid.
Jens Mühling. Mein russisches Abenteuer. Naja.
Tim Moore: French Revolutions. Never boring.
Julia Pierpont: Among the Ten Thousand Things. Solid stuff.
Julian Barnes: Keeping an Eye Open. Not for me. DNF.
Joseph O’Neill: The Dog. Loved it.
William Boyd: Sweet Caress. Just great.
Daniel Friebe: Eddy Merckx. Solidly written but the mystery remains.
Martin Suter: Montecristo. Schwach. DNF.
Jonathan Franzen: Purity. Very satisfying.
Jonas Jonasson: Der Hundertjährige, der aus dem Fenster stieg. Sehr unterhaltsam.
John Banville: The Blue Guitar. Exquisite.
Karl-Ove Knausgård: Träumen. Stark.
Klaus Modick. Klack. Gut genug.
Salman Rushdie: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. What a wonderful fairytale.

Q2/15 Reading List

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Buried Giant. Very disappointing.
Michael Barry: Shadows on the Road. Interesting enough.
Lacey Noonan: A Gronking to Remember. Beyond belief.
Kazuo Ishiguro: Nocturnes. Excellent. 
Modiano: Gräser der Nacht.  Schwierig schwierig.
Bryson: Small Island.Perfect, never gets old.
Zia Haider Rahman: In the Light of What We Know. Outstanding. 
Ned Boulting: 101 Damnations. Good not great
Ed Catmull: Creativity Inc. Pretty good.
Klaus Modick: Konzert ohne Dichter. Sehr solide. 
Gaimon: Pro Cycling on $10 a Day. Fun read, good writer.

The Changing Nature of Tech Companies

Much talk about Google restructuring into holding company Alphabet and its various subsidiaries. Which is of course a brilliant move when it comes to solving their succession problem. So well done.

Many commentators have compared the new structure to Berkshire Hathaway, but that really doesn’t seem right. Berkshire buys mature companies, whereas I would assume that Alphabet will very much want to grow new businesses inside.

It might make more sense to compare Alphabet to the organizational model of a major film studio or entertainment company.

The parallels are obvious: A talent-driven business, with huge upsides and high downsides, a limited ability to predict success for any given project (so you better have a portfolio of them), and a reasonably short half-life for products with only a small handful of franchises enjoying mid- or long-term success. 

Q1/15 Reading List

NoViolet Bulawayo: We Need New Names. A bit uneven but worth it.
Felix Lowe: Climbs and Punishment. Kinda funny. 
Maja Haderlap: Engel des Vergessens. Eindrucksvoll.
Olga Grjasnowa: Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt. Sehr stark.
Andreas Maier: Das Haus. Schon überzeugend. Aber elf Bände?
Edward St Aubyn: Lost for Words. Good not great. 
Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares: Traction. Good stuff. 
Ben Lerner: Leaving the Atocha Station. Impressive Bildungsroman.
Alan Rusbridger: Play It Again. What a wonderful surprise. 
Ben Lerner: 10:04. Again, impressive.
McHutchinson & Blundell: Mid-life Cyclists. A pleasant surprise. 
Thomas Hettche: Woraus wir gemacht sind. Au weh. Wo ist der Lektor?
Gerhard Polt: und auch sonst. Nicht wirklich inspiriert.
Patrick Modiano: Abendgesellschaft. Faszinierend.
George Saunders: tenth of december. Strong stuff. 
Robert Seethaler: Der Trafikant. Sehr stark.
Colum McCann: Dancer. Outstanding. 
Roger Ebert: Life Itself. Mixed bag, bit long.
Alexandra Fuller: Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs. Very strong.
Robert Seethaler: Die weiteren Aussichten. Nicht ganz so stark.
John Hooper: The Italians. Good not great.
Ron Rash: Serena. Strong stuff.
Arno Geiger: Selbstporträt mit Flusspferd. Eher schwach. 

Facebook and PGP. A Pleasant Surprise.

This  is a welcome surprise. 
Facebook announced the ability for users to upload their public key so that they can receive their messages from Facebook in encrypted form. 
Bildschirmfoto 2015 06 01 um 16 36 04
This is remarkable in several ways:
1. It clearly demonstrates that PGP is the right way to go about encrypting email. Email is so prevalent precisely because it is the one message format where I don’t have to worry about what client or server you use. As long as I have your address I can communicate with you. The same goes for encryption. I want to be able to send encrypted messages to you without having to worry about which client or crypto tools you use. 
2. Notfications from FB are now encrypted. That may or may not be important in real life. Many people would argue that sensitive information doesn’t belong on FB in the first place. But we can hopefully agree that putting more encrypted content onto the wire is a good thing in itself, more security, less surveillance.
3. More importantly, password reset emails are now encrypted. This is huge. A hacker who hijacks your email account ny cracking your password is easily able to reset all your passwords and destroy your online identity. With encrypted password reset messages that isn’t possible anymore. Well done!
4. The most important implication to the more widespread adoption of encryption is the potential to use FB as a database for acquiring people’s public keys. If I know your FB name I can look for it at https://www.facebook.com/yourfacebookname/publickey/download.
So secure email products such as Whiteout Mail could add FB as another keyserver to query when acquiring keys (more on that here).

