The art of working with a machine

What baristas can teach us about the future of work

Espresso machine’s schematic (credit: Stefano’s Espresso Care)

I recently watched a barista training session while sitting at the bar in a local café. It was really interesting to overhear how baristas are trained to do their job. Having never been one myself, I was intrigued to listen to hear what it takes.

What fascinated me the most is how much the training was centered on the espresso machine. The training mostly focused around how the machine works, the various parts of the machine, and how to make a drink using the machine.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself this makes a lot of sense since the majority of the work a barista does is to prepare drinks using the espresso machine. But it got me thinking a lot about the future of work.

An espresso machine is a pretty amazing piece of technology when you really dig into how the machine works. It has a combination of pumps, valves, and sensors that help it regulate water temperature, pressure, and volume.

Yet, anyone who frequents cafés throughout the world knows that you can receive the same product (say a cup of cappuccino) that greatly varies in quality. And you may be thinking that this has to do with the type of espresso machine used in the café or the beans a particular café uses, but you can go to the same café twice and have a great cup of cappuccino one time and crappy one the next. So while the quality of the machine used may give an advantage, it’s not the determining factor for the difference in the quality of the drink you receive. It’s the barista’s ability to work with the espresso machine that ultimately determines the quality of the final product.

The cappuccino I drank while writing this.

This is a great way to think about the future of work. Technology is increasingly becoming a part of our working lives. It’s really hard to find a job that exists today that doesn’t involve a machine of some type. If we take the job of the barista as a model, we can see that although machines are becoming a large part of the work that we do, there is still a role for us humans to play. We can be the difference makers.

Even over time, as machines continue to get more sophisticated, our ability to work with them is what will make a difference. Just like how the same espresso machine used by two different baristas can produce wildly different results, the machines of the future used by two different people will also be able to produce wildly different results. It comes down to our skills working with these machines. Like the job of the barista, the work of the future will evolve to be more about how we understand the machines that are available to us and how we use them to create something better than we otherwise could on our own, and they could on their own.

Instead of looking at the increase of machines in our working lives as some apocalyptic scenario where humans have nothing to do and the machines take over the world, I think we should look at it as an opportunity to do things better, to enhance our capabilities.

A final example that brings this viewpoint into light is chess. Originally, it was thought that no computer would ever be able to beat a grandmaster human player at chess. Well, that’s obviously no longer true. So you might think that means the best chess player in the world is obviously a computer, right? Wrong. The best chess players in the world are actually a combination of a human and a computer, the hybrid model.

It’s easy to get caught up with the general sentiment that machines and automation are going to take all of the jobs, but instead try to stop and think about all the times in the past where the same was claimed of a past era’s machines. Each time we come away with new jobs that work with new machines. Yes, the old jobs do disappear, but they are replaced with new jobs. So instead of thinking the rise of automation will take away your current job, think about it as a new opportunity to produce even better work. Use the barista as a model and ask yourself how can you gain the skills and abilities necessary to work with the new machines and enhance your output. That’s where the future of work lies.

Political campaigns of the future

2016 was a wake-up call. A number of things, to say the least, have fallen out of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Amongst them, the use of social media as a major political platform, the spread of “fake news”, and the realization we are all living in echo chambers that reinforce our biases.

The 2016 campaign caught people off-guard. You can tell this because no one talked about fake news or living in bubbles in 2015/early 2016. Maybe, some of us thought about it, but it wasn’t a main focus or a problem to be dealt with at the time.

So in an effort to be more proactive rather than reactive for the next campaign cycle, I thought it’d be helpful to do a little thought experiment for what the 2018/2020 campaigns might be like. Hopefully, that way more of us won’t be taken as off-guard in 2–4 years.[1]

What could happen in 2018/2020

Let’s say you were put in charge of a candidate’s campaign in 2018. You know the objective of a political campaign is to win the election, period. You may try and say it’s about pushing the correct policies or the person running, but let’s be honest, it’s about winning. Your policy platform or candidate means nothing if you don’t win the election.

So what would be the best way of getting the most people to vote for your candidate? Tell people what they want to hear.

This isn’t anything new. All political campaigns do this and have done this for a long time. For example, let’s take a traditional presidential campaign. Early in the campaign, a candidate will pander to the core party base. They do this in order to win the party’s nomination because the people who vote in the primaries are staunch party supporters. Then after they win the party’s nomination, they tend to shift their message to a larger audience: independents, their party’s moderates, and even moderates of the other party. In order to win a general election, you need a lot of different types of people to vote for you.

This is how it goes traditionally. But you realize there’s opportunity to do things differently. If we ignore how things were done in the past, and instead focus on what we ultimately need to do, tell people what they want to hear, and we consider the tools available to us at present, we realize there’s a new way we can run our campaign.

Let’s start with some of the things that fell out of the 2016 campaign: social media, fake news, and echo chambers. We know that more and more people are spending an increasing amount of time on social media. That means social media is the platform where we need to get our message out.

