Marketing: putting apps first

This is a good thread, and I do appreciate many of the points that people are raising. However, some of my biggest fears about the future of SAFE network are playing out right here in this thread, and something I have been concerned about for some time.

App Competition

Please know that I am not a die-hard capitalist by any means, and I have no interest in invoking the quagmire of capitalism vs socialism as a political discussion. From an economic perspective, I think there is objective evidence that demonstrates that for many/most market segments where rational consumers can make a choice, a relatively free market with competition both drives innovation and produces overall better value/choice for consumers. In this regard, it generally also produces better overall results for society regardless of the overarching capitalist vs socialist economic/political constructs.

Unfortunately, competition doesn’t tend to produce the best rewards for content producers. In fact, as evidenced by the investment community in general, outright monopoly making seems to be the actual goal of the world’s champions of capitalism. I have seen many leading venture capitalist and investment titans outright say that “competition drives the profit out of everything”.

With that in mind, it has concerned me a bit how eager the SAFE community seems to be to annoint a particular project as being the app as being the answer for a particular feature-set. I think it is in the SAFE communities benefit to foster competition between developers that recognize that users will pick the winners, and the market will determine the best apps.

I also thought one of the main tenets of SAFE was supposed to be data interoperability? If I create public message posts for the purposes of social networking, then I should be able to choose from hopefully what are many social networking apps and grant them access to my content and migrate/integrate my data between apps as I choose. In this way, apps will compete more on the best user experience they provide to users for particular tasks/features rather than the closed data islands they rely on today. In all honestly, my cynical nature sort of believes this is a pipe-dream and that competition to win with regard to achieving market-share for applications, that developers will revert to the sort of proprietary/closed data schemes to protect their market share that we see now. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I think human nature will undermine this.

This is a serious and very nuanced issue. How the SAFE network encourages or discourages competition and data interoperability will be a key element in how it evolves and ultimately whether it meets it’s lofty goals. I am not pretending to know the answer, but I have seen enough abuses of monopoly power and how it corrupts human nature to remain skeptical that planned monopolies produce the best results.

If SAFE network is going to be successful, once it launches, a signal that it will be successful would be the thousands of application developers around the world that will start innovating on the platform to create user experiences to solve problems. When and if that happens, many developers will choose to tackle the same kinds of information, tasks, feature set, etc., that other’s are, but in some regards with different user experience, task flow, etc.

Free Speech, Fact Verification, Information Quality and Reputation

What ultimately has been missing from the Internet from it’s inception has been the integration of fact verification and reputation. Information publishing used to be tightly controlled by a set of gatekeepers who largely controlled who and what information could be broadly shared across societies. Once again, the centralized power of these gatekeepers while it produced some benefits, like all power, enabled many abuses. The emergence of the Internet was supposed to be a grand thing, allowing everyone to have a voice. Free speech! Of course, that exposed us to the dark side, outright lies, hate speech, conspiracy theories, etc.

I am not a fan of the people encouraging content filtering and moderation as limits on free speech. While I tacitly agree there should be legal limits placed on free speech in general with regard to outright hate speech or speech that encourages violence, etc., content filtering/moderation has demonstrated that it tends to create echo-chambers where like-minded people tend to filter out the content they don’t agree with. It creates islands of information whether competing ideas and opinions never have to compete directly with each other. Once again… human nature. I don’t think human beings really like competition much… it makes us too uncomfortable, and makes us fell less safe, even if competition in the larger context produces better overall results.

I think what has been missing from the Internet is that it undermined the good elements associated with having gatekeepers on information; fact verification, peer-reviewed quality of information standards, and verification of source reputation. All of these things are now possible in a data-connected open network. When we gave everyone a voice on the internet without conventions for associating claims (fact, reputation), we displaced knowledge, expertise and reputation, and made it very difficult for information consumers to make informed choices about the trust they should give content published on the Internet.

One of the better examples of an existing Internet property that has had to try to bridge this gap is Wikipedia, where a single page is supposed to represent a source of truth. And yet, we have seen the battles that go on between competing contributors to try to shape that truth to various agendas (economic, political, etc).

A better approach (or at least something that can help contribute to a greater degree of free speech and the ability of a consumer to make decisions on information trust) is to allow content to be linked to verifiable claims. Those claims might be counter-opinions by other people who have been verified to have greater expertise on a subject (due to verified experience or education), verified certificates of authenticity with regard to claims related to information produced by 3rd parties, or fact-checked claims provided by information watchdogs, etc.

