Audio interview transcription — WBD052
Note: the following is a transcription of my interview with Nathaniel Whittemore, curator of Long Reads Sunday. I use Rev.com from translations and they remove ums, errs and half sentences. I have reviewed the transcription but if you find any mistakes, please feel free to email me. You can listen to the original recording here.
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In this episode, I talk with Nathaniel Whittemore, producer of Long Reads Sunday, a curated list of the best content in crypto. We discuss the problems with crypto marketing, the ills of the advertising industry and the broken model of the Internet.
Interview Date: Wednesday 28th Nov, 2018
“The business model for surveillance, which can be used for ill, is advertising.”
— Nathaniel Whittemore
Peter McCormack: Good evening, Nathaniel, how are you?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Good, man. Thanks for having me. How’s it going?
Peter McCormack: Really good, man. Thanks to, it’s good to finally get you on, because I can’t even remember when we first connected. But, this Crypto Twitter is a really strange place. You end up building these friendships with people you’ve never actually met or even spoken to, who just become your buddy, and you like each other’s content and share it. I can’t even remember when we connected, but-
Nathaniel Whittemore: No, I don’t remember either. I do remember though, that I’d say the thing that I like about Twitter, especially Crypto Twitter too, is stage one is you have similar opinions about stuff in Crypto, right? Then, you start to see where people let their personalities creep in a little bit too, and you start to be like, “Oh, well that, I feel like I could hang with that person on a different level too.” I started noticing the occasional thrash metal reference coming from you, and I was like, “All right. All right, I’m in.”
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I’ve always been a big metal head, ever since I was a head. I used to go to Donnington Monsters of Rock. Jerry Welch at Casa is a big metal head as well. I don’t know if you know that.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Oh, really?
Peter McCormack: Yeah.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, this industry is super conceptually aligned with, I don’t know, take your pick, punk, hard core, or metal. Depending on how you feel about things, I guess.
Peter McCormack: I guess I’m both. I started out with, the first song that got me into it was Europe’s Final Countdown, when I was about nine, or something ridiculous. Then Iron Maiden got to number one with, oh God, what was the song? I can’t even remember the song. No, it was off the album No Prayer for the Dying. Then, I got into Maiden, and then I got into Biohazard. Do you remember Biohazard?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Oh, yeah. Totally. They just came up in a … Someone was tweeting about them the day, like straight up venture capital tweets mentioned something about Biohazard. I was like, okay, cool. This is great. Can we talk about like 25 ta Life next? This is really good. We’re going to do the greatest cuts, let’s do this thing.
Peter McCormack: You listened to 25 ta Life. That’s proper hardcore.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I was like a movement, straight edge, hardcore kid in high school.
Peter McCormack: Did you do the old X on your hand?
Nathaniel Whittemore: I did. I had, I went to probably 500 concerts with X’s on my hands, but always with tape. Not the actual tattoos, because I was 14 or something like that.
Peter McCormack: You must be a big Earth Crisis fan.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yes, I really like Earth Crisis.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I’m a massive Earth Crisis fan. Actually, I’ve never seen them live. But, they are … Every time they come over into London I keep missing them. I did the hole hardcore thing. I just couldn’t do the straight edge, because I liked beer too much. I tried to, I wanted to. I even put the X on my hand a couple of times. But, I thought, no, I’m such a fraud here. Because, I want to be straight edge without actually being straight edge. But, yeah, no you’re right. There are a bunch of metal heads in Twitter, and Crypto Twitter. I found that out, obviously, going to the SEC, stuck my t-shirt on, and then I got quite a few people reach out to me.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, I love it.
Peter McCormack: Anyway man, how are you? You well?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Good, yeah. We’re over here enjoying, we just had our third snowstorm of the year already in the Hudson Valley, New York. Getting used to a new baby. Had a daughter, it’s the first kid, on November 1st. We’re just almost coming up on a month. But, life is good. It’s great.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I just missed you. I did experience the cold though when I was in, I stayed in Brooklyn. Actually, funny enough, the last two times I’ve been to New York, I haven’t really been into Manhattan, I’ve just been staying in Brooklyn. It was really bitterly cold. Yeah, I saw you had a baby, congratulations.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Thank you, thank you, yeah. She’s awesome. It’s great. It’s a whole different level as you know. But, I’m really liking it so far.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, you don’t look nearly tired enough though.
Nathaniel Whittemore: She’s like, she’s unbelievable right now. She been, she stays up kind of late, speaking of metal heads. She’s up until 10 or 11, and it’s really hard to get her down before that. But, then she’ll sleep for six hours, she’s feed again, and then she’ll sleep for another four hours. It’s actually like, she’s on our schedule somehow weirdly.
Peter McCormack: With a one month old?
Nathaniel Whittemore: I know, it feels like the other shoe is going to drop, or like it’s ruining her health somehow. I don’t know, but-
Peter McCormack: As a parent, my son was great. He did that from three months. But, my daughter, we had a good year of that, but it goes quick, man. You got to enjoy it. I suddenly, I don’t know how it’s happened. I suddenly got a 14-year-old who’s taller than me, who’s cooler than me, who all the girls like.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s amazing.
Peter McCormack: It goes quick, but yeah, we should probably talk about crypto as well.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, let’s talk crypto.
Peter McCormack: Listen, I think what I want to do is, let’s go through the background, because your background is interesting to me. Because, you’ve had similar job roles in your life. I think we both have some good thoughts on marketing. I don’t think that’s nearly covered enough in crypto, so we can talk about marketing as well, and we will have to have a talk about market narratives, and Long Reads Sunday, because that’s become my crypto newspaper.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Awesome, yeah. No, for sure.
Peter McCormack: I don’t think I’ve missed one. Let’s do the career background, but I really want to know about the creative side, the marketing roles you’ve done. I really want to understand a bit about that, and then we’ll go on from there.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Sure, so I have a weird, there’s almost like two segments of my life that intersect. For the last five years, I guess, or a little longer. I spent about a decade in Silicon Valley between 2008, 2009 and last year before we moved over to New York again. I was in the belly of the tech beast for a while, and had a bunch of different types of roles in that. Some in venture capital side of things, some on the operator side. Common thread, definitely always being, thinking about communications, market narratives. Even, the interesting thing is that, as a venture capitalist and marketers, depending on the type of marketer, at least a brand marketer, have similar roles, at least in the sense of being able to sit at 10,000 feet and understand what the big patterns are.
Nathaniel Whittemore: They monetise if differently, obviously, for venture capitalists it’s about getting out ahead of trends and finding business models that are going to intersect with that future. Marketers it’s about, communicating either to the narrative that’s emerging, or against a narrative that needs to go away, and building a brand with it. But, the specific thing I think that’s relevant for the marketing and advertising side of the conversation that you and I were starting to riff on is, I spent the last half of that time with a company that was, it was venture backed, it was YC. Although, it always should have been a consultancy in retrospect. It’s one of the things that we learned.
Nathaniel Whittemore: But, we helped big brands, Fortune 500s, Fortune 100s really, figure out what new technology to work with and how. Right, so web 2.0 blossomed and social was everything, and it was too much for advertisers to ignore. There’s this whole world of user generated content, and obviously, totally new types of data available to help with targeting. In that, it was just a barrage for all of those big companies around, hey, we have a new platform that does this new thing, or we have this new social channel that’s supposed to be the next big thing. Companies, obviously, the Coca-Colas, and L’Oréals, and Samsungs of world want to know which of those thing are noise, and which of those things are signal, and what they’re supposed to do with them anyways.
Nathaniel Whittemore: The company that we had was, theoretically, a platform where those different types of, where Fortune 500s could meet new technology start-ups. What it really ended up being was a lot of very hands on consulting, of us teaching those companies about what we thought was promising. That was the lens through which I started paying attention, really, to a lot of the stuff in Bitcoin and crypto. We were, we actually went through why accommodate it as the same class as coin based in 2012. I was an adviser to the company then, so I wasn’t full-time with them. But, and then we were making videos, private videos for Coca-Cola about Bitcoin as early as 2014. Just about what it meant, did they need to care about the Bitcoin itself, do they need to care about the technology, yada, yada, yada.
Nathaniel Whittemore: That was a little bit of the genesis. I was side eyeing it, and to be honest, it actually felt like something that was going to be so … I was going to have to pay so much attention to, that in the depth and bowels of the agony of trying to make this start-up work for a bunch of years, I never really let myself go all the way in, which is interesting. When that, when we finally wrapped that, the end of the 2016, that’s when I started actually letting myself spend the attention that I really wanted to looking into this whole space.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I guess, the one other piece that’s kind of relevant though, and what I found when I did go down, is that actually, as obvious as the technology venture capital connection is, the part of my background that feels much more lit up, I guess, by crypto and by Bitcoin, is what I was doing before. I went to Northwestern University outside of Chicago and spent the first few years after school designing a centre to teach kids how to make an impact abroad. I was in school just after September 11th, and there’s was actually a massive increase in kids going abroad to try to make a difference, right? Because, you had two reactions. Either, let’s be insular and hunker down at home, or let’s go figure out what the fuck is happening around the world, right? There were a lot of them, so study abroad rates went way up, volunteer aboard programs went way up.