We also know that messages grounded in truth and facts don’t really matter as much as we once thought, as long as they tell the message the people reading them want to hear.

Finally, we also know that a lot of people live in their own echo chambers. That might be physically, by living in a neighborhood with people of similar backgrounds, views, etc. Or it could be digitally, where all of the people you follow, are friends with, etc. share the same views. Most likely, it’s both.

Now consider the tools that are currently available. The way most businesses appeal to potential customers is through marketing. One of the best ways to market your brand to potential customers is through advertising. That used to mean advertising in print or on TV. But as anyone not living under a rock knows, a lot of advertising is moving to digital, and in particular social, platforms.

The advertising tools for digital platforms are very sophisticated. Take advertising on Facebook for example. When you run an add on Facebook, you can target age range, likes, interests, etc. Apart from giving me your name, I can know a heck of a lot about you for almost nothing.

What does all of this mean for our political campaign?

Well, if the goal is winning and in order to win you need to tell people what they want to hear, we now have quite a platform for doing that to a larger audience than was ever possible before.

Your campaign could know what types of echo chambers different people are in by gathering the targeted advertising data, which Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms make readily available already. Then you could send a message to those people that said exactly what they wanted to hear. And this doesn’t have to fall along party lines. You could tell someone who identifies with the other party exactly what they wanted to hear. Who says you only have to pander to your party?

You could run an advertisement on social media to groups of people who say they like guns on their social media accounts to say your candidate supports the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms and will do everything in their power to fight for it. At the same time, you could run an advertisement on social media to groups of people who like groups who back gun-control laws to say your candidate supports gun-control laws.

If people are in echo chambers, they’re going to share these messages with other people who share the same views. This spreads the message in that particular group that your candidate supports their views.

But obviously someone’s going to see the hypocrisy here! I would hope so, otherwise things are far worse than I think. However, a prepared and strategic campaign could be ready to counter this. It’s not hypocrisy to defend the 2nd Amendment but also think we need better gun control laws, is it?

Why not brand things as fake news? Trump is already using this strategy by labeling the entire mainstream media (except for Fox News of course) as fake news. Did your candidate say they supported reducing guns to a gun-loving crowd? If it’s a gun-loving crowd asking, no that’s obviously fake news. And vice-versa, ad infinitum.

Now this can get into quite a head-spin very quickly, but it’s also not entirely inconceivable. On top of that, I used a major issue as an example, maybe it starts with more minor ones first that are harder to pin a candidate down on.

To make matters worse, or scarier, consider this article. It shows that there’s technology that now exists to alter video and audio to make it look or sound like someone is saying something they actually never did in quite convincing ways. Just imagine where it’ll be in two years. You could produce the Donald Trump bus tape whenever you wanted.

And don’t think this kind of stuff wasn’t already happening in 2016. This article shows how the Trump campaign was using online data analytics from social media to target voters and seems to have worked quite well. In 2–4 years, there will be even more data and better algorithms.

Where do we go from here

So if you’re like me, going through this thought experiment makes you scared as hell. If we thought 2016 was a crazy bumpy ride, imagine what 2018/2020 will be like when you have a really hard time distinguishing what is real and what is fake.

But the point of writing this is to get people thinking, to realize what’s possible, so we’re not caught off-guard in the next campaign season. It’s imperative we start to think about what the implications of these tools are and get out in front of this trend/technology. We need to build more tools that help people distinguish fact from fiction in an unbiased way.

Is this going to be easy? No. It’s going to be extremely challenging. But the same technology that can be used to create these tools can be used to combat them as well. The first step is being aware that they exist.

[1] As a technologist, I am coming at this from a biased angle but you cannot ignore the prevalence of technology in all aspects of life today. This is especially evident with how much technology ended up impacting the 2016 campaign, and I’d argue that it was because of underestimating technology’s role that a lot of people were surprised by 2016.

API First

If you’re building a digital product or have built one, you’ve most likely heard of the debate between web first and mobile first. In short, the debate is about choosing which platform to focus on first when building a MVP (minimum viable product). Fred Wilson wrote a good piece about it here when mobile was quickly gaining a lot of attention from product teams.

Mobile has since lost its edge as the platform of focus for a lot of product teams because it has gotten crowded and there are a lot of new platforms bursting on the scene (AI, chatbots, VR/AR, etc.). Google even recently called itself an AI first company. But I think there’s another way of thinking about building a digital product, and that is API first.

What I mean by API first is focusing on building your core API as a product before focusing on another platform. The great thing about focusing on the API first is that it makes it easier to tackle building your product for other platforms and interfaces. Once your team has built an API, you can focus on building your product for whatever other platform potential customers may be using, or whatever the next big thing is. In a sense, it “future proofs” your product because no matter what the next big thing is, your product will be ready for it. You won’t have to rewrite everything in order to support the new platform.

