(Writer) 320 Main (Bartender) Caña Rum Bar (Speaker) Rum (Drinker)
3481 stories

Gun deaths could become easier to study thanks to the new spending bill

1 Share

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now have the government’s permission to resume gun violence research, in writing: the massive omnibus spending bill that President Donald Trump signed today clarifies that a 22-year-old ban on using federal funds to advocate or promote gun control doesn’t actually ban research.

While the bill is a step in the right direction, researchers will only believe that the landscape of gun violence research is actually changing when they see money for it in the CDC’s budget. “It’s not bad news — it’s good news,” says Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. “But I’m skeptical that it’s going to really turn things around without some money being made...

Continue reading…

Read the whole story
11 hours ago
Orange County, California
Share this story

Twitter CEO: Bitcoin will be the world’s ‘single currency’ in 10 years

1 Comment

Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey apparently has big visions for bitcoin, commenting in a recent interview with The Times that he believes that the cryptocurrency will become the world’s single currency within 10 years.

According to Dorsey, “The world ultimately will have a single currency, the internet will have a single currency. I personally believe that it will be bitcoin.” Dorsey went on to say that the transition would happen “probably over ten years, but it could go faster,” which seems like an extremely unrealistic projection, even considering cryptocurrency’s meteoric rise in popularity over the past few months.

That Dorsey is a fan of bitcoin isn’t too surprising, though. In addition to...

Continue reading…

Read the whole story
2 days ago
Orange County, California
1 day ago
Yeah. Don't think so.
Share this story

The Facebook Brand

1 Share

Last week Reuters reported on the Harris Brand Survey:

Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google corporate brands dropped in an annual survey while Inc maintained the top spot for the third consecutive year, and electric carmaker Telsa Inc rocketed higher after sending a red Roadster into space.

The headline of the piece was *Apple, Google, see reputation of corporate brands tumble in survey”; one would note that the editors at Reuters apparently disagree with the poll survey respondents about what brands move the needle. But I digress.

So why are Apple and Google lower?

John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll, told Reuters in an interview that the likely reason Apple and Google fell was that they have not introduced as many attention-grabbing products as they did in past years, such as when Google rolled out free offerings like its Google Docs word processor or Google Maps and Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Ah, no Google Docs updates. Got it!

I’m obviously snarking a bit, and it is worth noting that notoriety clearly plays a role in these survey results (look no further than spot 99, where the Harvey Weinstein company makes its debut in the list). What is indisputable, though, is that brand matters — and that includes the regulatory future for Google and Facebook.

YouTube and Wikipedia

Start with Google, specifically YouTube. From The Verge:

YouTube will add information from Wikipedia to videos about popular conspiracy theories to provide alternative viewpoints on controversial subjects, its CEO said today. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said that these text boxes, which the company is calling “information cues,” would begin appearing on conspiracy-related videos within the next couple of weeks…

The information cues that Wojcicki demonstrated appeared directly below the video as a short block of text, with a link to Wikipedia for more information. Wikipedia — a crowdsourced encyclopedia written by volunteers — is an imperfect source of information, one which most college students are still forbidden from citing in their papers. But it generally provides a more neutral, empirical approach to understanding conspiracies than the more sensationalist videos that appear on YouTube.

Your average college student surely knows that the real trick is to use Wikipedia to find the sources that are actually allowed by college professors: they are helpfully linked at the bottom of every article. Indeed, Wikipedia’s citation policy arguably makes it one of the more reliable sources of information out there, at least in terms of conventional wisdom. Moreover, crowd-sourcing facts, at least in theory, seems like a more scalable solution to the sheer amount of video YouTube has to deal with.

It’s also a very Google-y solution: it makes sense that a company with the motto “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” would, confronted with questionable information, seek to remedy it with more information. Not bothering to tell Wikipedia fits as well; Google treats the web as its fiefdom, and for good reason. Search is built on links, the fabric of the web, and is the entry-point for nearly everyone, leading websites everywhere to do Google’s bidding; excluding oneself from search is like going on a hunger strike while fed by robots — one whithers away and no one even notices. Google probably thinks Wikipedia should say “thank-you”!

