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Kid Mercury
Kid Mercury's posts

WebGL as a Disruptive Technology

The technology that excites me the most (not counting virtual currency, which I am excited about more because of its a sociological, commercial, and political implications rather than the technology) is virtual reality (I’ll use the term “virtual reality,” or “VR,” as a blanket term to encompass augmented reality, cinematic reality, 3D visualization, and that type of stuff in general). Most of the ideas I’m fascinated with (to the extent that I would like to pursue an entrepreneurial venture around) surrounding VR are capital intensive, which make them a non-starter. However, there is one area that seems to be very in my capital range (i.e. close to free) and still, I believe, exciting and filled with opportunity: WebGL. 

#WebGL is a JavaScript API for 3D rendering in the browser. To put it simply, it makes creating VR in your browser very simple – essentially as simple as creating a web site. Of course, creating a web site can be a project that is fairly simple or inordinately complex, and WebGL enables quite a bit of sophistication as well. 

The idea of VR in the web browser is not new, and historically it hasn’t worked very well. This leads many to believe it won’t work now as well. However, I think the appropriate parallel here is mobile computing, which is a technology that was around long before the iPhone. However, it wasn’t until the around the time of the iPhone in 2007 that capacitive touch screens became cheap enough. 

Likewise, I think we are now at a major point in VR, in which graphics processing units are finally cheap enough, and frontend technologies (namely HTML 5) are finally robust enough  to make browser-based VR a reality. 

So what kind of entrepreneurial opportunities does this enabling technology allow for? Put another way, what incumbents are at risk?

I think all the firms built on old school animation software are at risk. Granted, old school animation software is WAY better than what you are going to get out of WebGL. Of course, disruption is often about something crappy and cheap iterating until it shatters a paradigm, and I think we may have the genesis of that ready to foment. A grandiose vision might be that “the next Pixar” would be a firm that gets its start by developing expertise in WebGL, who finds a currently undiscovered set of customers that industry incumbents like Pixar are unable or unwilling (because of too little profits, presumably) to satisfy. This might be a WebGL animation studio that focuses on creating and curating short web animations, delivered and monetized via the web, mobile apps, VR headsets, special events, and who knows what else. 

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Project Beyond and Volvo Reality Illustrate VR as Disruptive Technology

First, there's Samsung's Project Beyond. The short story is that you put on a VR headset, and you get a VR view of a Project Beyond camera your VR headset is connected to. Imagine this for video conferencing, distance learning, and consulting, among many other things.

Then there's Volvo Reality for Google Cardboard. This gives you a way to check out Volvo cars in 3D. Anytime you've had the experience of "I don't trust buying it online because I need to see and feel it" -- as many people do with cars -- you can think of this. Will the next big ecommerce player get started with using virtual reality to sell products/services that really need high tough? Amazon started with the ultimate low touch product -- books. Now, it knows it is unable to sell some things, paint being one example, simply because it cannot get the online experience right. Virtual reality could fill this void, and lead to disruptive theory playing out accordingly as a new model for distance commerce emerges. More on Volvo Reality:

It's clear to me that the "smartphone + headset = VR" model has some traction, though I'm still more enamored with the full body stuff Kinect is doing, just because I think it enables so much more. But I expect both models to co-exist. I still believe one of the biggest obstacles, if not the biggest obstacle, will be bandwidth. On some level, I think VR systems will rely on proprietary formats and smart devices doing a lot of work locally to reduce the amount of information that has to be transferred over the Internet. 

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This ad is from 1956. I found its assumptions regarding gender roles and spare time to be interesting. I imagine a modern incarnation of this mass market ad would focus on appealing not to a sense of masculine responsibility, but rather to getting a break from the daily grind. Gender roles would not be assigned, and a family would not be assumed.

Or do I have it wrong?

Assuming my assumptions are valid, I'm saddened and angered by the how economic devolution has hindered our world, and how we just generally accept it. With two working adults, there is less time, more struggle, and less family.

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Why Hasn't Kinect Enabled VR to Cross the Chasm?

In terms of product,  #Microsoft really nailed it with the #Kinect. They had a product that could easily have been the pioneer of virtual reality – what the iphone was to smartphone – but they didn’t pull it off. Some background on why it’s awesome:

1. The product is awesome. It had the foundation for creating 3D rooms, which I think will be huge:
2. In addition to games, it had the compelling real world use cases that ooze disruptive innovation (i.e. opening up new markets that were previously inaccessible):

So how come it’s not a huge hit? 

1. Marketing. Clearly, #Microsoft has some product marketing issues. Hopefully the recent downsizing and reorganization fixes that, but until that gets solved, they will always have some very basic but incredibly important issues. The Kinect’s value proposition isn’t simple enough, what is isn’t clearly communicated, how to get it and install it isn’t simple enough either. Just inadequate product marketing all around. 
2. Pricing and Positioning. They tried to promote a Kinect as a $500 gaming console. That’s too high of a price for too broad of a market. Maybe 3D game centers at entertainment venues would be better, or the specific industrial uses of Kinect. In other words, B2B rather than B2C. 

Still, though, Microsoft has Kinect, a partnership including partial ownership of Facebook, and Skype. With Facebook comes the connection to #Oculus Rift. So maybe there’s still hope.  