Now, I know there are probably a lot of engineers reading this and rolling their eyes saying you should be building products like this anyway! And you’re right, a smart product team will do this anyway when they build their product for one of the other platforms. However, often these APIs are kept private and not thought of as products themselves, but rather as a component of another product.

All of that is starting to change. Amazon recently announced a way to make it super simple to monetize an API built with their API Gateway product. In addition, is enabling bitcoin-payable APIs. This means your API can now be a product itself. You make money by charging others who consume your API.

The API as a product isn’t an entirely new idea, some examples include Cloudinary, AWS itself, and But what these new developments do is make it really easy for any product team to monetize their APIs.

I think this could have been an interesting route for Twitter to go in its early days. You could even make the argument this is what they did unintentionally. When Twitter first burst on the scene, there were lots of clients built on top of the Twitter API. But instead of thinking of their product as their API, they thought of their product as their own mobile and desktop clients where they could serve ads and make money that way. In an effort to channel more eyeballs to these products, they cut off a lot of the third-party developers that were consuming their API, and were left with arguably mixed results as a business.

Various Twitter clients (photo cred: Trusted Reviews)

So if you’re on a product team, in the midst of building a new product, or are thinking about building a new product, I encourage you to give the API first approach a consideration. Afterall, having another way to make money can’t be a bad thing for a startup.

Looking beyond the advertising business model

It feels like we’re hitting an inflection point with Internet business models. Currently, the most dominant business model for a consumer Internet business is advertising.[1] But there seems to be a growing sentiment that this needs to change. Medium recently announced it’s rethinking how it’s going to approach generating revenue. And they aren’t the only ones who think the Internet’s ad model is broken.

What’s great about the advertising model is everything is free! At least, in theory. The promise of the Internet is that it can be scaled infinitely. So anyone or anything can access any information that is uploaded to the Internet by someone or something else. This all happens at little or no cost.

This has been great and served us very well in the early days of the Internet. Just thinking about all of the information we have access to now is astounding. You can open up any web browser and do an infinite amount of queries and, almost always, find what you’re looking for. You can read the thoughts and opinions of anyone in the world, in real-time. You can watch someone else’s first-hand experience, anywhere in the world, live. Again, you can do all of this for basically nothing.

The problem is that’s not true. Yes, you can get all of the above for little or no monetary cost to you.[2] But it’s not true that you can get all of the above for no cost. Somewhere, somehow the piper is being paid. Most commonly, for businesses that rely on the advertising business model, your attention is what is being sold. Every time you do a search on Google, your attention is being sold. Every time you log into your Facebook account, your attention is being competed for by all the different services that want to tell or sell you something.

It might not cost you any $$ but it definitely costs your attention.

And the above assumes you’re browsing the web anonymously, which if you are the typical web user, you’re not. After all, most companies are not going to throw their money at Google and Facebook just to buy random people’s attention. They throw their money at Google and Facebook because Google and Facebook know a lot about you and that’s really valuable to businesses.

You know the famous line: “By signing up, you are agreeing to our Terms and Privacy Policy”. How many of us actually know what we are agreeing to? I mean actually know? I don’t see many hands.

This isn’t to say I think companies like Google and Facebook are evil. Instead, it’s not a question of good vs evil or right vs wrong. It’s about incentives. Google and Facebook don’t want to be evil but they also don’t want to go out of business or have to fire a whole bunch of people.

They are, however, huge public companies that face a lot of public scrutiny. What about all those random websites you sign up for to share images of cats or funny gifs? They get your data too. And even if they don’t directly ask for your data, they might get it from some other company who has your data and decided to sell it because they had to survive.

Wait, what?? It’s ok, it’s in all the privacy policies that you agreed to when you signed up in a drunken stupor late on a Tuesday night in 2013 because your friend told you to check out a cute cat picture.

This quote sums up what I am trying to get across[3]:

If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

In addition to advertising being a sketchy way of making money, it’s also a shitty user experience. Any time you go to a free article on the web, you are almost guaranteed to see a couple banner ads, a popup asking for your email, and an auto-play video advertisement. Nobody wants any of that crap. In fact, I’d bet the website you’re visiting probably doesn’t even enjoy showing it to you. But the only way they can please their true customer (the advertiser) is by showing you more of it.

The main news page for USA Today. A good proportion of the visible page (~60%) is dedicated to ads.

There have been some improvements to the advertising user experience with things like native ads. Which are ads that look just like normal content but are paid to be shown. An example of this is sponsored Tweets or Facebook posts that show up in your feed regardless of whether you follow the company or liked their page. They may be a better user experience than the huge banner ads and popups that meet you when visiting a typical site, but they still aren’t desired.

In response to privacy concerns and crappy user experiences, consumers have been fighting back with things such as ad-blockers. Ad-blockers are not just a niche thing either. Millions of users have them installed on their browsers on both desktop and mobile.

2 out of the top 3 most popular browser extensions for Firefox are ad-blockers. Each with millions of users.

