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Else 3.10.13: Satoshi, Snowden, Google, And The Meaning of it All

By - March 10, 2014

nweekbitcoincover

The past week spun with controversy and breaking news around many of our society’s most interesting conversations: The elusive founder of bitcoin was identified, or perhaps not, Edward Snowden popped up at SXSW (by video, of course) and submitted testimony to the EU, the Aereo case is on its way to the Supreme Court (and launched in Austin at SXSW, of course), and in the end, we all long for something more. To the links….

The Face Behind Bitcoin – Newsweek The week’s most sensational story, which created a backlash worthy of the story’s claim.

Google’s Game Of Moneyball In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence – ReadWrite If the future of everything is tied to how we manipuate information through algorithms, then it makes sense to get as many of the brightest minds on your team. Also from ReadWrite:  Google At SXSW: The Internet Is Accelerating Social Change On A Global Scale In which Chair Eric Schmidt and Ideas Director Jared Cohen opine on the role of technology in autocracies (uncertain it’s a positive force, this is a shift from early techno optimism, I’d warrant).

Snowden Gives Testimony To European Parliament Inquiry Into Mass Surveillance, Asks For EU Asylum – TechDirt A nice overview of Snowden’s recent written testimony to the EU Parliament. Most interesting was his documentation of how the NSA plays one European country off the other to gain access to a plurality of data in each.

The Aereo Case Isn’t About Aereo, But About The Future Of Cloud Computing And Innovation - Techdirt An interesting argument about the nature of property and media rights – much more is at stake than simply whether Aereo is in fact legal.

Strictly algorithm: how news finds people in the Facebook and Twitter age – theguardian.com How do ideas find the public in the age of inscrutable algorithms? I find myself wishing for better tools to find good news stories – I’ve been using Circa lately and met with its CEO at SXSW. It’s a promising start.

A vast hidden surveillance network runs across America, powered by the repo industry | BetaBoston If there’s a profitable way to tag something of value, it’ll get tagged. That’s the lesson behind this story on the automobile repossession industry, which most has tagged your car at some point in the past year or so.

The question big data can’t answer: why? – FierceBigData Lots of data helps us understand how and what, but people are best at figuring out why.

The Internet is ready for a new cultural shift. Discuss. - gapingvoid - Hugh senses a wave forming in the Internet seas, one that will value signal over noise. I’m all in favor, but this initial essay feels more like a plea than a formed idea; still and all, I agree.

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Else 3.3.14: Is The Internet A Utility?

By - March 02, 2014

elecutilThe week was dominated by Google related stories, but the top dialog had to do with the Internet itself. I’m sensing something of a shift in society’s beliefs about the Internet’s central role in our humanity. Five years ago, no one wanted to talk about Internet access as a basic human right. In 2012, the UN called it exactly that. With access consolidating into what looks like a natural monopoly, might regulation as a utility be far behind?

Real Time (Medium) Another, denser version of previous essays asking whether it isn’t time to call the Internet a basic utility. “..the immaterial organisation of the internet has now become the most dominant force on this side of the planet...” Unfortunately, this piece is too dense. Try this one instead: The Internet Is Fucked (TechCrunch) in which the author enjoins: “Go ahead, say it out loud. The internet is a utility.There, you’ve just skipped past a quarter century of regulatory corruption and lawsuits that still rage to this day and arrived directly at the obvious conclusion.” Of course, that created a rejoinder: More? - “The Internet is an incredibly useful tool in modern society, but it isn’t essential to the basic functioning of society. Utilities are.” My take: The Internet is a basic need now for the info-organism we are all becoming. So I’m leaning toward the utility camp, I’m afraid. There’s a new book on the subject, should you be interested.

The Monuments of Tech  (NYTimes.com) A meditation, with far too photos, on the meaning of the campuses built by Google, Twitter, Apple, Facebook. Have you read The Circle yet? Read The Circle. Then read this.

Welcome to Googletown (The Verge) As long as we’re talking tech monuments, here’s a full blown deep dive into the relationship between Google and its Silicon Valley home, Mountain View. As one might expect, it’s fraught. But I’ve spent time in Mountain View before Google got there. Not that much has changed, outwardly. If Google keeps growing the way it’s planning to grow, that won’t be the case.