That noted, it’s hard to see this having any meaningful impact: conspiracy theories and fake news generally tend to appeal primarily to people who already want them to be true; it’s hard to see a Wikipedia link making a big difference. And, of course, there are the conspiracy theories that turn out to be true, or, perhaps more commonly, the conventional wisdom that proves to be wrong.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

So which is Cambridge Analytica and Facebook? A year ago the New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica’s impact on the election of Donald Trump as president was overrated:

Cambridge Analytica’s rise has rattled some of President Trump’s critics and privacy advocates, who warn of a blizzard of high-tech, Facebook-optimized propaganda aimed at the American public, controlled by the people behind the alt-right hub Breitbart News. Cambridge is principally owned by the billionaire Robert Mercer, a Trump backer and investor in Breitbart. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Breitbart chairman who is Mr. Trump’s senior White House counselor, served until last summer as vice president of Cambridge’s board.

But a dozen Republican consultants and former Trump campaign aides, along with current and former Cambridge employees, say the company’s ability to exploit personality profiles — “our secret sauce,” Mr. Nix once called it — is exaggerated. Cambridge executives now concede that the company never used psychographics in the Trump campaign. The technology — prominently featured in the firm’s sales materials and in media reports that cast Cambridge as a master of the dark campaign arts — remains unproved, according to former employees and Republicans familiar with the firm’s work.

Over the weekend the New York Times was out with a new story, entitled How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions:

[Cambridge Analytica] harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

Facebook executives — on Twitter, naturally — took exception to the use of the word “breach”:

Everything was working as intended, thanks to the Graph API.

Facebook versus Google and the Graph API

Facebook introduced what it called the “Open Graph” back in 2010; CEO Mark Zuckerberg led off Facebook’s f8 developer conference thusly:

We think that what we have to show you today will be the most transformative thing we’ve ever done for the web. There are a few key themes that we are going to be talking about today. The first is the Open Graph that we’re all building together. Today, the web exists mostly as a series of unstructured links between pages, and this has been a powerful model, but it’s really just the start. The Open Graph puts people at the center of the web. It means the web can become a set of personally and and semantically meaningful connections between people and things. I am FRIENDS with you. I am ATTENDING this event. I LIKE this band. These connections aren’t just happening on Facebook, they’re happening all over the web, and today, with the Open Graph, we’re going to bring all of these together.

The reference to “unstructured links” was clearly about Google, and while it’s easy to think of the two companies as a duopoly astride the web, Facebook was at the time a much smaller entity than it is today: 400 million users, still private, and a tiny advertising business relative to Google.

The challenge from Facebook’s perspective is the one I outlined above: Google got data from everywhere on the web because sites and applications were heavily incentivized to give it to Google so as to have a better chance of reaching end users aggregated by Google:

Sites need Google to reach users, so they give Google all their data

Facebook, meanwhile, was a closed garden. This was an advantage in that users generated Facebook’s content for them, and that said content wasn’t available to Google, but there was no obvious way for Facebook to gather data on the greater web, which is where the Open Graph came in; Facebook would give away slices of its data in exchange for data from sites and apps around the web:

To catch up with Google Facebook exchanged user data for site data

Zuckerberg said as much in his keynote:

At our first F8, I introduced the concept of the Social Graph. The idea that if you mapped out all of the connections between people and things in the world it would form this massive interconnected graph that just shows how everyone is connected together. Now Facebook is actually only mapping out a part of this graph, mostly the part around people and the relationships that they have. You guys [developers] are mapping out other really important of the graph. For example, I know Yelp is here today. Yelp is mapping out the part of the graph that relates to small businesses. Pandora is mapping out the part of the graph that relates to music. And a lot of news sites are mapping out the part of the graph that relates to current events and news content. If we can take these separate maps of the graph and pull them all together, then we can create a web that is more social, personalized, smarter, and semantically aware. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.

What followed was the introduction of the Graph API, which was the means by which Facebook would facilitate the data exchange, and as you can see on an old Facebook developer page, Facebook was willing to give away just about everything:

Facebook's developer page showing all of the data given to third party apps

Moreover, note that users could give away everything about their friends as well; this is exactly how the researcher implicated in the Cambridge Analytica story leveraged 270,000 survey respondents to gain access to the data of 50 million Facebook users.