This is obviously not great news for websites that rely on advertising dollars as their main revenue source. It has even created a heated debate about the ethics of ad-blockers. Is it ok to consume content for free if you are avoiding paying the content creators in some way? Is it ok to pass on the costs to other users? In fact, there’s even a bit of a cat and mouse game going on now between the developers of ad-blockers and the developers of websites that rely on advertising.

Regardless of your stance on the ethics of using ad-blockers, there’s no denying the advertising business model on the Internet is reaching a crossroad. On the one hand, having access to basically free content is awesome and has pretty much defined the web since the beginning. But on the other, advertising has gotten really fing annoying and taken to the extreme by companies desperate for revenue.

The problem is, there really haven’t been any great alternatives for consumer Internet business models. It’s easy to get sucked into this game too as a business. Create something. Put it on the web. Give it away for free. And attract as many users as possible. Figure out how to make money later (hint: ads).

That sounds really attractive. And it is really attractive. Especially to startup founders and investors. Some have made a lot of money with this model. And some will continue to do so.

How sustainable is this? And is this what we really want to do?

As a tech founder myself, it’d be awesome to create something that millions of people would want to use. But I also want to give my users the best experience possible and I just don’t think the advertising model can provide it. I also don’t think we want to build more apps and websites that rely on advertising. Most of the people I know in tech hate ads. We hate ads as consumers, yet we spend our day jobs creating products that rely on them.

It’s also, to a certain degree, encouraged by us consumers. We balk at paying $0.99 for an app that can measure our heart rate, send it to our doctor, and predict when we’re going to die.[4] Yet we have no hesitation to pay $4.50 for a grande cup of crappy coffee.

So what are the alternatives? How can you build an Internet business that costs users very little to access yet doesn’t bombard a user with advertisements?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfect solution to this problem. Come on, you weren’t expecting me to just give you a one-size fits all solution, were you? Instead, I think an area that particularly interests me as having not one but many potential solutions to this problem is cryptocurrencies.

For those who aren’t familiar with cryptocurrencies or the Blockchain, I am not going to go into great detail on what they are or how they work but I really don’t think you need to know those details to understand how they could be used as an alternative business model to advertising.[5]

There are two main ways I think cryptocurrencies can replace the advertising business model on the Internet. The first is the simplest to envision, micro-payments.

You may or may not have heard of the term micro-payments before but basically all I mean by it is making very small payments. For example, fractions of a penny at a time.

With the current monetary system, there isn’t a great way to give someone (or something) a fraction of a penny. I can’t just take a penny out of my pocket, cut it into fourths and give a fourth of a penny to someone. They may question my sanity if I did (they still may).

But you can’t really do this digitally either. In theory you can pay someone $0.0025 since it’s just a calculation but the problem with this is the amount of hands that $0.0025 has to pass between. When you factor in the various banks, credit card companies, and merchant accounts that are involved in the typical transaction, the fees to process an exchange of a small amount of money between parties would far surpass the actual amount exchanged. Making it pointless to transfer this small amount of money between parties.

If there are no banks involved by using a cryptocurrency to exchange funds between parties, the fees can be extremely small and actually make exchanging something like $0.0025 worth it.[6]

This would make it possible to have business models where the consumer pays very little (fractions of a penny) for each piece of content they consume (like an article, song, etc.), yet a business could make a lot of money when that fraction of a cent is multiplied by the large audiences of the Internet (i.e. the world’s population).

This is essentially what the advertising business model already does. But instead of the consumer paying the business directly for the content, the advertiser is essentially paying fractions of a penny to the business to get their ad in front of your eyeballs. Add that up over millions of pageviews and you can see how a business can make a lot of money selling ads. Yes, micro-payments requires a large audience to make good money, but so does the ad model.

There already is a micro-payments model being used today, in-app payments. Most don’t think of in-app payments (think buying levels or upgrades in a game) as a form of micro-payments but it essentially is the same idea. You pay a small amount of money ($0.99 typically) to consume a digital product. The reason in-app payments can exist, despite all the things mentioned above for a transaction so small, is because there is one company (Apple or Google) that processes the transaction. This can be done economically by lumping all users’ transactions together and only paying the fee on that one large transaction.

For digital goods like articles, videos, songs, level upgrades, etc. the micro-payments model makes a lot of sense. The only issue with it is consumer behavior and expectations. We’ve all been trained to believe everything on the Internet is free. So how do you convince someone who has never read any of your posts before to cough up $0.0025 to read your rant on Internet business models? Despite it being a really low amount, I can see why you might hesitate to part with your hard earned 1/4 cent.

The other alternative model that uses cryptocurrencies is investment. Not investment in the speculative investment sense that surrounds a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin (though that is part of it), but investment in the protocol by participation and consumption.

Cryptocurrencies, like other assets, have value. This value all depends on how the market perceives that value. If I created a digital currency today but didn’t tell anyone about it and you couldn’t do anything with it, then it would have no value.

