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JIRA is an antipattern

17:00 | 9 December

Atlassian’s JIRA began life as a bug-tracking tool. Today, though, it has become an agile planning suite, “to plan, track, and release great software.” In many organizations it has become the primary map of software projects, the hub of all development, the infamous “source of truth.”

It is a truism that the map is not the territory. Alas, this seems especially true of JIRA. Its genesis as a bug tracker, and its resulting use of “tickets” as its fundamental, defining unit, have made its maps especially difficult to follow. JIRA1 is all too often used in a way which makes it, inadvertently, an industry-wide “antipattern,” i.e. “a common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive.”

One thing that writing elegant software has in common with art: its crafters should remain cognizant of the overall macro vision of the project, at the same time they are working on its smallest micro details. JIRA, alas, implicitly teaches everyone to ignore the larger vision while focusing on details. There is no whole. At best there is an “Epic” — but the whole point of an Epic is to be decomposed into smaller pieces to be worked on independently. JIRA encourages the disintegration of the macro vision.

What’s more, feature-driven JIRA does not easily support the concept of project-wide infrastructure which does not map to individual features. A data model used across the project. A complex component used across multiple pages. A caching layer for a third-party interface. A background service providing real-time data used across multiple screens. Sure, you can wedge those into JIRA’s ticket paradigm … but the spiderweb of dependencies which result don’t help anyone.

Worst of all, though, is the endless implicit pressure for tickets to be marked finished, to be passed on to the next phase. Tickets, in the JIRA mindset, are taken on, focused on until complete, and then passed on, never to be seen again. They have a one-way lifecycle: specification; design; development; testing; release. Doesn’t that sound a little … um … waterfall-y? Isn’t agile development supposed to be fundamentally different from waterfall development, rather than simply replacing one big waterfall with a thousand little ones?

Here’s an analogy. Imagine a city-planning tool which makes it easy to design city maps which do include towers, residential districts, parks, malls, and roads … but which doesn’t easily support things like waterworks, sewers, subway tunnels, the electrical grid, etc., which can only be wedged in through awkward hacks, if at all.

Now imagine this tool is used as a blueprint for construction, with the implicit baked-in assumption that a) the neighborhood is the fundamental unit of city construction b) cities are built one neighborhood at a time, and neighborhoods one block at a time. What’s more, one is incentivized to proceed to the next only when the last is absolutely complete, right down to the flowers growing in the median strips.

Now imagine that the city’s developers, engineers, and construction workers are asked to estimate and report progress purely in terms of how many neighborhoods and blocks have been fully completed, and how far along each one is. Does that strike you as a particularly effective model of urban planning? Do you think you would like to live in its result? Or, in practice, do you think that the best way to grow a city might be just a little more organic?

Let’s extend that metaphor. Suppose you began to build the city more organically, so that, at a certain significant point, you have a downtown full of a mix of temporary and permanent buildings; the skyscrapers’ foundations laid (i.e. technical uncertainty resolved); much of the core infrastructure built out; a few clusters of initial structures in the central neighborhoods, and shantytowns in the outskirts; a dirt airstrip where the airport will be; and traffic going back and forth among all these places. In other words, you have built a crude but functioning city-in-the-making, its skeleton constructed, ready to be fleshed out. Well done!

But if measured by how many blocks and neighborhoods are absolutely finished, according to the urban planners’ artistic renditions, what is your progress? By that measure, your progress is zero.

So that is not how JIRA incentivizes you to work. That would look like a huge column of in-progress tickets, and zero complete ones. That would look beyond terrible. Instead JIRA incentivizes you to complete an entire block, and then the next; an entire neighborhood, and then the next; to kill off as many different tickets as possible, to mark them complete and pass them on, even if splicing them together after the fact is more difficult than building them to work together in the first place,.

(If you prefer a smaller-scale model, just transpose: city → condo building, neighborhood → floor, block → unit, etc.)

And so people take tickets, implement them as written, pass them off to whoever is next in the workflow, consider their job well done, even if working on scattered groups of them in parallel might be much more effective … and without ever considering the larger goal. “Implement the Upload button” says the ticket; so that is all that is done. The ticket does not explain that the larger goal of the Upload button is to let users back up their work. Perhaps it would actually be technically easier to automatically upload every state change, such that the user gets automatic buttonless backups plus a complete undo/redo stack. But all the ticket says is: “Implement the Upload button.” So that is all that is done.

All too often, the only time anyone worries about the vision of the project as a whole is at the very beginning, when the overworked project manager(s) initially deal(s) with the thankless task of decomposing the entire project into a forest of tickets. But the whole point of agile development is to accept that the project will always be changing over time, and — albeit to a lesser extent — for multiple people, everyone on the team, to help contribute to that change. JIRA has become a tool which actually works against this.

