March 6, 2013

February 10, 2013

Roku has premium pricing and their own pay system

Roku- the runaway hit of Internet TV, allows channels to charge for premium services. And they have their own payment system. I just launched a new channel on Roku, now in beta, called MixTV. Our studios are in Berkeley, California. Our maiden offerings will be free, with advertising, but we are watching the Roku pay system to see if it succeeds.

October 27, 2011

Philip Farah of Cisco shares insights on Payments

Philip Farah, a Financial Services exec at Cisco has blogged about the recent SIBOS conference, among other things, and shares some terrific insights.
An excerpt: "...an echoing message was prevalent at SIBOS — the leading global payments conference, attended by ‘serious bankers’ – in Toronto this past Sep. One of the Innovation topics highlighted the opportunity for currencies to not only reflect the growth potential or the financial stability of a Nation, but a larger set of values including: innovation, the status of the environment and yes the degree of social happiness and stability...."
Check out his full post here.

August 3, 2011

My Amazon review of Ted Nelson's autobiography

Computer visionary gives us the true history we've never heard
Possiplex, an autobiography of Ted Nelson
Ted Nelson is not unknown, but he is certainly underknown. A spectacularly creative and energetic thinker, Nelson is in that beloved group of American outsider-inventors who at first appear harmlessly eccentric but then change the world. Think Orville and Wilbur Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Philo Farnsworth and Nicola Tesla. This autobiography (make note, the supertitle says "An Autobiography of Ted Nelson," raising expectations for more) is a hypnotic thrill to read, as it conveys the excitement, danger, disasters and rewards of a life lived in pursuit of the Big Breakthrough. Grasping early (ca 1960) that computers had been misperceived as counting or math engines, he sets out to design systems for general usefulness across the worlds of Business and the Arts. Laying out the original concept of Hypertext in the mid-1960's at Brown University, his work began to be taken seriously and influenced numerous conceptual breakthroughs that lead to many of the computing paradigms of today. Except, as detailed in his generous and engaging style, too many ill-considered compromises and wrong turns were taken (by companies and other corporate-think designers), leaving us with difficult-to-use systems that limit creativity, undermine rights and stifle commerce (online newspaper crisis anyone?...music business?...publishing?) Possiplex is the only recent book on inventors and invention I have read that positively bursts with optimism about the great things that are (still) possible. Along with a view into now-historical software designs, we get a fascinating look at some near-misses and yet-to-be's. For that reason alone it deserves status as required reading. And you won't be disappointed with the insider talk and juicy personal bits either. Recommended.

February 11, 2011

BankSimple

I have been following the progress of BankSimple, a new enterprise claiming to be designing "true mobile banking." Though initially saying they were to be a new kind of bank, now it's "we're not a bank, we're better." If they're not a bank they will certainly have to change their name, since all states regulate the use of the word-- you must actually be a bank. Launch is sometime in 2011. Here's the link if you want to keep tabs https://banksimple.com.

February 6, 2011

Identity Reset

We have all gotten terribly casual, blasé even, about casting our real names and attached identities just about anywhere we tread on the Net. Unless you're a Troll...but even Trolls share their real identities with FB friends. How have we let this happen, in light of the steady, decades-long admonition to guard our identities online?

This unfortunate state of things comes from two places. First, complacency. Who would bother tracking me? If they did, who cares what they would find? -and- They track everybody, so what? Second, a misguided sense of citizenship, a position opposite of Troll. I want to show my real name in this forum, so everyone can see that I stand behind my words and am accountable. It is the "I challenge you to do the same" stance as a reflection of the desire to make the Web a better, move civic, and civil, place.

Well, this is not good. Your footprints, and fingerprints, stay online forever. Things you say, in the context of the moment, may sound profoundly inappropriate at some future time, stripped of context. And there will be nothing you can do about it. The Big Nasty is something we have been warned of too many times but seem not to care about: Identity Theft.

Identity Theft will grow as a sector of white-collar crime because so much of our lives is migrating to the Net. And, when virtually all our money activity is conducted there (and we're not far off), the ripoffs will grow to alarming proportions. Don't count on Amex and Citi to cover all this damage. They will not-- they will not be able to! At some point soon they will require you to practice rigid identity hygiene...it may be too late for some, who have been so promiscuous that they will have to petition the government for new identities.

Reset your identity now. Change you email address to something that does not use any part of your real name. Dial down your sharing settings on Facebook. And, dare I say it- encrypt your messages. Yes. Encryption. It's easier than ever with PGP and GPG, and is an excellent practice in every way. 'Cause it ain't just the crooks who want to track you.