But for digital currencies like Bitcoin, where you can use it to buy goods and transfer funds, it has value. That value is calculated like any other asset on the market, by supply and demand.

Applying this idea to Internet business models can get pretty interesting and complex. But to keep it simple, let’s use Twitter as an example. Imagine if instead of using the ad model like it does now, Twitter instead created its own digital currency, let’s call it Twit. By participating in the Twitter network, you can earn Twits. The more likes or retweets you get on one of your posts, the more Twits you can earn.

Then you can use those Twits to get access to extra features like embedding Tweets, creating moments, or accessing the API. Since it’s a digital currency, in theory you could also use it to buy goods (as long as the seller accepted Twits). Or trade it with someone else to buy more of your preferred currency.

The creators of Twitter (and Twit) could have decided in the beginning to allocate themselves 1,000,000 Twits each. Over time, as Twits rise in value, the value of the founders of Twitter rises, just like any other business.

There are already a few businesses that are starting to test this model out. The most popular amongst these and the closest to the model I walked through above is Steem. Steem is kind of like Reddit 2.0 but is backed by its own digital currency. By participating in the Steem network, you can earn real money. It’s a really interesting idea and one I hope is experimented with more.

There is much more you can do with a digital currency and I am over simplifying a lot but the point is you can create an alternative business model to the advertising model that still keeps the core spirit of the Internet alive but doesn’t have to spam Internet users to survive. I think as the Internet continues to mature and innovate, we’ll see more and more new business models like the ones I’ve outlined above.

In the spirit of this post, I want to try something. If you found this interesting (hey, you made it this far at least) or you just want me to tell everyone I know how awesome you are, send me a small amount of Bitcoin. It can be as little or as much as you want. Thanks!

[1] I am just going to focus on consumer Internet businesses in this post. B2B Internet companies do have a number of different models that seem to work fairly well (i.e. SAAS, Freemium, etc.) and they have the advantage of users who have budgets specifically for spending money on these things.

[2] I am no expert, but I am assuming the monetary costs would be some portion of the combination of the cost for the device you use to access the Internet and the cost you pay to a service provider to hook you up to the Internet.

[3] I don’t remember who said this originally :/

[4] I’m kidding, an app like this doesn’t exist. But if it did, you’d probably debate whether or not it was worth $0.99.

[5] If you want to learn more about cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain, I recommend Googling it. It is constantly changing so it is hard to give any one resource but searching for it will definitely turn up some good results.

[6] A lot of people seem to get tripped up by the feasibility of cryptocurrencies because they say: “no one will ever understand what the value of this coin is” or “the coin is to volatile to be used practically”. But I think they overlook the fact that a cryptocurrency could be used strictly for the transferring of funds between parties. You don’t have to show this to the end user and can instead show their home currency. And you don’t have to hold the cryptocurrency for longer than the time it takes to process the transaction.

Now, I know I am glossing over some things here, but the point is cryptocurrencies for micropayments can be used strictly as a means to transfer funds and nothing more.

What happens to the drivers when automatic driving cars arrive?

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the gig economy lately because of The Gig Saloon, which is trying to help give gig workers more bargaining power in the gig economy. I am really fascinated by the idea of not just services on-demand but also work and income on-demand.

But one thing that keeps bugging me when I think about what the future of the gig economy looks like is what happens when driverless cars arrive?

It seems pretty evident to me that driverless vehicles will one day be the rule, rather than the exception. And that one day is getting pretty close. You can debate about the timing of driverless cars but I don’t think you can debate about the inevitability of them.

The problem with this is that almost all of the current gig economy jobs are driver based. Whether that driver comes to pick you up and drive you to your destination or drives to a restaurant to pick up your order and bring it to you, driving is at the core of gig economy work right now.

That will completely change when driverless cars arrive. Those jobs will no longer be there. I don’t think that means something should be done to prevent or slow the progress of driverless cars. In fact, I think the opposite because of all the benefits society will gain from driverless cars.

But I am curious what will happen to all the people (and there are millions of them currently, not to mention truck drivers as well) that use their vehicle as their main source of income.

Perhaps these jobs will just take another shape. Instead of driving around to deliver services, people will instead deliver services digitally. We can already see this happening with things like Amazon Mechanical Turk or Upwork. It’s not hard to imagine more services like these popping up, especially with the growing need for training AI algorithms.

Another alternative would be to invest in training current workers for the skills of tomorrow. I am 100% for this but I am also realistic and recognize this won’t work for everyone and most likely will take a much longer time frame than a 45 year-old person without those skills has.

Maybe new technologies will unlock new forms of jobs that won’t require humans to be behind a wheel and don’t take a lot of training either. I am not sure exactly what these jobs would be, but nobody thought you’d be able to hire a car from your pocket 10 years ago either.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the future holds but I do think we should be thinking about what affects it might have and start planning for them today. Maybe the company you’re thinking about starting could utilize a large and eager workforce?