Are the robots about to rise? Google’s new director of engineering thinks so (The Guardian) Part of me wonders why they let Ray Kurzweil out of the building at Google. But this is worth reading in any case. Related: Kurzweil’s review of Spike Jonze’ Her. 

When quantified-self apps leave you with more questions than answers (The Daily Dot ) Something of a takedown on admittedly kludgy first generation self trackers. “I tweet a lot, but it’s mostly nonsense. I don’t have a whole lot of use for “data” about myself.” I just started using the Nike Fuelband. I’ll post plenty about that I’m sure, as the first week has proven interesting.

Can Privacy Be Saved? (The New York Review of Books) Don’t you love articles that ask questions, then fail to answer them? Me too. This is a review of various government reports and Presidential speeches arising from the Snowden revelations. The essay makes a strong case for – making a stronger case for privacy. It ends by citing Orwell, Dick, and Bradbury. It does not answer the question – which may well be the answer after all.

To Be Clear: Do Not Build Your Brand House On Land You Don’t Own (Searchblog) In case you missed it, a small reminder about the perils of building on rented land.

To Be Clear: Do Not Build Your Brand House On Land You Don’t Own

By - February 28, 2014

Too07(image) I took a rigorous walk early this morning, a new habit I’m trying to adopt – today was Day Two. Long walks force a certain meditative awareness. You’re not moving so fast that you miss the world’s details passing by  - in fact, you can stop to inspect something that might catch your eye. Today I explored an abandoned log cabin set beside a lake, for example. I’ve sped by that cabin at least a thousand times on my mountain bike, but when you’re walking, discovery is far more of an affordance.

Besides the cabin, the most remarkable quality of today’s walk was the water – it’s (finally) been raining hard here in Northern California, and the hills and forests of Marin are again alive with the rush of water coursing its inevitable path toward the sea. White twisting ribbons cut through each topographic wrinkle, joining forces to form great streams at the base of any given canyon. The gathering roar of a swollen stream, rich with foam and brown earth – well, it’s certainly  good for the soul.

I can’t say the same of my daily “walks” through the Internet. Each day I spend an hour or more reading industry news. I’m pretty sure you do too – that’s probably the impetus for your visit here – chances are you clicked on a link on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, or in email. Someone you know said “check this out,” or – and bless you if this is the case – you actually follow my musings and visit on a regular basis.

But the truth is, we now mostly find content via aggregated streams. Streams are the new distribution. We dip in and out of streams, we curate and search our streams, we abandon barren streams and pick up new streams, hoping they might prove more nourishing. Back before streams ruled the world, of course, we had a habit of visiting actual “pools” – sites that we found worthy because they did a good job of creating content that we valued. (Before that, I think we read actual publications. But that was a long, long time ago…)

Which got me thinking. What makes a stream? In the real world, streams are made from water, terrain, and gravity. To belabor the metaphor to the media business, content is the water, publishers are the terrain, and our thirst for good content is the gravity.

As publishers – and I include all marketing brands in this category – the question then becomes: “What terrain do we claim as ours?”

Deciding where to lay down roots as a publisher is an existential choice. Continuing the physical metaphor a bit further, it’s the equivalent of deciding what land to buy (or lease). If your intention is to build something permanent and lasting on that land, it’s generally a good idea to *own* the soil beneath your feet.

This is why I wrote Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web two years ago. If you’re going to build something, don’t build on land someone else already owns. You want your own land, your own domain, your own sovereignty.

Trouble is, so much of the choice land – the land where all the *people* are – is already owned by someone else: By Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Apple (in apps, anyway). These platforms are where are the people are, after all. It’s where the headwaters form for most of the powerful streams on the Internet.  It’s tempting to build your brand on those lands – but my counsel is simple: Don’t. There’s plenty of land out there on the Rest of The Internet. In fact, there’s as much land as you want, and what you make of it is up to you as a publisher.

Quick: Name one successful publisher that built its brand on the back of a social platform? Can’t do it? Neither can I, unless you count sites like UpWorthy. And those flying near the social network sun risk getting seriously burned. There’s a reason publishers don’t build on top of social platforms: publishers are an independent lot, and they naturally understand the value of owning your own domain. Publishers don’t want to be beholden to the shifting sands of inscrutable platform policies. So why on earth would a brand?