December 13, 2010

Visa, MasterCard blocking of WikiLeaks is a stunt

Much fanfare was made by payment house MasterCard about closing the WikiLeaks account last week, blocking their access to inbound funds. Not to be outdone, Visa followed suit, announcing they too would no longer handle payments to WikiLeaks. Both actions were PR stunts. Payments certainly continue to flow to WikiLeaks over both MC and Visa. The nature of these companies is that they provide the information hub for the processing of payments, but banks, retail banks like Wells Fargo and CitiBank, with additional services from a unit of the Federal Reserve Bank called the Automated Clearing House, actually move the money and settle transactions. Add to the mix so-called payment gateways, which aggregate card processing for smaller commercial accounts (like WikiLeaks) and you get an environment where a MasterCard can announce that they are stopping service to WikiLeaks-- and they definitely can blacklist an account with the name WikiLeaks --but that claim in itself is inherently leaky.
WikiLeaks most certainly has other business names with which it registers itself with payments gateways. Visa/MasterCard process the transactions from these gateways, who are trusted partners, and never know, and don't want to know, who the actual customers are. That is how online casinos, porn sites with underage models, unprescribed prescription drug services and other shadow operations continue to accept credit cards unabated. Once in a while an announcement is made by one of the card processors about "shutting down a major..." you name it, Russian spam-scam, whatever, but it is always by definition a PR stunt.
Which is good news for WikiLeaks.

November 15, 2009

Why banks are necessary

Money implies movement. If everyone kept their funds under the mattress, always, the concept would be dead. For money to move, trusted parties are required. Cash, checks, credit cards, the tokens by which we fund our commerce, are all supported by the banking system-- they provide the trusted settlement necessary for money to move, for money to actually work. Retail banks do many things, but fundamentally they are about two things: deposits/lending and payments/settlement. Payments and settlement are so fundamental as to be nearly unacknowledged, but this service provided by the banks (and their bank, the Fed), is the backbone of money.

February 11, 2009

Settlenet. Anonymity doesn't mean 'no responsibility'

A hallmark of the Settlenet system is anonymity between parties exchanging funds. What's this about? Simply, it means that the act of paying does not imply, ipso facto, a transfer of anything other than money. The means of preserving anonymity is the proxy method of validation. When you want to buy something, your bank steps in to do the transaction, interacting via a Settlenet Hub Server with the other party's bank. You don't know the other party (unless they publish it to you) and they don't know you. Settlenet escrows the transaction, ensuring that you get what you clicked to buy, and the vendor gets his money. Unless you tell the vendor who you are (and there are sometimes good reasons to do this), they will only know that a payment has been made.

Responsibility: since you have a relationship with your bank and they are proxying you, you risk losing your banking privileges if you abuse the anonymity aspect of the system. Example: Getting a piece of content and then denying you ever received it, requesting a refund. Anonymity as a fundamental quality of online payments is a return to the freedom of cash-- buying a carton of milk at the corner store never required an information relationship between you and 7-11, for instance. It can be posited that a chill effect contaminates all Internet commerce as long as personal identity and more (credit card info, social security #) are required to complete a transaction.

June 24, 2008

The Future of Money, Part III: Medium of Exchange

Medium of Exchange, Definition: A document used to convey value uniformly and discretely between one party and another. In order to be effective, a government or other large trusted institution must back the document. In the Internet Age, this document is vestigial. We know what a dollar is, what it represents in buying power, and we are comfortable carrying this idea forward into cyberspace. But the polity in this new age may press for meta-government backing, as seen in the Euro, and a new idea of medium of exchange, one that is purely digital, is bound to emerge.

May 31, 2008

Data at rest

Is personal financial data secure on the Internet? No, it isn't. Even though most sites that take your credit card info are https-encrypted/authenticated, once your data is in the merchant's hands it lives on, and is subject to hack, crack or simply someone in the company copying it and selling it. Now, there is a whole "best practices" regime from the CardCos called PCI that attempts to motivate merchants to keep everything screwed down tight. But with millions and millions of merchants large and small, enforcement and compliance is decidedly mixed. This is the dirty little secret behind Visa's recent public offering. The main thrust of the deal was to get the previous owners, the banks, out from under the responsibility and risk of data-at-rest, which has grown by orders of magnitude in the past decade.

March 7, 2008

The Future of Money, Part II: Representing Value

The Bill of Exchange was an innovation that created a boom in thirteenth and fourteenth century Europe and led to our modern concept of money. Essentially a contract representing the value of a deal, with an obligation to pay, bills of exchange could travel quickly and safely between market regions. Because they were issued and honored by merchant houses of good reputation they could be traded and transferred with confidence. Emergent trust in this system-- a receiver believed that holding a document was (nearly) the equivalent of holding gold, represented an evolutionary step in human consciousness. Without the landmark development and acceptance of the Bill of Exchange, the world economy, its fluid nature based upon credit, leverage, speed and persistence, undergirded by trust, could not exist.

February 26, 2008

Visa IPO: what I said. NY Times concurs.

Floyd Norris in today's New York Times lays it out precisely:

Visa plans to go publc this spring, and the prospectus filed today indicates that it will get $15.6 billion (after deducting about $481 million in underwriting fees) from the offering if it is sold at $39.50 a share, the mid-point of its offering range.

Of that money, how much do you think will stay in Visa to help the company grow?

In round numbers, zero.