Alexa can now help you vote

Another reason to #govote this year

I’ve got some exciting news, Informed Voter is now an Alexa skill! Now Alexa can tell you where you can vote for this year’s election. Just ask 🙂

“Alexa, ask Informed Voter where I can vote”

Alexa will be able to tell you when and where you can vote, including early voting information. Happy voting 🙂

What if all of America voted?

Introducing Informed Voter

All political systems are flawed. As Americans, we hold our own system as the golden standard, yet you don’t have to look very hard to find its flaws. For example, until recently in American history, a number of different groups of citizens in this country weren’t even allowed to vote.

Even now that all citizens have the right to vote, only slightly more than the majority do and turnout for non-presidential races is worse. The typical winner in a presidential election in the US receives around 50% of the vote. Which means, although the US prides itself on being the golden standard of democracy, its own president is chosen by only around a quarter of its voting age citizens.

The 2016 US Presidential Election might make this number even lower. Right now it appears whoever wins this year’s election will receive less than the majority of the vote. If turnout for this year’s election is similar to other recent presidential elections, then that will mean less than a quarter of eligible voters in the US will have selected the President.

No wonder most Americans feel like they aren’t being represented by their elected officials, because they’re not! But we have no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t vote.

What would happen if all Americans voted? Maybe we would have a less toxic political atmosphere.

This year’s election is far too important to sit on the sidelines. That’s why I’ve developed an app called Informed Voter to help you find information about where you can vote this election. Its also got an iMessage app so you can send your friends their voting information. No one should be left out this election. We all deserve to be heard. While this app won’t be the only thing needed to get all Americans to vote this year, I hope it’s a step in the right direction.

Early voting has already begun in a number of states throughout the country. So if it has started in your state, download the app, find out where you can vote, and go vote. And if you need someone to chat with in line at the polling station, use the iMessage app and get some friends to go to the polls with you (for most early voting, you can vote in a number of different locations).

This isn’t a political issue. It’s not partisan politics. The politicians in the US are supposed to represent its people. It’s about time they do. So if you’re not registered to vote yet and can, please do. You can do so easily here. And if you are registered to vote, then download the app and find out where to vote this election or use it to tell your friends where they can vote.

Let your voice be heard this November.

You can find out more about the Informed Voter here.

How to use the Gig Economy to your advantage

One of the great promises of the gig economy is freedom. In the gig economy, it goes, you are your own boss. You can work according to your own schedule. You have access to a number of different sources of income on-demand. But as with any great promise, sometimes it really is too good to be true.

The gig economy has faced its challenges. From the lack of benefits like healthcare to the growing concern many gigs will disappear because of automation, there is a lot to be desired. If you’re on the internet long enough, you’ll probably come across various articles pointing out the flaws of the gig economy.

But it’s not all despair and broken promises. The gig economy, viewed in the right way, can be a huge advantage. When you have lots of different options to choose from and the freedom to pick and choose from those options at a moments notice, you have an advantage.

While most current solutions to the issues of the gig economy focus on reclassification of workers, few focus on the potential that’s already there: choice.

The growing popularity of on-demand services for consumers is driving more and more new companies to join the gig economy. And each new company needs a fleet of workers who can fulfill their customers’ demand. So not only are there more opportunities now but they are also easier to get because each new company is desperate for workers. Which means one thing to the gig economy worker: more choice.

For a person looking for extra work, you couldn’t ask for a better situation. You can use each gig against the others to maximize your income. Drive for Lyft but haven’t received that high of a wage in recent weeks? Drive for Uber. Uber not paying that high either? Drive for Fasten. Fasten’s wages low? Deliver for Postmates. And on and on.

The beauty of the gig economy is you can do this every day. Heck, you can do it every hour. Most on-demand services now have some sort of surge pricing or higher pay rates during peak customer demand times. That means you could just work for whatever gig currently is paying peak wages. And when they switch off, you move on to the next one.

It’s easy to think having a full-time job is better than having to jump from one gig to another. Full-time jobs can offer stability and benefits. But having lots of choices and the freedom to quickly and easily move between those choices can often bring the best results.

The only way to keep increasing your income in a competitive working world is to be in high demand. This can be achieved when you have a particular set of skills that are highly sought after. Unfortunately, not everyone can be so lucky. But another way to be in high demand is to work in a field where workers have lots of choices. When workers have lots of choices of where they can work, the employers fight for the workers, not the other way around.

A lot of people think the gig economy isn’t for them or they think Uber is their only option. But there are lots of on-demand service companies now and more and more are being started every day. Most don’t require much more than a smartphone. So if you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve got a connection to a lot of potential sources of income. Use it to your advantage.

Interested in the gig economy? Want to find out what potential gigs might be out there for you? Check out my new app called The Gig Saloon. It allows anyone, if you work gigs or not, to find new opportunities.

You can filter by your location, requirements met, and types of gigs you’d like to work. You might be surprised what’s out there. It also has helpful features like news filtered specifically for the gig economy, the ability to review gigs you’ve worked, and a forum to discuss your experience with other gig workers.

And as I’ve said, the more opportunities presented to you the more of an advantage you have. So check it out and let me know what you think.

The Blockchain and The Fed

On Thursday I went to an event at the Boston Federal Reserve Bank called “The Hype and Promise of Blockchain”, which was part of Boston’s 2016 Hub Week. As someone who has expressed interest in the Blockchain in the past, I thought it’d be interesting to hear the Fed’s (albeit just the Boston branch) take on the Blockchain.

Don Anderson, the CIO of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, spoke for the Fed at the event. His talk mostly outlined what the Boston Federal Reserve’s responsibilities were as part of the Fed and how the Blockchain might help them do their job. Below is some of the parts of his talk I found most interesting as well as my reaction to some of it.

The Boston Federal Reserve Bank’s Responsibilities

One of the most interesting tidbits from the talk was the role that the Boston branch of the Federal Reserve plays. It’s responsible for maintaining the distributed ledger for all of the Federal Reserve banks. If you are at all familiar with what the Blockchain is, you’ll know this is a perfect match, as the Blockchain is essentially a distributed ledger over the internet.(1)

The Fed recognizes the match, which is a good first step, but seems to be very cautious with it’s approach to how it goes about utilizing the Blockchain. This is completely understanding as you wouldn’t want the Fed experimenting with the record of your personal assets.

Where the Fed sees the value in something like the Blockchain is the distributed nature of it. If there was ever a horrible event that took place physically in the US, no matter what happened here to buildings, printed money, etc. there would still be a backup record kept distributed throughout the world.

However, while the distributed nature of the Blockchain is what appeals to the Fed, it’s also the biggest reason for the Fed’s trepidation around using it. From the Fed’s perspective, not knowing or having control over everyone involved is a big risk and one they haven’t figured out how to deal with or are not willing to take.

This is a larger underlying concern that I took away from the event. What a lot of the Fed’s hesitation with the Blockchain boils down to is the government’s lack of trust in anything but itself. Despite the promise of the Blockchain not requiring trust because of how it is built, the Fed still approaches it in a manner where they need to have control over it because they don’t trust the parties involved (or as is often the case, don’t know what parties are involved) and they don’t trust the system because they didn’t create it.(2)

Other Opportunities for the Fed

Besides the natural use case of using the Blockchain as a ledger, the Fed also recognizes it’s potential in other areas. Some of the other areas the Fed is looking at using the Blockchain in are:

  • Capital Markets
  • Smart contracts
  • Digital currency

I am not going to dive too deeply into any of these topics here but there are some interesting points of note. The first is that the Fed even recognizes the potential use cases of a technology that is very new, especially when talking about smart contracts. I was actually quite surprised to hear smart contracts (and Ethereum) even mentioned in the talk. As one could expect, there is much hesitation to do anything concrete with smart contracts since it’s so new (we are talking about the Federal government here). Though it is interesting that it has come across their radar.

Another interesting topic touched on was the usage of digital currency. Mr. Anderson mentioned that a number of countries had active projects going on today trying to create their own digital currency to potentially replace their physical one (or at least compliment it). This is a pretty powerful recognition by governments around the world that these technologies might actually benefit their citizens.(3) However, for America this comes with a caveat. It seems like other countries will be leading the way here as it was noted other countries have active projects currently underway while the US does not.

Digital currency is an obvious use case, given Bitcoin’s popularity, but again we’re talking about national governments. It is impressive to hear at least a few of them have active projects going on today.(4)

The Fed’s Concerns

All of the above is great and somewhat impressive to hear but the government is still the government and it approaches any potential risk taking with a lot of hesitation. Below is a few concerns/questions remaining about the Blockchain that the Fed outlined:

  • Transparency
  • Regulation
  • Speed
  • Transition (migration/co-existence)

Again, not going to deep dive on all of these but overall not surprising these are the questions the Fed has about the Blockchain. For anyone familiar with Bitcoin/Blockchain, speed is a question for everyone especially considering the rift it has caused in the community.

The concern that bothered me the most was regulation. I understand we are talking about the government and the government and regulation go hand in hand but it was the approach to this concern that bothered me.

Why assume regulation is needed? Why not approach it as a small experiment and see where it goes? Then decide on whether or not safe guards are needed. Rather than assuming regulation is needed and looking for a place to add it?


Overall, my take away from this event was it was interesting to hear the government is even considering using a new technology like the Blockchain to help it function. On the other hand, nothing said at the event was all that surprising. The Fed is using a lot of caution about how it approaches the Blockchain and other technologies like it. And most of the use cases are pretty standard and unsurprising.