Facebook finally shut down the friend-sharing functionality five years later, after it was clearly ensconced with Google atop the digital advertising world, of course.

Facebook’s Brand

That Facebook pursued such a strategy is even less of a surprise than Google’s imperious adoption of Wikipedia as conspiracy theory debunker: Facebook’s motto was “Making the world more open and connected”, and the company has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to do just that, whether users like it or not. That’s the thing with branding: what people think about your company is not so much what you say but what you do, and that many people immediately assume the worst about Facebook and privacy is Facebook’s own fault.

To be sure, there seems to be a partisan angle as well — one didn’t see many complaints about the Obama campaign. From the Washington Post:

Early in 2011, some Obama operatives visited Facebook, where executives were encouraging them to spend some of the campaign’s advertising money with the company. “We started saying, ‘Okay, that’s nice if we just advertise,’ ” Messina said. “But what if we could build a piece of software that tracked all this and allowed you to match your friends on Facebook with our lists, and we said to you, ‘Okay, so-and-so is a friend of yours, we think he’s unregistered, why don’t you go get him to register?’ Or ‘So-and-so is a friend of yours, we think he’s undecided. Why don’t you get him to be decided?’ And we only gave you a discrete number of friends. That turned out to be millions of dollars and a year of our lives. It was incredibly complex to do.”

But this third piece of the puzzle provided the campaign with another treasure trove of information and an organizing tool unlike anything available in the past. It took months and months to solve, but it was a huge breakthrough. If a person signed on to Dashboard through his or her Facebook account, the campaign could, with permission, gain access to that person’s Facebook friends. The Obama team called this “targeted sharing.” It knew from other research that people who pay less attention to politics are more likely to listen to a message from a friend than from someone in the campaign. The team could supply people with information about their friends based on data it had independently gathered. The campaign knew who was and who wasn’t registered to vote. It knew who had a low propensity to vote. It knew who was solid for Obama and who needed more persuasion — and a gentle or not-so-gentle nudge to vote. Instead of asking someone to send a message to all of his or her Facebook friends, the campaign could present a handpicked list of the three or four or five people it believed would most benefit from personal encouragement.

This, though, is hardly a defense for Facebook: what is the company going to say, that it was exporting friend data for everyone, not just Trump? To be sure, buying the data from an academic and allegedly holding onto it violated Facebook’s Terms of Service, but “We have terms of service!” isn’t exactly a powerful branding campaign, especially given that at that same 2010 f8 Facebook had dramatically loosened those terms of service:

We’ve had this policy where you can’t store or cache data for any longer than 24 hours, and we’re going to go ahead and get rid of that policy.


So now, if a person comes to your site, and a person gives you permission to access their information, you can store it. No more having to make the same API calls day-after-day. No more needing to build different code paths just to handle information that Facebook users are sharing with you. We think that this step is going to make building with Facebook platform a lot simpler.

Indeed it was.

Google, Facebook, and Regulation

Ultimately, the difference in Google and Facebook’s approaches to the web — and in the case of the latter, to user data — suggest how the duopolists will ultimately be regulated. Google is already facing significant antitrust challenges in the E.U., which is exactly what you would expect from a company in a dominant position in a value chain able to dictate terms to its suppliers. Facebook, meanwhile, has always seemed more immune to antitrust enforcement: its users are its suppliers, so what is there to regulate?

That, though, is the answer: user data. It seems far more likely that Facebook will be directly regulated than Google; arguably this is already the case in Europe with the GDPR. What is worth noting, though, is that regulations like the GDPR entrench incumbents: protecting users from Facebook will, in all likelihood, lock in Facebook’s competitive position.

This episode is a perfect example: an unintended casualty of this weekend’s firestorm is the idea of data portability: I have argued that social networks like Facebook should make it trivial to export your network; it seems far more likely that most social networks will respond to this Cambridge Analytica scandal by locking down data even further. That may be good for privacy, but it’s not so good for competition. Everything is a trade-off.

Read the whole story
3 days ago
Orange County, California
Share this story

The Dropbox Comp

1 Share

I am usually quite conservative when it comes to how much time, data, and effort I am willing to put into a product from a new startup: too many go out of business or are acquired-and-sunset, and who wants to go to the effort twice?

