Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Book Review: I live in the future & here's how it works, by Nick Bilton

By Stephen Northcutt

I just finished Nick Bilton’s book, it is very fresh and I think it has some insights for all of business, especially all of SANS and GIAC business. I will talk about Chapters 1 and 2 specifically and then some of the takeaways. Bilton is a good writer, and this is a fantastic choice as an airplane book.

Chapter 1: he used to love getting his New York Times newspaper, then one day, he was so much happier with his online feed that he canceled the paper and has not looked back. I canceled our local paper subscription two months ago and now get most of my news from aggregators and Google alerts. Recently, a young teenager was visiting Bilton's kids and asked if she could use his laptop to check the news. He was curious, CNN or NBC, he asked her. She replied, Facebook. That’s not news he said, she replied - it is “my news”. I went to Facebook, sure enough, they call the section where you read about your friends, “News”. Print circulation is dropping, DVD sales are dropping, a lot.

Chapter 2: Porn has always been an innovator; second largest use for the Gutenberg press (Sixteen Postures, Gargantua and Pantagruel); first successful economic use of the Internet. Classic porn is in trouble: Playboy, Penthouse do not look like they will survive (Playboy revenue dropped $100 million from 2007 to 2009); classic porn movies are not selling; porn shops are closing. So, what is working? AltPorn and tubes where you can choose genres that you have never heard of (and keep it that way) such as “Emo Girls”. Customers are forsaking the classic Playboy model for their choice, and there is a LOT more choice than most people would believe. Goes back to the Long Tail reference above. With Search, we have nearly infinite choice, and we make use of it. Why am I wasting your time talking about porn? Because the main thing that is killing the established, decades old, California-based porn industry is having their content stolen and made available for free. Someone who did buy a $50 porn DVD in a porn shop, rips it and posts it, and with Search you can find it. Tubes are sites with lots of porn movies uploaded by users stored in categories; porn companies that are succeeding in this market, such as Digital Playground (they are the biggest supplier of adult content to hotels), are doing two things: sexy spoofs of successful movies (Pirates is a sexy takeoff, done in a pro studio with big name stars, on Pirates of the Carribbean) for hotels; and, when they find their content on a tube, they upload a higher quality replacement with an opportunity to purchase the full length movie at a reasonable price. Nuff about that, hope I did not offend.

Remainder of book: When the printing press was invented, they thought that would ruin people, if you travel faster than 20 mph you will suffocate TV turns your brains to jello, video games make you anti-social and twitter is a complete waste of time. All of these turn out to be false. Communities, social networks, we find that we start taking suggestions from people that we have never meet like the Amazon book reviews. How many people who have never met Richard Bjetlich in real life, take his reviews serious when purchasing a security book? We are also counting on the Internet for news and it isn’t always CNN (though CNN was really smart to do their breaking news.) Bilton mentions a study by Gentzkow and Shapiro finds that people who visit less mainstream, more biased sites also visit the opposite: regular readers at are more likely than mainstream readers to visit and readers will visit

Making a web site an experience is becoming crucial to success. Amazon and Netflix are trying to use your past purchases and decisions to make suggestions as to what you might like to see. This means they need to know you very well and they do make suggestions based on past decisions. Example from Minority Report:

5% rule: if 5% or more of the people in a population start going in a direction or doing something, odds are very high there will be a lot of followers. Sometimes this leads to very strange choices, for instance a fuzzy video of a guy singing in his bedroom went fully viral:

If you screw up trust, you may trash your brand. Did Yelp really use negative reviews to force vendors to pay money? No one knows for sure, but they have lost a lot of ground.

Netflix tries not to recommend Napoleon Dynamite, because even though it has become a cult classic, you either love it or hate it, and if you hate it, you may quit trusting their recommendation systems which is a strategic asset for them.

People are starting to make friends with computers. The latest interactive video games are scary. Surfing the web fires off much more brain activity than reading a book. Surgeons who grew up playing, or still play video games, are significantly more skilled than surgeons who didn’t.

The average American takes in 36 million words a year, about 100,000 a day. When you consider the input of books, ads, what we hear, television, Internet, etc., and that the amount of information we are subjected to is growing at about 6% per year, it's a good thing we only use a fraction of our brains.

Me economics: You know the Android map app where you are the dot in the center and no matter where you go the map moves so you are still in the center? That is a good analogy for the customer of the future: they can get “exactly” what they want - music, video games, clothes - and that comes back to the Long Tail, where Search gives nearly infinite choice. Which leads to a large discussion on price elasticity; people will buy a subscription to the Wall Street Journal online for $49.00, but not necessarily for $99. They will buy songs from iTunes for .99, but if you try to charge 1.99 for a hit, a significant portion of the population will download it for free from a torrent site. Which leads to a discussion on ethics, isn’t that stealing? Yes, but it does not feel like stealing, since if I buy an album and it has six boring songs, they don’t let me take those back; and, the web dehumanizes - we don’t see that we are hurting the artist, but we are very unlikely to try to steal the same artist’s CD from a record store. This last insight was big for me because I am an author and have had my work put in a torrent.

A discussion on brain science and multitasking. The human mind does not multitask, if you text while driving it is only a matter of time until an accident occurs; however, we can get very, very fast at switching between tasks. "1, 2, 10", we tend to look at a cell phone from 1 foot away, a computer screen from 2 feet away, and a TV from 10 feet away; and, if we want to be relevant in the future, we need to create a seamless experience between any of them.

In the future, people will pay for experiences much more than content. When they do pay for content, they want it concise and digestible (Reader’s Digest has over 10 times the subscription rate of the New York Times). People will want more stories, and they will want to participate in the story. I think the application of this for SANS is even more capture the flag type exercises in our courseware. We have to be willing to undercut ourselves; iPads probably steal sales from iPods, but if Apple didn’t do it, someone else would. According to the Vinton Cerf, in the future we will be exposed to an order of magnitude more information than today. Sensors everywhere. If your sock falls behind the washing machine, it will be able to tell you its location. People actually are experimenting with the cyborg thing.

When you start realizing you are losing your traditional consumer base, the most important thing to understand is they are not coming back.