What I would’ve liked to hear but didn’t at the event was the Fed considering new use cases, approaching the Blockchain as a way to do some new things, fix broken systems, etc. Alas, I assume the new uses, like in most cases, will come from the outside rather than from within.

(1) I am keeping it simple with this explanation as I am not going to dive deep into what the Blockchain is here. You can google it if curious or read more about it here or here.

(2) Hopefully this will change over time. Maybe it’s just that this technology is so new that the government truly doesn’t understand it well enough to trust it and with time it will. My surmise is that isn’t the case but going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

(3) Alright, if we are being honest with each other, my guess is governments really are interested in digital currency not because it necessarily benefits it’s citizens (which I believe it will) but because digital currency might make it easier to track the spending of certain groups/individuals. This does help them with their national security job but poses other kinds of risks as well. As they say, any technology can be used for both good and evil.

(4) One theme that I did take away from this event was governments’ recognition that these technologies are coming (and quickly) and at least trying to understand them, if not be on the forefront.

Announcing The Gig Saloon

A platform for the gig economy

The gig economy is transforming society. Not only are the services provided by gig economy companies making people’s lives better and more efficient, but millions of people are now able to work on their own schedule, be their own boss, and have access to many more sources of income.

But like any transformation, it comes with some bumps along the way. For the gig economy, this has mostly been around the relationship between the gig workers and the gig companies. While gig workers have new freedom and flexibility like never before, they also feel used and ignored.

So far the majority of the response has been to demand a reclassification of workers from independent contractors to part-time or full-time employees. In some instances this makes sense and can be mutually beneficial to both parties. Many gig companies only hire part-time or full-time employees. But this also takes away one of the very promises the gig economy created, the freedom to be your own boss and work your own hours.

That’s why I am excited to announce a new app called The Gig Saloon!

The motivation for The Gig Saloon is to create a platform where gig economy workers can go to find new jobs, stay up to date on gigs, and share their experience. It puts the power into the hands of the worker, while still keeping the benefits of freedom and flexibility.

Find new gigs

The easiest way to keep flexibility, yet maximize income is to have optionality. The more options you have, the more bargaining power you have and the easier it is to choose the an option that benefits you the most at any given time.

The Gig Saloon makes finding new gigs and applying for them easier and faster than ever before. You can filter gigs by location, requirements met, roles you’re interested in, and type of gig. Whenever you feel like you’ve found something you’re interested in, simply apply from the app and have your information pre-filled in the application form.

Stay up to date

Another important part of maximizing income is knowing what gig to work and when. Because the pay for each gig varies greatly depending on current demand, it can get overwhelming trying to keep track of many different gigs. That’s why with The Gig Saloon you can keep track of all of your current gigs and register to receive their specific notifications.

News articles are also a great way to stay current with what’s happening around the gig economy. The Gig Saloon shows gig economy specific news articles for you so you know what’s the latest without having to leave the app.

Share your experience

Finally, the most powerful thing gig workers can do is exchange information with each other. Although there are many forums out there already that have brought gig workers together, most notably Facebook Groups and Reddit, they remain fragmented. Some forums are private and need an invite to get in, which blocks any potentially interested workers from access. And some have lots of great content but because the platforms weren’t built specifically for gig workers, lots of information gets lost or is irrelevant quickly.

In The Gig Saloon, workers will have one place to find any and all information shared by others. For now, it’s simply two lists, Latest and Most Popular. As more and more people contribute content the app will get better and better at surfacing the information you care about most.

Where does it go from here

At this point, I hope I’ve convinced you enough to give The Gig Saloon a try. But I also want to show you where it goes from here. Right now, the app addresses a number of different pain points for gig workers but there is still so much more to be done.

One of the features that will be built in the near-term is the ability to review gigs you’ve worked. One annoying problem is that it’s really hard to gauge what the actual earnings will be from any given gig. Sure, companies publish this information on their websites (and for the ones that do, we include that in the app now) but let’s be honest, those are usually best-case scenarios that don’t apply to the majority of workers and are there for the benefit of the companies in order to attract new workers promising unrealistic rates. Adding in reviews of gigs, including your average pay rate for that gig, will help shine a light on what you can actually expect to earn from any given gig. And just like how workers are constantly being reviewed on a 5 star basis, what about reviewing the companies? What would you give Uber on a scale of 1–5 stars as place to work? Lyft? DoorDash? etc. Gig workers should have this information in an easily to understand format and that’s what gig reviews will bring.

Another feature that I am really excited about is better filtering of content. There are millions of posts, tweets, images, articles, etc. out there that can help gig workers. But right now, they are on many different sites/apps and are really hard to find (especially if you don’t know what to ask!). By using machine learning, we can come up with a smarter tagging system that automatically tags content with relevant topics. That means you will no longer have to do the manual process of searching for the information you need. Instead the relevant information that you care about will come to you.

It’s about time more power was put in the hands of the gig workers and that’s exactly what The Gig Saloon aims to do.

Interested in giving it a try? Download the app on iOS or Android now!