Dropbox, though, was something else entirely: the initial release in 2008 was so good, and filled such a need, that I switched all of my most important data there immediately and I’ve never left, even though I have lots of free data storage included with other SaaS software plans. Indeed, I was so convinced that Dropbox wasn’t going anywhere that I felt no compunction about using Dropbox (plus a bit of Apple Script) as a de facto syncing system for a school I was working at; it has been ten years, the school has expanded to multiple locations, and every classroom still has the exact same set of files thanks to a product that does exactly what it promises. And now the company behind it is going public — I knew it!

Still, even if the utility and durability of Dropbox’s product was immediately apparent, the long-run trajectory of its business is, even with the release of the company’s S-1, less so.

Dropbox Versus Box and the Question of Lifetime Value

Dropbox and Box have always been compared, and for a rather obvious reason: the core offering of both companies is cloud storage. Said comparison, though, mostly serves to highlight that while the two companies might have similar products, there are so many other ways to be different.

First and foremost, Box has, since the earliest days of the company, been focused on enterprise customers, while Dropbox started out as a consumer product. I explained why this mattered in 2014’s Battle of the Box:

Dropbox’s model makes sense theoretically, but it ignores the messy reality of actually making money. After all, notably absent from my piece on Business Models for 2014 was consumer software-as-a-service. I’m increasingly convinced that, outside of in-app game purchases, consumers are unwilling to spend money on intangible software. That is likely why Dropbox has spent much of the last year pivoting away from consumers to the enterprise.

There are multiple reasons why the latter is a more attractive target for all software-as-a-service companies, especially those focused on data:

  • Consumers need to be convinced of the value of their data…
  • Consumers have multiple free options…
  • Consumers are hard to market to…
  • For consumers, collaboration is an edge case…
  • Building a platform for consumers is incredibly difficult…

I concluded by arguing that $10 million invested in Box at its-then $2 billion valuation was a better bet than the same $10 million invested in Dropbox at its-then $10 billion valuation; given that Box has a $3.2 billion market capitalization while Dropbox is hoping its IPO will clear that same $10 billion mark, I’m (fake) rich!

Dropbox, though, has indeed pivoted: the company said in its S-1:

Of our 11 million paying users, approximately 30% use Dropbox for work on a Dropbox Business team plan, and we estimate that an additional 50% use Dropbox for work on an individual plan, collectively totaling approximately 80% of paying users.

Still, significant differences remain: Dropbox’s customer base, thanks to all those consumers, is over 500 million users (Dropbox announced 500 million signups last March, but explained in its S-1 that it had culled what were apparently ~100 million inactive accounts over the last year), while Box, as of last quarter, had only 57 million registered accounts. On the other hand, 17% of Box’s users had paid accounts; only 2% of Dropbox’s did. This contrast in efficiency gets at the biggest difference between the two companies: to whom they sell, and how they go about doing so.

Box sells to big companies using a traditional sales force; free accounts exist primarily to enable temporary collaboration with paid accounts, as well as trials. There is a self-
serve option, but that’s not the point: Box notes in its financial filings that “Our marketing strategy also depends in part on persuading users who use the free version of our service to convince decision-makers to purchase and deploy our service within their organization”. In other words, when it comes to Box’s ideal customer, the CIO decides for everyone all at once.

For Dropbox, on the other hand, self-serve is the most important channel by far. The company brags that “We generate over 90% of our revenue from self-serve channels — users who purchase a subscription through our app or website.” Dropbox has a sales team, but as it notes in its S-1, the team “focuses on converting and consolidating these separate pockets of usage into a centralized deployment. Nearly all of our largest outbound deals originated as smaller self-serve deployments.”

There are pros and cons to both approaches. Start with the obvious difference: customer acquisition cost. While the two companies spent a comparable amount on sales and marketing in the third quarter of 2017 ($81.7 million for Box, and $74.7 million for Dropbox1), for Box that represented 63% of revenue; for Dropbox it was only 26%.2

However, the two numbers aren’t as comparable as they seem: specifically, Box’s Sales and Marketing includes the infrastructure and support costs of those free users; Dropbox’s doesn’t. Rather, the company includes those costs in its Cost of Revenue, which is a big reasons Dropbox’s gross margin of 68% trails Box’s 73%.3 And, by extension, we don’t really know what Dropbox’s customer acquisition cost is.