(And don’t even get me started on asking engineers to estimate a project that someone else has broken down, into subcomponents whose partitioning feels unnatural, by giving them about thirty seconds per feature during a planning meeting, and then basing the entire project plan on those hand-waved un-researched off-the-top-of-the-head half-blind guesses, without ever revisiting them or providing time for more thoughtful analysis. That antipattern is not JIRA’s fault … exactly. But JIRA’s structure contributes to it.)

I’m not saying JIRA has no place. It’s very good when you’re at the point where breaking things down into small pieces and finishing them sequentially does make sense. And, unsurprisingly given its history, it’s exceedingly good at issue tracking.

Let me reiterate: to write elegant software, you must keep both the macro and the micro vision in your mind simultaneously while working. JIRA is good at managing micro pieces. But you need something else for the macro. (And no, a clickable prototype isn’t enough; those are important, but they too require descriptive context.)

Allow me to propose something shocking and revolutionary: prose. Yes, that’s right; words in a row; thoughtfully written paragraphs. I’m not talking about huge requirements documents. I’m talking about maybe a ten-page overview describing the vision for the entire project in detail, and a six-page architectural document explaining the software infrastructure — where the city’s water, sewage, power, subways, and airports are located, and how they work, to extend the metaphor. When Amazon can, famously, require six-page memos in order to call meetings, this really doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Simply ceasing to treat JIRA as the primary map and model of project completion undercuts a great deal of its implicit antipatternness. Use it for tracking iterative development and bug fixes, by all means. It’s very good at that. But it is a tool deeply ill-suited to be the map of a project’s overall vision or infrastructure, and it is never the source of truth — the source of truth is always the running code. In software, as in art, the micro work and the macro vision should always be informed by one another. Let JIRA map the micro work; but let good old-fashioned plain language describe the macro vision, and try to pay more attention to it.


1Atlassian seems to have decapitalized JIRA between versions 7.9 and 7.10, but descriptively, all-caps still seems more common.

 


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Awaken offers meditations focused on healing from systems of oppression

22:54 | 8 December

A mindful, contemplative approach to internalized racism and sexism is a necessary piece of the puzzle of dismantling systems of oppression, Awaken founder and CEO Ravi Mishra says. That’s the entire point of Awaken, a mindfulness and meditation app specifically geared toward helping people cope with the harsh realities of today’s society.

Awaken got its roots in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Mishra told TechCrunch. The election surfaced these “larger questions that have to do with race, gender, sexuality and power, and how they live inside of us.”

Through Awaken, Mishra hopes to offer mindfulness and meditation practices that help cultivate stability within marginalized communities. These contemplative practices center around sitting with certain questions and identity construction. Awaken’s founding teachers are Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens and Sensei Greg Snyder — three leaders focused on the intersection of mindfulness and social change.

Similar to meditation app Headspace, which is valued at $320 million, Awaken has a freemium plan in place. For full access to content, Awaken charges $8.99 a month. While Awaken does seek to make money, Mishra says he’s not doing it for profit. Instead, the plan is to use all the money Awaken makes for activist work.

“We’re currently running at a loss and figuring out how to break even,” he told me. “The hope and idea is once we are fully profitable, we’ll move that into activist work.”

Awaken has plans to close a round of funding from mission-aligned angel investors early next year.

 


0

Why you need a supercomputer to build a house

21:38 | 8 December

When the hell did building a house become so complicated?

Don’t let the folks on HGTV fool you. The process of building a home nowadays is incredibly painful. Just applying for the necessary permits can be a soul-crushing undertaking that’ll have you running around the city, filling out useless forms, and waiting in motionless lines under fluorescent lights at City Hall wondering whether you should have just moved back in with your parents.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

And to actually get approval for those permits, your future home will have to satisfy a set of conditions that is a factorial of complex and conflicting federal, state and city building codes, separate sets of fire and energy requirements, and quasi-legal construction standards set by various independent agencies.

It wasn’t always this hard – remember when you’d hear people say “my grandparents built this house with their bare hands?” These proliferating rules have been among the main causes of the rapidly rising cost of housing in America and other developed nations. The good news is that a new generation of startups is identifying and simplifying these thickets of rules, and the future of housing may be determined as much by machine learning as woodworking.

When directions become deterrents

Photo by Bill Oxford via Getty Images

Cities once solely created the building codes that dictate the requirements for almost every aspect of a building’s design, and they structured those guidelines based on local terrain, climates and risks. Over time, townships, states, federally-recognized organizations and independent groups that sprouted from the insurance industry further created their own “model” building codes.

