Tag Archives: Internet

The Chaos of the Internet : SBF, JKS and more

Sometimes I see striking coincidences in things which have apparently no link. It helps me in writing (useless?) posts… here the chaos of the Internet became apparent again in a trial against a startup founder, in literature and in street art, three topics which are dear to me.

The trial against a startup founder is that of Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF). Of course there has been tons of papers about it including one of my favorite references, The New Yorker:
– Sept. 2023 : The Parent Trap. Inside Sam Bankman-Fried’s family bubble.
– Nov. 2023 : Will Sam Bankman-Fried’s Guilty Verdict Change Anything?
as well as CNN in March 2024 : Sam Bankman-Fried sentenced to 25 years in federal prison

And of course this follows the scandals of Elisabeth Holmes or of Adam Neumann. There were other stories, even if less famous, like Cadence vs. Avant! or Stanford vs. Cisco (more here). Technology including the Internet has brought debatable things including crooks and I believe it is just an enlarged illustration of human nature, but it does not excuse anything…

Literature brings me back to my current fascination Jón Kalman Stefánsson (JKS). In my latest reading I found the following (that I translated thanks to the usual tools):

Sex is the most popular content on the Internet, yet very few people admit to watching pornography.
Ah, damn the Internet! If I remember correctly, you are a poet – have people like you managed to describe the phenomenon, are there poems that succeed in capturing this monstrosity, this divinity? I think I could benefit from this kind of poetry. My little Gunna says that only poems allow us to identify what constitutes the human essence.
In any case, you put your finger on the problem just now. The Internet. Do You Know What It Is Gunna asked me a long time ago, back when the world was just beginning to get a glimpse of what this web was. No, I said, I have no idea. The Internet is chaos, she said. Ah, ah, disorder, you are probably right. No, it’s not disorder, she corrected before quoting an old Greek book she was reading at the time. She spends her time reading and she always tries to make me benefit from it, as if it serves any purpose. In any case, this book explains that it was at the dawn of time that Chaos was born, and this Chaos was a kind of god or character. I forgot the details.
What Gunna wanted to emphasize about the Internet was that there was something mythological about it, it was both emptiness and the beginning of everything. Which was later verified. Is not it ? The Net is a bit like a new sky above our heads – and there are new underground worlds there too.
I was talking about the Net, this new sky, these new underground worlds. This is a radical change. So radical that, for the first time, man does not need to die to know what hell is since hell has reached us and is invading digital reality. The devil knows how to exploit technology. It seems that his domain has excellent connectivity.
Dante wouldn’t have minded that.

By accident, I discovered that one of the street artist I like, Infinipi has another name, Kaotica and he chose that name when, as a computer scientist, he entered the world of the Internet. For French readers, you can listen (soon) to his podcast here. Street art is not very far from Technology. Invader got inspiration from video games and then created one of most innovative Internet applications I have seen in the last ten years

Chaos, it is…

The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett

I did not think when I bought this intriguing book about the hidden faces of the Internet that I would relate it to my three previous posts. The world is dangerous, the physical world is dangerous as we all know and as it was confirmed in Paris last week (A tribute on Jan. 8, We are all sad on Jan. 7). It is also known that the online world may be dangerous as illustrated by Jamie Bartlett in The Dark Net. I am not sure that the authors of How The Web Was Born (Dec. 2) had envisioned such possibilities.


Bartlett is not really pessimistic about the web. In his conclusion, he states: Technology is often described as “neutral”. But it could be more accurately described as power and freedom. […] The dark net is a world of power and freedom: of expression, of creativity, of information, of ideas. Power and freedom endow our creative and our destructive faculties. The dark net magnifies both, making it easier to explore every desire, to act on every dark impulse, to indulge every neurosis.[…] Each individual responds differently to the power and freedom that technology creates. It might make it easier to do bad things but it’s still a choice.

In his book Bartlett talks about the trolls (you may also want to read the recent MIT Tech Review article – The Troll Hunters), the lone wolves (such as Berwick), about Tor Hidden Services, about Bitcoin, about illegal sites selling drugs such as Silk Road, about online pornography and paedophilia, about self-harm and finally about transhumanists against anarcho-primitivists. Written this way, I am not sure I am doing a good marketing for the book, but the truth is that with the exception of terrorism, the author addresses many dark sides of the internet. It is a fair and good description of what the Internet hides (“close to its surface” [Page 238]).