There is another advantage of selling to top-down decision-makers: the opportunity to build solutions for specific needs, and charge accordingly. This has enabled Box to achieve negative churn: in all of its cohorts the company is increasing its revenue-per-user by a faster rate than it is losing users overall, which means revenue-per-cohort increases over time. The company explained this in its amended S-1:

Our business model focuses on maximizing the lifetime value of a customer relationship. We make significant investments in acquiring new customers and believe that we will be able to achieve a positive return on these investments by retaining customers and expanding the size of our deployments within our customer base over time…

We experience a range of profitability with our customers depending in large part upon what stage of the customer phase they are in. We generally incur higher sales and marketing expenses for new customers and existing customers who are still in an expanding stage…For typical customers who are renewing their Box subscriptions, our associated sales and marketing expenses are significantly less than the revenue we recognize from those customers.


Box went on to give numbers for specific cohorts; Dropbox, unfortunately, was significantly less specific:

As we continue to innovate and optimize our go-to-market strategy, we have successfully increased monetization for subsequent cohorts. Comparing January cohorts from the last three years, at virtually every point in time after signup, the January 2017 cohort generated a higher monthly subscription amount than the January 2016 cohort, which in turn generated a higher monthly subscription amount than the January 2015 cohort.

This sounds good, until you actually try to figure out what it means. Is the January 2017 cohort monetizing more because users are paying more quickly, or because there are more users? How many of those users are churning, and is there an increase in revenue-per-customer to counteract that?

Dropbox’s S-1 doesn’t give the answer to the first two questions, but the answer to the third seems to be “no”. Average revenue per paying user is actually down from 2015 ($113.54 to $111.91), although slightly up from 2016 ($110.54). Given the model, though, this isn’t a surprise: the only way to serve a massive user-base efficiently is to have a fairly standardized offering; creating and selling differentiating features that increase the average revenue per paying customer doesn’t scale.

There is one other big advantage in terms of Dropbox’s model, at least from a founder and early investor perspective: the tradeoff of Box earning ever-increasing amounts of revenue per paying customer is the amount it takes to land that customer in the first place. This is why Box’s losses were so large, and why founder and CEO Aaron Levie was so diluted by the time the company finally IPO’d (Levie owned just over 5% of Box at the time of IPO). Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston, on the other hand, still owns 25%, and early investor Sequoia Capital another 23%; a founder retaining that much ownership is much more characteristic of a consumer company than an enterprise one — which is exactly how Dropbox started.

Dropbox Versus Atlassian and the Question of Market Size

Still, Houston’s ownership stake pales in comparison to Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founders and co-CEOs of Atlassian, who owned 37.7% of the company each when it IPO’d two years ago. Not coincidentally, Atlassian was very much a pioneer in the self-serve model when it comes to enterprise software, and as I wrote at the time of their S-1, it helped that the company was selling to developers:

Agile was largely developer-driven, another factor that worked in JIRA and Atlassian’s favor. Developers are, quite obviously, much more willing to do their own research on products, download and trial software from the Internet, and if they like it, proselytize to other developers even if they don’t work for the same company. In other words, of all the different types of enterprise software, development tools are uniquely suited to spreading somewhat virally without the need for a traditional sales force.

One of the big questions at the time of Atlassian’s IPO was just how big their market was — specifically, could the company start selling beyond its developer base? So far the results are encouraging: JIRA Service Desk, the company’s attempt to expand its JIRA project management software to non-developer teams, is in over 25,000 organizations, and the company overall continues to grow both by adding new customers and by selling more products to existing customers.

This is the second question for Dropbox, beyond the uncertainty around its customer acquisition costs and churn: to what extent can it expand its market? On the positive side, those 500 million users are all potential customers; on the other, the vast majority of them have avoided paying for ten years — the proportion of paid users has barely budged over time. And again, Dropbox hasn’t developed ways for its already paying customers to pay it more.

