Archive for January 11, 2022

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

First Impressions of web3

Moxie Marlinspike (Hacker News):

web3 is a somewhat ambiguous term, which makes it difficult to rigorously evaluate what the ambitions for web3 should be, but the general thesis seems to be that web1 was decentralized, web2 centralized everything into platforms, and that web3 will decentralize everything again. web3 should give us the richness of web2, but decentralized.


However – and I don’t think this can be emphasized enough – that is not what people want. People do not want to run their own servers.


If something is truly decentralized, it becomes very difficult to change, and often remains stuck in time. That is a problem for technology, because the rest of the ecosystem is moving very quickly, and if you don’t keep up you will fail.


One thing that has always felt strange to me about the cryptocurrency world is the lack of attention to the client/server interface. When people talk about blockchains, they talk about distributed trust, leaderless consensus, and all the mechanics of how that works, but often gloss over the reality that clients ultimately can’t participate in those mechanics. All the network diagrams are of servers, the trust model is between servers, everything is about servers. Blockchains are designed to be a network of peers, but not designed such that it’s really possible for your mobile device or your browser to be one of those peers.


This was surprising to me. So much work, energy, and time has gone into creating a trustless distributed consensus mechanism, but virtually all clients that wish to access it do so by simply trusting the outputs from these two companies without any further verification. It also doesn’t seem like the best privacy situation. Imagine if every time you interacted with a website in Chrome, your request first went to Google before being routed to the destination and back. That’s the situation with ethereum today.

Joe Groff:

Maybe people don’t want to run their own servers, but they also don’t want to run their own clients. Part of the allure of iOS, Chrome OS, etc. was centralized admin—immutable OS, automated updates, etc. Could server software do that too, without centralized hardware?

Brandon Skerritt (via Hacker News):

I think was this a fair article that accurately portrays some parts of web3 at this given moment in time.


I just thought I’d write this and explain what’s being done to fix this and go further.


There is some genuinely cool tech being worked on here, but due to the monetrary aspect there are scams up to my eyeballs. And those scams make the whole industry look bad.

Alex Ivanovs (via Hacker News):

I will say that by no means am I discounting passionate people who work in this space. Blockchain and security is something I can advocate for. Because it has a promising future to help keep our digital identities sealed. This is interesting to me.

But in its current state, Web3 is as disorganized as it is complex and difficult to grasp. Why would the average citizen of the world care about strings of numbers, hash rates, proof of stakes, sharding, or digital inception of pixelated art.

Adi Robertson:

In the online auction market OpenSea, you can pay around $600 to buy a portrait of a robot in streetwear — and, if you’re lucky, a stake in a new media empire.

The robot is called a TARS, and it’s part of the Voguverse, an elaborate 37th-century mythos involving space arcologies, a nuclear war, and interstellar travel. The portrait is one of countless digital assets being sold as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. But by pairing its fictional universe with a blockchain-based ledger, the creators think they can tap into a new way to tell stories.

As NFTs explode in popularity, entrepreneurs are imagining an entire media industry that’s built around them. At its most ambitious, the vision is sometimes dubbed a “decentralized Disney”: a world of fictional crossovers like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its many spinoffs but where different characters and creative properties are owned by a panoply of fans, not a single company.

Lukas Schor:

Apple is blocking a release of our @gnosissafe mobile app because we display NFTs in it. After 2 weeks of back-and-forth, I felt that we need to talk publicly about this to raise awareness.

Ben Thompson:

One of the reasons that crypto is so interesting, at least in a theoretical sense, is that it seems like a natural antidote to Aggregators; I’ve suggested as such. After all, Aggregators are a product of abundance; scarcity is the opposite. The OpenSea example, though, is a reminder that I have forgotten one of my own arguments about Aggregators: demand matters more than supply.

To that end, which side of the equation is impacted by the blockchain? The answer, quite obviously is supply. Indeed, one need only be tangentially aware of crypto to realize that the primary goal of so many advocates is to convert non-believers, the better to increase demand. This has the inverse impact of OpenSea’s ban: increased demand increases prices for scarce supply, which is to say, in terms that are familiar to any Web 3 advocate, that the incentives of Web 3’s most ardent evangelists are very much aligned.


Update (2022-01-13): Stephen Diehl (via sirdigby, Hacker News):

At its core web3 is a vapid marketing campaign that attempts to reframe the public’s negative associations of crypto assets into a false narrative about disruption of legacy tech company hegemony. It is a distraction in the pursuit of selling more coins and continuing the gravy train of evading securities regulation. We see this manifest in the circularity in which the crypto and web3 movement talks about itself. It’s not about solving real consumer problems. The only problem to be solved by web3 is how to post-hoc rationalize its own existence.


On a compute basis, blockchain networks don’t scale except by becoming the very same plutocratic and centralized systems they allegedly were designed to replace. There is an absurd cost to trying to do censorship resistant computation. […] The Ethereum virtual machine has the equivalent computational power of an Atari 2600 from the 1970s except it runs on casino chips that cost $500 a pop and every few minutes we have to reload it like a slot machine to buy a few more cycles.