Q4/14 Reading List

Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Wow. Did not see that coming.
Cormac McCarthy: Child of God. Not for the faint of heart.
Ian McEwan: The Children Act. In fine form.
Martin Amis: The Zone of Interest. Don’t know what to say. Michael Hofmann does:
Thomas Harding: Hanns and Rudolf. Fascinating.
Rainald Goetz: Johann Holtrop. Not for me.  DNF. 
Vikram Chandra: Geek Sublime. A bit too clever for me. 
David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks. Incredible. nobody else could pull this off.
Bernhard Schlink.  Die gordische Schleife. Unterhaltsame Räuberpistole. 
Stefan Zweig: Schachnovelle. Gemischt. 
Edward St. Aubyn: Never Mind. Bad News. Some Hope. Mother’s Milk. At Last. All five books very good, and surprisingly different from each other.
Chris Hadfield: You Are Here. Pretty great. If only the pictures were sharper. 
Richard Ford: Let Me Be Frank With You. Incredibly good. 
Patrick Modiano: Place Etoile. Very impressive. Incredible for a 21 year old.
Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Very impressive. 
Phil Klay: Redeployment. Strong stuff. 
Tim Moore: Gironimo. Fun. Maybe a bit long.

Banning Encryption? At Best Naive.

We all stand in shock at the horrific attacks in Paris. Our thoughts go out to the families and everybody affected. And once again we are confronted with the fact that the open society has enemies and is vulnerable.
So people are worried and are looking to their elected leaders for answers. These leaders would do well to provide the thoughtful and carefully reasoned answers that we should expect from them. And to not exploit the situation for populistic campaigning. 
A blatant example of the latter is the UK PM now calling for a ban on encryption
This line of argument is at best misleading. The underlying fallacies are:
It cannot be done: You don’t need an advanced degree in information technology to understand that this simply cannot be done. Cory Doctorow explains it well here. In a nutshell, the tools and technologies are out in the open and cannot be controlled by legislative means.
It also wouldn’t work: Imagine for a second a world without encryption and the corresponding mass surveillance of everything that floats around the net. It is inconceivable how governments would now separate the signal from the noise and generate actionable insights. Also, when we look at the catastrophes of the recent past, among them New York, London, Madrid, and now Paris, most experts agree that the obvious breakdowns in intelligence and anti-terrorism that allowed these events to take place were not at all due to a lack of data. But to inter-agency process breakdown and a lack of feet on the street to do real-world, hands-on intelligence work. 
It would actually increase our risk: If we did give up protection and allowed the government to monitor every communication, how would we prevent anybody else from exploiting the same backdoors and loopholes? Naturally spies, attackers, saboteurs would use precisely the same access. The risk would be higher than the reward. 
So the discussion started by David Cameron is at best naive.
Or, if you’re more cynically inclined, precisely the kind of topic politicians will jump on: Complex to understand, ultimately destined for failure, but immensely productive when you want to own a topic that will not go away and you can keep coming up with deeply concerned soundbites. 
In any case it is a dangerous distraction. Protecting the open society from its enemies will require a different leadership. One where you strengthen the moral compass and respect the  intelligence of your citizens rather than dumbing things down.
Even if that means telling them things they may not want to hear. That we might need to pay for more police for more hands-on old-fashioned intelligence and protection footwork. 
Update: Now it turns out that we find the US intelligence agencies themselves urging more encryption to protect private data for citizens and businesses. And, just this week, the German government’s cyber security czar urged businesses to adopt more encryption to protect against espionage. Pointing specifically to PGP as the technology of choice. I agree. 

Q3/14 Reading List

Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl. Unputdownable.
Stuart O’Grady: Battle Scars. Why not. 
George Hincapie: The Loyal Lieutenant. Actually pretty interesting.
Simon Sebag Montefiore: Stalin. Unbelievable. 
Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project. Very funny.
Nicolas Roche: Inside the Peloton. Very detailed. Pretty interesting.
Daniel Hope: Familienstücke. Sehr interessant.
Daniel Hope: Toi toi toi. Total überflüssig. 
Elena Ferrante: Abbandono. Strong. 
Josef Bierbichler: Mittelreich. Lesenswert.
Tim Parks: Italian Ways. Pretty weak.
Philipp Meyer: American Rust. Very strong. 
Ned Boulting: How I Won the Yellow Jumper. Middling. 
Ned Boulting: On the Road Bike.  Much better. 
Geoff Dyer. Another Day at Sea. Pretty good. But not his best by far.
Boris Fishman: A Replacement Life. Expected more. 
David Foster Wallace: Infinite Jest. Read the first 200 pages. Surprisingly funny. Must resume some day. 
Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch. Very very good. Not long enough. 
Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries. Impressive. Maybe a bit too long. 
Bernhard Schlink. Die Frau auf der Treppe. Good but not great.
Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg: How Google Works. Not bad at all. 
Julie Schumacher: Dear Committee Members. Cute, but a bit monotonous.  

Q2/14 Reading List

Here goes.

Teju Cole: Every Day Is for the Thief. Very impressive.
George Saunders: The Braindead Megaphone. Wow.
Kilian Jornet: Run or Die. Not what I expected.
Arnold Steinhardt: Violin Dreams. Interesting.
Richard Powers: Orfeo. Fantastic.
Michael Lewis: Flash Boys. Good stuff.
Stefan Zweig: Die Welt von Gestern. Pflichtlektüre.
Derek B. Miller: Norwegian by Night. Action hero with dementia, that’s a first.
Larry McMurtry: Lonesome Dove. Strong.
Siegfried Höllrigl: Was weiß der Reiter vom Gehen. Naja.
Max Leonard: Lanterne Rouge. Only for diehards.
Tomas Espedal: Wider die Natur. Stark.
Karl Ove Knausgaard: Leben. Wieder sehr gut.
Irmgard Braun: Nie wieder tot. Flott.