Nathaniel Whittemore: What I found is, routinely is, that there were all of these well-intentioned kids all over the world. Both Americans going abroad, but also local communities, and everyone was absolute dog shit at actually making a difference. We were all total trash, and we knew it, right? It wasn’t a bunch of naïve kids being like, “Look at how good I am at making a difference in the world,” or, “Pat me on the back.” It was people who were really, really frustrated about the inability to be effective on making change. So, we created this program design centre, got it funded by the university, and then by some external funders as well, to do things very differently, and to take a different approach on making change.
Nathaniel Whittemore: When I came to Silicon Valley, it was actually, I was on this precipice of either I was going to go to the UK to study the history of British anti-slavery, or I was going to go work with Change.org, and help them build, basically that. Change.org is today the largest petition site in the world. It’s got something like 300 thousand members, and offices around the world, and has done some really amazing things. At that time, it was just a social network for social change, and one of about 40. We weren’t sure exactly what we were going to do, what the biggest levers that we could pull aggregating attention were on the internet to make a difference. But, we knew that we had to aggregate attention. We built a pretty extensive blog and content network around 10 or 11 topics, so GayRights.Change.org, SocialEntrepreneurship.Change.org, ClimateChange.Change.org, really the big stuff. That was discontinued in 2010, but it was what got us to the first few million users that were the critical mass.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Anyways, it’s the long-winded way of getting around, and I would have thought that when I really dug into Bitcoin and then crypto, the thing that was lit up and triggered was all of the tech stuff, but it wasn’t. It was the impact stuff. It was thinking about the world and systems that drive power. What I found myself being is very thankful in a lot of ways, to be back getting to engage with an industry that, for all of the silliness, and all of the hype, and pomposity, and ridiculousness, and all these things, is fundamentally aligned with trying to make a difference, in a way that’s way more than just the, don’t be evil, Silicon Valley motto stuff. Anyways, that’s the background for me.
Peter McCormack: Where does this desire to work on projects, which are for a social good, come from?
Nathaniel Whittemore: I don’t know, to be honest. I think part of it’s just … Well, there’s a couple things. One is, from a, I think everyone’s shaped by their experiences and what they see around them. I had, my grandfather is a minister, and he spent big portions of his life and my grandmother’s life going all over the world, and being a part of things through their church. That, for me, I was never interested in the religious side of it. That wasn’t the lens through which I saw the world. But, I did, I grew up with these stories of my parents, my grandparents went to Israel and Palestine frequently, and they went to Kenya all the time. The world was introduced to me as a place that we were a part of, rather than this thing out there. Which, I think is a little rare for Americans. Because, Americans are so big, not a huge number of us have passports, so I think that was part of it.
Nathaniel Whittemore: But then, I’ve always been a person who, we’ve grown up in a time with total exposure to everything. When I got to college, I think there was a really interesting thing that happened in the 90s. The 90s were on the one hand, post-Cold War in America. We were done, right? Capitalism won, everything was good, the world was fine. But, it was actually the bloodiest, most violent decade on record since the 40s, since World War II. I remember having this distinct moment of reckoning, or realisation, I guess. Where I was learning about Rwanda and the Rwandan genocide in some course, and I was thinking about where I … February 1994 was a time that I remember, because I got Green Day’s Dookie. I got that album, and that was one of my … That was like a home base record for me.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I remember the difference in thinking about those two experiences, and from that moment I was like, “Well, fuck it, I want to go. I have the opportunity to go be a part of the rest of the world, and see it, and try to rub my nose in it a little bit, and I’m going to take it.” Then, it’s very, there’s a positive feedback loop between deciding to pay attention to things, and going out and experiencing them, and adding personal connections and relationships into it, that just gets very accumulative, and spiral-y.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I feel like, if anything, actually, a lot of the time I spent in San Francisco was a distraction for myself. It wasn’t bad, it taught me a lot of things, and it was a really valuable experience. But, it’s hard to, it’s surprising, actually, that I was as okay as I was for as long as I was trying to teach Coca-Cola about whether they should use Snapchat or whatever the newest thing was.
Peter McCormack: I guess, the Rwandan genocide was truly shocking, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Peter McCormack: I guess, if you’ve got a conscious and you were reading about that, and then you were trying to choose whether to work for social good, or like you say, teach Coca-Cola about Snapchat, it’s a difficult thing. I had a similar thing as well with … Because, I was working in advertising. I’ve sent you my article I wrote about-
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: … Online advertising not working. I hit this moment where I was in an all agency meeting with one of my clients, who were a cruise company. Essentially, cruise liners, they travel around the world pumping huge amounts of fuel into their ships to keep them going. They’re highly polluting. We’re in this meeting, just all different agencies, the PR, the advertising agency, us, the digital agency, just brainstorming these just stupid ideas. I think one of them came round, there’s a shop in London called Selfridges, it’s a huge department store. It’s a bit like, what’s the one in New York? The really famous one, is it Macy’s or something?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: It’s like a huge one, and they wanted to turn that into a ship, make the whole store look like a ship. I just sat there thinking, “What, what, what am I doing with my life here?” I spend my day trying to help people buy shit they don’t need. I can understand that.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Listen, I think, one thing that I feel very strongly about, and it was interesting, even when I was in the impact world, I knew for a fact that I didn’t have the DNA to go be a non-profit leader, and there are bunch of reasons for that. But, I felt very strongly, and part of the reason that I actually liked building programs for students is that, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a right way to be involved in the world or a wrong way, right? We didn’t have the word or the critique virtue signalling back then, but our programs were very much like, so actually, I guess it’s best described with an example.
Nathaniel Whittemore: The first program that we did was a summer study abroad program that sent about 20 kids to Uganda to go live with and work with community organizations there. The idea was that, we were like, “Look, community, development work isn’t this glamorous thing with drinking at bars with war lords, although sometimes it is. It’s really like just gritty, shitty, stupid, often boring secretarial work, and just trying to keep the lights on and stuff. Rather than being like, “Oh, you’re going to go make a soccer field,” or something that was like designed for those kids to make them excited, our whole theory was, we’re going to put you down in teams of five, so you have enough labour and time on task over the course of the summer, that maybe you’ll do something interesting. But, it’s your job to figure out with this organisation, what you’re going to do, even if filing paper is the most useful thing for you.
Nathaniel Whittemore: After that, about 10 people … All 20 thought that they wanted to go into international development after college. That was their intention before that summer. When they came back, 11 out of the 20 said that was no longer their intention. I had professors who were like, “Does that mean that your program wasn’t a success?” It’s like, it’s exactly the opposite. That means that 11 kids that aren’t going to waste time and resources on fucking Peace Corp or something like that or are going to figure out that their best way to make change is actually to go into advertising, and to get Coca-Cola to subsidise a portion of its trucks for refrigerated medicines. Whatever it is, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: There really is, it takes all types. There’s a million different ways to make impact. But, I do think that there are these moments that you have, when you’re working on shit that is completely irrelevant, and I think that it’s more pronounced in the advertising industry, but perhaps everyone has it. Where you can kind of be like, “All right, well, I don’t need to go save the lions, but Jesus, what am I spending my time on?” I certainly had a lot of those moments over the last couple years that I was working on my company, for sure.
Peter McCormack: You’re essentially, at the root of it, you’re a consultant, right? Because, I’m a consultant. That’s what I consider myself.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yep.
Peter McCormack: I look at the stuff you’ve done, you’re a consultant, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: Talk to me about the work you’re doing now, and then, so I get a picture of where you’re currently at.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Sure, so with, when I ended this company, I knew that I wanted to do just independent communications consulting. For me, what that means is, the part of communication and marketing that I really like is, helping companies understand two things, I guess. One is, what they’re really about, what their story is, and why they exist. It’s actually a lot of companies know that 50 or 75%, but can’t articulate it 100%. Those motivations, and the real reason that they have big implications of how they’re going to communicate and market.
Nathaniel Whittemore: The second piece though is, that I think that, even if you have a company that really understand why it exists and what it’s for, in the case of a Crypto Project, it’s really essential to understand what those, what that set of beliefs and values, how they relate to the market narratives, the market conversations, right? There’s no right or wrong. You can run directly into a market narrative, or you can run directly against it, but you got to know what you’re doing, because otherwise it’s going to be really hard to communicate, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: The piece of marketing that I really like with communications is very foundational, and it tends to be at the early part of projects. Over the course of the last couple years, I shifted from more traditional clients, like I was working with Verizon when they were trying to launch a new brand, into all exclusively crypto. That was a just a process of moving my focus over there, finding projects that I liked and believed in to work with, and so on and so forth. That’s the pay the bills part, is the communications consulting with a bunch of different projects.