To summarize, I believe the better choice to improving the quality and benefit of free speech while also protecting society from the dark side is about giving users better tools for determining the quality of information and allowing them to make decisions of trust, rather than reverting to centralized gatekeepers.

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Not having read back the topic, can you point to the specifics that are concerning you?

Just reading your reply I don’t want to get political either, so I won’t. I don’t agree with your assessment of the relative merits of socialist and free market approaches (IMO both have demonstrated both critical failings and their potential to benefit humanity), and will leave it there, because if I leave the politics side I agree with the main things that I think you are saying.

So I agree that we don’t want centralisation, gatekeepers etc (and don’t see why you’re concerned about that - hence my query above) and I agree that interoperability is very important.

I’ve done a lot of work to realise both these goals on Safe Network with code, networking and advocacy (here and elsewhere), and all I’ve seen is support from the community for those efforts (so again am not sure why you are concerned this is being neglected).

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Just want to clarify a few things:

  • this post wasn’t in any way direct at you @happybeing. It wasn’t directed at anyone, and I specifically chose not to point to any specifics because I didn’t want it to become confrontational. I was replying to the overall thread and community in general, not you personally.

  • I have been monitoring this community (and dipping my toe in occasionally) for about 4 years now, and my post above is based on an impression that I have developed over a lot of content I have seen over that time. These concerns have developed because I see some inherent conflicts in some of the goals being associated with the SAFE network vs. behaviors that we know and see that exist in other projects, and the Internet as a whole and technical communities in a broader sense.

I think I have already provided one tangible generic example of where my concerns lie with regard to the goals vs behavior regarding SAFE network:

Capitalism advocates for free markets. Free markets are based on competition. Competition reduces profitability. Capitalists want profits. Capitalists pursue monopolies.

This is the very definition of hypocrisy. Doesn’t the same problem exist within the SAFE network. The goals are stated as data interoperability, open communication, user data privacy/control and security. Are developers drawn to the opportunity to build apps on SAFE network really going to be good stewards of these goals when we know the behaviors of just about all the leading technical companies and application developers currently pursue strategies directly counter to these? Are developers really going to ensure data interoperability in the apps they develop for SAFE if it means users can easily switch to someone else’s XXX (e.g. music) application at will with no friction because all of their data instantly moves with them?

The purpose of my post was not to try and have anyone declare an answer as “yes” or “no”. I don’t think that is possible. It was to help drawn attention to these dangers and promote a healthy ongoing discussion within the SAFE community to encourage people to continue to support the goals of the network, even as they pursue individual opportunity and competition with other developers. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

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I think your concern is maybe people see a certain app category being developed and so maybe won’t bother or compete. No one is stopping anyone and if people choose to focus elsewhere I figure it’s too cover more ground but your concern is certainly valid. I think I’ll have competition.

Not providing data portability by stubbornly developing that way may upset users because it’s not like you have to have your data on just one music platform. You could share it with many! And there could be a lot of cool benefits to that. We won’t shy away from allowing people to do just that because as first movers we need to stick to fundamentals and set precedent and a good example. If that makes us more competitive then any app competing immediately after will have to consider the consequences of being perceived as the “bad guy”.

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No worries, I didn’t see it as aimed at me or anything in particular, which is why I wanted to understand more.

I still don’t understand what concerns other than the point about interoperability. That isn’t a new concern for me and it’s not something which can be enforced. There have been discussions about the viability of this, how best to encourage and support it, the pros and cons etc, both here and over on the Solid forum. Nobody knows if it will work, but for those of us who believe there are benefits it makes sense to develop the idea and see how far we can get with it.

My hope is that some will get it, produce interoperable apps, and users will begin to see the advantages of services that they aren’t locked into. So it’s not about forcing this but making it a choice, giving developers the tools to give it a go and see what they can build. Of course there will be attempts to lock people in - Solid faces a similar problem, and I think a much more difficult one to solve so long as they rely on a pods as a service model.

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Agree with both your replies @Nigel @happybeing. I want to be a true believer, to drink the koolaid. The goals and values of the SAFE network are certainly what attracted me here from the beginning. I think the SAFE network has such enormous potential in that developers will have the tools to develop apps that enable the terrific goals advocated by the SAFE network. I suppose maybe some of the trends I have observed happening in the world over the last few years have yielded some increased cynicism with regard to human behavior.