These are important topics about freedom, about the evolution of our world, and I can only quote a famous French thinker: on France Culture, earlier this week, coming back about the Paris terrorist attacks, Regis Debray explained that the Western world is the primacy of the individual over the group. The Eastern world it is the reverse.” And I am not sure I understood if there was a value judgment or not, he added: “And the West today represents modernity.” I strongly believe in these values and I understand the risks linked to them, but I do not think we have much choice. You may want to read The Dark Net if these topics are of interest for you…

How the Web was Born

How the Web was Born is a book I bought recently while visiting CERN in Geneva. It was written by James Gillies and Robert Cailliau and published in 2000. If you like history, you will appreciate this detailed account of more than forty years of technology developments. I am not yet finished, but there were a couple of things I wanted to mention here.


– Public funding, mostly through (D)ARPA has been critical for the emergence of the Internet.
– Xerox PARC with its freedom to explore in the 70s has also been instrumental even if it did not directly benefit from its innovations. I did not know key people were coming from ARPA (again).
– When in 1987, CERN needed equipment that could guarantee and secure data transfer, it used he a small 3-year old company… Cisco.
– They were similar experiments to ARPANET in the UK and France, but with different dynamics… [In France] “this apparent success is tempered by the fact that CII had been selling its products at a loss, despite billions of francs of state investment, and the resulting company, again called Bull, is but a small player on the world stage. American success stories like DEC and Apple were launched for the equivalent of less than a single day’s funding of the French Plan Calcul and that from private funds. The lesson to be learnt is that state investment alone isn’t the answer. France’s Délégation à l’Informatique included not a single computer scientist, and was motivated by national pride rather than economic viability, noted a 1997 French government report. Partly because of this, ‘the failure of CII was written in its genes’, one former director of Bull was moved to say. The American approach, on the other hand, most strongly expressed through ARPA, had been to support good ideas coming from the ground up rather than trying to impose something from the top down.” [Page 58]

Indeed the TCP/IP protocol won because it worked but not because it was planned… The Internet is an amazing innovation which does not belong to anyone but is the result of collective endeavors. Again, the role of the state is shown as a friendly enabler more than a direct actor. Interesting lessons (or at least useful reminders)…

The Ends of the Internet by Boris Beaude

The Internet is only a reflection of technological change and globalization. As with these two issues, social and political tensions have naturally emerged, but are even more acute because of the specifics of the Network and the revolution it created in much less time than the previous World developments. (I will add below that the disappointments caused by excessive expectations from technology have also played a role.)


The cover page of the book The Ends of the Internet says that the Internet has revolutionized the world in the fields of information, production, collaboration and transactions. Its author, Boris Beaude, is a geographer by training, which is an important point for the topic addressed here. Beaude has a strong contribution to the discussion about the constraints created by the Network. It is synthetic, and detailed, thanks to a short book (95 pages) however dense and exciting.

(I would not say the same of Evgeny Morozov’s book, To Save Everything, Click Here, which is also dense on related subjects, but too provocative or extreme to be totally convincing. I might come back on that book later in another post.)


The Internet (just like globalization) has revolutionized the World (page 15) by re- balancing the priorities (and re-creating tensions) between:

Before the Internet Since the Internet
Equality Freedom
Society Individual
Privacy Public Life / Transparency
Property Free

Beaude also mentions (page 24) problems linked to:
– Freedom of expression,
– Collective intelligence,
– Openness,
– Decentralization,
– Neutrality,
which are the topics of his chapters.

The Internet thus disturbs the local values in the territories, but the Internet (which is “a proper name just as well as France or the European Union” – page 14) is anything but virtual; it is an intangible space. Yet it must be able to survive private interests. The Internet makes distance (and time) less relevant without abolishing them, which “makes clear its disjunction with the plurality of territorial spaces” (page 23). It disrupts the States that have put some values higher than freedom (safety, property in the USA to which must be added dignity, privacy in Europe). Beaude is geographer!

He adds: “A common space for humanity is clearly not enough to spontaneously create common values. But the social contracts are at the heart of politics. They offer to give up freedoms by collectively delegating authority in the name of freedoms seen as more fundamental” (page 29). See the “my freedom ends where someone else’s begins.” The Internet is both a space of freedom and space of absence of law (intellectual property, widespread surveillance, private use of the data; the list is long.)

And this is where is one of the worst issues – among others. Not only in the world of the Internet, but also in the field of technological innovation where experts often impress politics and society. This creates a tension between the individual and society, between private and public entities, between experts and decision makers. “The computer code is now the law” (page 47).

