Changelog Interviews – Episode #323
The road to Brave 1.0 and BAT
with Brian Bondy
This week Adam and Jerod talk with Brian Bondy, Co-founder and CTO of Brave. They talked through the beginnings of Brave and how BAT (Basic Attention Token) could be driving the future of how we offer funding and tips to our favorite websites and content creators. Of course, they go deep into the historical and the technical details of the Brave browser and their march to Brave 1.0. The last segment of the show covers how BAT works, how it’s being used, and also their interesting spin on an ad model that respects the user’s privacy.
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Notes & Links
- Brave Browser
- Browser.html, an experimental Servo browser in HTML
- Muon, a fork of the Electron framework
- Request For Commits #11: Funding the Web with Brendan Eich
- Tracking Protection in Firefox For Privacy and Performance
- StatCounter Global Stats, Browser Market Share Worldwide
- BAT (Basic Attention Token)
Click here to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
Brian, let’s start this conversation where a conversation like this should start - Star Trek, or Star Wars? Or both?
[laughs] I’m a Star Wars guy. My wife likes Star Trek. I know Brendan is more of a Star Trek guy as well.
Does that cause a rift in your relationship, having both sides of that fence represented in the family? It’s like red and blue, living in the same house.
Well, she likes both, so I guess I’m lucky enough.
There you go.
I actually like Star Trek, but I’m definitely more of a Star Wars fan.
I asked that question because I wanted to know who named the dog.
Okay… Yeah, probably my wife’s idea…
What’s the dog’s name?
Leia… Although we have another dog, an Australian Shepherd, and I wanted to call her Rey, on that theme…
…but she wanted to call her Nymeria, after a Game of Thrones direwolf. So she won.
Well, that’s switching universes right there. I don’t know why you’d do that, but it sounds like she did.
Yeah, exactly. That’s why I wanted to keep it that way… [laughter]
It’s still the full breadth of their culture, you know? It’s like “We are in the times. Star Trek, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones.” You can’t go wrong. It’s a great feeling to be a part of.
Yeah, for sure. And I have a son named Link as well.
Now you’re pulling on my heartstrings right there…
That’s my jam right there.
All hackers are pumpin’ their fists… [laughter]
You validate yourself, Brian, as very welcome on our show now, as you had all geek culture represented inside your household. That’s spectacular.
Yeah, thank you.
So let’s talk about you, Brave and BAT. You’re the co-founder of Brave and the CTO; previously Khan Academy, Mozilla, Evernote… Maybe talk about those 0.1% on Stack Overflow. You’ve spent a lot of time there. Let’s stop there for a second. Did you just answer everybody’s questions, or what does that mean, top 0.1%? Is that like point totals?
It just means I guess I was top 50 users, or top 20 users at one time… But I think I still maintained the top 0.1%, but… You just keep getting upvotes after a while, so I kind of stopped answering, but I still get lots of upvotes every day.
It’s like the long tail of points, huh?
Yeah, and they capped the amount of points that you can get per day, and I think I just automatically achieve those points every day, so I just kind of let it ride. I was one of the early users there, and I did mostly C++ at the time, so I was answering C++ questions, and I was getting kind of bored with my current work, so I’d just kind of refresh the page where the new questions were posted, and I’d be the first one to get it in there, and I would do the most simple, easiest answer first, and then I would edit it and then add more, and edit it, and add more, so probably every one of my answers was edited 40 times.
I’d start to get upvotes even from the first answer, but the trick is really just to get in there first and answer if you wanna be at the top of that.
Stack Overflow strategies… I’ve never heard of such a thing. That’s amazing. It seems to have worked out for you.
What do you think you’ve gained from it, aside from obviously the points–
He gets to put it in his Twitter bio.
Exactly, yeah. No, I mean… If you think about how much money you spend for university education, that’s one factor, but… People also look at your Stack Overflow bio, so that’s just another way to build up your reputation, I guess, and just to show that you know what’s going on… But it’s also to help people as well, and just because you generally enjoy it… And also, you learn a lot just by answering things.
A lot of times I would just answer something in the most simple way that I knew, and then do a little bit of research and then improve my answers from there… So it’s a great way to learn as well.
I don’t know how far back I should go, but I was at Khan Academy at the time, working… I was there for about a year and a half, and I had always really wanted to get to Khan Academy, so I finally had got in; I was really loving working there. Then a Twitter message came in from Brendan, just saying “Please DM me.” I wanted to DM him but he wasn’t following me, so I couldn’t… [laughter] I did have his email, so I emailed him; I’m just kind of playing it cool, I’m like “What’s up?” Meanwhile, I’m turning to my wife, who was next to me in bed - I was on my laptop at the time - and I’m like “Holy crap! Brendan Eich just messaged me to direct-message him. I don’t know why.”
Apparently, I’d made some list – I had worked at Mozilla before with him, and I was delivering a lot of the features, I was in a lot of the blogs, and things like that. I had recently done a Metro style enabled browser from scratch for Firefox. That was a project that was canceled last-minute… So anyways, I delivered a lot of things, and I made some list of people that he wanted to contact to start something in the future… So yeah, we got to talking. This was late December 2014.
Maybe he just went to the top users on Stack Overflow; he sorted by top users and started DM-ing…
There you go…
“The first one to DM me back gets this offer.” [laughter]
Yeah, it didn’t start as a co-founder situation; I think it started as he wanted me to do contract work, and I think mostly because I was a good Windows programmer at the time, and Windows is where most of the users were.
We talked for about six months, and after a while he just asked me to go fly there, or he would fly here. I had three young kids at the time, three young boys, and it was kind of hard for me to travel at the time, so I just said “Well, just tell me what’s up.” That’s when he proposed to just start the company. So we secured funding from a company in China for 2,5 million, and that’s how we got started, really.
Right from the start we had the plans to create a desktop browser for Windows, Mac, Linux, as well as Android, as well as iOS, so it was really just the two of us at the start. We eventually got a third person, and we were working on all these different products for these different operating systems all at once, so it was pretty ambitious right from the start.
Was the initial pitch “Let’s build a browser?” Was there a bigger picture? Because we know Brave has big ambitions, especially with trying to t, or subvert, or replace traditional forms of advertising, and have a micropayments model. Was the financial side in there, was it all about privacy? What was the initial idea behind Brave that got you excited and that Brendan was excited about?
I think he originally wanted to do maybe a mobile phone or something like that, but once he had contacted me, he moved beyond that; I think a mobile hard phone is really hard to fund. You need just an astronomical amount of money to fund something like that. So yeah, it was already decided that he was looking to do a browser when he contacted me.