The potential is certainly there: note that Atlassian’s growth, with a similar model to Dropbox’s, is far out-pacing Box’s — 42% in 3Q 2017 (Atlassian’s FY Q1 2018), compared to 26% — but then again it is far out-pacing Dropbox’s 30% as well. That Dropbox’s revenue growth is slowing suggests the company is ultimately a niche player.

Dropbox Versus Slack and the Question of the Enterprise OS

I once thought that Dropbox — and Box, for that matter — could be more than that; in 2014 I wrote Box, Microsoft, and the Next Enterprise Platform:

Pure storage isn’t a great business. The cost is trending towards zero, as noted by Levie himself. Data, though, is priceless; it can’t be replaced, and it’s the essence of what makes a particular organization unique…Just because the operating system is no longer the platform does not mean that the need – and opportunity – for a platform does not exist. Something needs to tie together all those computing devices, and data, which needs to be everywhere, is the logical place to start.

Dropbox made a similar argument in its S-1:

Our modern economy runs on knowledge. Today, knowledge lives in the cloud as digital content, and Dropbox is a global collaboration platform where more and more of this content is created, accessed, and shared with the world. We serve more than 500 million registered users across 180 countries…

Our market opportunity has grown as we’ve expanded from keeping files in sync to keeping teams in sync. Today, Dropbox is well positioned to reimagine the way work gets done. We’re focused on reducing the inordinate amount of time and energy the world wastes on “work about work” — tedious tasks like searching for content, switching between applications, and managing workflows.

The shift in focus from data to people is one I made myself in 2015; commenting on that Box OS article above, I wrote:

I think, in retrospect, I outsmarted myself: companies aren’t made of data, they’re made of people, just like every other single institution on earth. And, as I noted in the context of Facebook, what people love to do, more than anything else in the world, is communicate. Why wouldn’t you start there?

To that end Dropbox is marketing itself to investors as a collaboration company, and heavily emphasizing Dropbox Paper. In the meantime, though, another company — the one I was writing about in that excerpt — has entered the scene: Slack.

It’s hard to see anyone — including Microsoft — having a bigger opportunity than Slack.4 The trend in every aspect of computing is higher and higher levels of abstraction, and that doesn’t apply just to things like programming languages. In the case of platforms, the operating system of the PC used to really matter, and then the Internet came along and it didn’t. Similarly, in mobile, the operating system, whether that be iOS or Android, used to really matter, but now it doesn’t. In the consumer space, Facebook or WeChat runs on both, and that is far more important to the day-to-day experience of the vast majority of people.

It turns out that “mobile” is not about devices, but rather, at a fundamental level, about computing anywhere; to differentiate between PCs or phones is an ultimately meaningless exercise. They are simply different form factors of effectively identical devices, the purpose of which is to connect us to the cloud (consumer or enterprise). And, by extension, if the device is simply an implementation detail, then the operating system that runs on that device is a detail of a detail.

What matters — what always matters! — is what actual users want to do, and what jobs they want to accomplish. And, whatever they want to do almost certainly involves communicating, which means Slack and its competitors are the best-placed to be the foundational platform of the cloud epoch. More broadly, humans are social creatures: why should we be surprised that social networks are primed to be the most important businesses of all?

It’s been two years since I wrote that, and while Slack is still growing, albeit more slowly, the question of which company controls the future of enterprise computing remains an open one. Is it Amazon via infrastructure, Microsoft via infrastructure and identity and email, Slack via chat? Google via all-of-the-above?

What seems clear is that it won’t be Dropbox — both because files weren’t the right route and also because the company spent far too much time and energy chasing a non-existent consumer opportunity — but that’s ok. There is still value — at least $10 billion in value, I’d bet — in doing a job and doing it well, whether that be as a startup in 2008 or a public company in 2018. We still need to share files (and yes, collaborate on them), and will need to do so for a very long time, and Dropbox does it better than anyone. I just wish Dropbox’s S-1 didn’t make it so difficult to figure out just how much value there might be.