Despite the fact that my once-revolutionary bromide “all brands are publishers” is now commonplace, most brands still don’t quite understand how to act like a publisher.

Which takes me to this piece, Facebook is not making friends on Madison Avenue (Digiday). Besides the quippy headline and the rather obvious storyline (a burgeoning Internet company failing to satisfy agencies? Pretty much Dog-Bites-Man), the thing that got me to perk up was this:

One point of frustration is Facebook’s ongoing squeezing of traffic to organic brand content. A digital agency exec described a recent meeting with Facebook that turned contentious. In what was meant to be a routine meeting, the exec said the Facebook rep told him the brands the agency works with would now have to pay Facebook for the same amount of reach they once enjoyed automatically. That position and Facebook’s perceived attitude have led to some disillusionment on Madison Avenue, where many bought into the dream peddled by Facebook that brands could set up shop on the platform as “publishers” and amass big audiences on their own….

…The cruel irony in all of this is that brands themselves greatly helped Facebook by giving it free advertising in their TV commercials and sites, urging their customers to “like” the brand — and paying Facebook to pile up likes. Facebook has returned the favor by choking off  brands’ access to those communities. That’s one expensive and frustrating lesson that it’s better to own than rent.

Put another way: “Wait, I did what you asked, Facebook, and set up a big content site on your platform that drew a fair number of visitors organically. Now you’ve changed the rules of the game, and you want me to pay to get their attention?!”

Yup. You leased your land, Mr. Brand Marketer, and the rent’s going up. If I were you, I’d get back to your own domain. Spend your money building something worthy, then spend to drive people there. Your agencies have entire creative and media departments that are good at just such practices. They might even spend a fair amount carefully purchasing distribution through Facebook’s streams. I’m guessing Facebook will be happy to take your money. But there’s no point in paying them twice.

 

What Would You Ask Sundar Pichai, SVP Android & Chrome at Google?

By - February 24, 2014

sundar_pichaiA week from this coming Sunday at SXSW, I’ll be interviewing Sundar Pichai, Google’s Senior Vice President, Android, Chrome & Apps. Pichai has a huge job at Google, overseeing the company’s mobile ecosystem, from hardware (the Nexus platform) to the burgeoning Play store (oh, and that little browser/OS called Chrome, to boot). Last year, he took over Android from its founder Andy Rubin, who has moved his focus to new (and currently undisclosed) Google moonshots. Android is a huge business for Google – more than a billion devices have been activated since its inception. And that’s well before markets for autos, wearables, and enterprise heat up.

The interview is in classic SXSW keynote form – just us on stage, with a room of 1,000 or so attendees from the festival’s interactive track. On a prep call last week, Sundar mentioned he’d be up for hearing from readers here and on various social networks, so I’m issuing a call: What questions do you have for the man in charge of Google’s mobile future? A few that come to mind:

- What is Android’s role beyond phones & tablets? Pichai has said Android is moving into areas such as the enterprise, wearables, and automobiles. How might that play out? Will Nest become an Android device? Will you have to join Google+ to manage your thermostat?!

- I’ve called Google Now “The tip of a very long spear.” Is that a fair characterization?

- Much has been written about fragmentation in the Android ecosystem-is this a problem? Is Android truly “open”?

- The relationship between Google and Samsung seems strained – how is it going?

- What is the future of the Nexus effort – is Google committed to being a hardware player, or is the Nexus line mainly a way to show off how best to create devices? Related – what happened with Motorola? Was that a mistake, or part of a master plan?

- How do Chromebooks and the Chrome OS fit into Google’s future? How do we think about Chrome as separate from Android?

-  Chromecast, Google Fiber, Play, YouTube: All seem positioned to combat the Comcasts of the world. What’s Google’s POV on cord cutting and the cablecos?
Might Google up and buy sports rights?

