Podcast Blurbs [Webs of value, Modular mind, European tech regulation]

Y Combinator (11/10/17; Tencent’s Chief Exploration Officer, David Wallerstein on WeChat, QQ, and Gaming)

David Wallerstein

“I think think no discussion of Tencent’s history is complete without a serious discussion about Microsoft because around this time, 2001, 2002, I believe Microsoft did something very important for us. They bundled Windows Messenger into the operating system, so you would get your Windows PC and all of a sudden you got Windows messages popping up and we thought, this is absolutely going to kill us…It was a scary time so we figured, what can we do to be competitive against this kind of powerful, no resources are limited type company like Microsoft? We really did two things, we went very local and we started building my value added services…

Our founders were always very interested to spend time with the users online. Like on the bulletin boards responding to users directly, responding in chat rooms and making friends. They were power users of QQ themselves. Some of them might even be guilty of being power daters in there. They’re just meeting people and they’re making the service for them, they’re just as much users of the service as other people are and they’re inherently curious about people and very good-natured.

Basically from a pretty early point on, we knew that it’s essential to understand our users as deep as possible and we should use basically any methodology that we can learn about to deepen that understanding…we started going to a more fundamental level really in the mid-2000s. I think we always had the thinking going early on, but I think we’ve been getting better and better at these deeper, almost existential questions. When you say people like Avatars, it’s because they want to look better online. They’re like, well why do they want to look better online? Because they’re meeting other people. Why do they care about meeting other people? Because they want to make friends. Why do they want to make friends…maybe they’re lonely, ultimately, or they want affirmation, everyone wants to feel appreciated and so if you came to that kind of conclusion, if that was the conclusion, everyone wants to feel appreciated, we’d say okay, interesting, how can we deliver a sense of appreciation to our users through our product?

(on webs of value)

If you add something new into the network and how can it basically, from a business perspective, from a value perspective, connect to all the other aspects of the service. What I found we did over time is we started to build these really intricate webs of product experiences that our competitors just weren’t doing. It’s hard to replicate and we thought, this would be very valuable to differentiate us from other typical instant messaging companies the more value added services we had around QQ and the more complex ways we could integrate them for user value, we felt like that would be very defendable and be very unique…

It’s like an ecosystem of value. The question would be, how can music fundamentally transform the whole QQ experience, top to bottom and other value added services that we have like the premium service, remember that example, I said okay, there’s new releases coming up, maybe there’s a concert coming to town but because we work with the music label, we can inform them of the concert and then also that premium group can be a helpful group for the music labels to work with too in some cases, so we’re like constantly trying to drive these webs of value in all these different ways. It becomes a thought process and an operating system for the company and I think we’ve become pretty good at it and it let us scale and scale, so now, if I just fast forward to WeChat […]

When it came time to building value added services around WeChat, it just came to us very naturally because we had just learned so much over a decade, probably like 12 years of learning by the time we got to WeChat and we had also been matured as people too before we were very focused on games and more like Avatar, like cute services and WeChat has plenty of that too but we also started thinking more about the economy, more about financial services, more about ecommerce, about how do you really transform a business or a hospital or a government using WeChat and I think we had so much experience with platform services and tying services together in a seamless way that when it came time to WeChat, it was like okay, good fresh platform, let’s get everything right this time, or let’s do some things that we couldn’t pull off the last time around in QQ, I feel like that was part of the thought process.

(on gaming)

[MMOGs] were becoming very popular in China and we started thinking, it is possible that users like to interact with each other so much in these worlds, that they’re not going to want to interact via QQ anymore, this could be potentially like an existential threat to us…It was more like, if we don’t do it, our users might just go into all these games and they’re like why do I even want to talk to someone in QQ when I can be dressed up as an avatar and I can have a deep, rich environmental experience, it’s a software environment.  We started trying to license games and build games ourselves and pretty much everything we did for the first three or four years were spectacular failures…well what did work was our casual gaming experience. That’s really simple card games and things like that and we found quickly that that was a very nice complement to QQ because you’d be talking, we’d be chatting on QQ, hey dude, what’s up, yeah nothing much, he let’s go play a little pool, let’s go play some, whatever, blackjack…

Well we had all these licenses that didn’t go so great… but we signed a game called Crossfire, it’s a first person shooter game okay you know like, shooting game and it just took off. When it took off, it started making a lot of money and that’s all most people need to see…

We hadn’t really become a leader yet, we became maybe number four, number five in the gaming industry, but it was clear there was something going on with our network and games and then these games just kept growing and they’re still very popular games. These are probably over 10 years old in the market, they’re still doing very well, they perform great.