Nathaniel Whittemore: The, I guess, as part and parcel of that, my job I think, is to understand what those overarching market narratives are. I spend an inordinate amount of time just really surveying the field, and trying to get a sense of both, not just the news per se, but what the sentiment is, and how that’s changing. I guess, at the beginning of the year I was just doing some writing and things like that. But, then I was noticing it, and this is a new phenomenon, that such a huge portion of the interesting conversations and insights in crypto that I was seeing, were not coming from traditional media outlets. They were just thoughts that were jotted down to Twitter, because it’s such a fast, immediate medium.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I don’t know if it’s just a matter of the time that people have to spend on something, like it’s a lot easier to write thread than an essay, from a time perspective. Or, if it was just it’s, you’re allowed to be a little less refined, because if no one likes your idea, it just floats away real quickly. But, whatever it was, it felt like a lot of interesting insight that was being washed away too quickly. That’s what the genesis of Long Reads Sunday was. Was just I was sitting there all week throughout the week in between actual working, tagging different things that I, threads that I thought were interesting. I was like, screw it, I’m just going to take a few hours each week and actually put this together, and then people really responded to it, so it’s become a thing.
Peter McCormack: I guess, that’s also become a useful tool for your work, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: 100%, yeah, absolutely. At any given time it’s a chance for me to sit and actually ask that question of, what, where is the sentiment? What do people think about right now? What are they interested in, what are they not? For example, if you have a project launching right now, you got to understand what people are and aren’t interested in. Because, if you’re going to try to drum up interest, there is no … Right now, the overarching narrative is some combination of scepticism, cynicism, realism, and meā culpā, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: If you’re introducing a project that doesn’t really fit with that, boy, you better know how it’s going to capture attention, and how it fits within that, or how it makes an argument that, that’s not what people should be feeling, or roots out some set of people who feel differently, or whatever it is. It’s definitely useful for the actual, the put food on the table work too.
Peter McCormack: How do you balance the market narratives alongside your own personal opinions and views? I’ll give you an example of where on a personal level, I’ll face a challenge. For me to continue doing the podcast, I have to have advertisers, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yep.
Peter McCormack: I certainly have some people who will advertise me with projects that I think are going to fail. But, at the same time, I’m not there to be judge and jury of whether they fail. It’s a free market. It’s not an outright scam, so I’m like, okay. But, then maybe I should take them on as an advertiser. But, then at the same time, I have this ingrained fear that people are going to go, “Oh, you’re a fraud, you’re full of shit for taking that advertiser onboard.” I have to, I try and separate an advertiser from my own personal opinion. Do you have a similar problem with dealing with clients, or are you of the opinion that you’ll just work with people?
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s a really interesting question. I think there’s a personal dimension, and there’s also, it touches on a much bigger problem. The bigger problem of the context is the chaos inside the media model right now, and how you can build … How are we going to monetise what are theoretical you’re potentially more authentic, genuine, even if opinionated channels, without just turning into the same thing that we’re trying to get away from right? This is something that I think there’s not necessarily a good answer to. There’s a lot of important conversations that we have to have, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: I’ve been approached a couple times with people being like, “Hey, you should start a publication, or media network, or something.” I honestly, I don’t know how I would monetise it at a level that would justify external investment, while staying, having integrity to what I would want to do with it. I think it’s, fuck, I’m really glad that people like Mike and The Block are trying, because it’s going to be really … They are going to have so many team meetings about the right way to, what’s a right sponsor, what’s a wrong sponsor, what are ways to have business models that aren’t directly aligned with traffic They’re going to have to experiment with a lot.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s only just in the last little bit that we’re finally having a conversation about the connection between the advertising business model and media in general. There’s a much larger conversation there. In terms of me personally, I do actually struggle with the same questions. Certainly, for me, it’s a little bit different, because I never, there’s never any promotion built into anything. I’m not charging for any promotion, right? I’m charging for work that gets done, in terms of strategy and writing. I think that the nice thing about that for me is that, so one, I think that you and I both agree that, if something’s just an outright scam we’re not going to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Or, even if it’s like, there’s a lot of people who are, the lines blurry, but not that frigging blurry, right, so there’s that whole side of things.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think the harder thing is, there’s a lot of projects that are maybe one of us isn’t sure of the likelihood for success, or think they’re maybe going to fall into some of the other traps. I think that the interesting thing for me is that, depending on when I’m brought in, there are often opportunities for me to help. If I’m constructing the story right from the beginning, a lot of times part of what people are hiring me for is that, I’m going to not … Look, I’m fortunate that I don’t have to say yes to any one project or another, because there’s a sufficient amount of work out there. A lot of times, the type of people who are attracted to working with me, they want the grill, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: A lot of what I say is a value for me is that, I’m going to be harder than the critics that are going to be out there, or the venture capitalists they’re going to go pitch to, and I’m going to put on that hat. I can potentially help orient a project that … There’s a lot of projects that are tipping on a line of, could be really good, or could go a direction that’s a little bit more just like following the crowd. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to help, but I think it’s a challenge. It’s a case-by-case thing.
Peter McCormack: Yeah. Then, before we start talking about the marketing creative stuff, because I do want to get into that with you. This might be a tough question. I’m not even sure if you’ll answer it. But, I want to get your current view of the market. I’ve done my own quick one to give you an idea of the kind of answer I’m looking for. I’m of the position where Bitcoin is proven to me. It’s not this project anymore. It’s out there, it’s being used, it’s proven. It’s got challenges like any other, but it’s there.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Peter McCormack: Whilst I initially didn’t like Stablecoins, I had a really great chat with Zac Prince form BlockFi, and he explained to me how Stablecoins are a great fintech product for allowing people in emerging markets to borrow dollars who need them, and it’s a way to transfer them, and them to be able to get their local currency then into their bank account. Because, they would rather borrow dollars, than borrow from the local. I was like, “Okay, I kind of get that.” Because, he said there’s no, it doesn’t make sense for these people to be holding Bitcoin in the moment. Especially, what happened over the last year. I think, until Bitcoin has privacy, Monero has a definite use case.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Peter McCormack: I think security tokens certainly look interesting, and there’s certainly a use case for them. I think there is something around non-fungible tokens yet to be proven. But, CryptoKitties, whilst it might have been very short-term, whilst it might have seemed like a joke, a bunch of people used it, and it was able to create a small economy around it. By virtue of having non-fungible tokens and Stablecoins, Ethereum therefore has a use case, although I still have questions about it. Then, I think there’s a shit load of junk. That’s where I’m at. I’ve been heading towards the maximalism view, I still think there are certain use cases that exist, or ideas that might prove to be successful long-term, either projects or businesses. What’s your kind of lay of the land?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, I think we’re very similar in that actually. I think that we have a strong, or certainly … Let me, rather than put words in your mouth. I have a very strong sympathy for Bitcoin maximalism, both because I agree with you. I think it’s the only thing that … Well, it’s, saying anything is proven is a challenge in this space. But, I certainly think that Bitcoin has demonstrated that there is a strong core of people who are very unlikely to let it die, and that makes it powerful in a way that no other things do. I think that it has a product market fit that other’s simply do no, that makes it a fundamentally different thing.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I’ll get into some of the other stuff that I’m really interested in, because I tend to be … I think it’s a reasonable position to not be interested in anything else until things are proven, or, and this is, I think, what sometimes creates a tension. A lot of the smartest maximalists that I know, it’s more that they … It’s not that they hate other things. It’s just that they genuinely don’t care, and that they believe that the non-sovereign money, uncensorable money, permissionless money is so important, relative to other implications of these things, that it’s literally just insane for them, for people to be spending time on other things and being distracting.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that a lot of the reaction that maximalists have to other projects, hold aside even the claims of fraud and things like that, is it’s just they believe it’s an energy drain away from the most important problem that they can imagine spending time on. It’s to be critiqued, and I am sympathetic to that view. In fact, I think it’s one of the things that makes Bitcoin strong.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Now, for me, I think that the part of why I spent a lot of time on Bitcoin, versus just the rest of crypto as well, is that I tend to agree with the implications of a non-sovereign money, and a truly untouchable money, and an unseizable asset it so profound. Especially, given my background of looking at history, the history of atrocities and governments behaving badly, and things like that. I do think that it’s unbelievably important use case.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I also find myself really interested in a lot of the other implications of things that are out there. I would say after Bitcoin, I really, really keep a close eye on the privacy space. I don’t necessarily yet have a horse in the race about whether it all just gets ultimately incorporated into Bitcoin, or whether there are really separate currencies for different use cases. My guess is, that there’s some small spectrum. But, I kind of think it doesn’t matter right now, because we really need people experimenting with different approaches to privacy. I think that on a mass scale, we haven’t even begun to contemplate surveillance, the implications of easy surveillance that are already here and are coming more. I’m super interested in the whole privacy space.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that the whole programmable, open finance, smart contracts layer, I do think that there’s going to be really interesting things that come out of that. I don’t know which ones they are. I think I’m less … I think that there’s going to be a massive battle for which platform that actually works with. It’s going to, I think it’s such early days, whether it’s Ethereum, or US, or something that hasn’t even launched yet.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I just don’t think that, I think that you could certainly point to advantages, but there’s … The smart contract space is going to be a completely full spectrum of every variable that can tweaked, and compete for developers, based on how the fiddle the nobs is going to be, and we’ll see what comes out of it. I’m excited that people that trying it. I do think that there are, I don’t know. I’m generally supportive of people trying to create alternatives to the centralised tech giant infrastructure, even if we haven’t even begun to do damage in that space yet.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Then, I guess, to be inclusive of the other one that you mentioned, I am keeping an eye on NFTs. I think, for me, again, it’s my interest in that is really, well, it seems crazy to me that people wouldn’t experiment with actual digital ownership in a different way. I think there are questions about how much it’s actually achievable, and whether you really own things or not. But, I think it’s going to be exciting to see. I don’t anticipate existing game titles that have profited very handsomely from in game totally controlled economies, to all of a sudden flock to open things that are expandable across title.