What questions do you have for Pichai? Leave a comment here, or tweet them to me @johnbattelle. Hope to see you at SXSW!

else 2.24: “This is how revolutions begin”

This week we thought about paid peering, fiber, and privacy in a lot of different contexts. As always if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

 

Inside The Netflix/Comcast Deal and What The Media Is Getting Very Wrong — Streaming Media
Dan Rayburn clarifies some of the bad reporting on the Netflix Comcast deal: “it simply comes down to Netflix making a business decision that it makes sense for them to deliver their content directly to Comcast, instead of through a third party” and adding that Comcast guarantees certain quality by an SLA.

Comcast is definitely throttling Netflix, and it’s infuriating
Matt Vukas tries to parse what’s going on with Comcast’s alleged throttling of Netflix traffic, playing around with encrypted VPN that masks the video traffic, and pinging the traceroute to see where is packets are coming from. His follow up post describes how hard it is for consumers to understand what’s going on with their internet traffic, especially when CDN peering relationships are part of the problem.

ajblum_house of cards

Exploring new cities for Google Fiber — Google Blog
Google expands its experiments in Kansas City and Austin to a few major cities including Portland and the Research Triangle area. This is certainly an interesting step forward, especially as the natural monopoly of cable internet providers expands. So how do we feel about Google controlling the pipes and the content?

In Pricey Facebook Deal for WhatsApp, Two Strong-Willed CEOs — WSJ
Real names or not, the value is in the usage metadata. But WhatsApp will continue to operate independently from Facebook.

Can Someone Explain WhatsApp’s Valuation To Me? — LinkedIn
danah boyd (whose new book on teens social media use just came out!) walks through the logic for WhatsApp’s value when most of what it’s solving for is “carrier stupidity.”

Glass, Darkly — MIT Technology Review
Another in depth review on Glass likes the possibilities, “But for many, I think, Glass faces an insurmountable problem. It’s impossible to miss.”

Whose Life is it Anyway? — Bookforum
Clive Thompson’s review of Julia Angwin (formerly of the Wall Street Journal’s What They Know Series) details the arduous process of becoming truly secure online.

Data pioneers watching us work — FT
Mining for efficiency and effectiveness gains, but it all sounds a little creepy, too. Steelcase is even putting sensors into furniture.

Linked In Is Now A Publishing Platform. Cool. But First Get Your Own Site.

By - February 21, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 4.59.15 AMI’ve been a LinkedIn “Influencer” for a year or so, and while the honorific is flattering, I’m afraid I’ve fallen down in my duties to post there. The platform has proven it has significant reach, and for folks like me, who thrive on attention for words written, it’s certainly an attractive place to write. Of course, it pays nothing, and LinkedIn makes all the money on the page views my words drive, but … that’s the quid pro quo. We’ll put yer name in lights, kid, and you bring the paying customers.

One reason I don’t post on LinkedIn that often is my habit of writing here: there are very few times I come up with an idea that doesn’t feel like it belongs on my own site. And by the time I’ve posted it here, it seems like overkill to go ahead and repost it over on LinkedIn (even though they encourage exactly that kind of behavior). I mean, what kind of an egomaniac needs to post the same words on two different platforms? And from what I recall, Google tends to penalize you in search results if it thinks you’re posting in more than one place.

But this news, that LinkedIn is opening up its publishing platform to all comers, has changed my mind. From now on I’m going on record as a passionate advocate of posting to your own site first, then posting to LinkedIn (or any other place, such as Medium).

Why? Well, it comes down to owning your own domain. Building out a professional profile on LinkedIn certainly makes sense, and bolstering that cv with intelligent pieces of writing is also a great idea. But if you’re going to take the time to create content, you should also take the time to create a home for that content that is yours and yours alone. WordPress makes it drop dead easy to start a site. Take my advice, and go do it. Given the trendlines of digital publishing, where more and more large platforms are profiting from, and controlling, the works of individuals, I can’t stress enough: Put your taproot in the independent web. Use the platforms for free distribution (they’re using you for free content, after all). And make sure you link back to your own domain. That’s what I plan to do when I post this to LinkedIn.  Right after I post this here.

else 2.17: “Drag the future here and see if we want it”

By - February 17, 2014

This week looked at convergence in wearables, how we live with technology today and in the near future, and the possibility that reality is just a mathematical model. As always if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

 

The Plus in Google Plus? It’s Mostly for Google — NYTimes
Even if Plus isn’t where you spend your time, it’s the basis for a consolidated view of your activity across Google. That will  become even more important with time. “With a single Plus account, the company can build a database of your affinities.”

