Some ideas for native bitcoin apps

Fred Wilson calls applications built using Bitcoin that couldn’t have existed prior to Bitcoin “native Bitcoin apps“. Most of the applications built so far on Bitcoin are not native by this definition. You can buy something at an e-commerce site using Bitcoin and it is cheaper than using a credit card but buying things online isn’t a new activity.

What will these native Bitcoin apps do? That is very hard to predict, just as it was hard to predict back in 1993 what the successful native Internet apps would be (try to find someone in 1993 who predicted Wikipedia, Twitter, blogging, etc). But we can make some guesses. Here are some of mine:

  1. International microfinance – Soon 5 billion people will have internet-connected smartphones but most still won’t have bank accounts, access to credit, etc. Bitcoin removes most of the cost and friction of cross-border transactions and allows anyone with internet access to participate in the global economy. Early examples of international microfinance services include P2P lending sites like BTCJam and Bitbond.
  2. Allocating bandwidth, storage, compute. Bitcoin could enable new ways to share and trade networked resources. For example, people have been trying for years to create mesh networks with only occasional success. It is possible that these systems mostly failed because they didn’t offer the right incentives to share resources. Bitcoin provides a mechanism for network nodes to pay for resources at the protocol level.
  3. Marketplaces – Ask anyone who runs a marketplace and they’ll tell you that paying out to people with bank accounts is a huge headache, and paying out to people without bank accounts is altogether impossible. Using Bitcoin, we could take ideas like crowdfunding and crowd labor services (oDesk, 99 Designs, Beacon Reader, Mechanical Turk) and open them up to anyone with a smartphone.
  4. Micropayments – The world just ran the first large-scale micropayments experiment – in-app payments on iOS and Android – and it was a huge success. In-app payments quickly became the dominant business model for mobile games, with some games generating billions a dollars a year using them. What would happen if we enabled micropayments on the web and not just for native mobile apps?
  5. Incentivized social software. Up until now, social sites have had to rely on non-monetary currencies such as likes, followers, karma, upvotes, etc. With Bitcoin we can add actual monetary incentives to the mix. This is happening organically on Reddit where users are tipping each other using Bitcoin and Dogecoin. A good exercise would be to go back and look at the history of failed social sites and try to rethink them using financial incentives.

The first phase of Bitcoin was about laying the foundational infrastructure – gateways, consumer wallets, developer platforms, merchant services etc. The next phase will be about native Bitcoin apps – building new things that could never have been built before. These will likely be the applications that drive Bitcoin adoption into the mainstream.

Steve Jobs on problem solving

When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple,  you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem.  Then you get into the problem,  and you see that it’s really complicated,  and you come up with all these convoluted solutions.  That’s sort of the middle,  and that’s where most people stop… But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem — and come up with an elegant,  really beautiful solution that works.

from Insanely Great (via gmc)

“Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimal”

Languages are something of a mess. They evolve over centuries through an unplanned, democratic process that leaves them teeming with irregularities, quirks, and words like “knight.” No one who set out to design a form of communication would ever end up with anything like English, Mandarin, or any of the more than six thousand languages spoken today.

“Natural languages are adequate, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimal,” John Quijada, a fifty-three-year-old former employee of the California State Department of Motor Vehicles, told me. In 2004, he published a monograph on the Internet that was titled “Ithkuil: A Philosophical Design for a Hypothetical Language.” Written like a linguistics textbook, the fourteen-page Web site ran to almost a hundred and sixty thousand words. It documented the grammar, syntax, and lexicon of a language that Quijada had spent three decades inventing in his spare time. Ithkuil had never been spoken by anyone other than Quijada, and he assumed that it never would be.

From Utopian for Beginners, an excellent 2012 New Yorker article about constructed human languages.

“Bitcoin is the currency the internet deserves and needs”

George Gilder discusses the importance of Bitcoin in a very interesting interview:

To have a civilization you need more than just bits and bytes. You need contracts, transactions, provable facts, titles, notarization, identities etc. You need all these other factors that can’t be accommodated very well on the existing internet. So you have to banks and all these other outside channels to conduct transactions. You have this comedy of bogus contracts to you are supposed to sign to proceed – click the button to accept the contract etc.

The internet is full of junk. It pretends that a lot of that stuff is free which of course is a lie. So it’s full of lies. It’s a hustle. This is the result just having pure Shannon information. Shannon identifies information exclusively by its surprisal- the unexpected bits. That’s how you measure information and bandwidth across the internet. Shannon’s a great genius. He created to perfect theory for the network layer. But as you know you need more than three layers on the network. You need a whole apparatus on top of the network layer.

Bitcoin is a breakthrough in information theory that allows you – without reference to outside 3rd parties – to conduct provable, timestamped transactions that can’t be changed, can’t be faked, and can’t be duplicated. Bitcoin is the currency the internet deserves and needs.

BuzzFeed

Today, I’m excited to announce that Andreessen Horowitz is investing $50 million in BuzzFeed. As part of the investment, I’ll be joining the company’s board.

Many of today’s great media companies were built on top of emerging technologies. Examples include Time Inc. which was built on color printing, CBS which was built on radio, and Viacom which was built on cable TV. We’re presently in the midst of a major technological shift in which, increasingly, news and entertainment are being distributed on social networks and consumed on mobile devices. We believe BuzzFeed will emerge from this period as a preeminent media company.

BuzzFeed started out focusing on lightweight content like memes, lists, funny photos, etc. This led some industry observers to dismiss Buzzfeed as a “toy”. The company has since moved steadily up market, following the typical path of disruptive technologies. It now has an editorial staff of over 200 people covering a wide range of topics – politics, sports, business, entertainment, travel, etc – and plans to invest significantly more in high-quality content in the coming years.

We see BuzzFeed as a prime example of what we call a “full stack startup”. BuzzFeed is a media company in the same sense that Tesla is a car company, Uber is a taxi company, or Netflix is a streaming movie company. We believe we’re in the “deployment” phase of the internet. The foundation has been laid. Tech is now spreading through every industry and every part of the world. The most interesting tech companies aren’t trying to sell software to other companies. They are trying to reshape industries from top to bottom.

BuzzFeed has technology at its core. Its 100+ person tech team has created world-class systems for analytics, advertising, and content management. Engineers are 1st class citizens. Everything is built for mobile devices from the outset. Internet native formats like lists, tweets, pins, animated GIFs, etc. are treated as equals to older formats like photos, videos, and long form essays. BuzzFeed takes the internet and computer science seriously.

As a small, early investor in BuzzFeed, I got to observe firsthand how effectively Jonah and the team executed in recent years. The results speak for themselves: BuzzFeed now reaches over 150M people per month, is consistently profitable, and will generate triple digit millions in revenues this year. I believe the future of BuzzFeed – and the media industry more generally – will only get brighter as the number of people with internet-connected smartphones grows, and the internet solidifies its place as the central communication medium of our time.