I was pretty impressed with Brendan – I mean, obviously, beyond his existing accomplishments, but just having heard him on Request for Commits. I was a behind-the-scenes person for that call, listening live, because Nadia and Mikeal hosted the show, and I was the behind-the-scenes producer… And I’m listening to this conversation and it’s like the history of the web, from no perspective other than the one you can get from Brendan. He has some – I don’t know how to really describe his history, aside from just extensive, and in-the-trenches-of-it… And just how it had been funded, from major corporations, the reasons why it was funded, the back-story on early browser wars… Not only that, but how ads have always played – monetization models have always played a place in it… Just kind of hearing that – if you’re listening to this show, I wouldn’t say you have to go listen to Request for Commits episode #11 before this one, but it might do you a service just to have some background on Brendan, maybe to precursor some of the things you’ll uncover here. That was such a phenomenal episode, and I never expected to get that kind of deep-dive into the history of the web than that show right there. Seriously, this is amazing.
Yeah, he definitely has that depth there. And what’s funny about him is that you can talk to him about any topic in the whole world and he kind of will talk the same way. He’s definitely an impressive guy.
Exactly, yeah. But the main reason why we started was we really wanted to get users ownership of their own data, create a user-first browser, one that’s not in service to [unintelligible 00:10:58.17] broken system that was out there. We wanted users to own their own data, so that they could basically be valued for their attention that they’re giving to ads as well.
Why do you think that aside from your awesomeness on Stack Overflow and your contributions to Mozilla, and those things, introspectively, why do you think that you were the co-founder that he chose to work with? What was it that stood out to say your skillset, your background, given that you didn’t even really know each other, and to be such a crucial person for such a crucial future of clearly something he’s been dreaming of for years? Why do you think you?
Yeah, I’ve wondered that as well and I’ve never actually heard the answer from Brendan, so that would be an interesting question to ask Brendan. But I think he’s a smart guy, I think he knew that I was someone that could get what he needed to get done. It just takes someone smart to realize that someone like me, that’s not – like, I don’t have a name out there like he does, for example… So just the fact that he found me - I think he’s a pretty smart guy for that.
But I’ve been a software developer for 25 years, and literally living and breathing coding. I’ve written HTTP, HTTPS libraries, SMTP, POP3, image file formats, FDP protocols, client server… Literally just non-stop coding for like 25 years. So that’s really my passion, and it’s something that I’m good at, coding. But like you said, I don’t have a name out there, so it’s pretty weird that he found me and chose me for it. Maybe I was just there at the right time and was really entertaining his idea. Like I said, we were communicating about it for about six months before it actually became something.
How serious were those conversations during those six months? Did they start with “What if…” to “When are we gonna…”?
It started with a slide deck that he put together, just of “This is what I wanna create” at that time. My response was just like “This is how you do it.” I would go into really deep detail about “You’re gonna need this, this and this”, and I think he just really saw that from there as something I could deliver. I don’t know how many people he had contacted originally or how many people were on that original spreadsheet that he had. Maybe he contacted me as well because I was no longer at Mozilla; I had left a year and a half before that, so maybe – I have no idea what his contract was like with Mozilla… Maybe he couldn’t take people from Mozilla, and I just was one of the lucky ones that had gotten out already.
One of the things that I’m always impressed with with people that can really think systems-level thoughts around a thing and have an idea from scratch, that Brendan had, and then you yourself say “Okay, here’s how you would go about building this…”, and this is something that I’ve done or tried to do throughout my career and I’ve been very good at it in the small… So one of the things we tend to do is invite people on that have ambitious projects, such as a browser… A browser is not just what you see on the screen there, but there’s so many aspects to it, especially when you’re trying to compete in mobile, on the desktop, with syncing, with all these other things… And so don’t give us the deep-dive technical on where you went necessarily from day one until now, because where we are is about four years later, you’re almost at a 1.0… We do wanna talk about the big 1.0 release and the switch away from the Electron front-end to the Chromium front-end, but probably a little bit later… Where do you begin to think of “Okay, we wanna build a browser. Here are some of our goals around privacy, around security and these other things. Where do we start?” How did you go about thinking about that problem?
One of the papers that really spoke to us right from the start was something from Monica Chew. She was at Mozilla at the time and she had done this really great paper in tracking protection; she had coded it and it was ready to ship, and Mozilla was just not willing to ship it, basically because they were worried about relationship with advertisers that do tracking. So it was like there’s this great idea, this great feature, the ability to stop all the trackers, and it showed the advantages and page load speed - two times faster page loading… So I guess it was born from thinking about that paper, and executing on it and actually shipping it.
And it ended up getting shipped?
Yeah, how long did it take from scratch to something in production?
When we first started coding it, there was a project called browser.html by Paul Rouget at Mozilla, and it really looked to be like – at the time I actually thought that Firefox would die and that browser.html would become the new thing… Because Firefox is coded in this kind of old, HTML-like language called XUL, and browser.html was using HTML5 technologies to deliver this browser. It was created in React at the time, as well. That really looked like the system, and it was based on basically the same engine that Firefox OS was, something called Graphene.
So the very first version of this we created was for Graphene, and we just called it Brave at the time. And we had just found that the APIs were not built out enough yet, and also browser.html eventually stopped getting momentum, and so it died off… This was about six months in, and we realized it’s gonna be probably another six months if we need to build all these APIs that we need… So we started to look at alternatives.
One of the embarrassing moments when we first released that just for people to see what we were creating - it wasn’t meant to be released yet, but Eric Lawrence had found – I think it was him… He found a command line switch has been passed to disable the sandbox and the render processes. That was an embarrassing moment… And the reason that it was doing that was because Node was being loaded into the render process, but then disabled afterwards. So we did a lot of work – we basically completely forked Electron, to remove Node from the render processes completely, enabled the sandbox, did a lot of other security things… We tried to upstream them to Electron, but they didn’t wanna take them, mainly because we were adding extensions and they didn’t wanna have extensions in Electron.
I think it’s interesting to show definitely the path taken towards a 1.0, and really the compromises along the way in order to ship, in order to have users, and then in order to maintain a certain level of security… You forked, and maintained – you just call it Muon, which is your fork of Electron with security fixes and these patches that they didn’t necessarily want upstream… And then to kind of end up back where you would have started or did start right away… If it had been maybe just building it by yourself, you would have done it this way from the start… But once you got on the Electron/Muon train and were shipping product for a while, what’s the big move away then? For what purpose?
Yeah, so we were originally just kind of waiting for upstream Chromium patches to come down from Electron, and we could just consume them and not have to spend our resources doing those rebases. Everytime Chrome comes up with a new version, it’s a massive rebase. What we found was that they didn’t really care that much about being on the latest Chromium, and to us that was like a major security no-no, something that you really can’t do if you’re shipping a browser.