I have been patiently waiting for a feature complete BETA to go all in developing apps for SAFE myself. Let me clearly relate what I have written back to the original post that started this thread. I agree that attracting application developers to the network is crucial to making it successful, with an important caveat. It should not be taken for granted that developers will pursue the goals of the SAFE network. Influencing people to do the right thing needs ongoing leadership through example, communication and education. An example of this would include ensuring that the SDK sample applications and API both encourage the use of linked data, and demonstrate application architectures that use linked data strategies and public schemas.

Community advocation like “SOLID on SAFE” by @happybeing is a valuable contribution, but it will help developers do the right thing if the tools and examples are baked into the platform to help developers onboard with the goals and values front and center.

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I’d say it is a pretty broad church here. Folks from both sides of the political spectrum routinely slug it out. However, this community isn’t the safe network.

We can’t and shouldn’t regiment what goes on safe network. Maidsafe should not be held responsible for it and the community has no sway over what apps are allowed or not, even if it wanted to.

Good to hear you plan to develop apps. Some genuinely excellent and original apps will make all the difference!

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I don’t think this is a problem per se, only if they succeed in making their monopolies stable. Just being the first mover can give a company a monopoly initially, but eventually competition should show up. Often too strong intellectual property laws are the cause of lasting monopolies, or in some cases too many regulatory hurdles that are too expensive for start-ups to overcome. These in turn are probably caused by regulatory capture. Maybe the privacy provided by SAFE will make such laws too hard to enforce, providing some protection from pro-monopoly laws? It’s a double-edged sword though.

This is a valid concern, and SAFE’s architecture should be designed to prevent this. I think the major incentive to not be interoperable is getting exclusive access to user’s private data. This is the dominant business model of the internet right now, and something we should try to prevent from finding its way onto SAFE.

The number one risk here is the re-introduction of the client-server model, where SAFE’s network is only used as a routing layer and user data is sent to a central server, which sends back personalized content. How well this works depends on how suitable SAFE messaging is for such purposes. I can certainly see this happening for a search engine. At least client IP addresses would still be hidden thanks to SAFE, and proper access control in the SAFE browser should be able to prevent any leaking of identifying data.

Things get worse if the implementation of a client-server model of a SAFE app actually bypasses SAFE’s routing layer and tries to create a direct IP connection for optimal performance and lowest costs. The SAFE browser can block this, but apps running outside the SAFE browser have a lot more freedom. A big competitor like Facebook could also try to market its own compromised fork of the SAFE browser that would allow this.

In the end it all comes down to user awareness and choice. When it comes to developing software, the only thing we can do is to make the choice for privacy more attractive compared to the alternative.

I agree with you, just want to note that an issue here is that credentials and experience do not imply integrity. Experts and institutions get plenty of airtime on both the internet and traditional media, the core issue is that they have lost the trust of a large section of the populace, so people do not want to listen to them anymore.

False conspiracies and fake-news are not the primary cause of this distrust, rather, their popularity is the result of justified distrust that already existed. I could name many examples, but I don’t want to get too political in this discussion, so I’ll only mention Edward Snowden.

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This is key. We are aiming to baking out at a platform level harvesting of user data, and attention/surveillance style business models. So the incentives are less around doing everything you can to ensnare people, and keep their attention by any means necessary, and more toward making software that is as useful as possible.

That would include the ease of using it with my data, switching between apps, combining one app with another etc.

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Being a dominant player helps to increase profits so for sure it’s desired by companies. Term monopoly is a different but correlated thing. Monopoly privileges mean having some legal protection against competition, ultimate monopoly means no competition can legally arise.

For example Google, Apple, and Facebook are dominant players. None of them are holding monopolies as far as I know (ignoring patents, of course).

We should fight against monopolies, but there is nothing essentially bad about being dominant player. Not saying dominant player cannot be evil.

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I’d be interested if there are thoughts about how MaidSafe and developers can do this, but in its own topic.

These are all monopolies in the economic sense and at least two are being investigated on the basis that they are so dominant that they may require regulation under “anti trust” / “monopoly” regulations. I’m not going to say monopoly (or market dominance if you prefer) is always bad, but it sure looks like it has a tendency to exploit and harm people, capture regulation, override democracy, and go on to do ever increasing harm. It’s my contention that we’d be better off overall if we had acted before this happens rather than wait until these companies are so powerful they are taking over the governance systems we rely on to maintain fundamental human rights. I’ve no wish to debate this so just pointing out why I personally hope that Safe Network can be made robust against this through its underlying design, and also exert push back against the dominant players.

I think many of us here see dominance through centralised power as a problem which Safe Network can help push back against, whether it comes from one area or another. This is the essence of decentralisation!

