Hi, I'm Nick Grossman. Welcome to my internet brain.

I work at Union Square Ventures and live outside of Boston with my lovely wife and two kids. More about me, me me.

I Don’t Know How to Shop Anymore

The sole is starting to peel of from my snow boots, so I’m in the market for some shoe goo or Gorilla Glue.  I’d really like to get it today because the flapping sole is getting annoying.

As I was thinking about this just now, I realized that I don’t know how to shop anymore.

In other words, I don’t have the faintest idea how to buy shoe goo, today, in a real place.  I guess 10 years ago I might have googled for shoe stores or department stores, and then called them, but I can’t possibly imagine doing that now.

My (and I know I’m not alone) go-to now is to order on Amazon and forget about it for a day or two.  That is really easy and works for almost anything.  But it’s not the same as getting it today.  And I’d really prefer to buy from a person in a place if I can.

For example, I needed a watch battery for a garage door opener.  Rather than try to figure out where to buy that in the real world, I ordered it on amazon and waited.  That seems silly for such a tiny thing, that is actually available in lots of places.

What i would really like is a shopping interface like amazon, but that just points me to local merchants.  Someone I can walk to on my way to the subway.

You are probably saying: but google shopping already does this!  And you are right, sort of.  They do offer a “find in stock nearby” option — but the problem is that it’s only got big box stores and dedicated e-commerce sites.  My guess is that there is a bottle of Gorilla Glue closer to me than the nearest Home Depot.

The folks at TalkTo are one group that’s approaching this problem — by surfacing answers to the”is this in stock” type questions via a phone-to-web interface, and publishing them online.

It would be great if this, or something like it, works, and I can learn to shop locally again.  

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Red light means stop. Green light means go. Purple light means dance.
Brieza, my 2.5 y/o daughter
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Total Freedom in Exchange for Total Surveillance

Today I signed up for TSA Pre-Check.  I gave the some (rather minor) details about my background and scanned my fingerprints.  In two weeks, I’ll get a known traveler ID, and will then be able to skip the line and keep my jacket/shoes/belt on when traveling domestically. Convenience in exchange for surveillance.  It’s a trade I’m gladly willing to make, in this case.  

This touches on a bigger question that’s been on my mind recently, especially in regards to regulation 2.0, which is: are we trading total freedom for total surveillance?  

That’s a provocative way of putting it, but to some extent that’s at the heart of what’s happening now, as we develop new systems for establishing & maintaining trust, both in the private sector (on platforms like ebay and airbnb) and in the public sector (regulations like business and driver licensing).

I’ve put it like this before:

Another way of describing this is:

1.0: establish trust by passing an up-front test (i.e., licensing)

2.0: establishing trust by tracking and publishing your activities (i.e., surveillance)

So, in the case of ebay, airbnb, etc the idea is: have at it, start transacting, with a relatively low barrier to entry; but everything you do will be tracked and analyzed, and used to build your reputation and trustworthiness in the long run.  Freedom to act & transact, in exchange for data-driven accountability.

There are lots of reasons why this model is incredible and groundbreaking.  First off, it’s scalable.  1.0 / licensing-based schemes require a ton of overhead, and can easily be overloaded at high capacity. 2.0 regulation is less expensive and completely scalable.  Secondly, it lowers the barrier to participation, making it easy to get started and experiment.  Whether you’re selling baskets on etsy (that could one day become a huge business) or starting a blog (which one day could become the huffpo) this low barrier to entry is one of the key characteristics of web-enabled innovation.  So, we want to preserve and enhance both of those.

BUT, there is a tension here, which is that innovation/creativity/experimentation means — by definition — stretching/breaking boundaries and acting outside of the status quo.  So while transparency on the one hand increases freedom (by being able to “just get started” in exchange for data), it can also stifle it, by snuffing out good ideas that are outside the norm, or by making it unsafe to challenge power.

In the more mild cases, this can be seen as “weird” and in the more severe cases can be seen as “radical” and threatening to power.  So there is an inherent need to experiment outside of the sunlight of transparency.