Update (2022-01-19): See also:

Update (2022-01-25): cdixon:

A recent criticism of web3 is that it isn’t actually decentralized, because there are centralized services in the mix, such as NFT marketplaces like OpenSea, and data availability services like Alchemy.

This criticism is based on a mistaken understanding of what web3 advocates mean by decentralization. I’ll try to explain.

There will be centralized services in web3 just as there were in web1. The key question in web3 is whether the network effects accrue as private goods (as they did in web2) or public goods (as they did in web1).


John Gruber:

Kosta Eleftheriou has found another apparently multi-million-dollar-grossing app that’s been on the App Store for over three years: a shitty music “volume boosting” music player named AmpMe that costs $10 per week after the three-day trial. Thousands of obviously fake reviews, millions of dollars “earned”. Even worse: Apple has repeated featured this app in the App Store.


There’s apparently no motivation to vet even the relatively small number of apps that are making millions, even before featuring them.

Harry McCracken:

15 years after the iPhone was announced, the fact that the App Store is both a walled garden AND a wild west is one of the great disappointments of this whole era.


Update (2022-01-17): Jason Cross:

AppMe has responded to the criticism by lowering its subscription costs and vowing to look into its “outside consultants,” according to an email sent to The Verge. But if a high-profile Twitter thread is what’s needed to bring attention to the issue, the problem is clearly much bigger than one app.

Kosta Eleftheriou:

The developer admits their App Store page has been full of fake reviews for years while making millions, and Apple’s response is to now whitewash their page so that no-one will ever know this happened?

Welcome to the Wild Walled Garden, folks! 💸

Ben Sandofsky:

Googled for the App Store promo code API and the top advertisement is just depressing.

What’s the point in having reviews at all when this stuff exists?

Blue Bubble Envy Is Real

James Vincent (via Nilay Patel):

Google has accused Apple of benefiting from bullying as part of a deliberate strategy to make Android users into second-class citizens on the iPhone-maker’s iMessage service.

Apple’s messaging service includes a number of iOS-exclusive features, like Memoji, and famously turns texts from Android users green instead of the iOS-native blue. This has turned iMessage into a status symbol among US teens, creating peer pressure for young people to buy iPhones and sometimes leading to the ostracization of Android users. Showing up in a group chat as a green bubble has become, for some, a social faux pas.


Google’s intervention here is not purely altruistic, of course: the company would benefit hugely from Apple making iMessage available on Android. Google has also recently been pushing for the iPhone-maker to support next-generation texting standard RCS, which is intended to replace SMS and has already gathered support from major US carriers.

Nick Heer:

Is it 2019 again? That was the last time we had a spate of stories examining the plight of Android users texting friends with iPhones. There was the Fast Company exposé of teenagers’ “distaste” for green bubbles, that thorough investigation by the New York Post into the problem — featuring interviews with exactly one iPhone user who refused to date Android users, and one Android user who felt slighted — and there was Samsung’s ridiculous comeback attempt.


I have written before about how iMessage is a platform differentiator for Apple, but I do not think it is as bulletproof as either its biggest fans or extreme antitrust detractors believe. More to the point, I do not know anybody who uses just one messaging service.

The story keeps coming back because, social pressures aside, iMessage conversations with mixes of green and blue bubbles continue to not work as well as you’d think they could. Then again, the Messages experience with pure blue bubbles is pretty bad, too.

Bridger Maxwell:

I just want Apple to stop splitting group chats with Android users into a new thread every time someone replies

Francisco Tolmasky:

I’ve been out of the loop on this whole iMessage vs. Google thing… but I am fascinated by the fact that anyone is defending is iMessage. I just can’t believe anyone would ever say a single positive thing about iMessage if they’ve ever had to scroll up in that app.


Update (2022-01-19): John Gruber:

There’s nothing teen-specific about iPhone users being annoyed at Android users in group chats. In fact, such complaints might be far more common among adults, because so many teenagers have iPhones they don’t encounter it as often. Last year I linked to a story from Mirin Fader’s Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP that claims former Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd made the entire team run because one player had an Android phone and messed up the team’s group chat. (For what it’s worth, the player in question claims the story isn’t true. It’s the fact that the story resonated that matters.) Here’s a story from October about pro golfer (and well-known oddball) Bryson DeChambeau messing up the U.S. team’s Ryder Cup group chat because he was the lone Android user.


In fact, these third-party messaging platforms exemplify the gaping hole in the center of the WSJ’s premise: iMessage’s extraordinary popularity in the U.S. is a global outlier. This story created a stir on Twitter over the weekend, and a very common refrain from observers who live outside the U.S. was utter bafflement that iMessage was popular anywhere, because other messaging services are so dominant elsewhere — including with iPhone users. iMessage is obviously only popular where iPhones are popular, but iPhones are popular in countries around the world where iMessage (and SMS) are seldom used.