The complexity starts here. The federal codes and independent agency standards are optional for states, who have their own codes which are optional for cities, who have their own codes that are often inconsistent with the state’s and are optional for individual townships. Thus, local building codes are these ever-changing and constantly-swelling mutant books made up of whichever aspects of these different codes local governments choose to mix together. For instance, New York City’s building code is made up of five sections, 76 chapters and 35 appendices, alongside a separate set of 67 updates (The 2014 edition is available as a book for $155, and it makes a great gift for someone you never want to talk to again).

In short: what a shit show.

Because of the hyper-localized and overlapping nature of building codes, a home in one location can be subject to a completely different set of requirements than one elsewhere. So it’s really freaking difficult to even understand what you’re allowed to build, the conditions you need to satisfy, and how to best meet those conditions.

There are certain levels of complexity in housing codes that are hard to avoid. The structural integrity of a home is dependent on everything from walls to erosion and wind-flow. There are countless types of material and technology used in buildings, all of which are constantly evolving.

Thus, each thousand-page codebook from the various federal, state, city, township and independent agencies – all dictating interconnecting, location and structure-dependent needs – lead to an incredibly expansive decision tree that requires an endless set of simulations to fully understand all the options you have to reach compliance, and their respective cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

So homebuilders are often forced to turn to costly consultants or settle on designs that satisfy code but aren’t cost-efficient. And if construction issues cause you to fall short of the outcomes you expected, you could face hefty fines, delays or gigantic cost overruns from redesigns and rebuilds. All these costs flow through the lifecycle of a building, ultimately impacting affordability and access for homeowners and renters.

Startups are helping people crack the code

Photo by Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch via Getty Images

Strap on your hard hat – there may be hope for your dream home after all.

The friction, inefficiencies, and pure agony caused by our increasingly convoluted building codes have given rise to a growing set of companies that are helping people make sense of the home-building process by incorporating regulations directly into their software.

Using machine learning, their platforms run advanced scenario-analysis around interweaving building codes and inter-dependent structural variables, allowing users to create compliant designs and regulatory-informed decisions without having to ever encounter the regulations themselves.

For example, the prefab housing startup Cover is helping people figure out what kind of backyard homes they can design and build on their properties based on local zoning and permitting regulations.

Some startups are trying to provide similar services to developers of larger scale buildings as well. Just this past week, I covered the seed round for a startup called Cove.Tool, which analyzes local building energy codes – based on location and project-level characteristics specified by the developer – and spits out the most cost-effective and energy-efficient resource mix that can be built to hit local energy requirements.

And startups aren’t just simplifying the regulatory pains of the housing process through building codes. Envelope is helping developers make sense of our equally tortuous zoning codes, while Cover and companies like Camino are helping steer home and business-owners through arduous and analog permitting processes.

Look, I’m not saying codes are bad. In fact, I think building codes are good and necessary – no one wants to live in a home that might cave in on itself the next time it snows. But I still can’t help but ask myself why the hell does it take AI to figure out how to build a house? Why do we have building codes that take a supercomputer to figure out?

Ultimately, it would probably help to have more standardized building codes that we actually clean-up from time-to-time. More regional standardization would greatly reduce the number of conditional branches that exist. And if there was one set of accepted overarching codes that could still set precise requirements for all components of a building, there would still only be one path of regulations to follow, greatly reducing the knowledge and analysis necessary to efficiently build a home.

But housing’s inherent ties to geography make standardization unlikely. Each region has different land conditions, climates, priorities and political motivations that cause governments to want their own set of rules.

Instead, governments seem to be fine with sidestepping the issues caused by hyper-regional building codes and leaving it up to startups to help people wade through the ridiculousness that paves the home-building process, in the same way Concur aids employee with infuriating corporate expensing policies.

For now, we can count on startups that are unlocking value and making housing more accessible, simpler and cheaper just by making the rules easier to understand. And maybe one day my grandkids can tell their friends how their grandpa built his house with his own supercomputer.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:

 


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Apple Watch’s ECG feature is already proving its worth

21:28 | 8 December

When Apple announced its latest Series 4 Watch with electrocardiogram features, my mom took a sigh of relief, and then proceeded to set a reminder to order one for my dad. That’s because we found out last year, by chance, that he has atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat, often times rapid heart rate that can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related issues.

The ECG feature, which monitors your heart rhythm and can detect AFib,* went live just two days ago. Already, at least one person has benefited from it.

Yesterday, a person on Reddit shared how their Apple Watch notified them of an abnormal heart rate. From there, they ran the ECG app and found out it was AFib. They went to urgent care and saw a doctor who they say said, “You should buy Apple stock. This probably saved you. I read about this last night and thought we would see an upswing this week. I didn’t expect it first thing this morning.”

The patient says they proceeded to go to a cardiologist the next day, who did an exam and confirmed the AFib diagnosis.