This offering is evidently intended to serve two purposes. First, to bail out the banks that now own Visa from the financial responsibility of antitrust violations involved in Visa’s effort to keep its member banks from offering American Express or Discover cards. The first $3 billion raised goes into an escrow account to pay damages.

The second purpose is to get cash to banks that may need additional capital, which is to say a lot of banks. Essentially all the remaining cash from the offering will end up with the banks, from repurchasing stock from them. The banks can use the extra capital.

Full post here.

February 25, 2008

Visa Shields the Banks with IPO

The Visa IPO has been in the works for two years; in March they will finally offer shares to the public. The New York Times reports that Visa expects to raise $17bn from the market. That would be about 6x more than MasterCard's 2006 IPO. What is Visa going to do with the money? Nothing. The net proceeds are being distributed in their entirety to the member-owners of Visa, the banks. The purpose of this IPO is two-fold. Visa is a mature operation and the time to harvest profits is (arguably) now. Growth has nearly flatlined, and the possibility of contraction sometime in the near future is real. Perhaps more importantly, Visa has a security exposure problem. The millions of credit card numbers that have been pumped out to ecommerce sites, from Amazon to iTunes to Fred's T-Shirt's are an ongoing cost problem Visa. This is because it is all too easy to hack into or otherwise steal this information. Visa has from the start continuously self-insured against fraud and default, but the cost is getting too high. If a wave of security-breach lawsuits washes over Visa in the coming years, the banks, now holding less than a 50% stake in Visa, cannot be held responsible. Make sense. For the banks.

February 19, 2008

Monetor- getting with the metaphor


grgwr-monitor
Originally uploaded by grgwr

Gregoire Vion, a talented graphic designer with an elegant office on a houseboat in the Emeryville Marina, designed this critter for one of Settlenet's proof-of-concept presentations.

February 15, 2008

The Future of Money, Part 1a: Paul Krugman makes our point

Trust. Without it, money (or its doppelganger, credit) fails. Paul Krugman writes in The New York Times today about a Crisis of Faith. He cites the contagion that has spread from the subprime mortgage and securities markets into far corners of the economy. He lowers the boom in a passage that is devastating in it's blunt implications:

"More important, however, is the way the ever-widening financial crisis has shaken investors’ faith in the whole system. People no longer trust assurances that fancy financial instruments will function the way they’re supposed to — after all, they know what happened to people who thought their subprime-backed securities were safe, AAA-rated investments. Why, then, should they believe that auction-rate securities are as good as cash? And loss of trust can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now that new investors won’t buy auction-rate securities because they no longer believe that they’re as good as cash, those securities become a much worse investment."
       

This is not trivial. If investors doubt the soundness of an instrument, no matter its reliability in the past, they will refrain from investing. Think about that.

February 13, 2008

Kevin Kelly specs Top Down to improve Bottom Up

KK writes of the need to insert top down editorial control into the bottom up of the emerging hive mind, here. I disagreed. Read my response.

Google thinking big with GPay


A Gpay Payment Screen
Originally uploaded by bragadocchio
This illustration is from a Google patent application filed in August, 2007. Apparently a stored-value account that leverages sms/texting as the messaging format for generating payment instructions.

February 12, 2008

The Future of Money. Part I.

What is money? We use the word money with confidence; of course we know what it means. What’s it mean, then? Well, it’s that greenback paper we carry in our pocketbook. Right? It’s the number we see in the bottom right of our bank statement. Isn’t it? It’s what comes out of the slot machine when we pull three cherries, yes?

Yes, it is. The reason that those things can be called money is that we all agree that they are instances of money. General agreement about how to represent and transmit value is the foundation of the money system. We trust that everyone, at least everyone we are likely to interact with, will abide by the same understanding of what money is and how it works.

So agreement, mutual trust, is the very essence of money. The actual rules and details we accept as part of the agreement are not important, really. They are temporal. When the rules need to change, as long as the majority goes along, they change. The important thing is that we all accept and believe in the system.

The next important feature of money is that it is persistent. It works 100% of the time. Yes, it does. Do you doubt that the $20 bill on your dresser will buy your lunch today as you dash off to work? It works every time, because the cashier at the deli knows with absolute certainty that she can transmit that bill into the deli’s bank account, where it can in turn be used for the financial needs of the business.

Now, wait just a second you say! What if the cashier has reason to doubt? What if there is massive inflation, like in South America in the 1970s, or Germany in the 1920s? People didn’t want paper money because its value declined faster than they could turn around and get rid of it. If that were to happen, that $20 might not work at that deli.

Exactly. When trust fails, the money system falls apart. There is absolutely no permanent value in a dollar bill, or your travelers checks or postage stamps for that matter; it only exists as long as the community believes it is there. Call it consensual hallucination. And this is a very useful thing for the community, because it enables a lot of things to happen quickly. As we go about conducting the business of our local, regional, national and international economies, we don’t stop and renegotiate the idea of money every time there is a transaction. It’s understood, and commerce flows.

Money is a system where value can be represented and transmitted in a consistent way. Communal belief in the system is the foundation that supports continuity.