A friend recently made the point that we need to think about personal privacy differently than we do institutional privacy (govts, corporations) because of the institutional power that comes with mass data collection, and the potential for that power to be used to manipulate (on the corporate side) or persecute (on the government side) individuals.

Yet at the same time this personal data holds the key to certain kinds of freedom (in the “just get started” kind of way), and also will play a huge role in solving epic societal problems (cancer).

So, if your interest is in supporting experimentation & innovation (as mine is) how can we reconcile these two competing forces?

(p.s., I am going to see how many posts in a row I can use that graphic in)

Comments 11 notes
dpstyles:

thisistheverge:

Kenguru is a tiny electric hatchback for wheelchair users Kenguru’s electric car has no seats, and you drive it by putting your hands on motorcycle-style handlebars. It’s built for wheelchair users, who can roll right through the rear hatch of the car into the driver’s area. The Austin-based company is preparing to launch its first product, which has an estimated range of 60 miles on an eight-hour charge. When it finally goes into production in 12-18 months, the vehicle will cost you $25,000, but that’s before factoring in green energy and mobility tax incentives from the government.

Very cool.

This is great

dpstyles:

thisistheverge:

Kenguru is a tiny electric hatchback for wheelchair users
Kenguru’s electric car has no seats, and you drive it by putting your hands on motorcycle-style handlebars. It’s built for wheelchair users, who can roll right through the rear hatch of the car into the driver’s area. The Austin-based company is preparing to launch its first product, which has an estimated range of 60 miles on an eight-hour charge. When it finally goes into production in 12-18 months, the vehicle will cost you $25,000, but that’s before factoring in green energy and mobility tax incentives from the government.

Very cool.

This is great

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Should we regulate the Internet the real world way or the real world the Internet way?

Tomorrow, the taxi committee of Seattle’s City Council is voting on proposed new regulations for ridesharing services.  You can read the full proposal here, and Todd Bishop from GeekWire has a good summary here (updated here).

The gist of the proposed regulations is to treat rideshare vehicles (such as those dispatched by (USV portfolio company) SidecarLyft in the US, and Carpooling.com and BlaBlaCar in Europe) like taxis — imposing a traditional regime of licensing, inspection, limitations and disclosure.  Here are some highlights:

  • Classify  ”Transportation Network Company” (TNC) vehicles as “for-hire” vehicles (i.e., taxis or liveries)
  • Limit total number of TNC cars to 300 citywide (across all platforms)
  • Limit driving hours per-car to 16hrs per week
  • Drivers must apply for a special permit and pass a special test (in person)
  • Drivers must take a defensive driving course and pass a test
  • Vehicle inspections at state-approved facilities
  • Criminal background checks for drivers
  • Drivers can only affiliate with a single TNC (e.g., I can only drive for Lyft or Sidecar, not both)
  • Require the TNC company (platform) to physically locate in Seattle
  • Insurance requirements

As for the stated goals of the regulations, there are several, but really the main ones are:

  • "The Council finds that as the use of application dispatch technology by unlicensed companies, vehicles, and drivers raises significant public safety and consumer protection concerns; and
  • The Council finds that the use of application dispatch technology by unlicensed companies and drivers are competing with existing licensed taxicab and for-hire drivers in the transportation market and causing negative impacts;”

In other words: ensure public safety, and protect the existing taxi industry.

Leaving aside the second one, and whether that should be a priority, I just want to focus on how we might go about ensuring safety and building trust.  Long time readers will recognize this graphic:

The proposed Seattle regulations are a perfect example of a “1.0” trust regime.  Build a high bar for participation, where new actors (TNC companies, drivers) must prove a lot up front and ask permission to operate.  This is how we’ve regulated the real world in the industrial era.

This is NOT how things are typically regulated in the internet era.  In fact, it’s essentially the opposite.  ”2.0” regulatory schemes let anyone get started, and over time they are judged by their actions, driven by peer review and public data.  Think Ebay, Airbnb, Uber, even Craigslist, and every other site that has user-generated content and peer-to-peer transactions.