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I like this - it’s like the data itself will have a network effect!

IMO, there are lots of reasons why this will be true too. From a development perspective, it will be simpler, as there will be no client/server architecture to consider. There will just be the app which reads/writes data directly to the network. Equally, they could read data from their other apps (security permitting, ofc) super easily too.

For me, this will be a bit like going back to how desktop applications used to behave. You saved the application to your disk, you launched the application from your disk, then you saved your files to the disk. If other applications wanted to read that data, it was trivial - you just pointed them at at. There were no fancy APIs to navigate and code needed for to make it work.

At a command line level, this also works well. Maybe it is using the Safe CLI, which can pipe into other commands, then in turn back out to Safe CLI. Alternatively, it is via a FUSE mount, where all the data is directly accessible (permissions permitting).

Being able to break the dominance of the client/server model will also remove the server side data silos. Making it so much easier to secure, access and share this data will surely be pivotal.

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It’s like I’ve been saying all along: it’s the data that’s the valuable bit, not the app. It’s the Network as a whole that’s the ‘killer app’.

Bingo! And think back to those times, walled gardens were much less of an issue, and you hardly had to worry about data silos… your data was just all right there on your drive.

Safe is like the Internet wide equivalent to this. And I love this way of describing it! Although only works with folk of a certain age :laughing:

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No idea what you’re on about …

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The tricky part is getting enough developers to put the extra work in to allow the data their app creates and consumes to be interoperable. Without that there’s a lot of friction in supporting interoperability and it will I expect continue to be limited to migration of data between apps, rather than separating the applications from the data.

Solid bet on Linked Data creating the incentive for this but the jury is still out.

Developing with Linked Data is relatively hard compared to rolling your own format, and so we should expect that to limit its use for most apps in the short term. This doesn’t mean Linked Data can’t gain a foothold, and one reason I put effort into Solid on Safe was so we could take advantage of Solid apps to give us a leg up from day one.

The interest from MaidSafe in supporting Linked Data in the network itself can help a lot too, so it continues to be attractive to me because I foresee a massive upside for users and applications once this gets going (see my presentation DevCon talk Supercharging the SAFE Network with Project Solid on that).

Other approaches with the similar goals also exist such as DAT which aims to make adoption easier by emphasizing conversion between different app formats, rather than making semantics implicit in the data.

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Is there something that can be done/built to make interoperability more turnkey for developers? I’m not saying this should be a priority for the core dev team right now, but it could be high-value for 3rd party devs to work on or worth integrating into MaidSafe’s roadmap post beta.

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There will be things we can do but it will always be an issue. I know the team were thinking about this when we thought we were closer to the final API and we’ve had a few debates on the forums. I expect when the APIs are updated we’ll also be getting back to this.

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I remember seeing some pay the developer discussions in the past. Is this baked into the network upon test net or still not confirmed?

The problem you have with that approach is that the majority opinion is almost always wrong. Ever see the movie “minority report”?

I haven’t but I’ll add it to the to-watch list.

I also think that is the main issue, but don’t think it’s insurmountable. Or at least, if it has been a failure on the slimenet, there’s a couple of fairly new things we could try on Safe that might work, and they’re interesting and useful enough to be worth a shot.

The powers I’m assuming the Safe Net provides are easy peasy anonymity for grandma and her friends, slickly integrated permanent web and linked data which grandma can effortlessly manipulate, and provable pseudonyms which can be given voting rights after a certain amount of work. If anyone chimes in with technical thoughts about the feasibility of any of that, that’d be great.

The idea then is to avoid rigidity in the structures, in a nutshell. I don’t have the perfect organisational structure to describe to you to solve this particular problem, but the point is I don’t have to, and it might not exist. Or there might be many solutions, that don’t last long.

What seems to usually happen on the slimenet is even organisations that start off robust with lots of good ideas and full of good intentions tend to stagnate, the reputation of the established respected members effectively culls new ideas, or the whole thing bureaucratises to the point of death. Or simply the reality changes in the world outside of the structure and the structure can’t respond, too stuck in its original framework.

So democratic mini-structures that can be smoothly, maybe periodically, torn down and rebuilt with all reputation being reset to zero, with no one obliged to reveal their identity, and easy enough for armies of grannies to join. If (yes, plenty of ifs) lots of interested people put time and effort into such a structure, I think they’d have a shot at finding something that works for falsehood-checking, and a host of other things. Anyone in wild disagreement though, please hammer away