The Dash Builds Wearable Fitness Sensors Into The Headphones You’re Using Anyway — Techcrunch
We’re starting to see the convergence of wearable sensors with other standard purposes. These Kickstarter Bluetooth headphones also track your workout.

Apple’s hiring spree of biosensor experts continues — Network World
Lots of Apple speculation here, but it’s certainly interesting to see all the biosensor expertise in these recent hires.

When Silicon Valley Met the NSA — The Information
Key members of industry meet with the NSA under the Enduring Security Framework program.
“It’s to build a relationship so that when we’re in a state of war, we’re already going to have operational agreement of how you support us and help us.” [Pay wall]

When You Fall in Love, This Is What Facebook Sees — The Atlantic
Facebook data scientists offer insights into patterns in the days leading up to making a relationship Facebook official. What they do with those insights is another story

A review of Her by Ray Kurzweil — Kurzweil AI
Father of AI and the singularity argues that Her falls short because it pits us against technology, instead of exploring a more integrated future. “It will not be us versus the machines (whether the machines are enemies or lovers), but rather, we will enhance our own capacity by merging with our intelligent creations.”

Intel’s Sharp-Eyed Social Scientist — NYTimes
Anthropologist and social scientists at Intel  are looking into the ways we live with technologies that we already have and thinking about how emerging technologies will integrate into our daily lives. Bell notes, “I am firmly in the present…But, sometimes, I want to drag the future here and see if we want it.”

Ad Infinitum: ‘Our Mathematical Universe’ — NYTimes
Toying with the possibility “that reality itself is a mathematical structure.” “Math is so effective in describing the world, he says, because physical reality is a mathematical structure. He calls it the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (M.U.H.).” Does it follow that the world is already data?

Netflix Is Building an Artificial Brain Using Amazon’s Cloud — Wired
Recommendations algorithms aim to get even more advanced with deep learning applications.

 

Buh-Bye, CableCo

By - February 13, 2014

chromecastWhen it comes to television business models and the endless debate about “cutting the cord,” I consider myself in the “fast follower” camp – I’m not willing to endure the headaches and technical backflips required to get rid of cable entirely, but I sure am open to alternatives should they present themselves. I’m eager for Aereo to get to San Francisco, but until it does, I’ve stuck with my way-too-expensive cable subscription.

My rants on cable’s products (here’s my favorite – still true after 8 years!) and services (please don’t get me started) are well known by friends and family, but because I have had no simple alternative, I pay more than $200 a month to Comcast, who announced plans today to consolidate its market by purchasing one its largest peers, Time Warner.

But in the past few months, a clever, $35 device from Google has started to chip away at Comcast’s grip on my family television viewership. You’ve probably heard about it – it’s called Chromecast. It’s a neat little hack – it looks like a USB storage dongle, but you plug it into any HDMI port on a standard flatscreen. It uses wifi to sync with your mobile phone or tablet, and within minutes you are watching Netflix, YouTube, or your browser on your television. It’s kind of magic, and it’s changed how we watch TV completely.

The reason my Comcast bill is so high boils down to a luxury tax: I get charged something like ten bucks a month for “extra” cable boxes. I don’t *need* these boxes, but if I *want* a TV screen in secondary places (my music room, office, etc.) I have to pay for the privilege. Turns out, I really only use those screens for watching movies and shows on demand. Comcast’s on demand service is so lame, I can’t really describe it here, so I prefer to use NetFlix or Hulu – both of which work with Chromecast. Goodbye, cable boxes!

It’ll be interesting to watch services slowly but – to my mind – inevitably bail on the cablecos. First to go will have to be sports networks – I’d far rather subscribe to the MLB channel than overpay Comcast to see my beloved Giants. I imagine local news will be next – since they are often already available via the web (which you can stream via a Chrome browser).