Nathaniel Whittemore: What I anticipate is, people taking advantage of the new model to design different types of games and experiences. I think where the rubber really hits that road in that space if it’s going to happen, is when we start to see virtual worlds and virtual realities spending, actually competing for our time and attention with the real world. Which, I feel like is an inevitability.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, so I’m with you there. When I was out in LA, I met the CEO of WAX, and he was explaining to me about in game items, which I was kind of aware of. Then, he explained to me that for one game they have this limited edition gun. I can’t remember the game, worth $37,000, and somebody paid for that. I was like, “What? Somebody spent $37,000?” He said, “Look, you’ve got to understand, what’s your hobby? What do you like doing? Some people like playing golf, and they will buy the best gold equipment and pay for the best courses. Other people like to just play online games, that’s the world they live, and they will buy that stuff.” I was like, okay, that makes sense, I understand that.
Peter McCormack: Then he said to me, he said, “One of the things about having things like this represented on a Blockchain,” which I was always sceptical, is he said, “You can now guarantee that person, they are the one person who owns that, and they can trade that item.” I was like, okay. Then he was talking about, it might have been something actually, then he said, “Take yourself forward a few years. Think about where Sim City is now and where computers are. Now, think yourself 10, 20 years, where it’s like Ready Player One. People might want to buy artwork to have on the wall in their virtual world.” He said, “This is the future we’re preparing for.” I was like, yeah, that’s kind of interesting.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, I think for me the reason that I’m more convinced of the virtual reality item integration, is that I think that … Like I said, I could be total wrong, but it feels inevitable to me, that for some meaningful portion of the population, they’ll find that they enjoy interacting in that sphere more than they enjoy interacting in the real world. That’s what Ready Player One was about, right? I don’t think it takes a profit to see the implications of that. Most of us, there’s a lot of us that live lives of quiet desperation, right, and that’s escapism is going to be a real thing.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I feel like status … I guess what it comes down to, to me, is that status is likely a bigger driver than utility, and so once there are environments in which status is a more … Where digital objects can intersect with status in a more meaningful way, such as you actually inviting people back to your digital house on a virtual reality or whatever, I think you’re going to see more of it there. I think, that the challenge with games is, Magic the Gathering comes up a lot as an example, that people point to the black lotus, which can go for $25,000, $35,000. I think one is on eBay for $100 thousand right now. But, that’s a game that has, it’s literally celebrating its 25th year, right? Which is, there’s almost no games in the history of the world that aren’t just like Monopoly and things like that, that have been played for 25 years. It’s really very unique.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I’m a little bit more sceptical that right out of the gate, just a Hearthstone or whatever, Magic where you can own the items will matter that much to people. I don’t know that it’s that much different to have the perfect clarity there, versus just an asset that you can change. But, who knows? I’m going to be excited to see. I think it’ll come down to a question of what talent moves into that space, and what they do with it.
Peter McCormack: Are you a gamer?
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s actually, the Magic example, it’s the only game I’ve ever loved. When I was nine-years-old, I had a friend who was like, we were way into baseball cards, and he was like, “You’re going to be obsessed with this game.” I was like, “No way, man. That sounds like a stupid waste of money. You’ll never get me into that.” Then, three months later I was totally obsessed with it. I played Magic from when I was a, like ’94 to ’97, and then sold all my cards to buy a guitar, which put the kibosh on that.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Then, we started playing casually a couple years ago. I realised my brother-in-law, who was not yet my brother-in-law at the time, had played when he was a kid. The first Christmas I went home with my wife, I was like, “I wonder if this game is still fun,” and we tried it out as adults, and it’s a great time. That’s the only game that I’ve ever really had a strong affection for. I’ve never been a video gamer or anything, but I spent a lot of time around culture of it, because I think people still underestimate eSports as a cultural phenomenon and an economic phenomenon.
Peter McCormack: Oh, it’s blowing my mind, and like I said, I’ve got a 14-year-old son. He will sit and play FIFA, and while he’s playing FIFA, he’s with his phone out with YouTube with other people playing FIFA, all talking about how they’re playing FIFA. Or, if he’s not playing FIFA, he’s then on Twitch watching people playing FIFA. It’s just … Then, I was hearing about this big event in London where people were competing for, I can’t even remember if it was hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds. But, like it’s huge, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh yeah, it’s huge. The, I think the first officially sanctioned high school eSports team, that’s an official high school thing, just happened. There’s a start-up out of Silicon Valley, or maybe it’s out of LA actually, that’s doing that now, that’s trying to get schools to recognise it. People are gobsmacked by the idea of kids sitting and watching people play these games. But, honestly, if you look at why sports were … There’s a direct connection between how much people like watching sports and how much people participate in sports at home, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Games, they cut that down even more, right? Because, one, you can go from watching to playing. A, you can do them simultaneously, and B, you can, even if not, you can do it right after, so there’s no barrier between those things. Second, it’s fundamentally interactive thing. If you watch people streaming, the community that’s there in chat is throwing in their … They’re saying do this not that, play this not that, and it’s much more participatory. If anything, we should be very excited about Twitch, because it’s making video games a much more social experience than they were in the dystopian world of pre-Twitch.
Peter McCormack: I’ll tell you a little secret. I’ve not told many people this. When I was, I think I was about 23 or 24, the alternative to FIFA was a game called Pro Evolution Soccer, and it was the gamers game, because the high quality of the playability. I went to the big, there was a big tournament in Birmingham, like the national tournament. Me and my brother went along, and I lost in the final.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Oh my God.
Peter McCormack: I made it all the way to the … I know. It was devastating, actually, because the winner got flown out to Corsica for a week, and got to play in the world finals, and I lost 2–1 in the final. I was devastated.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Man, you were ahead of your time. You were ahead of the curve there.
Peter McCormack: All right, man. Well, listen, look I want to talk to marketing about you. Because, I feel like sometimes I’m a lone voice trying to talk about this sometimes. I feel like it’s not covered enough. There’s that thing in crypto where it’s like, people can turn their nose up at you if you try and sell something, or if you’re making money.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: It’s that weird place, but in the end it’s like, pretty much all these projects are going to die if they don’t market themselves, or make money, and I think it’s an important issue. I’ve always said, advertising isn’t intrinsically bad. Some of the things you advertise and the way you advertise, but actually everyone relies on modern communication. Bitcoin has relied on word of mouth, which is a form of communications. I feel like it’s pretty much ignored. But, it’d be good to hear your views.