“I’m scheduled to go back in a week for some additional tests to start looking at the cause… blood, thyroid, etc…,” they wrote. “He also scheduled me with a partner who specializes more in the electrical side of things to have it looked from that angle as well.”

As one of the first more widely-owned ECG monitors, this could make a huge difference in the number of people who have at least some transparency into their heart health. But to be clear, once you enable the new feature, the watch is still not constantly looking for AFib. When the heart rhythm monitor detects something is off — a skipped or rapid heartbeat, for example — it will send a notification to your wrist.

That’s when you open up the ECG app, rest your arm on your lap or table, and then hold your finger to the crown for 30 seconds. From there, the watch will tell you if there are signs of atrial fibrillation.

If you want to learn more about the features, check out my colleague Brian Heater’s piece below.

 


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Dallas-based TXV Partners targets $50M for its debut fund

20:00 | 8 December

Marcus Stroud and Brandon Allen met six years ago as roommates at Princeton University. The pair bonded over a common interest and a shared dream: to be venture capitalists.

“We were at a lecture and there were a couple VCs on campus speaking,” 25-year-old Stroud told TechCrunch. “Being a kid from a small town in Texas, Princeton was already a huge culture shock, but hearing about a world of VC, investment banking and private equity just really intrigued me.”

In 2016, Stroud and Allen graduated. Stroud, a former linebacker on the Princeton football team, went off to Wall Street where he was a fixed income analyst, and then to Austin, where he joined the alternative asset manager Vida Capital to learn the ins and outs of investing. Twenty-four-old Allen, meanwhile, clocked in about two years as a consultant.

It didn’t take long for the aspiring VCs to find their way back to each other to finally start on the project they had discussed in their dorm room. Over the last several months, Allen and Stroud have been quietly building a Dallas-based venture firm called TXV Partners . Their lofty target: $50 million, which would be the largest fund ever for an all-black line-up of general partners, an especially notable feat given Allen and Stroud are located in a market largely ignored by the storied VC firms of Silicon Valley.

TXV co-founder and general partner Marcus Stroud

Building the next great VC hub

Stroud and Allen plan to spend the $50 million on millennials. That is, millennial-friendly startups in the consumer, fintech and blockchain verticals, of which they’ll provide between $500,000 and $3 million in equity funding. So far, they’ve invested in one company, an Austin-based blockchain music platform called Matter Music.

Thanks to Stroud’s time on Princeton’s football team and his father, who is a former NFL player, TXV has tapped some athletic talent to support the fund and its portfolio companies. Former NFL player and Northgate Capital managing director Brent Jones is a mentor, and the firm’s advisors include athletes-turned-investors Torii Hunter and Steve Wisniewski, a former professional baseball player and NFL player, respectively.

A rapid transit train (DART) with the skyline of Dallas, Texas in the background

Allen is leading the firm’s Dallas office and Stroud is scouting full-time for startups in Austin, which is already a well-known source of tech talent.

“We wanted to be part of the next great VC hub,” Allen told TechCrunch. “We felt like it made sense and we felt comfortable in Texas. The thought of moving to San Francisco was out of reach for us. Texas has the opportunity to be at the forefront of what the next generation of technology will look like.”

With large universities feeding the talent pool, Texas has the potential but has yet to fully emerge as a force to be reckoned with for technology investors, even with the buzz surrounding Austin’s rising startup ecosystem. So far this year, companies headquartered in Texas have raised roughly $2.5 billion, on par with levels seen in the state in recent years, according to PitchBook. California startups, for context, have raised more than $50 billion this year.

Texas has the opportunity to be at the forefront of what the next generation of technology will look like. TXV co-founder Brandon Allen

In Austin this year, startups have pulled in $1.4 billion, just north of the $1.3 billion in total capital commitments in 2017. Dallas startups, for their part, have raised just $600 million across 87 deals. Deal count in Dallas actually looks to be dropping, hitting 173 in 2013, 143 in 2016 and falling down to 106 last year, but localized funds like TXV’s may help push the city’s tech scene forward.

‘For Texans, for African Americans and for millennials’

Stroud and Allen are not only first-time general partners of what may become a multi-million-dollar VC fund, but they’re also two African Americans in a field dominated by white men. For them, it’s high stakes and failure is not an option.

VC is known for its lack of diversity. Indeed, 81 percent of VC firms don’t have a single black investor, according to data collected by Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures. Roughly 50 percent of black investors in the industry are at the associate level, or the lowest level at a firm, and only 2 percent of VC partners are black.

Base10 Partners’ $137 million fund, announced in September, is the largest black-led VC fund to date, but only one of the two general partners are black. Based in San Francisco, Base10 is run by two veteran investors with a well-established network in the Bay Area. The challenges for TXV are much larger, and the barriers may be much tougher to overcome.

