Jeff Bezos asked a good question, and of course I have some ideas

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Posted on: June 16, 2017

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Jeff Bezos, an amazing person, the founder of Amazon, one of the richest people in the world, is also someone who keeps coming up with good ideas, and executes them proficiently. He's a visionary who sees where a new business is possible, bets on it and stays with it to profit from its success. All of these things make him exceptional.

He also asked a good question. How can his philanthropy be even more effective. Not some time in the future, but right now. That's the question I was trying to get Bill Gates to ask in the mid-90s when he was trying to turn the web into a feature of Office.

My advice for Gates went like this.

  • I know you say when you're done with Microsoft you're going to devote your life to philanthropy by giving away almost all the money you made.
  • But right now you have much higher leverage than you will then. Later your money will be just like everyone else's. But now your money has unique value, because you are the CEO of (at the time) the leading tech company in the world.
  • If you can apply the generous spirit of philanthropy to the tech world, you can multiply your contribution many times over.
  • I argued that if he relented and let the web exist, even fed its independence, this would be a huge contribution to the world.
  • I also argued that it would be good business because his efforts to own the web were doomed to fail. But that was the minor point.

So to Jeff Bezos, I'd make the same plea. Right now the Amazon business that I see as most important to the future of humanity is AWS. And it also is very close to the idea of the web, that everyone should be able to control their own online presence, not as a lure for a big company's advertising platform but as a way of sharing ideas and experiences with other people, so we can work together to solve the problems of our species. And we have great problems to solve!

Amazon is already doing a lot there. But they could do more.

  • Solve the problem of long-lived web content.
  • Make it easier for people to start their own web site.
  • Make it possible for people to create their own social networks.
  • In other words commoditize and make almost-free the features of the online world that disempower the individual. Be an idealist about the web. It's time for it to come back into fashion. We've tried turning over all the power to big tech companies and it's had some terrible results.

Lead us to a future where technology is the hope for humanity, again, as it once was.


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