In their defense, Electron was never meant to be used for a web browser, and we just started using it that way, so it made a lot more sense for us to be on the latest version than it did for them…
So rebasing - it really took us two engineers and it took about six weeks to do…
And every single time that there’s a new Chrome version. So if you look at the amount of cost that goes into that, it’s probably about like 50k for every Chrome rebase, which is an insane amount that goes into… Because every time we did a Chromium rebase as well, there’d be a lot of things broken that we’d have to fix, we’d have to have QA find, and…
They’re on like a six-week schedule, aren’t they? How often are they shipping new versions?
Yeah, a six-week schedule. If they wanted to make a change to Chrome, they would basically copy a C++ source file into a different directory and then they’d make changes to it, and that really is not a good way to maintain a codebase over a long time. What you should do instead is create subclasses of delegates and observers, [unintelligible 00:21:02.26] and do it that way and have very minimal patching, and zero copied files.
So I guess one of the advantages of being on Electron is that we’ve seen a lot of things not to do for a browser, where the primary importance is always being up to date on the Chromium upgrades… So when we did the Chromium rebase, it took us 11 months. It is shipped right now on our website, by the way. It’s not called 1.0 yet. We’ll get there, but… Yeah.
But the rewrite is done and out there, it’s just not called 1.0 yet.
That’s right, yeah. It’s called 0.55x, I think. We’re just about to ship 0.56x, and eventually we’ll just skip to 1.0.
So one of the side-benefits of that switch, I believe, and I’ve seen people trolling around in the subreddits, talking about different features, and one of the things - we’ll probably talk about this more - when we talk about adoption, because that’s a huge part of the conversation, I believe, and one that I think Adam has lots to say about as well, is that you get more access to all of the extensions that will run in Chrome? Those are kind of free to you guys? Is that a correct assessment?
That’s correct, yeah. And in Muon we only had support for six or seven different extensions, and just adding a new one was a lot of work, and we found that the Chrome rebase is rough, and breaking the extension that we did support, that we’d have to keep refixing… So by doing this switch, it automatically gave us support for every Chrome extension by default.
Now, we do have shields inside, things like blocking the trackers, HTTPS upgrades… We do have shields, and those also equally apply to the extensions. There can be some extension kind of like web compat issues, the equivalent to the Web Compat extension, but for the most part all extensions pretty much work out of the box.
As Jerod mentioned, we have been users of Brave, but not daily, or complete switchers. I’ve found myself ebbing and flowing from comfortability in Chrome to the daring worlds of a new web really in Brave…
Yeah… To use the old Brave - it’s something that you kind of felt like you should do, but you didn’t wanna do… [laughter] And the new rewrite is really just – I actually wanna start Brave; so I don’t find myself just automatically going to the Chrome icon anymore. I wanna be in Brave, and I’m not trying to force myself, it’s just…
Well, for me it’s less around the browser and its features and more around the web and the lack of – I guess just the weirdness the web is whenever you have a more secure, a more private web you’re browsing. The experience is faster, obviously, but much different, and sometimes, in some cases, just plain old broken, which I have plenty of feelings about… But on the extensions front -I think we were talking about it in Slack recently, Jerod… I just went ahead and removed every extension. I was like, “Forget extensions! I’m done with them!” I don’t even wanna be slow, or privacy-concerned, or security-concerned, and I’m like “Why don’t I just use Brave?” That’s when I was like “I’ll just start using Brave more often if I wanna be in a scenario where it’s about security and privacy, and just trying to enjoy the web, so to speak.”
Yeah… So I didn’t have that experience that you had, Adam, because I’ve been using AdBlocker for my entire life, pretty much…
So you’re used to it. I was not.
Yeah. And you’re used to just like “Oh, this website doesn’t quite work unless you enable this particular little thing, because there’s some sort of thing waiting for this thing to fire, and then the rest of the website will work.” So you get those crappy websites where it’s like “Yeah, I have to re-enable this one little script”, but you figure those out once and then you kind of move on. And for the most part, on content sites, it’s like, if your content can’t load without these scripts, there’s plenty of things to read; I just move on, close tab. But on banks, and those particular sites where you have to finagle with it to get it to work without just giving them the world, I’ve kind of been used to that; so I didn’t have that particular hold-up when using Brave, but it’s funny how minor things can get in the way when you have something that you use all day, every day.
For me, I used Brave just this fall for a couple of weeks as my primary browser. I still use Chrome as a development browser, I’ve always done that. I use Safari on desktop as my primary browser, and I use Chrome just for development; I have done that for years. So now I was gonna get rid of Safari in my day-to-day and use Brave as my primary, and Chrome as my dev environment. And everything was pretty good, pretty much a one-for-one.
The thing that kept just sticking with me - and I don’t say this to like submit a bug report or anything, just to say that it’s funny how these small things become big… It’s almost like that old fable with – was it The Prince and the Pea? I don’t know… The pea underneath the bed, where it felt like a boulder. macOS’s emoji picker wouldn’t always open in Brave; it would open like one out of four times, or something… And hopefully, when we get to the Chromium version, that’s just gone… But that was just bugging the crap out of me, and finally I’m like “Meh, not worth it… [laughter] I’ll try again in six months.”
Yeah, there’s so many things like that. The old repository has something like 4,000 different issues, and it’s just a long tail of small things like that. It would have taken us a couple of years really to get through that backlog. So that was another big motivation, other than the extensions, to go to the new – we call it the Brave Core… Just because automatically we close out like 4,000 issues all at once, and all the little things that will drive people nuts is now fixed.
So the little things getting in people’s way - those are blockers and those are things that people either have to get over, or just not convert, or eventually those things get smoothed out… But what are the big ten-pole features for those out there who haven’t tried Brave like Adam and I have? We’re assuming people understand a lot; we’ve mentioned privacy, but if you could just give Brave’s big sells of why to use it instead of a Chrome, or instead of a Safari, or even a Firefox… What are the ten-pole features?
Yeah, so if you’re an advanced power user, you’re already familiar probably with a lot of these features, but a lot of us aren’t, or a lot of us just don’t wanna have to bother setting it all up properly… But I’ll get into some advantages for that too later, of why it’s better not to use the extensions. Out of the box there’s ad-blocking, there’s tracking protection, there’s an HTTPS Everywhere implementation, so upgrading links that could be served as HTTPS, but there’s a link to them with HTTP - it will automatically upgrade those to HTTPS. Cookie-blocking, there’s an implementation of NoScript baked right in as well… So that’s just the ability to completely block scripts and then selectively enable them just for the ones you want. That will completely break your web experience for most sites, but some people just prefer to browse that way.
And then also fingerprinting protection. Fingerprinting is just little bits of entropy that websites can collect and use to create a unique fingerprint against you, things like your user agent, your fonts that are installed, your screen resolution, your operating system… That’s all a big trade. These are all things that you could get if you install four or five different extensions, but it’s just easier to download Brave and have everything working all at once.
