When I was at NYU I met a guy who presented his theory of virginity… sometime in the 80s somewhere in the East Village. It was simple. Even though he was only 21 he had slept with 8 virgins. That meant that there were 7 other guys out there who had slept with none. He then went to ask me if I could help him identify them. I told him that, while I could understand his theory, I could think of no way of finding who those losers were. And we went on to another drink.
Fast forward to 2005. Think of blogging. A successful blogger requires thousands of readers. At the same time there´s no way a successful blogger can read thousands of blogs. Therefore, for every successful blogger there are many individuals whose blogs are rarely read or who write no blogs at all. Is there a connection here? Do bloggers get laid? Do you either write or get laid? Maybe my stud friend is reading my blog now!
The Avian flu is so far not that dangerous, because birds give it to birds, rarely to humans and when humans get it so far they don´t spread it to other humans. Now, if they did, the first and most important preventive measure will be isolation. If we all retreat to the privacy of our homes there will be a much lesser chance for the virus to spread. For those of us who, without the Avian flu, already spend a significant part of the day online, retreating to our homes won´t be hard. We will chat with our friends, use web cams, listen to music, watch movies, blog, etc. So long as we have the internet, seclusion won´t be too harsh. Now for those who are not active on the internet, isolation will be harder to put up with. I read somewhere that AIDS does not reach North African because Muslims, as opposed to Sub Saharans, practice circumcision. Maybe the same will be true for net surfers. We on the net will be fine in isolation, we will be the North Africans. Those off the net, the Sub Saharans, have a much greater probability of getting infected.
Some internet companies laid their cards right out there. For example, eBay started out as a marketplace. You sell your stuff on Ebay, you pay them a commission, they render a service, they get paid. Other companies, however, operated under what for years looked as an NGO model, and only when they were immensely popular did they come after your money, and they got amazing valuations for doing so.
Of this kind two former Internet NGO´s come to mind. One is Google and the other one is Skype. How it is that Stamford University does not own at least half of Google´s $80bn in stock escapes me. How it is that Larry and Sergey were able to use the immense Stamford University infrastructure for free for so long while building what is now an empire for themselves, is a mystery as well. If you Google the history of Google on Google you will see that during the first years of its existence, until VC money was raised and ads appeared, Google was mostly seen as a gift to humanity. What was great about the early Google is that it gave you useful results on your searches and it seemed to want none of your purchasing power. But when searches reached the billions, the famous internet bubble idea of monetizing eye balls held more truth than ever. And now at $288 per share, Google is worth $80bn. However, Stamford is not a major shareholder and Google is far from being and NGO.
The other company that emerged as an NGO and only recently has shown it´s money model, is Skype. I remember downloading Skype for the first time and wondering about the profit motive. It too looked like an NGO allowing us to talk to each other for free. It appeared that somewhere in Northern Europe there was somebody with a lot of money to lose. But again that was not the case. As Skype grew (now up to 165 million dowloads according to their site), VCs entered the game and Skype started Skype In and Skype Out. Skype is nowhere near as valuable as Google but still a remarkable business.
While at the Summit, the Internet Group worked for two days producing this document. I was part of the group led by Joichi Ito and Marko Ahtissari. We were around 20 people. Everyone did an amazing job tackling the very difficult issue of what to do or not to do with the internet to reduce the threat of terrorism.