“We’re young, black and in Texas,” Allen added. “We’re trying to do it differently. We wanted to really see if we can redefine the VC model from the bottom up. It’s important for Texans, for African Americans and for millennials.”

Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud want to bring more diversity to venture capital

Allen was raised in New England and Stroud in Prosper, Texas, a small town outside of Dallas. Neither of them comes from wealth, as many Stanford-educated Silicon Valley elite do. They’ll have to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into TXV, but if they succeed — and even if they don’t — they’ll have helped paint a new archetype for VCs.

“African Americans aren’t that well represented on either side of the table as an investor or a startup founder,” Stroud said. “I think, if anything, that doesn’t discourage us, it just makes us feel proud and empowered that we have an opportunity to help cultivate a fund that is majority minority-led. It’s something that fires me up.”

 


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SoftBank’s Vision Fund inches closer to $100B

19:47 | 8 December

Jason Rowley Contributor
Jason Rowley is a venture capital and technology reporter for Crunchbase News.

Much has been said about the SoftBank Vision Fund (SBVF), mostly in awe of the size of the investment vehicle.

It’s important to remember that the $100 billion number most often associated with the gargantuan fund is only a target. Today, however, the Vision Fund inched yet closer to that 12-figure goal as it continues to pour billions of dollars into technology companies around the world.

So far in 2018 the SoftBank Vision Fund has invested in more than 20 deals, accounting for over $21 billion in total investment. That sum didn’t all come from the Vision Fund of course — SoftBank’s Vision Fund typically invests alongside one or more syndicate partners who help fill out bigger rounds — but the amounts are nonetheless staggering. The chart below shows the Vision Fund’s investments since its inception in 2017.

In an annual Form D disclosure filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission this morning, SBVF disclosed that it has raised a total of approximately $98.58 billion from 14 investors since the date of first sale on May 20, 2017. The annual filing from last year said there was roughly $93.15 billion raised from 8 investors, meaning that the Vision Fund has raised $5.43 billion in the past year and added six new investors to its limited partner base.

In a financial report from November, SoftBank Group Corp disclosed (p. 21, Note 1) it has invested an additional $5 billion in the fund, which is “intended for the installment of an incentive scheme for operations of SoftBank Vision Fund.” It brings SoftBank’s total contribution to $21.8 billion, in line with original targets.

The most recent Form D also cites six more limited partners. Crunchbase News presumes that the $430 million in new capital we cannot source back to SoftBank came from those new partners. SoftBank declined to comment on who they are.

Uncertainty looms over Vision Fund 2

One of the primary challenges an investor as big as the Vision Fund faces is sourcing capital. SoftBank doesn’t have a lot of choice about who it can take on as limited partners. To fill out a $100 billion fund (or something larger), government-backed investors are some of the only market participants with the financial wherewithal to anchor its limited partner base. And, sometimes, international politics and venture finance collide.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund committed $45 billion to the SBVF; it’s the single biggest backer of the fund. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is implicated in the extrajudicial torture, murder, dismemberment and disposal of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in early October.

In November, TechCrunch reported that SoftBank would wait for the outcome of Khashoggi’s murder investigation before it decides on Vision Fund 2. New revelations this weekend close the window of reasonable doubt around bin Salman’s involvement in the murder.

This past weekend, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency intercepted 11 messages sent between bin Salman and one of his closest aides, who allegedly oversaw the execution squad, in the hours before Khashoggi’s death. Amid mounting international and intelligence community consensus, though, the White House continues to defend Saudi Arabia.

Given these recent developments, it’s uncertain how SoftBank’s relationship with the Vision Fund’s principal backer will change going forward. Whether anything changes at all is itself an unknown at this point too.

SoftBank COO Marcelo Claure said there was “no certainty” of a follow-up fund back in mid-October.

 


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The nation-state of the internet

18:50 | 8 December

The internet is a community, but can it be a nation-state? It’s a question that I have been pondering on and off this year, what with the rise of digital nomads and the deeply libertarian ethos baked into parts of the blockchain community. It’s clearly on a lot of other people’s minds as well: when we interviewed Matt Howard of Norwest on Equity a few weeks back, he noted (unprompted) that Uber is one of the few companies that could reach “nation-state” status when it IPOs.

Clearly, the internet is home to many, diverse communities of similar-minded people, but how do those communities transmute from disparate bands into a nation-state?

That question led me to Imagined Communities, a book from 1983 and one of the most lauded (and debated) social science works ever published. Certainly it is among the most heavily cited: Google Scholar pegs it at almost 93,000 citations.

Benedict Anderson, a political scientist and historian, ponders over a simple question: where does nationalism come from? How do we come to form a common bond with others under symbols like a flag, even though we have never — and will almost never — meet all of our comrades-in-arms? Why does every country consider itself “special,” yet for all intents and purposes they all look identical (heads of state, colors and flags, etc.) Also, why is the nation-state invented so late?

Anderson’s answer is his title: people come to form nations when they can imagine their community and the values and people it holds, and thus can demarcate the borders (physical and cognitive) of who is a member of that hypothetical club and who is not.

In order to imagine a community though, there needs to be media that actually links that community together. The printing press is the necessary invention, but Anderson tracks the rise of nation-states to the development of vernacular media — French language as opposed to the Latin of the Catholic Church. Lexicographers researched and published dictionaries and thesauruses, and the printing presses — under pressure from capitalism’s dictates — created rich shelves of books filled with the stories and myths of peoples who just a few decades ago didn’t “exist” in the mind’s eye.

The nation-state itself was developed first in South America in the decline and aftermath of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Anderson argues for a sociological perspective on where these states originate from. Intense circulation among local elites — the bureaucrats, lawyers, and professionals of these states — and their lack of mobility back to their empires’ capitals created a community of people who realized they had more in common with each other than the people on the other side of the Atlantic.

As other communities globally start to understand their unique place in the world, they import these early models of nation-states through the rich print culture of books and newspapers. We aren’t looking at convergent evolution, but rather clones of one model for organizing the nation implemented across the world.

That’s effectively the heart of the thesis of this petite book, which numbers just over 200 pages of eminently readable if occasionally turgid writing. There are dozens of other epiphanies and thoughts roaming throughout those pages, and so the best way to get the full flavor is just to pick up a used copy and dive in.

For my purposes though, I was curious to see how well Anderson’s thesis could be applied to the nation-state of the internet. Certainly, the concept that the internet is its own sovereign entity has been with us almost since its invention (just take a look at John Perry Barlow’s original manifesto on the independence of cyberspace if you haven’t).

Isn’t the internet nothing but a series of imagined communities? Aren’t subreddits literally the seeds of nation-states? Every time Anderson mentioned the printing press or “print-capitalism,” I couldn’t help but replace the word “press” with WordPress and print-capitalism with advertising or surveillance capitalism. Aren’t we going through exactly the kind of media revolution that drove the first nation-states a few centuries ago?

Perhaps, but it’s an extraordinarily simplistic comparison, one that misses some of the key originators of these nation-states.

Photo by metamorworks via Getty Images

One of the key challenges is that nation-states weren’t a rupture in time, but rather were continuous with existing power structures. On this point, Anderson is quite absolute. In South America, nation-states were borne out of the colonial administrations, and elites — worried about losing their power — used the burgeoning form of the nation-state to protect their interests (Anderson calls this “official nationalism”). Anderson sees this pattern pretty much everywhere, and if not from colonial governments, then from the feudal arrangements of the late Middle Ages.

If you turn the gaze to the internet then, who are the elites? Perhaps Google or Facebook (or Uber), companies with “nation-state” status that are essentially empires on to themselves. Yet, the analogy to me feels stretched.

There is an even greater problem though. In Anderson’s world, language is the critical vehicle by which the nation-state connects its citizens together into one imagined community. It’s hard to imagine France without French, or England without English. The very symbols by which we imagine our community are symbols of that community, and it is that self-referencing that creates a critical feedback loop back to the community and reinforces its differentiation.

That would seem to knock out the lowly subreddit as a potential nation-state, but it does raise the question of one group: coders.

When I write in Python for instance, I connect with a group of people who share that language, who communicate in that language (not entirely mind you), and who share certain values in common by their choice of that language. In fact, software engineers can tie their choices of language so strongly to their identities that it is entirely possible that “Python developer” or “Go programmer” says more about that person than “American” or “Chinese.”

Where this gets interesting is when you carefully connect it to blockchain, which I take to mean a technology that can autonomously distribute “wealth.” Suddenly, you have an imagined community of software engineers, who speak in their own “language” able to create a bureaucracy that serves their interests, and with media that connects them all together (through the internet). The ingredients — at least as Anderson’s recipe would have them — are all there.

I am not going to push too hard in this direction, but one surprise I had with Anderson is how little he discussed the physical agglomeration of people. The imagining of (physical) borders is crucial for a community, and so the development of maps for each nation is a common pattern in their historical developments. But, the map, fundamentally, is a symbol, a reminder that “this place is our place” and not much more.

Indeed, nation-states bleed across physical borders all the time. Americans are used to the concept of worldwide taxation. France seats representatives from its overseas departments in the National Assembly, allowing French citizens across the former empire to vote and elect representatives to the country’s legislature. And anyone who has followed the Huawei CFO arrest in Canada this week should know that “jurisdiction” these days has few physical borders.

The barrier for the internet or its people to become nation-states is not physical then, but cognitive. One needs to not just imagine a community, but imagine it as the prime community. We will see an internet nation-state when we see people prioritizing fealty to one of these digital communities over the loyalty and patriotism to a meatspace country. There are already early acolytes in these communities who act exactly that way. The question is whether the rest of the adherents will join forces and create their own imagined (cyber)space.

 


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Coinbase abandons its cautious approach with plan to list up to 30 new cryptocurrencies

09:14 | 8 December

Coinbase is the most conservative exchange in cryptoland, largely because it operates in the U.S. under the watchful eye of the SEC. The $8 billion-valued company trades fewer than ten cryptocurrencies to consumers but on Friday announced it announced a major expansion that could see it list up to 30 new tokens.

The company said it is considering support Ripple’s XRP, EOS — the Ethereum challenger that held a year-long ICO that raised $4 billion — Stellar, a creation from a Ripple co-founder, chat app Kik’s Kin token and more.

The full list is below:

Cardano (ADA), Aeternity (AE), Aragon (ANT), Bread Wallet (BRD), Civic (CVC), Dai (DAI), district0x (DNT), EnjinCoin (ENJ), EOS (EOS), Golem Network (GNT), IOST (IOST), Kin (KIN), Kyber Network (KNC), ChainLink (LINK), Loom Network (LOOM), Loopring (LRC), Decentraland (MANA), Mainframe (MFT), Maker (MKR), NEO (NEO), OmiseGo (OMG), Po.et (POE), QuarkChain (QKC), Augur (REP), Request Network (REQ), Status (SNT), Storj (STORJ), Stellar (XLM), XRP (XRP), Tezos (XTZ), and Zilliqa (ZIL)

The company last announced new asset explorations in July, although today it did add four new ERC tokens to its pro service.

Coinbase recently revamped its policy on new token listings. Instead of abruptly adding new assets, a process that sent their valuations spiking along with rumors of inside trading, it now goes public with its intention to “explore” the potential to list new assets in order to lower the impact of a listing. It also doesn’t guarantee which, if any, will make it through and be listed.

“Adding new assets requires significant exploratory work from both a technical and compliance standpoint, and we cannot guarantee that all the assets we are evaluating will ultimately be listed for trading,” the company said.

Support for tokens is pretty nuanced. Coinbase lists some assets on its professional service only, with just nine supported on its regular consumer-facing exchange — those are Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, Litecoin, Zcash, USD Coin, 0x and Basic Attention Token.

The company may also introduce some tokens on a state by state basis in the U.S. in order to comply with laws.

Brian Armstrong told the audience at Disrupt San Francisco that Coinbase could list “millions” of cryptocurrencies in the future

Coinbase is looking into this glut of new tokens — some of which, it must be said, are fairly questionable as projects let alone operating with uncertain legal status — at a time when the market is down significantly from its peak in January, both in terms of trading volume and market valuations.

In recent weeks, sources at a number of top exchanges have told TechCrunch that trading-related revenues are down as much as 50 percent over recent months and, while the numbers for Coinbase aren’t clear, there’s no doubt that its revenue is taking a big hit during this ‘crypto winter.’ That makes it easy to argue that Coinbase is widening its selection to increase potential volumes and, in turn, its revenue — particularly since it just raised $300 million from investors at a massive $8 billion valuation.

Coinbase defenders, however, will argue that a greater selection has long been the plan.

Ignoring the reasons, that’s certainly true. It is well known that the company wants to massively increase the number of cryptocurrencies that it supports.

CEO Brian Armstrong said as much as our TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco in October, where he sketched out the company’s plan to be the New York Stock Exchange of crypto.

“It makes sense that any company out there who has a cap table… should have their own token. Every open source project, every charity, potentially every fund or these new types of decentralized organizations [and] apps, they’re all going to have their own tokens. We want to be the bridge all over the world where people come and they take fiat currency and they can get it into these different cryptocurrencies,” he said during an on-stage interview at the event.

That tokenized future could see Coinbase host hundreds of tokens within “years” and even potentially “millions” in the future, according to Armstrong.

The company has done a lot of the groundwork to make that happen.

Coinbase bought a securities dealer earlier this year and it has taken regulatory strides to list tokenized securities in the U.S, albeit with some confusion. In addition, its VC arm has backed a startup that helps create ‘digital security tokens’ and the exchange introduced a new listing process which could potentially include a listing fee in exchange for necessary legal work.

These 30 new (potential) assets might not be the digital security tokens that Coinbase is moving to add, but the fact that the exchange is exploring so many new assets in one go shows how much wider the company’s vision is now.