About Collective Intelligence: “Believing in the potential of individuals is precisely not to believe in one only, and it is to accept individual fallibility, while recognizing the power of appreciation that resides in anyone” (page 38). Then follows a section on democracy and “its difficulty in organizing common will/good with individual will/good” (and the famous, the “worst system except for all the others.”) In addition, the largely minority character of the contributors to the collective intelligence on the Internet (e.g. 0.0002 % of users for French-speaking Wikipedia) is an additional limit, not to mention the loss of their independence and the privatization of this intelligence (pp. 40-46).

You should also read his excellent synthesis on free and property. The emerging intellectual property concepts of Copyleft and Creative Commons. Free only exists because a third party pays; not only advertising but also sponsors in the case of Wikipedia or Mozilla. This is not so new since both Press and TV used these methods. It is just a matter of scale and strong dematerialization. The minimal costs of copying and transmission revolutionize the world, but the initial production of goods must still be financed. Netflix and Spotify show that new models are possible, but only if only the aggregator or distributor is correctly paid, the content producers may disappear if not in quantity, at least in quality… And at the same time, Beaude reminds us that free is also a freedom factor.

Another subtle topic: hypercentrality (Google, Facebook, Twitter) poses fantastic problems, not least being the circumvention of laws and taxation (page 75). For example, the “weak links” (those which are neither daily nor intense) are also essential. And threatened?

Beaude interestingly mentions the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which requires a warrant for any search. It raises the constitutionality of the monitoring carried out by the NSA (page 81).

How has the Internet reached the point where the results of Google and Twitter differ depending on the country and offers by iTunes, Netflix or YouTube are different or even inexistent with geography? (Page 85). This missing neutrality will lead to the neutralization of the Internet, even its death (page 89). “Neutrality and self-organization are part of the libertarian options […] and are inconsistent with politics. […] Humankind must seize this opportunity to revisit what we consider to be important, really important. […] The challenge is unusually complex. We will have to choose between the end of the Internet and the globalization of politics” (pp. 91-93).

Beaude therefore indicates that the dilemma is simple: “If in accordance with the national social contracts, the Internet is partitioned according to the Nations. By not respecting national social contracts, the Internet might be partitioned even more in the relatively near future” (page 35). “The Internet enables the emergence of a global political space, but it is still to be invented. Before this invention comes, the Internet will probably be gone!”(Page 36)

As usual my synthesis is imperfect, but if you’re interested or intrigued, read Beaude!


Finally, and this is not quite the subject of Beaude, there is also some disappointment with the promises of technology and the Internet in particular… Just read again Thiel’s motto – “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters” – that I have already mentioned here. This only would not be so bad. But then what about the citation of the former CEO of TF1 – “what we sell to Coca-Cola is human brain time made available. […] Nothing is more difficult than getting this availability” – or that of Jeff Hammerbacher (thanks Martin for the reference): “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads, that sucks.” Which brings me back to Morozov whose arguments on centrism and solutionism of the Internet seem very excessive. It is not the exaggerate promises of the Internet that are so much delusional, but the risk of drift and disappearance of the Internet that is the real problem – but this is another topic!

You can still go public as a web1.0 company: Homeaway and Kayak

I just had lunch with a friend-entrepreneur and we were looking at the big high tech winners.

– the 60’s was the decade of the Semiconductor and gave Intel,
– the 70’s was the PC/SW, with Apple and Microsoft,
– the 80’s was the Network with Cisco,
– the 90’s was the Internet with Google,
– the 00’s will probably be the Web2.0 and remember Facebook.
Of course, there is more from Fairchild to Oracle, 3com, Yahoo, eBay and Amazon.

Now what about the 10’s? For me it is not clear, I do not beleive enough in green/clean-tech but I see the smart management of data and apps, with the Cloud. But no clue on who would be the decade winner.

Now you can still go public as a web2.0 company has I mentioned in my post The Z IPOs: Zynga, Zillow, Zipcar and … Zuckerberg. But even better you can go public as web1.0 company. here are just two examples, Homeaway and Kayak. So I give you my usual cap. tables and a few comments.

Homeaway went public on July 5 and the stock is doing great. Once again you can see the ownherships of founders, managers, investors, independant directors. What is obviously carzy again is that the company raised $400M and has no profit yet. But this helps be to understand why Index supports HouseTrip, a company in the field, out of Lausanne and now based in London.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Next is Kayak. A travel company. Can you believe you can still have new companies in the field? Well this is the proof. Similar comments: check the equity of various players such as founders, managers, directors and investors. A lot of money invested but at least profitable. This one reminds me of another very nice Swiss start-up that deserves much more visivilty: routeRank. (I have no personal interest in routeRank neither in HouseTrip!).

(Click on image to enlarge)