Keynote Speech on Calm Technology at The Next Web Amsterdam!

The Next Web Summit 2017

I look forward to speaking at The Next Web Conference from May 18th & 19th, 2017 in Amsterdam.

What is TNW Conference?
TNW Conference is a 2-day technology festival that brings together international technology executives, top-tier investors and promising startups for two days of business, knowledge sharing and the best time you’ve ever had. Over the past 11 editions TNW Conference has grown from a 200-person event to one of the leading technology events, bringing together 15,000 attendees a day and 3,500 companies from all over the world.

Why The Internet Needs IPFS Before It’s Too Late

Note: This article was posted to TechCrunch as a guest post.


IPFS isn’t exactly a well-known technology yet, even among many in the Valley, but it’s quickly spreading by word of mouth among folks in the open-source community. Many are excited by its potential to greatly improve file transfer and streaming speeds across the Internet.

From my personal perspective, however, it’s actually much more important than that. IPFS eliminates the need for websites to have a central origin server, making it perhaps our best chance to entirely re-architect the Internet — before its own internal contradictions unravel it from within.

How, and why? The answer requires a bit of background.

Why We Have A Slow, Fragile And Forgetful Web

IPFS is a new peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol that aims to supplement, or possibly even replace, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol that rules the web now. Here’s the problem with HTTP: When you go to a website today, your browser has to be directly connected to the computers that are serving that website, even if their servers are far away and the transfer process eats up a lot of bandwidth.

Data providers get charged because each network has a peering agreement, while each network hop costs money to the data provider and wastes bandwidth. Worse, HTTP downloads a file from a single computer at a time, instead of getting pieces from multiple computers simultaneously.

Consequently, we have what we’re stuck with now: a slow, expensive Internet, made even more costly by predatory last-mile carriers (in the U.S. at least), and the accelerating growth of connection requests from mobile devices. It’s not just slow and expensive, it’s unreliable. If one link in an HTTP transfer cuts out for whatever reason, the whole transfer breaks. (Whenever a web page or media file is slow to load, a problem with a link in the HTTP chain is among the likeliest culprits.)

Remaking The Internet With IPFS

The InterPlanetary File System — a tribute to J.C.R. Licklider’s vision for an “intergalactic” Internet — is the brainchild of Juan Benet, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico as a teen, earned a computer science degree at Stanford, started a company acquired by Yahoo! in 2013 and, last year at Y Combinator, founded Protocol Labs, which now drives the IPFS project and its modest aim of replacing protocols that have seemed like facts of life for the last 20 years.

As a peer-to-peer distributed file system that seeks to connect all computing devices with the same system of files, IPFS seeks to improve on HTTP in several ways. Two, Juan told me in a recent conversation, are key:

“We use content-addressing so content can be decoupled from origin servers, and instead, can be stored permanently. This means content can be stored and served very close to the user, perhaps even from a computer in the same room. Content-addressing allows us to verify the data too, because other hosts may be untrusted. And once the user’s device has the content, it can be cached indefinitely.”

IPFS also addresses security problems that plague our HTTP-based Internet: Content-addressing and content-signing protect IPFS-based sites, making DDoS attacks impossible. And to help mitigate the damage of discontinued websites, IPFS also archives important public-record content, and can easily store important, public-record content.

IPFS would help the Internet grow into the system we’ve always aspired it to be.
IPFS’s final core improvement is decentralized distribution, which makes it possible to access Internet content despite sporadic Internet service or even while offline: “We make websites and web apps have no central origin server,” Juan explained. “They can be distributed just like the Bitcoin network is distributed.” This is actually something that HTTP simply cannot do, and would especially be a boon to networks without top-notch connectivity (i.e., the whole developing world), and for access outside of metropolitan areas.

Released in Alpha last February, IPFS has already started to see a lot of experimentation among early adopters. On September 8, for instance, Neocities became the first major site to implement IPFS, following a call from the Internet Archive for a distributed web. We currently suffer a constant loss of websites as their owners abandon them over the years — a growing crisis to our collective Internet memory — and this is a small but important step toward a more permanent web.

But will websites owned by large corporations follow Neocities’ lead, adopting such an as-yet-untested protocol — especially when the mere mention of “peer to peer” often terrifies them? That takes me to my final point.

Why IPFS Matters For The Future Of Internet Business

As I explain in my upcoming book, we are fast approaching a point where the cost of delivering content will outstrip the benefits — and profits. The major Internet companies are already struggling to stay ahead of our content demands, with armies of engineers at companies like Akamai, Google and Amazon devoted to this one problem.

And they haven’t even seen the worst of it: Thanks to rapid adoption of low-cost smartphones, whole continents of consumers will go online in the coming decade. The Internet of Things promises to only compound this challenge, as billions of devices add their own demands on our rapidly dwindling connectivity.

We are already in desperate need for a hedge against what I call micro-singularities, in which a viral event can suddenly transfix billions of Internet users, threatening to choke the entire system in the process. (A potentially life-threatening outage, when the micro-singularity involves a natural disaster or other emergency.)