Peter McCormack: When I started in advertising, this is 20 years ago now, I started out just building websites. But, by the time I’d left I was a planner, and marketing wasn’t just about driving awareness. It actually became about brand. It was about outreach and driving awareness, but it was also about product design, UX, and customer service. Marketing ended up becoming anything, which was about the experience of the customers, whatever touchpoint. Similar views?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, absolutely. That’s, I think that there’s a lot of unpack here. One thing, I think that the, part of the animosity of the crypto space to thinking about marketing has to do with how much of the marketing that people have perceived over the last years being marketing to retail investors, this new category of investors to participate in the purchase of tokens, right? It wasn’t like, all of a sudden there were 1000 products that people were shilling you to do, or even things to buy that were value additive, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: It was people saying like, here, let’s sell you on a vision of the future. Basically, it was a very uncomfortable combination of aggressive marketing tactics, and fundraising. That is, there’s not really a precedent for that, other than really gnarly stuff and snake oil salesmen from the 20s and things like that. There’s a reason that it feels bad.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that we need to, we’re still almost letting that get out of our system. The bad taste in our mouth is still there, but it’s draining finally, and I think that we will, it’ll be very different, I imagine, as more actual products come online that are things that people can use, how people perceive marketing in crypto. Again, there’s no, I would argue that there is not a single agency actually dedicated to the marketing of crypto products specifically. There’s a number of crypto marketing agencies, but their entire focus was on being good at token sells, right? Because, that’s the state that things were in. There’s so few products now, but I think that’s, it’s probably inevitable that changes.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I also think that you have, again, going back to maximalism here. Maximalism is, or the Bitcoiner community, let’s use that. Because, maximalism can be pejorative and that’s not how I mean it. But, the Bitcoiner community has this brandless thing going, right? Where, right down to the mythology of an anonymous founder. It’s been the thing that didn’t need marketing. It’s marketing is much more evangelical, word of mouth, apostles. It’s much more akin to a social or religious movement in terms of its marketing than a product.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that part of what I hope happens is that, when we are speaking about the crypto industry, we’re really talking about a lot of things. We’re talking about a small, small tiny handful of protocols that are competing to be some sort of base layer of either money, or stored value, or computational distribution, or whatever. Then, a ton of things that are going to sit around it. I think that those are very different types of marketing conversations to have about how are we selling this product? The cost of lightning node, right? At some point that’s going to, they’re going to market that. It might not need it for a while, because there’s such a powerful community of advocates and people who put little lightings next to their Twitter handles and stuff, and that’s awesome.
Nathaniel Whittemore: But, for any product that wants to be mass market, and frankly Casa should want everyone in the world to be running full lightening node. That’s real decentralised power. There will be … Let me say this. My guess is that the right type of aligned marketing partners come along, that just kick the shit out of everyone else, in terms of how they perform for that community, right? Then, eventually figure out how to bridge into other mass market things. I’d be very surprised if you see a company like Casa going to a big traditional advertising and marketing agency to build their slick materials. It’ll be a group that comes maybe with this background, but is a little bit more crypto native, who understand the values and priorities of this space, and can communicate to that, and can actually sell and push things without being chilly and stupid. That’s my guess.
Peter McCormack: Well, it’s funny you should Casa, because I’ve listed who I think get it in this space. Whatever you think of Coinbase, Coinbase understand marketing. They understand UX, they kind of understand customers service. But, one of the reason I think they became the, kind of one of the biggest exchange, there’s certain ways you look at it, is the user experience.
Nathaniel Whittemore: 100%.
Peter McCormack: Just a great user experience. Then, I have Casa, and because I think the work they’ve done on product design, the node looks beautiful, their website is beautiful. I spoke to Jeremy quite a bit about this, and that wasn’t by accident. Everything they’ve done is on purpose. I also got Abra in there. I think Abra, I don’t think they’re doing as good a job as the other guys. But then, it’s very easy to pick so many companies or projects that don’t get it. They seem to not get it on many levels.
Peter McCormack: I think one of the sad things is that crypto enable people to raise money for projects, which would never have got financed by venture capital. Just, ideas that aren’t necessary. I think they don’t get the math of it all, is that you got to have a, you got to building something that, it’s not always solves a problem right? But, it’s got to be something that people will use. You got to be able to get a user base to it. You’ve got to be able to create an economic model that will survive, and there’s seems to be that whole thing isn’t lost. One of the biggest shames is, it’s almost like nobody read The Lean Startup.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah. Yeah.
Peter McCormack: But, if you’ve … I’ve read it like three times.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, listen, I agree. I think it’s interesting, so I would say that I’ve been a little less freaked out by the mass failure of companies in the crypto space than some others. Just, my general feeling is that, one, starting a company is one of the absolute hardest things you can do. You have to do so many things right, while also being correct about what you’re offering, and whether there’s a real need, and timing as well. I think it’s just insanely difficult. When people talk about the statistic of 90% of companies fail, that’s total bullshit. 99.999999% of companies fail, if you include in that companies that never get to real venture capital financing, or companies that raise a small seed round from three angels that they know, but never really make it beyond that. Especially, if you include just everyone who tries to start something. It’s just, it’s enormously difficult.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I do think that, I don’t know, the ICO phenomenon, we’re going to be looking back and examining it for a really long time. But, I think that there is, it was a perfect storm type of thing. On the one hand, you had the ability to print money for the first time, which is crazy, and created a non-dilutive form of capital. That’s something that is amazing. If you’re a founder of a good project, and someone says you can raise $10 million for 20% of your company, or $10 million for nothing, that’s a hugely powerful thing. Frankly, I think that even choosing to believe the best of intentions of a lot of the project leaders who genuinely were excited about, or are excited about the potential for tokenisation to change how value is exchanged. That’s still very difficult to turn away from right? You have that on the one hand.
Nathaniel Whittemore: On the other hand, you also have what I believe is two decades or more of pent up demand for people to participate in these technology companies that they see reshaping everything around them, that they’ve been hearing about since the late 90s, that they’ve been systematically cut out from, because you’re not allowed to invest in them, right? People, I think are, everyone is not beaten down by the world yet, and they want opportunities to participate, or feel like they have stake in their own future. That can be manifest really shit-ally as just purchasing lottery tickets or whatever, or it can come out in other ways.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that the ICO boom, just happened to perfectly intersect with that pent up demand for the ability to invest proactively in something that maybe is there for the future. It ended up with a lot of people who, listen, even venture capitalists aren’t good mostly at being venture capitalists. If you look at the historic rate of return for the vast majority of funds and individuals, and frankly, I believe that, I’ve spent a lot of time, and know a lot of these folks, and there is a … The best ones are humble enough to know that there is a lot of right place, right time, know the right people involved. Yes, there was not a gauntlet for … There was not a pressure cooker to force companies, projects to be their best selves on their way to a lot of capital raised. Because of that, the vast majority of things are going to perish in the fire.
Peter McCormack: It’s almost like we had to go through this, though.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: If you’re going to create a new form of digital money that anyone can create, there are going to be charlatans, and but people with genuine intention who are going to just create things. It’s almost like we had to go through this to find out what works, what didn’t work, where regulations are needed, if you believe that regulations are important. It’s similar to almost what happened with the dot-com crash. The comparisons were always there, and I don’t always see it as the same thing, like some people do. But, at the same time, there was almost, there was a lot of things learned from the dot-com crash. The kind of businesses that should be built. I always look at the, I don’t know if you remember Webvan, they raised like 800 million.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: 800 million, and it’s tried to build the whole infrastructure out, and then didn’t have the demand. That’s why I’m such a big fan of The Lean Startup, because it’s like just start small. What’s the minimum? It was very interesting, actually. When I was interviewing, again, I’m interviewing Zac at BlockFi the other day, but he said to me, they financed the first one themselves, and all they created was a website where you could apply for a loan if you want, and none of the backend. But, I was like, okay, you’ve clearly read The Lean Startup. But, I almost think Eric Ries should do a crypto version of The Lean Startup.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, no, that is demand assessment and generation. It cost them so little to determine if there’s an actual interest and pent up demand. This is, I think that actually in some ways, the phase that we’re entering into now as the truly bad actors leave the space, and the SEC plays its role, which is straight up enforcement. I think that one of the challenges for us is, not to throw out the experimental babies with the bathwater of some of these projects. I think that it is, the idea of networks that require work and participation from users to be secured, and to be valuable, and new ways to distribute value is really interesting.
Nathaniel Whittemore: What seemed pretty clear so far is that, that doesn’t interact well with giving the ability to just buy. Purchasing a part of the network is not the same as building that proportional part of the network. Owning 10% of the tokens of a network is not the same as contributing 10% of the work needed to make the network work. I think that, one thing that’s interesting, actually, I will share with you. I spent a lot of time watching what people are interested in, from Long Reads, so I can see, obviously, that the stats on all the Twitter thread. I think the email clicks are actually a little bit better barometer of what people are really interested though, because when it comes to the Twitter thread, so much of it’s like, who re-tweets what, and where in the sequence of the Long Reads it is, and things like that.
Nathaniel Whittemore: But, email, it tends to be a much clearer story of which things people find interesting. Then, any time I post something about generalized mining, or these other types of network building activities, mining 2.0, whatever it is, it’s always one of the most clicked things. Even if it’s some weird boric esoteric case study that I think isn’t going to really hit, people are really interested. I think that has to do with the idea of, people are … The crisis of trust with institutions is growing. The idea of decentralised alternatives, whatever that word means or has ceased to mean, is still there, and the idea of being able to participate meaningfully in an alternative future that isn’t controlled strictly by the institutions that surround us, is still really there. It’ll be interesting to see how people make good on that.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Do you have any specific projects you like, or maybe a different way to ask this is, and I’ve written down mine here, so I’ve got them here. But, do any projects particularly stand out to you as something that you would hang your hat on and say, “I think this might be here in five, 10 years’ time,” outside of Bitcoin?
Nathaniel Whittemore: I would say, I have more confidence in categories, than I have in projects. I, for example, here’s one that we haven’t mentioned yet. I do think that tools for decentralised organisations are really interesting. I think that, especially coming out of a background with social movements, and things that spin up, and then get spun down again, like the traditional legal structures are overly burdensome. They don’t make sense, they don’t make sense for a highly engaged, but low attention quotient digital contribution network. I’m really interested to see people like Colony and Ergon, and what they do with it. I have no idea about … Those projects may find that they actually add more burden than is necessary.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Really, all that’s needed is a way for attribution of work to be distributed around whatever the dominant token of value is, right? It really could be that, yes, we should have decentralised organisation, but all you need is a simple voting infrastructure, and a simple way to distribute funding. There’s a product, actually, around those lines. It’s really very a project, it’s not a company that’s raised money. But, it’s called Molik that a bunch of the Ethereum community guys, including Amin from SpankChain and Austin from Gitcoin have spun up. It’s one that I’m watching, because I think it’s interesting.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that it seems highly unlikely to me that there aren’t new ways of semiformal organisation for internet communities that have a better infrastructure. I just don’t know what it looks like, but I’m watching that. Like I said before though, the privacy stuff, I think, is hugely important. That’s something that I’m very … I’m highly supportive of almost any sincerely intentioned project in that space. I’m watching, obviously, ZCash and Monero. I actually love those. They’re two, they’re totally different organised teams. They represent really different things. I love that those two projects are leaders in this space. I’m watching both of the major implementations of Mimblewimble right now. Grin with one, and Beam I think is the name of the other one. They’re very, very different approaches to it, so that’s another category.
Nathaniel Whittemore: But, I’m really interested in people being paid differently for work and small contributions. That’s not necessarily micro payments, or anything as simple as that. But, I don’t know, I think that the nature of work is highly likely to shift, and the way that people contribute is highly likely. We’ve already seen a pretty serious fracture of the one job, one income, one life paradigm, so we’ll see what happens there.
Peter McCormack: I agree with you on the privacy side of things, and I’ve got an area I want to explore on that with you as well. I’m very interested in Brave, and I’m kind of interested in BAT, but I do understand some of what the Bitcoin is saying about the token. But, it’s not entirely flawed yet, whilst some very smart people would intelligently argue it is. My example being is, I’m a content creator, right? I will survive based on selling ads, and people sign up on my page, and various different things. I signed up to BAT, because I was interviewing Brenda Eich, so I just went through the process.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Peter McCormack: What did I think of the UX. Totally forgot about it. At the end of the month I got an email from Brave saying, or from Basic Attention Token saying, “You’ve received,” something like $50 from, of BAT, which is automatically converted into the dollars, which I can withdrawal. I was just kind of like, well, that’s kind of cool. I think they’re going to struggle to get people to use it, and I think they’ll struggle with adoption, but it still is, it still proves something to me that there is an idea there. I actually quite like the thought of the merge between Brave and a privacy currency for anonymous shopping online. I think that’s a really interesting thing. I’m with on Grin and Beam. I’ve got the Grin guys coming on soon hopefully.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Awesome. That’s super cool. I will definitely be listening to that. I think the BAT Brave thing is really interesting. I like, again, you’ll probably notice that I tend to be a lot less cynical than a lot of folks. Just because I think, shit man, after spending a decade in Silicon Valley, where we were just trying to Uberise everything, it’s such a breath of fresh air to be … I don’t know, I feel like I just insta-filter and sensor all the stupid, the shit that’s just so irrelevant or money grabby, that who cares? What’s left, even if you don’t agree with everything, is tons of really smart people who are thinking about very interesting things.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that Brave, what I like about BAT as a token, if we’re going to have some experiments, is that you can’t really knock the credentials of the team. It’s a working product with lots of users. It’s a thing that people have wanted for a really long time, and they’re making a real go at it. I think, anytime when we have a project that will provide a pretty strong answer to one of the big questions in our space, it’s an exciting thing to watch. I think a good example of that is, let’s play out the scenario, and this is there are two arguments for what happens in a world of million tokens, right? In the inevitable tokenisation of the world.
Nathaniel Whittemore: One is, everyone converts automatically to Bitcoin or whatever the best store of value is, because you’d be insane not to. Because, why wouldn’t you, which is the strong, the hardest money wins, the best money wins argument. The other scenario that is at least possible, if not necessarily plausible, is that people … Laziness can happen in two ways. One, everything can auto convert into Bitcoin. The other is that you could just have wallets that, through UX, you sit with you balances of different tokens, and you don’t care what you’re holding it in until the last second, because it converts into whatever you need at that minute.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that, let’s put it this way, if there was an Amazon token, I think that the average US citizen spends $700 a year on Amazon, and the average Prime member spends $1400. That’s such a high amount of money, do you really … Are people just going to leave money in their Amazon tokens account, or are they going to choose a wallet that auto converts it into Bitcoin, because they think Bitcoin is going to get the best continuous growth and value, or are they going to leave it in their wallet that converts it to Bitcoin when they need it without them, being seamless?
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that I don’t know. The version that assumes that it all get auto converted to Bitcoin makes total sense, if everyone knows that there’s one money of here that they believe is going to accrue more value. I just think there’s at least a reasonable chance that a lot of people are lazy. They don’t think in terms of value accrual, and what’s the best place to keep their assets, and do whatever they UX or the wallet is doing, which is why I think the UX and wallets is so important.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Anyways, this is all a long-winded way of saying that with that, we’ll find out, man. If they can make I work through their currency, and there’s reasons that having a native token is valuable, it seems like a project where we’re going to see, we’re going to at least learn what it takes for that to be real. If not, if they can’t get it right, that’s probably more evidence in the, everything’s just going to be the base money column. Either way, we learn a lot. I think it’s an interesting one to watch.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I agree. Conscious of time, we’ve done an hour already. But, there are a couple of things I want to finish off with you. I want to get your view on the invasion of privacy from Silicon Valley behemoths. The Facebook, Google, this hunt for more and more data, what it means for people. Because, I, from my side, I believe we’re heading to a more anonymous browsing experience in the future. I think that once it becomes … I think it will become something that is not, lets people hunt.
Peter McCormack: I hunted our, I’m having a, by design, more anonymous browsing experience. Most people won’t, but I think it could be built into future OS’s. I can definitely see future where Apple builds in anonymous browsing into the OS by default. What are your views on that, and how do you think that this is going to affect companies and marketing? Because, obviously, you shared one of my articles about this in your Long Reads, I wrote about this. I think people are woefully prepared for what’s going to happen.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, you know I’ve shared it a couple times with you. There’s an article from, I don’t know, maybe four or five years ago by…
Peter McCormack: The Atlantic one?
Nathaniel Whittemore: The Atlantic one. It was a cover story called, The Internet’s Original Sin, and Ethan Zuckerman was the head of MIT Media Lab, I think, at the time, or no, he was at the Burkman Center, now he’s at the Media Lab. Some combination of those things. Anyways, dude has been around thinking about media for a long time, and helped, he was involved in the very first display banners. What he was, the point of the article was basically saying that, it was a conscious choice, now it was based on constraints of the time and the medium, but it was a conscious choice that advertising would be the model for the internet.
Nathaniel Whittemore: On the one hand, I think, because I’m a huge critic, I always try to keep the other hand in mind. There are a lot of things that have been able to be created, because consumers didn’t have to pay for them, right? We can’t totally … The paradigm were there was never an advertising based internet business model has probably a ton less of the things that we’ve come to know and rely on, right? Because, we wouldn’t have paid for them. Conscious of that, though, I do think that the endless hunt for more data, and the unholy alliance between technology companies and increasingly that includes everyone whose got a device that can have a sensor on it, and advertisers is getting to the point where it’s a real sociological, cultural challenge that we have not grappled with, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: There are so many examples, they’re too numerous to even get into. But, just a couple from the last two weeks. You had a big interview with someone from Ford, who was talking about just the amazing amount of data they have. Because, when you buy a car, you finance a car, which means they know your marital status, they know your income, they know your credit history, they know everything, and they’re looking to that as a major business model in the future, right? You have that, these things, and that’s going to be the case for any company that has access to credit history is going to have similar kind of data. You have that whole …
Nathaniel Whittemore: The connected, the internet of things around us creates a new data collection, advertiser, panopticon scenario. You have, in the last couple weeks, a guy who built one, was one of the instrumental engineers building the UI, or the recommendation algorithm for YouTube, came out and pointed out this 20 tweet thread. It’s one of the best threads I’ve seen in a really long time, how it has, the technology that he helped created has given rise to the flat earth movement. Because, flat earth videos perform really well on YouTube, which means they’re targeted at people who are susceptible to believing conspiracy theories, which then reinforces in the algorithm that it’s a good thing to try more and more people with. It just creates this virtuous, or non-virtuous cycle, I guess, from a societal level, of what gets recommended. Basically, the recommendation has no amount of … It doesn’t have a filter for whether it’s total bullshit craziness or not, so you have that problem.
Nathaniel Whittemore: You have just this week, Amazon, or last week during the fires, their pricing algorithm seemed to be increasing the prices of things like ladders to get out of your house and shit. It’s like, this is AI acting badly, right? But, it’s these things are such fundamental, they are normative for the future that we live in. I think that the thing that seems scary to me is that, it is so far beyond left or right politics, or really the structures that we have right now for dealing with problems. It’s not even about conservatism versus liberalism, or progress versus golden ages, or whatever. These things are, they are default challenges of a world in which technology increases faster than our ability to culturally catch up with it.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that, to me, these are the fundamental questions of the future is, is what decisions we make about how to change this? You’re seeing the first kick of it now, but I don’t know. It’s not going to be just GDPR, it’s not going to be congress hauling in Zuckerberg to slap him on the wrist, or rock him around. They’re much more fundamental issues, and I think that we have to have a much broader conversation on a cultural level about what is and isn’t okay. I do think that the relentless fuel, the business model for surveillance that can be used for ill, is advertising. There’s no way to get around that, and we’re all implicated in it, and every company is implicated in it.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s, I don’t know who’s the right person to make the first move. I think that you, I think that it’s really going to take a huge broad base understanding. You’re going to have to have government enforcement, but at the same time they’re going to be using it to their own advantage, inevitably. That’s not even me. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. It’s just like, there’s a reason the CIA funded technology forever. But, you’re going to have to have government enforcement. You’re going to have to have citizens demanding other solutions, and having their own privacy stacks, and opting out of things, which means so much education and awareness, and UX and all these things. You’re going to have to have companies that stand up and stand for something different, and give people an alternative.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s not impossible. It’s a shitty, tiny example compared to the world of problems. But, REI, the outdoor gear and apparel company, has made a real stance that they are not open on black Friday. They shut down, they give everyone something like 20,000 employees off. They encourage them to get outside, and it’s fucking, it’s a marketing stunt. Of course it is, but it’s a marketing stunt that they believe in. Until you have companies actually saying that something has to give, you’re not going to be able to get around it. Now, I think that the biggest challenge in this equation for me is, I don’t really see advertisers who have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, saying at any time soon that they want to target less, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Having spent a lot of time with Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola is a company that is filled with good people who want that company to be the best version of itself, and probably if they could, would sell off all the fucking sugar water that they sell, and change it for kombucha, or whatever in a second. But, they still live inside a paradigm where they got to work whatever they can towards the middle. But, that company, they’re going to fire their CEO, their CMO, their whomever if they’re not performing on a quarterly basis. If you have a platform that’s willing to sell, last mile and CPG is a huge problem. It’s something that I’m sure you had dozens of projects that you were thinking about. How do you get people to insta-buy Oreo’s right when they’re hungry on the internet?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Anyways, these problems are the boardrooms and stock markets are going to demand answers to those problems. Then, it’s going to continue to create a business model for people to sell data. I don’t know. I think, I am neither purely cynical, nor am I particularly hopeful in this. I think that the best thing that we have going for us is ease of user experience around privacy integrated technology. That’s, if there’s any one of these equations that I’m the most hopeful for, that’s it. Because, I do think the number of people who have downloaded ad blockers, whether it’s from a moral stance, or just because ads are shitty addition to their user experience, is a positive sign for me.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that, I guess, the one other really interesting X-factor and elephant in the room is that, when you sell real things for big margins, you can afford to take a privileged, moralistic stance on privacy. Which, is exactly what Apple is doing. It seems to me that Apple is starting to flex a little around the idea of, they can smell the blood around companies that are competing with them in different areas, because they make money from selling devices and hardware, and things that they can afford to take that stance. It maybe total bullshit. I don’t think that the executives at Apple are necessarily particularly better than the executives at Facebook or anywhere else. But, I think that another piece of this whole equation is market forces, and to the extent that you have big, giant companies like Apple saying that there are real limits to what should and shouldn’t be allowed, because of social consensus around data and privacy, that makes a huge difference in the markets.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, do you know what though? I do believe Tim Cook is probably a good guy.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think so too. I think that you … Let’s put it this way. If you’re a top-flight engineer in Silicon Valley, you’re going to have your pick. It’s not like Apple and Google are going to say, “Piss off, you’re a Facebook person.” You’re going to have the ability to head towards a company that you feel like aligns with your values. I think, one of the things that I’ve always felt is that, even when things that are kind of, might be decried as a virtuous signalling or marketing start, what they do is, there is actually a virtuous cycle. Where, if you have a company that says, “Hey, we stand for this,” even if the executives who are saying that are just doing it at that stage for a good marketing buy. They next generation of people who are deciding between that company and a company that doesn’t stand for that, maybe they actually care about it. Maybe they actually recruit it because there was reason, right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: I saw this a lot inside the Coca-Colas for the world. Where, the higher up in the ranks you go, the less that they care about some of those impact things. But, the more the next generation of talent who decides to go to them, versus some other company, the more those things resonate. I think that you probably will see, if Apple really has a DNA of being concerned with privacy and opting out, you’re going to see that accumulate over time as more people come in to reinforce that, for whom it’s an even more real and profound thing.
Peter McCormack: All right, well, listen. Look, the last thing. This has been as good as I expected. You must, you’re probably the person who reads more than anyone else, right? You have to, by nature of having to do your Long Reads Sunday, so come on.
Nathaniel Whittemore: I certainly read a lot. I don’t know if more than anyone, but I spend a lot of time looking at a lot of stuff.
Peter McCormack: How long does it take you to prepare each one?
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s long, man. It’s gotten longer too. The process is like, throughout the week in between things I’m tagging things. Then, usually by Friday night I’m starting to go through and curate, just put it, move it into a document where I’m … Organise it into things that I think are most or less important. Then, it’s basically, really what it comes down to is usually, it’s like Friday is the day where I surface all the stuff and then go back and check and bunch of accounts, who I know tend to have good stuff, and see if I missed anything. Saturday is the day where I outline it, and then Sunday mornings I usually, when I actually write the thing. Writing the thing takes a lot longer. I always forget how long the actual writing piece takes. But, I think that’s the part of what people respond to is that, there is actually a narrative flow to it.
Peter McCormack: Yeah.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s not just a collection of links.
Peter McCormack: That sounds like 15 to 20 hours.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s probably a little bit less than that. It’s probably closer to five to 10. But, it’s not nothing.
Peter McCormack: But, then it deserves, I’ll push it back out, it deserves a lot more people to follow it, because it is so useful. Actually, it’s two things happen, right? I get it, right, and I get on the Sunday, but I usually wait for the Monday. Actually, and funny enough, I struggle with it in email form. I get the email, and then I click on the link and go back to Twitter. I think I’m so ingrained in Twitter, that…
Nathaniel Whittemore: I know, it really is, I have just so you know. This is, we’re getting into the weeds a little bit now, but I have not yet solved the right version of it for an email. I think that the people have responded well to the shorter intro type summaries that I do. But, it’s definitely a Twitter native format. The thing is composed with Twitter in mind, it’s designed with Twitter, and it is a little jarring when you get outside it. Maybe, some, I think that I might have to experiment with Substack or something instead of Review. Review is limited in what you can do with it. But, it’s definitely of, it’s a native Twitter piece of content that you take it out and it works, but it’s not exactly the same.
Peter McCormack: But, the other thing is also, I use it almost to filter and go, right, I want to read that, I definitely want to read that, that I can skim read now. I’ve never got on with anything Pocket. I create a little folder every day that says, read this today, and I just drag things in. I can drag tweets [crosstalk 01:17:51] I filter them like that. I think the other thing I do with it as well, this is going to sound really narcissistic, but it’s like, did I make the cut this week? Is my shit in there?
Nathaniel Whittemore: No, that’s been a fun thing. I actually, I’ve seen that bunch, and I always like that. It’s a little, I think that the hardest thing is-
Peter McCormack: It’s a badge of honour.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, well, and I always try to, this is not, like I don’t mind when people if they share their own stuff with me. Because, it’s like a lot of times it’s like, people spend a ton of time curating something. They’re just looking for an outlet, and I don’t think it’s weird. I think that I’m the most responsive when it’s like a kid who’s just trying to get known for something, and they’re like a lot of times they have really good thoughts. But, God, they write these awesome things that are not there.
Nathaniel Whittemore: That’s not every week. It’s probably only every few weeks. But, I especially like it when that … If anyone’s listening who’s young and upcoming, or it doesn’t matter young. There’s not age barrier, but whatever. Just happen to just join Twitter and not have a lot of following. Definitely, hit me up. My DMs are open, and I try to do a good job responding, although I miss a lot of stuff, especially now with the baby.
Peter McCormack: Do you think you’re, anyone who’s standing out for you at the moment? I particularly like the work Cassie was doing.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, I really like Hasu. I think Hasu is a really … I think there’s a few folks who are really good. I’m always interested in what he writes. I think that he, I don’t know him. I actually haven’t ever had a conversation with him, outside of just a little bit of exchanging on Twitter. My sense is, he’s really, really animated by an intellect. It feels to me like much more than a lot of people, he comes into everything with a blank slate, and really it’s just what makes sense to him that gets spit out the other side. I think he’s great. I think probably if I had to retire a jersey for someone who’s almost defaults to make if they-
Peter McCormack: I know who you’re going to say, Nic Carter right?
Nathaniel Whittemore: Nic Carter Yeah, absolutely.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I know you were going to say Nic.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Another person who, agree or not, you literally, it’s impossible to be intellectually honest and not take what he’s writing seriously all the time.
Peter McCormack: It’s so beautifully crafted as well.
Nathaniel Whittemore: He’s also just a really good writer, which helps.
Peter McCormack: Yeah.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s an unfair, good combination for people. But, yeah, there’s so much good stuff out there though. There’s a lot that I think are still crazy under indexed. The ZK Capital guys, who are, I think they’re based around Northwestern a little bit. They’re all over though. I’m not even sure about exactly what their business model is, but those guys whenever they do things are really smart. I think, and there’s so much good stuff. I think the challenge is that, what I found is that there are very few people who are, and this might be a constraint to the medium, who are really good at … You can’t do too many threads. A thread has to really come natively, or else …
Nathaniel Whittemore: When I first started Long Reads Sunday, I had a goal to do a long Twitter thread about a topic each week. What I found, I had a couple that really, really hit. I had this one about crypto asset networks replacing companies, that really, really hit. But, it hasn’t been time to do another thread on that topic since then. I had another thread on the topic of crypto M&A, same thing. There’s hasn’t been the right time to do another thread. I think that it is a medium where if you try to force it too much, it doesn’t necessarily hit.
Nathaniel Whittemore: The legal scholar community on Crypto Twitter is totally awesome. They’re almost an insta include. Between Jake, Katherine Wu, Palley, it’s so easy. Drew Hanky, there’s so many of them. I do a survey of them at this point around Preston, everything that comes out from a legal standpoint. That’s a huge useful thing.
Peter McCormack: Jake’s great. His threads are incredible. I met up with him when I was in Washington for the Hester interview. I met up with him, went for three or four beers with him. He’s a really great guy. If you get a chance to go to Washington, hang with him, it’s well worth it.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, no, again, I think the thing you see part of also, I weirdly feel like Twitter, it’s a better medium for assessing people’s personalities than essays are, right? Essays are more refined, they’re more polished. They’re like, they have an effect of homogenising people a little bit. Even if some people can break out of that, but it’s part of what I like. I like, you’ll often see when there’s a piece of news I’ll take alternative takes on it. Because, it’s not about just the news, it’s about this person expresses this sentiment well, or whatever.
Peter McCormack: Yeah. All right, man. Well, listen, look, we could have probably done about three hours without any problem.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah.
Peter McCormack: This is already one of our longest ones. Fascinating. I knew it would be. Just a final question though before you tell everyone how to stay in touch. What are the key narratives that you think are emerging right now?
Nathaniel Whittemore: I think that right now, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I wrote this thing on token economy a couple months ago called, The Crypto Narrative Index. I keep waiting for the right time to write the next one. I keep coming back to what I feel is happening right now is, it’s a collective release of breath, where we’re just accepting that it really is going to be a winter for a little bit. I don’t think that necessarily means that we are, everyone’s battening down the hatches, or people are super scared necessarily. It’s almost more this acceptance. There’s this collective, the ICO phase is really and truly over in that first iteration, and maybe there are new things coming, right? [inaudible 01:24:03] wrote a thread about why there’s a new set of token sale paradigms that’s just around the corner, which I think is totally worth thinking about.
Nathaniel Whittemore: But, I feel like there’s this collective release of breath that’s going to create a lot of space for more interesting things to emerge. I don’t think that it’s, that everyone’s dead, and that there’s less excitement, but it’s quiet. It feels like, I don’t know. It feels like it’s 4:00 AM, and it’s not quite the time when the sun has started to rise, like at the beginning of the morning, but it’s that really cool in between mist, where you know it’s not far off, and you are just waiting for it, and you’re thinking about things. I don’t know. I feel like there’s less of narrative than there is a sentiment right now. Which is, this transitional time.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Maybe part of this is, I could be reading into it, because we just transitioned from fall to winter seasonally here. But, it really does feel like there is stuff coming. It’s on the horizon, there are people building things. There are institutions coming. There are likely institutions accumulating quietly. But, it’s impossible to deny that an older thing has gone. It has fallen away, and we’re now figuring out what that means. I don’t know, I think that there’s almost a quietness in a weird way to right now, that I think is, for those who are able to, or willing to, or interested in taking some time to reflect, is very cool, and going to probably position us to be a little bit better in what comes next.
Peter McCormack: Awesome, man. Well, listen, this is great. Also, just a big thank you. You’ve been one of those people who has been massive support in what I do for as long as I’ve known you. You’re always sharing out my content, you’re a patron. You’ve included me in Long Reads, so thank you so much for that. Sorry I didn’t see you in New-
Nathaniel Whittemore: No, that’s, I have to say that’s, the metal t-shirts and background help, but that’s all because of the quality of the content. I listen to a lot of different podcasts, and just accumulate a lot of media, especially with podcasts. I have to be really choosy about what I listen to. What I’ve found is, it really comes down to people are smart no matter where you listen. But, the difference really stands out with the quality of the questions, and the quality of the conversations. I think there’s a small handful of folks who are doing it really it well, and you’re at the very top of the list for me with Pomp and probably Eric Tornberg. It’s all well-earned, and I really appreciate everything you do for the space.
Peter McCormack: Thank you, man. Well, thank you, thank you, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. Like I said, if you ever do patron, I’ll throw your money straight back at you.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Thanks.
Peter McCormack: We can just take our patrons cup and swing money back at each other.
Nathaniel Whittemore: Yeah, exactly.
Peter McCormack: Next time I’m in New York, we’ll go and have dinner. We’ll have a beer, and we’ll have a proper catch up. But, I’ve really appreciated this. Just let everyone know how they can keep in touch with you, keep hold of you. You’re one of those really annoying people, who you manage to get one of those Twitter handles with three letters. I’ve got Twitter envy over that, but tell people how they can stay in touch and how they can follow Long Reads Sunday and Long Reads Live, and everything you’re doing.
Nathaniel Whittemore: No, I’m easy. You can find me on Twitter @NLW, that’s definitely the primary medium where I engage, and my Twitter bio is annoyingly full of links to all the stuff. If you prefer Long Reads via email, or I started doing a live YouTube show, which got a little derailed by the birth of the kid, but is hopefully coming back starting next week. We’ll do a little season for, do a few weeks in December, and then back in January. Anyways, all of that’s available from Twitter @NLW.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s funny, I joined Twitter in 2008, so I was early, but not that early. It was around for a while, and actually funny story, Twitter spun out of Odeo, which is a podcast thing that Evan Williams was trying to do. When I, one of the first project I did at Northwestern, we were one of the first beta testers for the podcast software. We were trying to go all over the world in 2005. It didn’t work that well, because we didn’t have the bandwidth, so it was a failure, and I’m glad they made Twitter. But, actually the funny thing is that I think that just NLW is not a common combination of letters, because I still was able to get it like two years into Twitter’s history.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, right.
Nathaniel Whittemore: It’s just, it’s literally just me and the National Library of Wales. It’s funny, sometimes I’ll wake up in the mornings and see like, I’ll be like, “Ooh cool, 20 notifications,” and it’s all some new dedication ceremony at the National Library of Wales. That’s, if you follow NLW on Twitter, you’ll get that too.
Peter McCormack: Right, well, I’ll share everything out in the show notes. Thanks as ever, really enjoyed this. Hopefully, we’ll do it in person one day.
Nathaniel Whittemore: For sure. Thanks, man.