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Doctor says #ebola  created as a weapon. To properly understand and assess this, one should understand the history of biowarfare:

Of particular relevance are vaccines. I'd be a bit wary of an ebola vaccine, especially in light of all the hype the disease has been getting in the mainstream media. 

#Virtual Reality and the #Blockchain

I got Google #Cardboard recently. I found it exciting and encourage everyone to try it out. 

A few more thoughts:

1. I’m wildly bullish on virtual reality. I believe the time is now and it will be huge. If there is one thing that can rival the currency revolution – currencies that arise from digital platforms – for magnitude of impact on the world it’s virtual reality. 
2. The big obstacle to the first killer app for virtual reality is bandwidth.  Just as the Apple II won the PC revolution because it had the most capacity for memory to run the killer app of its time (Visicalc), so too will the winner of the virtual reality hardware battle be the one who can enable the bandwidth that the killer app needs. I believe this will depend largely on optimizing how hardware connects to the same type of hardware rather than a more “open” system, and may leverage other key technologies such as mesh networks or the blockchain to distribute the weight of transferring files. I do think virtual currencies and virtual realities are deeply connected, and thus I consider it reasonably probable that the same company will rise to dominate the value chains surrounding both of these key technologies. 

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Robert Wright on Optimism and Network Effects

Robert Wright's book Nonzero is one of my all-time favorite books. This video distills that book's core concepts and ties into lots of themes regarding platform governance, the usurpation of political authority by digital platforms from nation-states, and the consequences of network effects in relation to spirituality.  

How Bitcoin Disrupts Payments

Payments is always a price war. One might argue price it is the primary variable to success in every market segment one might participate in, but it's especially true in payments. If virtual currencies like Bitcoin are destined to win the payments game, they will need to have a strategy for competing on this variable. 

Some will say they do, and it is because payments/transfers are free. Of course, they are only free if there is no need to factor in exchange rate. Obviously, they do. 

So how could the exchange rate issue be eliminated? We could do that if we created an environment where there was no need to transfer out of a currency. Enough people accept that currency and there is enough stuff that you want to buy through them at a price that both parties (buyer and merchant) like so that no one is converting out of the currency.  

Where are some places something like this could emerge? 

Local -- where we spend most of our money, have recurring customers, and have lots of liquidity. Because of density, cities are great for this. 

Online communities, where again you have the potential variables for a liquid economy. 

Marketplaces -- online malls, of sorts. Amazon is the ultimate example. 

From that genesis you have the foundation to build an economy. That is how virtual currencies create global prosperity, and give us the new world order we are destined to inherit. 

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Boy Genius Report recently revealed that Amazon is working on something called Prime Data. Details are scarce due to Amazon's secrecy, but one reasonable speculation is that this plan will afford all Amazon Prime subscribers free mobile data access to Amazon apps from Amazon computers.

Here is the BGR story:

Let's assume this story is true. If it is, doesn't this violate the concept of net neutrality? Amazon will be providing its apps for free, while forms of data will be relegated to a second tier. 

In my opinion, this is exactly how the Internet should evolve. This innovation reveals how ecosystems are paradoxically becoming more fragmented and more integrated at the same time. Prime Data constitutes one more step towards AmazonNet -- a distinct Internet governed by Amazon -- while also creating a more integrated experience for Amazon customers. 

Moreover, let's remember that Amazon already has AWS, which powers a significant portion of what we regard as the Internet. This enables Amazon to more closely track all steps of the data transmission, which could lead to improved performance for users. The split architecture of the Amazon Silk browser is an example of one such innovation.

Consider how this may develop as we progress further in the blockchain era. Suppose Amazon can further reduce transmission costs for data in its realm (i.e. on AWS servers or on Kindle Fire computers) by leveraging blockchain technology so that Kindle Fire computers share their excess computing resources to help deliver and authenticate files. This is something Amazon might not be able to do at all with data that is outside of its ecosystem; it is an innovation borne out of Amazon's efforts at creating a deeply integrated ecosystem. Net neutrality could hinder the ability of the company to leverage such innovations -- innovations I think are consistent with the broader, paradoxical trend of simultaneous fragmentation and integration. 

This is why net neutrality is a flawed concept. The problem it seeks to solve is concentration of ISP power. The legitimacy of that problem is not being disputed here -- only the viability of net neutrality as a means to dispute it is. 

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Finally got around to adding more of the stuff I've written to Amazon. 

First is a short story I wrote called "Lottery Ticket." I tried to make it for free on Amazon but I couldn't figure out how, so it's priced at $0.99 and free from the Kindle Library. It's about 2,700 words. More juvenile comedy. . I wanted to do a custom cover design, but didn't have the time. So I used Amazon's custom cover generator. 

I finally got my book "Web 2012: Birth of the New World Order" on Amazon also: Given the the hype surrounding bitcoin and the renewed interest in alternate monetary systems, I thought it was worth publishing this again on Amazon. I wrote it in July 2010. It contains a lot of stuff I published elsewhere on the web.  

"Essays from Beyond the Nation State" is something I officially published in August of 2013 based on a compilation of older stuff I'd written.  "Web 2012" was meant to be more conceptual; "Essays" was meant to dive into the technical details of how platforms supplant the nation-state. I didn't get around to making it as comprehensive as I'd like, though. Too much other work to do. 
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