This week, I gave in to the hype and started playing Wordle and quickly became addicted to my daily fix of puzzling through scrambled letters. Matt Birchler has a list of the things that make Wordle great.
This is a play on some very old word game, I'm sure, but that doesn't diminish it. Wordle is great because of how its executed and all the little things it does right that add up to something many can't stop playing.
At the top of the list is that it's a communal game, because everyone is playing the same puzzle everyday. That's part of what makes it appealing to me. It gives my wife and I something fun to talk about. I'm trying to get my mom to give it a try, since she's particularly good at word games. Another reason Birchler gives is that there are no ads. I have to wonder, though, with as many people as are playing the game, how much a single, well-placed ad on the web app would be worth.
Discussions of cryptocurrencies seem to be on everyone's lips, these days. Most of the opinions I am reading are against crypto. Stephen Diehl has spent so much time explaining the problems with cryptocurrencies, that he's outlined them in a blog post called The Case Against Crypto.
Cryptocurrencies aren’t currencies and have no mechanism to ever become currencies. They are effectively unregulated securities where the only purpose of the products is price appreciation untethered to any economic activity. The only use case is gambling on the random price oscillations, attempting to buy low and sell high and cash out positions for wins in a real currency like dollars or euros. Yet crypto cannot create or destroy real money because unlike a stock there is no underlying company that generates income. So if you sell your crypto and make a profit in dollars, it’s exactly because a greater fool bought it at a higher price than you did.
I remember many times people have tried to tell me that buying stocks is just gambling. They simply don't understand the purpose of investment in a company that is creating value and being able to share a financial stake in that company's outcome. However, buying and selling cryptocurrency, as Diehl points out, does actually feel like gambling.
The always insightful Russell Moore writes in his latest newsletter about Insurrection Day. He came to a realization about another factor compounding our polarization after reading the Nonzero newsletter.
Over the Christmas holidays I read a fascinating account in Robert Wright’s Nonzero Newsletter of his epiphany about social media and political polarization. Wright had listened to a podcast in which psychology and political science professor Philip Tetlock “noted that once people have taken a position publicly, they have trouble abandoning it, even if evidence against it accumulates.”
The easy ability we all now possess to make our opinions public, without going through any gatekeepers, may be making us more entrenched in those opinions.
Years ago, I saw Henry Zhou give a keynote speech at The All Things Open. I left his talk with a more acute understanding of just how hard it is to maintain an open source project that has become popular. Zhou, who is a humble and giving individual, spoke about the unreasonable demands of users who would get angry if their messages didn't receive a response from the developer within 20 minutes. These developers are essentially volunteers, but they aren't given the treatment you would expect for donating their time and effort to the common good.
It comes as no surprise then, as Clive Thompson reports, many open source developers are burning out and abandoning their projects. As he notes in his piece, open source projects were supposed to be like Amish barn raisings, where many hands make light work. For most projects, though, it hasn't turned like that. He cites findings presented in Nadia Eghbal's book Working In Public.
Twenty years into the open-source era, it hasn’t worked out that way. Eghbal found that only a minority of projects, perhaps 3%, resemble true barn-raisings — or “federations”, as she dubbed them — with lots and lots of contributors pitching in. (Some examples are Linux, Node, or Rust.)
In contrast, the great majority of open source projects are run by tiny teams, and often only one lone person. Outside contributions are pretty minor, and limited to a tiny one-line syntatic bug fix. That’s not nothing! Those little contributions are great.
But the upshot is, those lone coders wind up doing the lion’s share of the work. “Open source inexplicably skewed from a collaborative to a solo endeavor” as Eghbal writes.
Thompson likens coders working on a project that suddenly gets popular to an solo entertainer who finds themselves playing to stadiums full of fans.
But if a developer suddenly finds themselves playing to a stadium — and swallowed up by the time-sucking demands thereof — then not getting paid can become a serious problem. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Plus, watching wildly profitable and highly-funded tech firms use their code without contributing anything back: That can just feel like a moral insult.
This trend should be worrying enterprises that rely heavily on open source software. A lot of big companies are using open source software in order to reduce their expenses. Once the open source components are integrated, they can sometimes be hard to extract.
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