  1. This number jumped to $102.9 million in the fourth quarter, which is a much larger jump than any previous fourth quarter, perhaps in anticipation of the IPO filing
  2. Per the previous footnote, in the fourth quarter sales and marketing was 34% of revenue
  3. More on Dropbox’s dropping Cost of Revenue tomorrow
  4. Note that I said “opportunity”; opportunity means it’s possible, not that it’s necessarily going to happen
Read the whole story
3 days ago
Orange County, California
Share this story

The myth of “forcing people out of their cars”

1 Share

It’s about more options, not fewer.

California state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 827 — a sweeping approach to solve California’s housing crisis by having the state government preempt local zoning ordinances and allow for greater density near rapid transit stations and high-frequency bus stops — is one of the most important ideas in American politics today.

And Conor Dougherty’s coverage of the bill with Brad Plumer for the New York Times is mostly excellent. But his tweet promoting the article engages in a common, but aggravating, rhetorical framing of the issue by construing a move to allow transit-oriented development as being an effort to “force” people out of their cars.

It’s important to be clear about this because land use is an important issue in America. It’s only going to become more important as steadily falling unemployment raises the salience of supply-side issues in the American economy. Personal liberty and the concept of freedom are, rightly, important to Americans and to American political culture. And in the case of proposals for high-density zoning, nobody is trying to force anyone to do anything.

In particular, SB 827 would change two important things about transit-adjacent land use:

  • Cities and towns would have to allow taller buildings that fit more units on a given piece of land if developers and landowners want to build them.
  • Cities and towns would not be allowed to require the construction of off-street parking spaces to accompany the construction of new dwellings.

Would a person who owns a single-family detached home and likes it that way be allowed to keep it that way? Absolutely. And since as best I can tell, it is genuinely the case that most middle-class Americans prefer detached houses and are willing to pay a premium for them, all indications are that a large swath of the newly zoned land would remain as detached houses that people pay a premium to live in.

But not everyone has strong preferences in this regard. And not everyone has the means to afford to live in their ideal house. (Lots of people who might enjoy owning expensive stainless steel appliances nonetheless get by okay with regular ones.) So some of the land would be reused for townhouses and apartments, greatly increasing the number of people who can afford to live in California.

In terms of parking, most of these new buildings will almost certainly feature new off-street parking spaces. Cars are useful and places to park cars are useful, and people are normally willing to pay money to obtain useful things.

At the same time, parking takes up land. And in some parts of the country (California certainly included), land is expensive, so paying the full price of a parking space might get expensive. The question is whether towns should require that new developments come with a certain minimum amount of new parking attached (as virtually every city, including New York City, currently does) or whether they should simply allow people to decide how much parking they want to pay for.

Obviously, all this does have implications for automobile use. If you allow for denser construction and fewer parking spaces, you will get some households that don’t own a car. You’ll also get some households that contain two adults and only one car as opposed to the one-car-per-adult standard that prevails in most of America.

What’s more, since the neighborhoods will be denser, many of the households that live in them will eschew the car for at least some trips — perhaps driving to work but walking to nearby restaurants, or commuting on mass transit but driving the car for big grocery runs. And, again, since the neighborhoods will be denser, the average drive will be shorter.

So the overall sense that SB 827 would reduce California’s per person vehicle miles traveled is almost certainly correct. (Aggregate VMT might well rise since the population would rise.) But nobody is forcing anyone to do anything. It’s the status quo that forces a particular form of land use — detached houses with plenty of parking — on the vast majority of the developed land in America.

Read the whole story
3 days ago
Orange County, California
Share this story

Russia orders Telegram to hand over users’ encryption keys

1 Share

Encrypted messaging app Telegram has lost an appeal before Russia’s Supreme Court where it sought to block the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB) from gaining access to user data, as reported by Bloomberg.

Last year, the FSB asked Telegram to share its encryption keys and the company declined, resulting in a $14,000 fine. Today, Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova upheld that ruling and denied Telegram’s appeal. Telegram plans to appeal the latest ruling as well.

If Telegram is found to be non-compliant, it could face another fine and even have the service blocked in Russia, one of its largest markets. According to Telegram’s lawyer, a separate court ruling and action from communications regulator Roskomnadzor would be required in...

Continue reading…

Read the whole story
3 days ago
Orange County, California
Share this story
Next Page of Stories