So there’s little advantages like this, like performance and better security, and really – there’s so many things that your browser reaches out to the Google service for that we disable, and if we were just an extension, we couldn’t do those things either.
The extension route is interesting, because I was thinking… Obviously, I was doing something like that and Jerod has used an ad-blocker, as he had mentioned… So he’s kind of doing a Brave, but not a Brave browser; in another browser. At least the features that you just mentioned, in terms of like security, privacy, and just making the web better for the individual as they feel to curtail it. If you go and choose these extensions but then you kind of give up some assumptions to those extensions that they are 1) legit, which in most cases they probably are, or 2) they haven’t been circumvented, i.e. they’re open source, they have the best protocols for security, like 2FA on their GitHub repos, they haven’t got an attacker that somehow slipped some code in there… You’re putting a lot of trust in someone else, whereas in the case here of Brave, it seems like you were like “Let’s go back to the roots here and ensure that at these basic levels we have a browser that gives people the assurances that they can browse the web safely”, and then having Brendan have such a rich history of desiring a better web, as he said either on Request for Commits or on other shows or other areas, in his mission to just share his vision for the web, to not be a product… I think that’s one thing that I didn’t hear you say, which is the biggest thing; if you go to Brave.com, the very first thing you see, big, is a woman in a hoodie with a Brave logo, and then right beneath that is “You are not a product. Period.” That’s a statement. Why do you feel that statement is such a crucial thing for you to communicate to people who are like “What’s Brave?”
The reason why it’s so important is what we’re just talking about - if you have this set of extensions, you’re not just getting the same level of privacy, really, because you’re trusting Google and you’re letting Google treat you as their product, basically. So one of the reasons why we have the browser is because we wanna cut that all out. We don’t want you to trust Google, we don’t even want you to trust Brave, really; we don’t store any data on our servers whatsoever about users. All the data that exists is just gonna be only on your browsing machine. Even our sync implementation works that way, where we will store stuff on S3, which is encrypted, but it’s encrypted on your machine, not our servers. There’s no way to get that out.
Also, if you have extensions, you have things like AdBlock Plus… How that works is they have paid ad deals with certain companies to let certain ads through. So it’s really just this level of trust that you have to give up, and you have so much more control basically with a browser. That kind of gets into the whole digital advertising - I don’t think that would be possible to do in the same way as an extension, just because we need local machine learning to understand your data, and then if you opted in to turn on ads, you block everything by default and then it’s an opt-in thing at that point. If you do that, then it can then use your local data. Nothing from our servers, just basically your browser will download a catalog of ads, match that to the local data, and then present you with advertising. And why in the world would you ever want to turn on advertising? That’s where BAT comes in - it’s because you can get paid for that using the Basic Attention Token.
You know, I would potentially be an enabler of ads if there was some sort of standard that said “Do it ethically.” If it wasn’t such a – I don’t wanna be enraged on this show, because it’s just not my MO, but I just wish there was a better way for the world of the web, because clearly, it’s been a good model, it’s been there since the beginning. But it’s just terrible for user experience. I hate that my future presents to my wife get ruined because we’re on the same IP address, and the next thing you know, Facebook or Instagram or whatever is advertising to her either what I planned to buy or what I bought for her. So that’s just one small thing, but it just drives me crazy the standards of advertising. I just wish there was a better way.
They had like a “Do not track” header spec. You’re just asking the server not to track you.
Yeah, they don’t need to listen, and why would they listen if they can make money off your data…?
Listeners, we take breaks, obviously, but during those breaks sometimes we have some conversation and we learn a little bit about our guest… And we asked Brian – because we say “Hey, do you have anything to drink nearby? Go ahead and get a drink of water”, whatever, and Brian didn’t share it because he felt like it was better on the show… So Brian, how well did you prepare for your drinks? What do you have next to you?
Every day I drink a couple of extra-large Tim Hortons coffees. I’ve also got a water here, and a Gatorade, but… I consume coffee pretty much all day.
[unintelligible 00:35:32.25] before bed.
He’s a prepper.
Well-prepared, and a proper Canadian with Tim Hortons nearby.
And we had a little bit of crossover too, in terms of our geographical paths in the past… We were both prior residents of Kingston, which is a city in Ontario, which is where you live… I don’t know where you live at in Ontario now, but we were both in that area… Why were you there? Was that interesting?
Yeah, so I worked at an army simulation center there. The reason I worked there was because when I was at university - the University of Waterloo, I was part of the co-op program there… So they have 6-8 placements that you do, and one of those placements was for an army simulation center; another one was for Corel Corporation, and the last two, it was actually for my last startup before this one, which I ran for about ten years… I didn’t tell the University of Waterloo that it was my own company at the time, but one of the things that you have to do is you have to get your employer to give you an evaluation… This is to say I had an outstanding evaluation from my own company, since I did my own review.
Oh, just like on the network and thread basically for that, yeah. No, that was kind of unintended [unintelligible 00:37:00.07] [laughter]
It made sense to bring it in for the listeners, but we’ve gotta bring it back to ads, because that’s where we left off, and they’re listening and are like “Get back into that…”
Let me hard-transition, because I had something I was gonna say prior to the break, that I’ll just bring it in hard, and we can go off of that… Historically, I have been very skeptical of security or privacy-focused software products, specifically DuckDuckGo previously, and also Brave when I first heard about it, because of the human instinct to throw out privacy and security as soon as they need to trade it for convenience, or something shiny, or a feature.
We’ve continuously thrown our privacy under the bus in order to get the new feature of this thing, and that made me think “Can you actually build a movement or a user base, or get momentum around products that are specifically offering privacy and security as THE primary features?” I used to say no to that, but I feel like DuckDuckGo, as well as Brave… I mean, you guys now have probably more than – the last time I heard it was 4 million active users…
Yeah, about that many, yeah…
Yeah, I’m sure about that now, but an amazing number from zero to four million in such an amount of time… And I’m wondering if maybe we’ve hit the tipping point where people are starting to wake up to the results of trading in our privacy all these years for shiny new things, and thinking “We need to step back from the ledge a little bit and protect these things.” What are your guys’ thoughts on that trend?
Yeah, I don’t think that probably our biggest marketing point is that we’re a privacy-based browser; not everyone really understands privacy or the need for privacy, but people do understand speed, so when you’re just not loading more than 50% of an average web page, you can really see the difference in speed, and people understand speed pretty easily.
There’s also the point that people are kind of tired of Google and Facebook, so just being the anti-Google browser, that gives you the same kind of functionality kind of speaks for itself. Then there’s also the cohort that wants to try out the user private ads, and wants to basically make money for giving out their attention, which they give for free today.