I like to use the example of “what if Ebay had done up-front, centralized vetting of every seller on the platform?”  That simply wouldn’t have been possible at web scale, in an environment where many many many smaller actors are entering the market at high speed.  Instead, the answer was to create trust, safety and fairness (e.g., “regulate”) in a way that is massively scalable and also allows even the smallest actors to participate with minimal initial overhead. 

So it’s entirely unfair to criticize these new businesses as “unregulated” (as they are criticized in the Seattle draft regs).  That completely misses the fact that there is actually VERY INTENSE accountability in most of these systems.  Uber drivers get kicked off the platform (for better or worse) if their ratings drop below 4.3.  They may not be “licensed” the same way as traditional cars, but they sure are held accountable for their actions, which absolutely does incentivize good service.

So, as more and more real-world regulatory regimes bump into internet-based businesses (ridesharing and homesharing have been the two big ones recently but it’s happening in every sector), the question keeps coming up: should we regulate this the real-word / industrial / 1.0 way, or the internet way?

And the most common answer, so far, is to apply 1.0, industrial-style, regulations to these new situations.  

A common justification for this is the issue of fairness: all the other taxi drivers need to go through this up-front licensing process, so why not the new guys?  We need to make sure there’s a level playing field.  And that does make sense.

So here’s a provocative idea:

What if, rather than applying the 1.0 model to these 2.0 businesses, what if we went the other way?   What if we were to say: there are two ways you can be compliant with the regulations: EITHER: go through the traditional permit- and inspection-based process OR you operate more freely IN EXCHANGE for massively greater transparency and data-driven accountability.

What if, instead of imposing 1.0 regulations on ridesharing services, we instead applied 2.0 regulations on the existing services?

In other words, what if we started to regulate activity in the real-world the way we regulate activity on the internet, not the other way around?

Imagine if the Seattle regs read, instead, something like this:

WHEREAS: Transportation Network Companies have demonstrated new, more efficient and effective, ways of regulating for-hire transportation through the application of technology and data;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY OF SEATTLE AS FOLLOWS: Anyone offering for-hire vehicle services may opt-out of existing regulations as long as they implement mobile dispatch, e-hailing and e-payments, 360-degree peer-review of drivers and passengers, and provide an API for public auditing of system performance with regards to equity, access, performance, and safety.

That sounds pretty ridiculous, I suppose, but the point I’m trying to make is that these services aren’t “unregulated”, they are just differently regulated.   And that form of regulation is actually an innovation, and is actually quite effective. 

(Of course, there are still gaps.  One of the biggest ones, in the case of ride sharing, is insurance.  That’s addressed in the Seattle regs, and it’s also something that Sidecar and Lyft have both addressed recently, adding $1mm supplemental coverage as part of their platforms.  And at USV, we’ve seen a number of proposed startups eyeing insurance in the peer-to-peer space.)

So, we will see what happens in Seattle tomorrow.  Either way, my guess is that it will be an important precedent as more and more cities take up the ridesharing issue (DC and Chicago right now, among others).  Maybe the next one will make a bold move and apply regulation 2.0 the the old as well as the new.

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Better: 
 (via The Report – Author Earnings)
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Amazing: 

"indie and small-publisher titles dominate the bestselling genres on Amazon" (via The Report – Author Earnings)

Amazing:

"indie and small-publisher titles dominate the bestselling genres on Amazon" (via The Report – Author Earnings)

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I believe that software, and in fact entire companies, should be run in a way that assumes that the sum of the talent of people outside your walls is greater than the sum of the few you have inside.
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Aaron Swartz: The Documentary - Teaser (by LuminantMedia)

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Love spud

Love spud

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the technologists of true success and merit develop and execute strategies to make society more just, fair and joyful for all
Comments 3 notes
Teaching Theo super Mario brothers on Wii
This is a weird and awesome moment for me as this was the game that introduced me to video games back in 1986…

Teaching Theo super Mario brothers on Wii

This is a weird and awesome moment for me as this was the game that introduced me to video games back in 1986…

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The technology startup world is where brilliant people come to imagine the impossible
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