Netflix recently started researching large-scale peer-to-peer technology for streaming, an early, hopeful sign that companies of its size and reach are looking for smarter content distribution methods. Netflix, YouTube, all the bandwidth-heavy services we cherish now would thrive on an Internet remade by IPFS, dramatically reducing the cost and time to serve content.

Beyond improved service, IPFS would help the Internet grow into the system we’ve always aspired it to be at our most idealistic, but cannot become with our current protocols: Truly capable of connecting everyone around the world (even offline) to a permanent but constantly evolving expression of who we are, and aspire to be.

View this post on HackerNews.

Slides from Designing Calm Technology at Esri’s International User Conference

Last Thursday I gave a lightning talk on Designing Calm Technology as part of the User Experience (UX) & User Interface (UI) Summit Esri’s International User Conference 2014 in San Diego, California. You can view the slies here!

Designing Calm Technology at Esri's 2014 User Conference

Talk Description

The world around is made up of information that competes for our attention. How much is necessary? How much is not?
We cannot interact with our everyday life in the same way we interact with a desktop computer. Xerox PARC researchers John Seely Brown and Mark Weiser believed that “technology shouldn’t require all of our attention, just some of it, and only when necessary”. Take a teapot, for example. It tells us when it is ready, and is off or quiet the rest of the time. If technology works well, we can ignore it most of the time.

Calm technology describes a state of technological maturity where a user’s primary task is not computing, but being human. The idea behind Calm Technology is to have smarter people, not things.

This talk is a short introduction on how to use principles of Calm Technology in product design, and what we will need to do in order to manage the next generation of connected devices in our human landscape. It is a companion to the newly launched resource

Launch Presentation

CyborgCamp Seattle is this weekend on September 8, 2012!

Want to attend an unconference on the future of humans and technology? CyborgCamp is back and it’s happening twice this year!

CyborgCamp Portland is already sold out, but there is still some room at CyborgCamp Seattle if you’d like to attend!

CyborgCamp Seattle 2012

What is CyborgCamp?

CyborgCamp is an unconference about the future of the relationship between humans and technology. We’ll discuss topics such as social media, design, code, inventions, web 2.0, twitter, the future of communication, cyborg technology, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy.

Who Will Be Speaking?

Come see Kyle Drake talk on the history and future of cryptocurrencies, K. Mikey M. on Cybernetic Management, and compete for the DIY Cyborg Prize! I’ll also be speaking about Geoloqi and publish/subscribe applications for reality.

Tickets available now!

Get them at

Date and Time

CyborgCamp Seattle 2012
September 8th, 2012 from 10:00am to 21:00pm.

Jigsaw Renaissance
815 Seattle Blvd S.
Seattle, King, WA 98134 (map)

CyborgCamp Portland 2012

Conference Hashtag

#cyborgcamp, and @cyborgcampsea.

A Short Interview with Tiffany Shlain on Connected: A Film About Love, Death and Technology

I recently had the opportunity to interview Webby Awards co-founder Tiffany Shlain on her new award-winning feature documentary “Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology”.

She discussed a number of interesting things, which I recorded. The interview is posted below in audio form. The audio was recorded from Skype, so I apologize for the quality of the connection and recording, but I hope you will enjoy her interesting thoughts.
[audio: /wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Connected-Interview-Full.mp3]
Here’s a little bit about the film:


Connected - A Film About Love, Death and TechnologyHave you ever faked a restroom trip to check your email? Slept with your laptop? Or become so overwhelmed that you just unplugged from it all? In this funny, eye-opening, and inspiring film, directed Tiffany Shlain takes audiences on an exhilarating rollercoaster ride to discover what it means to be connected in the 21st century. From founding The Webby Awards to being a passionate advocate for The National Day of Unplugging, Shlain’s love/hate relationship with technology serves as the springboard for a thrilling exploration of modern life…and our interconnected future. Equal parts documentary and memoir, the film unfolds during a year in which technology and science literally become a matter of life and death for the director. As Shlain’s father battles brain cancer and she confronts a high-risk pregnancy, her very understanding of connection is challenged. Using a brilliant mix of animation, archival footage, and home movies, Shlain reveals the surprising ties that link us not only to the people we love but also to the world at large. A personal film with universal relevance, Connected explores how, after centuries of declaring our independence, it may be time for us to declare our interdependence instead.


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About Tiffany Shlain

Tiffany Shlain is a filmmaker, artist, founder of The Webby Awards, co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences and a Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute. Tiffany’s work with film, technology and activism has received 44 awards and distinctions and her last four films have premiered at Sundance. Her films include “Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness,” about reproductive rights in America and “The Tribe,” an exploration of American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie doll, “Yelp: With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl,” about our addiction to technology and the importance of “unplugging”, and her new award-winning feature documentary, “Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology.” A celebrated thinker and speaker, she delivered a keynote at Cannes MIPdoc in France, has advised Secretary of State Clinton, is on the advisory board of M.I.T.’s Geospatial Lab and presented the 2010 campus-wide Commencement Address at UCBerkeley.