I think for me it’s just like – I’m with you, Jerod, it’s been an evolution; I think for a while there we were like “What’s the worst that could happen?” And I’ve always been skeptical; don’t just think I’m just blindly, naively using everything that the bad people have to offer, thinking “They’ll never harm me.” No. I’ve always suspected they eventually would, but given that every day you’re talking about a data breach, or some sort of – as you said, Jerod, the trading of our information for something that they get that is definitely not beneficial to us (let’s just leave it there on that). Having that be a daily headline on the repeat for three particular companies, essentially – it seems almost like monthly now, or weekly in some cases… It’s like, enough is enough.
Now, I still do use Chrome, but I realized that there are better ways… And I’m not even sure if Brave is there yet, which is kind of part of this call and this discussion. But it’s like, we are being more aware of our privacy, and we are being more aware as a society that we have traded so much, and now we need to take it back.
Yeah. Google will say “Don’t be evil”, and although they do have good intentions, like you said, there can be a data breach, or maybe they’re just gonna change their mind over time… So the difference with us is that we just put ourselves in a position that we can’t be evil. We don’t store any user data whatsoever, so even if there was some kind of data breach in our servers, there’s no users at risk, there’s no breach at all that really happened at that point.
I like that. You can’t be evil if you can be evil, right?
That’s actually – you should change that “You are not a product” to “We can’t be evil.”
“We can’t be…”
Yup. We intentionally put ourselves in positions that we can’t change our mind later.
Ads aren’t the worst thing though… What else are the bad players, the key players that are bad, aside from ads?
In what context do you mean?
Well, in terms of privacy and security. Obviously, it’s your user data and stuff, but what layers should we go down?
There was a story that came out yesterday, I think, about an extension that was harvesting Facebook passwords. There’s malware that gets installed, often through ads, but also with different mechanisms, as well. Like I said, when you load one web page, more than 50% of it is just a slew of crap that you don’t want.
Yeah. One of the things I like to bring up is that when we talk about evil or not evil, when we talk about things going well or not well, specifically with Google – and I guess with other advertising-based companies, it’s about alignment of incentives. Like you said, Brian, it’s not like there’s bad intentions necessarily; that doesn’t mean that everybody has good intentions… But when you assign evilness to a corporation, you need to realize that that corporation is a homogenous group of a lot of people trying to do good, and trying to make money for shareholders. And that incentive on how they make that money is what ends up crossing the user’s best interests, right? So the shareholders’ best interests is above the end users’ best interest, and that’s why your guys’ pitch is “You are not a product”, but it’s somewhat a slippery slope too, to personify an evil empire… But a very powerful marketing technique.
I go back to the Firefox campaign back in ’04-‘05… When Firefox was taking over, there was a single evil empire, and it was Internet Explorer and Microsoft, and it was the giant in the room, right? It was the 400-pound gorilla, or whatever that analog is, and it was a very easy target to say “Firefox is the anti-Microsoft, or the anti-Internet Explorer”, and there was grassroots movements; I remember even my little brother was the first person that showed me Firefox, and it was like an evangelical moment for him, like “You need to use the –”, to show me a more excellent way, which was Firefox, versus what I’d previously known.
Now, of course you could set Brave against Google, but there’s lots of browsers out there, it’s not just Chrome, even though Chrome is, I think, dominant in the marketplace; 70% share, or something like that.
But there is Firefox, there is Safari, there are even smaller ones that we’ve covered; Min is a new one, there’s one called Vivaldi… There’s lots of browsers out there, which is awesome… But do you think it’s potentially harder to kind of mount an offensive today than it was back when Firefox took hold, and what kind of market share is Brave hoping for? Are you trying to become a 10%? Do you have goals of complete market domination, or can you carve out your own little niche and still survive and make a dent in the world?
We can definitely survive without having domination or anywhere close to that, but I wouldn’t necessarily cap us at anything, either. I think that Chrome won’t last forever as the dominant, even though it’s the dominant today. You might not think that, but you could say the same thing about Internet Explorer in the past.
I’ve been using Firefox right from the start, when it was called Phoenix, and then they had some trademark issues with Firebird, and then they had another trademark issue, so they went to Firefox… And I think maybe their user share got up to a 50% or so, I don’t know exactly… But I guess the user share - we hope to get, I guess, a lot.
[laughs] I like that, “We hope to get a lot. As many as we can.”
I like his consideration of his words, and then “I guess a lot.” Because why would you state an actual number here and then undershoot it, but then –
Like, “Once we hit 20%, we’re done.”
Yeah. We’re looking for… Let’s say 100%.
Yeah, roughly 100%. So I definitely am with you that just because Chrome is the biggest browser today, that doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. I was going back and looking at some of the global stat counters, just trying to track back to where things were back in the day, and the furthest I went back was ‘09, but back then IE was still at 62% (March 2009), Firefox was around 30%, and Chrome had just come onto the scene, it was about 4%-5%. So in less than ten years, it’s dramatically changed. Chrome is at 60%, Safari is at 15%, Firefox is at 5%, and then IE is down at 2,87%. And that was a swing, right? Go back another ten years, and it was probably IE at 90%, or more. So these things change, and they change often and fast.
That’s right, yeah. I joke that we want 100%, but we don’t really want 100%, because you really wanna have competition because that spurs better products… And just the openness. If you did have 100%, you could introduce something proprietary and lock others out, and we wouldn’t want that either, so… The more implementations there are, the better. Firefox has been declining in market share for quite some time, and I hope they find a base at some point, so that – just for web compat issues, so there’s not just one implementation that rules it all.
Maybe give us a zoomed out version of this… The state of browsers, basically - where are we going? Where is Brave leading? Where is Brave following? What’s the state of browsers at large in terms of what they’re trying to deliver to grow their markets or maintain their markets? And I guess in this case not markets, but more like user bases, as you said. What’s the state of browsers happening today from your point of view?
I think people are opening up a lot more to ad-blocking. You start seeing that more and more just as built-in features; I think Opera has some form of that… I guess everyone has a different goal, though. Vivaldi is more looking at different UI things that they can do that they find would be useful, Mozilla is bringing in Rust code and trying to go for more performance… They do have the Servo project, but I’m not sure if that’s actually gonna ever happen or not. I think it’s still going well with it, but they started bringing in big components from that to make themselves more performant. We’re also using Rust code now in Brave for some things as well, for the same reason. It’s a safer way to code.
Yeah, I guess everyone has different reasons and different motivations, and there’s always new sensors on different devices… For example, new web APIs that you can take advantage of, so there’s never shortage of things to work on.
Jerod, when you mentioned the growth of Chrome, that’s where I – and I may not be the perfect person to ask where the growth comes from; it seems like their growth came from being…
…what developers preferred. I guess yeah, fast, but developers-preferred.
