Basic Attention Token is both good and bad - but hooray for Brave for trying something new
9 August 2018 | 11:47 pm

I'm quite taken by Brave's Basic Attention Token, which rewards site owners with currency based on the percentage of each user's total attention they have captured. At the same time, I'm also worried about the model.

First, the good: by combining BAT with an ad blocker, Brave compensates publishers for the ad-blocking activity of its users. The users get the upside of not having to see ads, but the publishers don't see the downside of losing the corresponding revenue. Depending on the performance of the token, there's even a possibility that Brave payments will outperform ads. And if this model catches on, the incentives for publishers to track users across the web is diminished. The result is a more transparent web with less surveillance. Great!

So here's the bad: by pro-rating payouts based on the time spent on each site, Brave incentivizes publishers to keep users engaged. These mechanics are why we've seen algorithmic feeds replace reverse-chronological content on sites like Facebook: by showing you posts that will keep you browsing, and hiding topics that you may not want to engage in as much, the networks can increase their revenue. But a side effect is that you see a very skewed version of the world, particularly as emotive, sensationalist content performs better than fact-based pieces. In aggregate, the societal effects are dire

Nonetheless, I'm excited that Brave is trying something new here. Its model feels a bit influenced by Flattr, particularly with respect to tipping users on social networks. I'm intrigued to see if it will catch on. But there's no argument from me that targeted ads are both a negative for society and for the web.

I've signed up for Brave Payments for this site, so reading my posts with Brave will compensate me for writing them. I'll let you know how I get on. And if you want to try Brave, using this referral link will add some affiliate tokens to my wallet.


I'm really scared.
8 August 2018 | 2:47 pm

I have some medical tests today that will help me understand whether I have, or am likely to contract, the condition which runs in my family. I've taken some time and space to help me deal with the emotional impact of this, but it's been easy to run from until today. I woke up sobbing.

On one level, I'm scared for myself. I'm scared of blipping out of my existence, and of my life not having ever meant anything. I'll have been around for a few decades and then I just won't be. Of course, we all have to deal with that at some point, but I hope to have more time. If I'm going to exist, if I'm going to be on this earth and use resources and take up space that could have gone to someone else, I want it to mean something. Maybe this is futile - it almost certainly is - but it's where I am. It's what I want. And I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet.

But that pales into insignificance compared to the fear I feel for the rest of my family. These beautiful, smart, empathetic, creative, generous people with so much to offer. I don't want them to have to succumb to this terrible thing either. And that's why I was sobbing. That's the thing that keeps me up at night.

It's easy to run away. I wrote a blog post this morning, and tweeted some stuff, and went through my feed reader. On Friday, I'll take a train across the country. But this isn't something I can carry with me forever, whatever happens, and it's not something I can take infinite time to deal with. So: tests, to bring me to a place of certainty. And then, therapy; self-care; and spending time with my wonderful friends and family, these amazing people who I'm lucky enough to have in my life - which is the thing that makes life worth living, after all.

And maybe ice cream.


Stop building for San Francisco
8 August 2018 | 2:27 pm

Eric Meyer's post about the unexpected side effects of securing every website is an important read:

The drive to force every site on the web to HTTPS has pushed the web further away from the next billion users—not to mention a whole lot of the previous half-billion.  I saw a piece that claimed, “Investing in HTTPS makes it faster, cheaper, and easier for everyone.”  If you define “everyone” as people with gigabit fiber access, sure.  Maybe it’s even true for most of those whose last mile is copper.  But for people beyond the reach of glass and wire, every word of that claim was wrong.

Overwhelmingly, our software is built by well-paid teams with huge monitors and incredibly fast computers running on a high-bandwidth internet connection. We run MacBook Pros, we have cinema displays, we carry iPhones.

That's not what the rest of the world looks like.

Human-centered design has transformed the way I think about building products: it starts with deep insights about the people you're trying to build solutions for, and then using rapid qualitative testing to determine whether you're on the right track, rather than just starting with technology or attempting to build a solution based on your own intuition. It works. But while we talk a lot about user needs, we don't talk a lot about the technology available to them (or the technology that's likely to be available to them two years from now).

First of all, you need to understand who your audience is, as people. If they're genuinely wealthy people in a first world city, then you do you. But for people in rural areas, or countries with less of a solid internet infrastructure, failing to take these restrictions into account will limit your potential to grow. If you're not building something that is accessible to your audience, you're not building a solution for them at all. That means faster loading times, smaller file sizes, and HTML that at least falls back to displaying clearly on older devices and browsers, including low-cost Android phones.

It all depends on who you want to be able to reach. But if you only want to reach people in San Francisco, I'd strongly argue that you should reconsider. I'd certainly like this blog to be more widely accessible, for example.

In his classic 2015 talk The Website Obesity Crisis, Maciej Ceglowski singled out Medium (a platform where I was an engineer) as being particularly bad:

Or consider this 400-word-long Medium article on bloat, which includes the sentence:

"Teams that don’t understand who they’re building for, and why, are prone to make bloated products."

The Medium team has somehow made this nugget of thought require 1.2 megabytes.

It's easy to forget that this is a problem when you're in a fancy office with a powerful internet connection, a wall-size Lite Brite, and kombucha on tap. To be clear, I had a lovely year there, and it's a team filled with wonderful people, many of whom are still friends. And while it's easy to rag on Medium, my personal website is no better in terms of file size, and arguably probably worse in terms of loading time, because I don't have a fancy CDN to load it from. Not to mention the aforementioned HTTPS.

I'm going to rethink how I could make this site more accessible, and certainly faster to download. (I'll reshare my work as a Known template that others can use.) But this is just a blog, and not my livelihood. If I was in the middle of building a product that I wanted to see wide use, I'd make damn sure I didn't leave billions of people out in the cold.



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