In fact, there’s a ton of video on the web – much of it very high quality, but there’s really not been much *programming* of that video for audiences who live in a post-cable world. Well, I’ve joined that world, happily, and I hope the programming will soon catch up with the distribution. Chromecast just opened up its platform for third party applications – a big move that could bring a lot of innovation to “television” – something it desperately needs, given it’s been in the grips of monopoly for decades. Buh-bye, Cableco!

 

else 2.10: “Information that was never designed for a human to see”

By - February 10, 2014

This week, we were thinking about data post-language, reading the tea leaves of algorithms, and wondering how to protect the first principles of the web. As always, if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

 

We’re Leaving — The Bygone BureauI like this take on the discussion of the “post-verbal” in Her as suggesting a time when data supplants language. It was a very brief moment in the movie, but I think it’s at the crux of how we will relate to our machines going forward.

Your Eyes or My Words — Joanne McNeil
In a talk she gave at Lift, Joanne McNeil explores reading the “tea leaves” guess work of understanding algorithms. “Sometimes the information was surprising and made you wonder why that person spends so much time thinking of you. This is information that was never designed for a human to see.”

You Can Now Edit Your Cheesy Facebook “Look Back” Video — Slate
Facebook’s look back videos were poignant and nostalgic, but sometimes the algorithms were missing the mark, so it exposed the ability to edit. This is what happens when we let algorithms tell our stories for us.

How Facebook Has Changed in 10 Years — Courtesy of an Ex-Employee —Re/code
There were plenty of retrospectives celebrating Facebook last week, but this insight from a former employee exploring the “capital-R rules” shows exactly how much the normative rules of a system evolve in the span of ten short years. “No, you can’t let moms join Facebook because Facebook is for students.” to “No, you can’t allow anonymity because Facebook is built on real identity.”

Attempting to Code the Human Brain — WSJ.com
Facebook-backed Vicarious is teaching algorithms to imagine the shape of cows. “If you invent artificial intelligence, that’s the last invention you’ll ever have to invent.”

As Technology Gets Better, Will Society Get Worse? — The New Yorker
Tim Wu questions what “progress” means if it results in comforts that eventually kill us.

Tim Berners-Lee: we need to re-decentralise the web — Wired UK
Post-NSA, TBL warns against localized internet: “I want a web that’s open, works internationally, works as well as possible and is not nation-based.”

#recap: Defending an Unowned Internet — Cyborgology
Whitney Erin Boesel posted a nice recap of this Berkman talk discussing the consolidation of most of the web into corporate ownership (ex AWS). Video from the conversation is here in full.

We Are Not Google, Therefore, We Are

By - February 06, 2014

RubiconS1If you read me regularly, you know I am a fan of programmatic adtech. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important developments of the 21st century. And over the past few quarters, adtech has gotten quite hot, thanks to the recent successes of Rocket Fuel (up to 50 and holding from its open at 29), Criteo (trading above its already inflated opening price of 31), and, by extension, Facebook and Twitter (don’t get me started, but both these companies should be understood as programmatic plays, in my opinion).

But while I like all those companies, I find Rubicon’s recent filing far more interesting. Why? Well, here’s the money shot of the S-1:

Independence. We believe our independent market position enables us to better serve buyers and sellers because we are not burdened with any structural conflicts arising from owning and operating digital media properties while offering advertising purchasing solutions to buyers.

Ah, there it is, in a nutshell: “We are not Google, therefore, we are.” Rubicon uses the words “independent” or “independence” more than a half a dozen times in its S1, about the same number of times the word “Google” is invoked.

I am in full support of an independent adtech ecosystem. It’s vitally important that the world have options when it comes to what flavor of programmatic infrastructure it uses to transact – and when I say the “world” I mean everybody, from publishers to advertisers, consumers to service providers. Criteo and Rocket Fuel are important companies, but they don’t directly compete with Google – their business leverages buying strategies to maximize profits. Rubicon, on the other hand, has a full adtech stack and is focused on publishers (and yes, that’s what sovrn is as well).

Over time, we won’t be talking about “publishers” and “advertisers,” we’ll be talking about “consumers” and “services.” And the infrastructure that connects those two parties should not be a default – it should be driven by competition between independent players.

So bravo, Rubicon, for making that statement so clearly in your S-1. I wish you luck.