The crypto community has already reacted strongly to this deluge of new assets. As you might expect, it is a mix of naive optimism from those invested in ‘under-performing’ projects (shitcoins) who think a Coinbase listing could turn everything around, and criticism from crypto watchers who voiced concern that Coinbase is throwing its prestige and support behind less-than-deserving cryptocurrencies.

I already helped with the rebranding strategy.
The logo is for free, feel free to use it.
Please also delist Bitcoin, thanks. pic.twitter.com/GubHTYIU8F

— WhalePanda (@WhalePanda)

Coinbase went from the most conservative company in crypto to YOLO in like 6 months https://t.co/ndwF5wtb4t

— Crypto Bobby (@crypto_bobby)

Coinbase adding XRP or any other DA isn’t big news anymore. Every major financial institutions is tripping over themselves to get involved with an exchange.

Coinbase is welcome to add anything they want but they are now simply playing catch up.

Not a  take. Just fact.

— ecent (@EDadoun)

I hope Coinbase realizes that several months after raising a $100M ICO, the Kik founder called blockchain ”unconvincing”. Yet their coin is still on the shortlist…

Bonus points for anyone who can count how many of these have active class action lawsuits against them?

— Larry Cermak (@lawmaster)

Coinbase shitcoins OK for millions of retail investors. Bitcoin ETF for institutional investors too crazy. What f*ing parallel universe is this?  ‍♂️

— Gabor Gurbacs (@gaborgurbacs)

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

 


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Uber files confidentially for IPO

04:49 | 8 December

Two days after Lyft submitted paperwork to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an early 2019 initial public offering, Uber has done the same, per The Wall Street Journal.

The company filed confidentially for an IPO on Friday, marking the beginning a race for the two ride-hailing giants to the stock markets.

Uber’s most recent private market valuation was a whopping $72 billion, though the nearly 10-year-old business reportedly expects to debut on the stock exchange at a $120 billion valuation in what is easily one of the most highly-anticipated IPOs of the decade.

Uber didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.

Founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick, Uber has raised a total of nearly $20 billion in a combination of debt and equity, according to PitchBook. SoftBank alone has invested billions in the company to become its largest shareholder. Uber’s other key backers are Toyota, which invested $500 million just a few months ago, as well as late-stage investors T. Rowe Price, Fidelity and TPG Growth.

Benchmark, First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital and others stand to earn big from Uber’s exit — all were among Uber’s investors in some of its earliest rounds.

Lyft, for its part, will likely take the plunge in the first quarter of 2019, too. The company was most recently valued at about $15 billion. Its IPO will be underwritten by JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse and Jeffries.

2019 will be a fascinating year for IPOs, with a separate report out today that Slack is prepping its IPO too and has hired Goldman Sachs to underwrite its offering.

 


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Report: Slack is prepping an IPO for next year, with Goldman Sachs as its lead underwriter

03:47 | 8 December

Slack Technologies, the workplace messaging company, has hired investment bank Goldman Sachs to lead its IPO next year, according to a Reuters report. Reuters’ sources say the company is hoping to nab a valuation of “well over $10 billion.”

Slack, which is based in San Francisco and Vancouver, last revealed its number of daily active users — 8 million — back in May of this year. At the time, it said that 3 million of these were also, crucially, paid users.

In August,  when the company announced $427 million in new funding in a round that valued the company at $7.1 billion, it told the New York Times that it still had eight million daily users, though it noted that the company had half that number in the summer of 2017.

Slack’s investors include SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund, Dragoneer Investment Group, General Atlantic, T. Rowe Price Associates, Wellington Management, Baillie Gifford, and Sands Capital, with much earlier investment coming from Accel Partners and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).

In fact, when Accel and a16z funded Slack, it was technically a different company, one called Tiny Speck, and it worked long and hard on an online, multiplayer game called “Glitch” that failed to gain enough user traction to be continued. It was only in the process of unwinding the company that it occurred to founder Stewart Butterfield that the messaging set-up he had created to communicate with Tiny Speck’s engineers and other employees might be an even more promising idea.

Butterfield had discussions with these early investors as he prepared to pivot about returning their capital, but as Accel’s Andrew Braccia told us several years ago, “We had a discussion about, ‘Should I return the money.'” But, said Braccia, “I told Stewart, ‘If you want to continue to be an entrepreneur and build something, then I’m with you.'”

It was a smart move on the part of Braccia, who spent nine years at Yahoo as a VP before joining Accel and had met Butterfield there after Butterfield, with cofounder Caterina Fake, had sold their photo-sharing business Flickr to the company. It was also a giant leap of faith, based on Butterfield’s potential alone. “I don’t think we understood how valuable, important, or fast it would grow,” Braccia admitted during that sitdown several years ago. “We just knew the use case was really strong at Tiny Speck and that if it was strong there, perhaps it could be strong other places, too.”

 


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