Chrome came out and it was fast, and it was lightweight… And it just blew everything else out of the water. And then of course, the development environment.
Right. Advancing the web, web standards.
Yeah. I think today what keeps specifically developers inside of Chrome - now, when I say developers, I’m pluralizing myself; what keeps me there is DevTools. And it’s not that other browsers don’t have good dev tools, because I’ve used Firefox’s and they’re good, Safari’s for a long time, back when both Chrome and Safari were on WebKit; they shared the dev tools and that was awesome, and now they’re different, but they’re similar… But it’s just familiarity inside of the dev tools.
So from a web developer’s perspective, Brian, does Brave use the same dev tools that Chrome has? Is that a place where you’re competing, or hoping to just have the same thing, or are you lacking there?
Yeah, we didn’t use to have the exact same tools with Muon, but now we have the exact same tools with the rewrite, since we’re using the Chromium front-end.
That’s a huge advantage.
Yeah, exactly. I think market share-wise, you’re saying that Chrome was probably because of speed, and maybe security, just by having things out of process. I think Firefox probably originally had the edge, because they were willing to do pop-up blocking that no one else was willing to do, so they got users from that…
And now we’re doing things that other browsers are not willing to do, as well. When you get to a certain size, you worry more about protecting that size and not pissing off people, and you kind of stop caring about putting the users first, so I think the little guy always has an advantage there, because they can do things that the bigger guys can’t.
Another thing that you do, which I think was just recently added - you actually built in Tor, into the browser. Can you talk about the implications there and how that was built? I think it’s nice, because this is always something that’s been available to nerds and power users, but more difficult for everyday people to go and browse anonymously via Tor; now if it’s just a built-in button in your browser, that opens it up to a whole new class of users.
Yeah, so like you were talking about, users are willing to kind of give up their privacy a little bit too easily sometimes, so Tor is really a way to – even if you have done that in the past, you can just open up a new Tor identity right away and you can start browsing the one thing that you wanna keep private in your alter universe, private like that… It’s just nice to not have to have the Tor browser installed separately, and also the Tor browser is Firefox-based, so this kind of gives you a different outlet to explore that with.
I love the disclaimer you give, “Tor hides your IP address”, and all these things… Basically, it says “The web might suck, basically, if you use this.”
Yeah, it’s a lot slower when you’re using Tor, but…
And it is pretty terrible, so I would say that you would probably use it in cases where you’re doing something where maybe you’re shopping for gifts, like I try to do, and not let them be revealed through IP stuff… Does Tor – for those who are not very familiar with Tor, maybe even myself included, since I don’t use it too often… I understand the basic of what it is, but why was it important for you to implement this into Brave, and what does it actually do for a user?
The Tor browsing experience - it really does what most people think private browsing does…
What it should do, yeah. All that private browsing really does is not store what you’re looking at locally, so that if someone else from your family goes on the computer later, they don’t see the history of where you’ve been. But really, your data is being spewed there anyways, and you’re being fingerprinted, and things like that… So Tor really gives you not just the local privacy, but also the remote privacy as well.
So you mean when you’re traveling the internet, your IP and different things about you are not available to the websites you’re going to, basically…
That’s right, yeah. There’s some APIs that are disabled; it uses onion routing, so that you’re never making a direct connection from your client to an endpoint server. You’re basically going through a different series of nodes in between, each taking out a layer of encryption on each step.
Which is why it’s slow, because it’s onion routing you around before you get to your final destination, so it’s necessarily slow, it’s not just like “Oh, they should make this faster.” It’s like, “No, it’s kind of the speed of light, through like 15 servers, on every request.”
Yeah. There’s other problems, too. If you search on Google, you’ll get a Captcha thing right away pretty much, because they detect something’s a little bit off, or weird, or they don’t like the [unintelligible 00:53:15.28] So it’s not the best experience, but it does give you the extra privacy.
One major topic when it comes to Brave that we’ve touched on but we haven’t focused on and we’ll focus on now is the Basic Attention Token. You’ve got a cryptocurrency inside the browser, and potentially – maybe not THE first, but one of the only real-world use cases so far for cryptocurrencies, aside from the straight-up value transfer of Bitcoin, and everybody else that can just transfer a value is this token that’s all about attention, and using it inside Brave. It’s very cool to see a cryptocurrency actually being used for a real-world use case and providing value. Tell us all about it, and we’ll ask our questions once you give us the lay of the land of the way BAT works, how it works in Brave, and what you guys are doing with it.
Sure. The Basic Attention Token - the whole concept is just to value our users’ attention and to be able to reward them. We did an ICO in May 2017; the ICO was on the Ethereum network, it’s an ERC20 token. We raised 36 million in 26 seconds…
I remember I even tried to buy some myself, and I reloaded the page to see if it was at the right block number yet, and by the time I reloaded it, it was already over.
So I actually missed out on it. [laughter] Yeah, it’s rare when you meet someone – I met one person, I think he was an employee from Coinbase, and he said he actually did get in on time to buy some, and I was impressed by that.
Those Coinbase employees, they’re on top of it, you know…?
Yeah. [laughter] As part of that, what we did was we issued 1,5 billion tokens; 300 million of that - and this is one of the big reasons why we did a token in the first place - was to create something called The User Growth Pool. That was really just to be able to give people free BAT for either referring people… Like, if you go brave.com/refer, you can sign up to get a referral link basically, and every user that you refer that uses the browser for at least a certain number of days, they get five dollars in BAT for that. And also, just to give anyone that’s using the browser a free grant, so that they can basically pay the publishers and reward them while we’re working on the ad system.
Tell us how it works inside of the browser. There’s a set of BAT-enabled websites, or can any website receive your BAT, and then how does it get divvied out? Kind of give the lay of the land of how as one user uses the web inside of Brave, what that means for different website publishers and for the user.
Yeah, so any website at all on the web can get BAT sent to them. You can also sign up to be a publisher, and if you don’t sign up to be a publisher, we’ll automatically email you after you reach a certain threshold.
And then as a user, you give away some free BAT to play with, right? So I download Brave, and I get some BAT, something like 25 tokens, and as I’m browsing – I can turn it on/turn it off, I can participate or not, but as I browse the web on Brave, is it based on how long I’ve been on certain websites for a given time period, it’s divvied out? Is that how it works?