A much simpler nutshell explanation is that teenagers have a keener sense of cool, and care more about what’s cool, than adults. And the iPhone always has been and remains today cooler than any Android phone. I don’t think that explains the entire situation very well either — it’s quite a bit dismissive of the fact that teenagers actually use the hell out of their phones and thus are perfectly positioned to want iPhones for the entirely practical and rational reason that they’re better, not just cooler — but it sure as shit is closer to the mark than talking about green vs. blue text bubbles.


What, pray tell, should Apple do or have already done differently?

Apple should make iMessage work better with SMS. There are a lot of things that could be made nicer or smoother if they wanted to.

Jason Snell:

When you look at the messaging landscape today, iMessage isn’t a colossus that dominates the world. In fact, I’d say that iMessage’s first decade is more of a failure than a success in terms of worldwide acceptance, user experience, and innovation.


Since Apple made that choice not to support Android, though, it’s probably safe to say that Apple never actually intended for iMessage to compete for instant-message domination over the rest of the world. […] iMessage’s role is to provide a solid, end-to-end encrypted service for the Apple ecosystem that (secondarily) can coexist with SMS messages so that iPhones can exchange messages with people who aren’t in Apple’s ecosystem. It works. It’s better than anything Google has attempted. The problem is, it’s not good enough.


The problem isn’t the failure of users to embrace buying pizza inside iMessage chats and turning sticker apps into the next big thing. The problem is that when it flopped, Apple seemed to react with what I’ll charitably call indifference, though it might be more accurate to call it denial combined with inflexibility. Instead of diagnosing the failure and seeing what was next, Apple did what it often does with its failures, which is to leave them to rust away and then make them quietly disappear.


But in the end, the real reason Apple should support RCS (as a green bubble, or perhaps a new color of bubble) is that it’s a more full-featured protocol that will mean that the experiences of everyone in mixed-platform environments–iPhone and Android users alike–will be better than they are currently.

Update (2022-01-25): John Gruber:

Apple has a tendency to either hit home runs out of the box (iPod, iPhone, AirPods) or come out with a dud and just sweep it under the rug, like iMessage apps and stickers. They even unified Messages on a single code base last year (bringing the iOS app to MacOS 11 via Catalyst — quite successfully) but somehow still haven’t bothered to add iMessage stickers on Mac?

Not so much rolling these days, at least on the software side.

Dan Moren:

Perhaps there’s an opportunity here for some light collaboration. Even if Apple doesn’t choose to implement the RCS standard being pushed by carriers and Google as a replacement for SMS, the company might at least find a way to add some interoperability for the two major mobile platforms in existence. Neither Android nor Apple are going away—they should at least learn to live with each other.

AirPods 3 Alternatives

Julio Ojeda-Zapata:

[There] are good reasons that the $199 Beats Fit Pro, not the $179 AirPods, may be your next Apple earbuds.

For an up-to-date comprehensive overview of the Apple earbud landscape, consult a mega-chart I created to compare features found on Apple and Beats audio products (including recently discontinued ones of historical interest).


That’s where you’ll find a physical button to deal with phone calls and music playback, as with the Studio Buds. This button is quite different from the force sensor squeeze controls found on the third-generation AirPods’ stem (and on the older, pricier AirPods Pro). I love the force sensor, and I find the Beats button a bit clunky and too easy to engage accidentally, but I’m getting used to it.

That stem absence makes the Fit Pro buds incredibly compact (and thereby easier to lose, so be careful).

They have Active Noise Cancellation.

I really like AirPods 3. It’s very comfortable yet stable, like the original AirPods, and works better for calls/Zoom and exercising than AirPods Pro. If I had to pick one, though, it would be AirPods Pro because of the ANC.

I’ve also been trying some of the less expensive alternatives, to test them with ToothFairy and also to see whether you get what you pay for.

The Mpow MX3 is only $25.89. It has Qi charging (along with USB-C) and IPX4 like AirPods 3. You can press and hold the top to increase (right bud) or decrease (left bud) the volume, double-tap to play/pause, or triple-tap to change tracks (right for next, left for previous). A tap and then hold activates Siri. A single tap answers a call, and a double-tap hangs up. The downsides are that the buds (and case) are huge and feel less secure in my ears and any of the AirPods. They also don’t auto-pause when you take them out of your ear.

The Mpow X3 is $49.99 and has ANC and IPX8 but no Qi charging. You have to manually enable the ANC (press and hold the right bud) for each session, which gives you an annoying spoken confirmation, and it doesn’t reduce the noise as much as AirPods Pro. The case is smaller, but still much larger than an AirPods case. It’s difficult to slide the earbuds out of the case.

The main Apple advantages:

So, basically, the Mpow earbuds do work, but AirPods are certainly much nicer.

Some other alternatives with good reviews are: