Greener Pastures

Their Head A Splode!

There was a great article in the times on Craigslist–

Hey all- I think you’ll love this article; I certainly love Craigslist– but I also think there is something to their strategy that the bankers aren’t getting: If they “monetized” their product more effectively, they would likely lose customers. If they had done it early, there would have been a dozen copycat sites trying to compete with them. And when there are duplicates of online social network resources, everybody loses. The value of a social network increases with the square of the number of users (says Metcalfe’s “new law” for social networks.)

Their strategy, I believe, is actually more sustainable in the long run. No one can undercut them, and there is only ever one craigslist, which makes it tremendously more valuable than it would be if there were two. Read the article below (and the one linked above), and all of this will make more sense. Oh, and if you didn’t get the joke in the title, you can go here.

Full text here

Craigslist Meets the Capitalists

Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive of Craigslist, caused lots of head-scratching Thursday as he tried to explain to a bunch of Wall Street types why his company is not interested in “monetizing” his ridiculously popular Web operation. Appearing at the UBS global media conference in New York, Mr. Buckmaster took questions from the bemused audience, which apparently could not get its collective mind around the notion that Craigslist exists to help Web users find jobs, cars, apartments and dates — and not so much to make money.

Wendy Davis of MediaPost describes the presentation as a “a culture clash of near-epic proportions.” She recounts how UBS analyst Ben Schachter wanted to know how Craigslist plans to maximize revenue. It doesn’t, Mr. Buckmaster replied (perhaps wondering how Mr. Schachter could possibly not already know this). “That definitely is not part of the equation,” he said, according to MediaPost. “It’s not part of the goal.”

“I think a lot of people are catching their breath right now,” Mr. Schachter said in response.

Rwanda is implementing an ambitious plan for leapfrogging to become a technological hub in Africa.

Children in a poor quarter of Kigali, Rwanda. Photograph: Jose Cendon/AFP/Getty Images

Article here, by Xan Rice, in the UK’s Guardian.

It’s an interesting, and potentially inspirational project– 5 young graduates of technology masters programs who studied abroad, in India, France, and South Africa are leading the government efforts.

It will be a fascinating space to watch, and the whole world will be cheering for their success. If it can be done there with the vision of just a handful of visionaries, that speaks well to how quickly we can make rapid changes, if the right people are in charge.

“Rwanda is to some extent doing with technology what Britain did with mechanisation during the industrial revolution,” said Calestous Juma, professor of international development at Harvard University, who believes the plan can serve as an inspiration for Africa.

Donor countries are more cautious. Two-thirds of Rwandans live below the poverty line, half are illiterate and four in five live in rural areas. Aids and the 1994 genocide have created tens of thousands of orphans. Technology is not the main priority, they say.

But government officials insist that not only is their plan viable, but that there is no alternative. As one of Africa’s most densely populated countries, large-scale farming is impossible. There are few valuable minerals or oil deposits. The country is landlocked.

“We are at a huge competitive disadvantage to our neighbours,” Albert Butare, the minister of communications and energy, told the Guardian. “Our people are the one resource we have, and we must develop them.”

Progress has been slower than hoped – only 26% of targets have been met on time so far – but still significant.

When the ICT plan was launched in 2000 only one school in the country had a computer, there was a single internet cafe and a handful of science graduates, and fewer than 100,000 of 8 million people had mobile or fixed-line phones.

Today half of the 2,300 primary schools have at least one computer. There are 30 internet cafes in the leading cities and there will be 30 more in even the most remote rural areas by 2007. Telecoms companies hawk broadband internet for home use. More than 300,000 people have mobiles. If a plan to assemble phones locally, and sell them for the equivalent of £19 with six months to pay, comes to fruition the growth will be even faster.

I saw both of these articles in short succession- it’s interesting to consider them as a pair.

The first was an LA Times article by Kenneth Weiss about the degredation of our world’s oceans:

In many places — the atolls of the Pacific, the shrimp beds of the Eastern Seaboard, the fiords of Norway — some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading.

Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked.

Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago.

Jeremy B.C. Jackson, a marine ecologist and paleontologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, says we are witnessing “the rise of slime.”

As their traditional catch declines, fishermen around the world now haul in 450,000 tons of jellyfish per year, more than twice as much as a decade ago.

This is a logical step in a process that Daniel Pauly , a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia, calls “fishing down the food web.” Fishermen first went after the largest and most popular fish, such as tuna, swordfish, cod and grouper. When those stocks were depleted, they pursued other prey, often smaller and lower on the food chain.

“We are eating bait and moving on to jellyfish and plankton,” Pauly said.

In California waters, for instance, three of the top five commercial catches are not even fish. They are squid, crabs and sea urchins.

This is what remains of California’s historic fishing industry, once known for the sardine fishery attached to Monterey’s Cannery Row and the world’s largest tuna fleet, based in San Diego, which brought American kitchens StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea.

Overfishing began centuries ago but accelerated dramatically after World War II, when new technologies armed industrial fleets with sonar, satellite data and global positioning systems, allowing them to track schools of fish and find their most remote habitats.

The result is that the population of big fish has declined by 90% over the last 50 years.

But other things have happened as well in the last 50 years- in the industrialized world, people are living, longer, healthier lives, and are actually much more physically robust well past when our great-great grandfathers were often debilitated and bed-ridden.

In this New York Times article by Gina Kolata, she explores the way our bodies have changed over the last one-hundred years. American men are on average three inches taller, 50 pounds heavier, and even have higher IQ’s.

Instead of inferring health from causes of death on death certificates, Dr. Fogel and his colleagues looked at health throughout life. They used the daily military history of each regiment in which each veteran served, which showed who was sick and for how long; census manuscripts; public health records; pension records; doctors’ certificates showing the results of periodic examinations of the pensioners; and death certificates.

They discovered that almost everyone of the Civil War generation was plagued by life-sapping illnesses, suffering for decades. And these were not some unusual subset of American men — 65 percent of the male population ages 18 to 25 signed up to serve in the Union Army. “They presumably thought they were fit enough to serve,” Dr. Fogel said.

Even teenagers were ill. Eighty percent of the male population ages 16 to 19 tried to sign up for the Union Army in 1861, but one out of six was rejected because he was deemed disabled.

And the Union Army was not very picky. “Incontinence of urine alone is not grounds for dismissal,” said Dora Costa, an M.I.T. economist who works with Dr. Fogel, quoting from the regulations. A man who was blind in his right eye was disqualified from serving because that was his musket eye. But, Dr. Costa said, “blindness in the left eye was O.K.”

Taken as a pair, it’s a fascinating story. Yes- our lives have much improved in many ways (ways that I can scarcely even conceptualize, I imagine) but at the same time, as a species, we’ve wrought tremendous damage upon this small earth of ours.

The signs seem to suggest that we’re starting to witness a certain kind of revision of the mass-consciousness with regards to environmental degredation, with “green” beeing one of the hippest buzzwords. . . but will it be too little too late?

Is it possible to make the kinds of changes we need to make, for us to continue here on this planet in any kind of desireable way, for the next one-hundred years?

(Even Stephen Hawking made news the other day for askinga very similar question.)