Yeah, so there’s different things that we do, and especially with the new Brave browser we’ve kind of reworked how this all works… But as you browse the web, there’s something called Auto-contribute, and you can set up to automatically pay based on your browser history like that. You could also just go to either like a YouTube publisher, a Twitch publisher/creator or a website and you can send a tip on-demand, right away, for whatever amount you want. Then if you actually sign up to be a publisher, you can configure a lot of things of how it will be presented to users that are on your site as well, like the amounts of BAT to send, for example, the banner to display when the tipping window comes up…
Using the new Brave it’s pretty interesting, where you can in the right-hand corner see the known BAT triangle icon, and you click that and it pops down and shows you your wallet, and it actually shows you that you’re on a Brave-verified publisher. Of course I’m on Changelog.com talking about this, so if you’re listening somewhere and you wanna open up a tab - sure, why not? Go ahead and go to Changelog.com and follow my direction here… But it’s pretty interesting, you have a button here that says “Send a tip”, and I find this kind of interesting, because we’ve always kind of been pulled into this “Pay with your attention” model, and it’s never been attached to something so foundational to a user’s day-to-day usage and/or software habits like a browser. I don’t know – Jerod, am I crazy? This is the first time, right? …a cryptocurrency available to give it out; it’s based on attention. Right now my attention is slightly higher, towards Changelog.com over Brave.com. I’ve been to two sites in this new Brave browser app installed, so 61% of my attention is going to our site, Changelog.com, and the other 39% is going to Brave.com… So does that mean I’m automatically giving those two sites just my attention and I can divvy it later, or is there some sort of auto – like you said, it’s auto-contribute, right?
Yeah, that’s right. It will automatically figure out what to do, and you can set a monthly budget of how much you want to give out… So there’s basically a consolidation period that happens once a month currently; we might lower that to be more frequent later. But once you hit that monthly amount, I think it’s defaulted to maybe 15 BAT that it’ll give out from the 25 BAT that you get for free just by installing it. Yeah, it’ll pay out using the Anonize protocol, so your anonymity is preserved that way.
So only that local browser knows your browsing history to do the payouts?
That’s right. Correct.
Okay. Pretty cool. So take me through this as an end user of Brave - let’s say my 25 BAT are gone, but I’m down, I’m into this idea and I support indie publishers like Changelog.com and others; are there any others? That’s the one that matters. Let’s say that I’m a supporter, and I’m like “I wanna give my actual USD to these people.” I’ve got 100 bucks in my pocket, or let’s just say it’s in my bank account, because that’s probably easier than in my pocket, cash… How do I get BAT into Brave to set it all up and distribute money that’s not the 25 free tokens?
Yeah, so you can add funds, whether it’s through – you can put different cryptocurrencies in, and you can get BAT spit out. Probably the average user wouldn’t wanna do that, but you can definitely put in funds that way. The way that the whole system will work once everything is completely working… Later this year we’ll be launching ads, and when you turn that on – by default ads are off, but if you wanna turn it on, you can then get paid in BAT, which then can float to the website that you visit. The ads will be delivered to you user-private, so your user data is not on any servers anymore, it’s just on your machine… And yeah, you get paid for your attention that way, so you wouldn’t have to put money in that way.
But users can put in, like I said, whether they put in BAT, or Ethereum, or Litecoin… There might be some other options. They can also go to Uphold and buy through that way, as well.
So once you have some crypto, you can get it into Brave via the traditional crypto wallet transfers, basically…
Yeah, yeah. We keep doing these grants from that user growth pool that I said, even to existing users, until ads is launched, at least… We’ll keep doing it as well, just to give out more.
Yeah, so tell us about ads, because that’s the point where I start to wonder – we talked about the incentive of Google or the incentive of ad companies, because basically, the way ads is going to work as I understand it is as an end user I can turn ads on, and it’s like “Okay, block all the regular ads, but show me these classy, awesome Brave ads”, and I will look at them for like some very small amount of BAT, which eventually ads up, and then I can take that BAT and redistribute it, or I can cash it out to buy myself a lollipop, or something… But aren’t you guys then basically a new ad platform? Haven’t you become Evil Empire in that case? Because now you’re the ad network.
I wouldn’t say that we’re the ad network; I would say that your machine is the ad network, so I guess the difference is that your user data, which is normally, like I said, spewed across a bunch of different servers, is now only on your machine. You’re just downloading a catalog and locally matching what you want to give out.
The current ad system is slow, it adds more than two times the amount of things that you need to download, it costs you money in your data plan, there’s creepy aspects to it, which you said – it doesn’t really work for users… It doesn’t work for advertisers either, because in the current ads system there’s a lot of fraud; 16 billion in the U.S. in 2017 alone… And then it also doesn’t work for creators, because there’s declining revenue because of all these problems as well. The only company I guess that it does work for is Google and Facebook.
So like any smart network though, it’s powered by machine learning. Do you know much about that part of this, or are you playing at a different level when it comes to the ads, and the future of Brave ads?
Yeah, most of the machine learning type work is being done by – Ben Livshits is our chief scientist, so he’s working on that stuff.
Cool. We’ll have to get Ben on Practical AI, which…
Yeah, we should.
…if you’re a listener of the Changelog and you’re not listening to Practical AI, shame on you. There’s two easy ways you can do that…
One, you can go back to your podcast client and just search for Changelog Master; that’s our master feed. It’s the easiest way, actually, and you get some bonus content that only hits that master feed… Or you can be cool and just subscribe to Practical AI directly, by searching for “Practical AI” and subscribing to that, or going to Changelog.com/practicalai and look forward to a future show on Brave and data science machine learning with – you said his name was Ben?
Yeah, that’d be an awesome show. So continue explaining this to me, now as from an advertiser’s perspective. Let’s turn Changelog around from publisher, and let’s look at us from an advertiser. Maybe we want more people to listen to Practical AI, so we would like to advertise Practical AI to Brave users. Are we then paying? Do I get some BAT as an advertiser, and say “Okay, George (George is my hypothetical user), I will pay you this BAT in order to look at my advertisement”, or am I paying Brave Inc. as a middleman, and then Brave Inc. as putting the ads… Is it a direct relationship between the advertiser and the viewer of the ad, or is there also a middle company involved?
No, it still goes through Brave, and you upload your creatives there. We have a whole different portal that you’d go to. But yeah, you would buy BAT in that case, and the whole system works on BAT. But you might not even need to buy BAT, because you might be already earning BAT, so you could just then use the BAT that you have earned on your website just from casual users to then buy ads with as well… So it’s kind of like a whole ecosystem like that.
There’s different types of things that you can do. We have browser ads – and again, this is opt-in, so it’s not enabled by default… But there’s browser ads, which is completely separate from a website. In that case, I think Brave takes 30% and the user gets 70% of that money. And then there’s publisher ads, and the publisher has to opt in for this. So if you want to enable ads on your website for the Brave users, the publisher would then get 70% of the ad money; Brave would get 15% and the user would get 15% in that case as well.
Going back to what I asked earlier, I was like “I wish there was a standard around ads.” Does this mean that you’re gonna begin to institute some sort of ethical version of advertising? Like “These are things you could do in terms of how you advertise.” Is what you’re doing simply a conduit, or are you saying “This is how we prefer to deliver ads to users”, meaning – I mean, I don’t even know how to really say it… I guess the tracking isn’t there, right? So that’s one thing. But you do get the attention. So you’re just essentially tracking anonymized attention.