The Ezra Klein Show (11/27/17; What Buddhism got right about the human brain) 

Robert Wright

(on the illusion of self)

“…the philosophical propositions like ‘not-self’ or things like ’emptiness’, on the one hand they are claims that can be defended as philosophical claims are defended in Western philosophy, in other words there are Buddhist arguments for them.  But they are also, according to Buddhism, experiential apprehensions you can have.  You can see the truth of the claim…the other interesting thing about Buddhist philosophy is the way seeing the truth about the world is supposed to bring you in touch with moral truths, so the ontological truths, as philosophers might say, at least tends to encourage a clearer view of the moral truth.  And in this case, with the dissolution of self that some people feel on a more regular basis, one implication of that is more continuity of interest between you and the other beings in the world…

…from a Darwinian point of view, you are having a morally valid intuition when you start feeling as if you are not so much more important than anyone else.  Our own importance is something that natural selection would naturally build into animals.  Obviously, it’s a dog eat dog world, the one who gets the most genes into the next generation gets their traits into the next generation, so obviously one trait that’s favored is the belief that your welfare is more important than that of competing animals.  At the same time, it’s crazy because it’s logically contradictory.  We can’t all be more important than everyone else…this is a moral illusion that natural selection has built into us…in that sense, the bounds of self, to the extent they are morally relevant, they are an illusion.”

(on the modular model of the mind)

“A lot of meditators have told me that [the modular model of the mind] helps them make sense of their practice…from an evolutionary point of view, it’s not like natural selection sat down and thought ‘what would a good human mind be like, here I’ll design it all at once’, no, it evolved through accretion.  At different points in evolutionary history, different features were built into the mind that were designed to solve different features, so it makes sense that the mind might not so much be a single actor, which is what the conscious self kind of feels like, but actually a lot of actors.  So there might be a little module, and these tend to be distributed over the brain, that’s in charge of getting you to eat food and maybe there’s a module that when you’re in the presence of someone you want to impress, focuses you on that task…

The idea in the modular model is that a lot of the competition [between modules] is taking place subterraneanally.  So different modules, they’re processing information, and the idea is that whatever thought you’re thinking at any given time, that’s coming from the winning module, so to speak.  Another time you see this is when your mind is wandering…say you’re sitting down and trying to meditate but you’re mind is wandering from thing to thing, ‘oh, I forgot to do this thing for my daughter’, you might say that that’s a module associated with obligation to kin or something…When your mind is jumping from topic to topic, these are different modules that are being access to consciousness…

Recode Decode (11/29/17; Margrethe Vestager: This is the biggest wake-up call we’ve ever had)

Margrethe Vestager (Europe’s commissioner for competition)

“The fines in the Google case, the guarantees have been made; the fines in the Facebook case have been paid.  Now we’re in the process of recovering the unpaid taxes of Apple.  But the commission as such is also working on taxation as a matter of principle because corporate taxation was maybe invented at the time when you had a physical footprint, you were present in the country.  Now you can be present in a country by buying more server space back home.  So, we need to reinvent corporate taxation to make sure every company pays their fair share of taxes…

I never feel more European than when I’m in the states…we have built up a single market where you have a single market of 500mn customers but it’s a market where you care.  You care about the environment, working conditions, human rights, taxes being paid.  Because we want a free market but we know that the paradoxes of a free market is that sometimes you have to intervene, you have to make sure it’s not the law of the jungle but the laws of democracy at work…

…we take an interest in data because sometimes it’s nothing but sometimes it’s a real barrier to entry which makes it very difficult for others to come into this market.  So, we take care and look into mergers if the amount of data will disable competition.  And the second point is that some of these algorithms, they have to go to law school before they are let out…you cannot just say what happens in the black box stays in the black box…you have to teach your algorithm what it can do and what it cannot do.  Because otherwise there is a risk that the algorithms will learn the tricks of old cartels.