Yeah, exactly. And BAT’s not just limited to Brave. We plan to have it in lots of different products. Brave is just the first one.
So back on the advertiser thing… Sorry, Adam and I are on different channels a little bit here, but let’s say I only wanna advertise to hackers. Like, “You should be into AI if you’re gonna see my Practical AI ad”, right?
Now we can’t do that, because you’ve been anonymizing, you’ve privacyzing… I can’t potentially–
You can do that. You definitely can. The way that that works is that every client, if they opt into the ads, they are then downloading the entire ad catalog and locally figuring out which ads to show on your device. If you look at what does the browser know, the browser knows even more than Google knows, for example, because you spend all your time in the browser on different websites, and it knows everything about you really.
We can do very targeted advertising, without telling ourselves anything, really.
This is basically the same model that Apple was using with iOS, with regards to its intelligence - you put all of the intelligence, even the machine learning things, into the device, which has all the information.
Right. [unintelligible 01:09:23.25]
Right. And it doesn’t have to go back to Apple to get that done… Whereas on the Android side, a lot of the smarts is in the cloud, it’s in Google’s servers, and so there’s roundtrips for these things, and Google’s hypothesis, or their statement/supposition is that they can do better, smarter things server-side than you can do on a device… And Apple says the opposite, that you can do just as well, and then also have the privacy. So it’s a similar model here, where you’re saying “We can do all the smart things that you could do with an ad platform, it’s just that the platform is inside the browser.” All the smarts are right in there, and therefore they’re only known by that browser, and therefore siloed to your device.
Yeah. And as an advertiser, you can select all the different segments that you’re interested in as well, when you’re uploading your creatives.
BAT… So you have a cryptocurrency, and one of the gifts and the curses of cryptos is the price goes up and down a bunch. No doubt that probably had some implications on your runway, on your ability to pay yourselves. I know you’ve raised initially from China, you had a big ICO, and that 36 million I think you said that you sold in 20 seconds probably looked like maybe 360 million for a while there back in December, and now it might not look so hot. Is the volatility of the BAT price something that has come into play at a practical level for Brave Inc. or for the browser, or is it really something that doesn’t matter all that much, and you just kind of assume eventually is gonna hold some sort of value?
The way that ICOs work is basically – for an ICO funding, when I say 36 million, it’s not 36 million in BAT that we have; it’s 36 million that people used in Ethereum to buy BAT with. At that point, we’re not speculators, so most of this is converted to USD in fiat to run the company.
Gotcha. So you sold almost immediately after the ICO.
I mean, not all; we still have some ETH as well, but yeah… We sold a very good position of that.
Well, that was smart. [laughter] Okay, so that doesn’t affect the company, but what about the volatility around the token itself? As a publisher, as an advertiser, as an end user, you give me one BAT today, it might be worth half of what it is tomorrow, it could be worth 4X… Is this the kind of market where if you have publishers who are saying, “Man, maybe we could make a living as a Brave publisher”, but that living might be volatile.
The volatility is definitely not that big. There’s definitely not like a overnight 4X type thing that’s happening; it’s a lot less than that. But I think over time, especially as we launch ads later this year, I think it will stabilize more and more… And over time – everything was against Bitcoin pairings on exchanges originally, and more and more different exchanges are creating pairs for USD, so at that point you become a little more independent from the Bitcoin swings.
From the Bitcoin price, yeah. So I alluded to Coinbase being in on it - I was joking; I wasn’t alluding to insider trading or anything, but I was saying that Coinbase people know what to do with regard to ICOs; they get it, because they’re inside that world… But related to that is that you guys have recently been listed on Coinbase with a USD – I think it’s their Tether, their USD token…
Yeah, which is not your dollars, but it’s tied to your dollars, so it feels like your dollars…
Yeah. I don’t know much about them, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a stable coin, so it’s tied to one USD, I think.
Exactly. So it’s close enough, where you don’t have to go from USD to Ether to BAT, or from USD to Bitcoin to BAT. You can go from USD pretty much directly to BAT, and that will hypothetically remove the price volatility from BAT, away from Bitcoins, away from Ethereums, assuming a certain amount of transactions and liquidity over time.
What I find interesting here though is that the confidence in the verified publishers is tied to something that is certainly insider baseball kind of speak. Even there, it was very difficult to explain; so you’re trying to get someone’s confidence to trust 1) a new browser, and I’m sure this is a known hill/mountain/hurdle, however you wanna describe it… But where I’m trying to get at is the bad rep or the reputation, so to speak, of crypto markets at large, as they’re talked about on CNN Money, or CNBC Money, or Bloomberg - there’s some sort of that up and down of that market, and there’s some sort of lack of awareness to the general public. Does that impact – clearly it does; it impacts Brave. But I mean, to be a publisher, and to be, say, an ad publisher or whatever, you have to have some confidence in the thing, and when that confidence is constantly waning because of the crypto markets, which is just kind of a weird market generally, and a lot of insiders speak, it’s just hard to put the confidence in.
Yeah. I guess from a publisher perspective, it’s kind of an easy buy just because we do allow the money to flow to these publishers that aren’t signed up yet… Some of our bigger publishers, they’re already getting four-figure payments, so it’s not that hard of a sell to say “You have something-thousand dollars waiting for you to collect it.” It becomes a little bit easier at that point [unintelligible 01:15:30.05]
I hate when people say that to me.
“You have thousands waiting for you.”
The other thing to put in there, and I agree that there’s either like FOMO or a JOMO (the joy of missing out), there’s a stigma on the crypto markets, depending on whether they’re bulls or bears; we’re in a major bear market, so it’s like “Oh, that thing…” But just like the Brave team didn’t need to speculate - they ICO-ed, they got a bunch of Ether and then they sold that Ether immediately (most of it) for cash, for fiat money, you can do the same thing as a Brave publisher. Every time BAT comes into your account, whether it’s worth two cents or two bucks, you can just take the two cents or two bucks today. You don’t have to ride the wave.
And because it’s opt-in, but they’re already collecting them for you… Like Brian says, you get an email, “Hey, you’ve got all this money. Come and get it”, that’s a pretty easy sell.
That’s where the awareness needs to be then. Because here I am, sitting here and thinking – not so much just about us in particular, because I get it, but I’m thinking about all the people who don’t, that don’t even take that first step to get the confidence, because they’re like “Well, I’m stuck in BAT” or whatever. That’s the awareness that needs to drive it home; it’s like, “You’re not stuck in this currency that you’re totally unaware of.”
I just think back to the Seth Meyers skit… Cryptocurrency was around the $20,000 mark for Bitcoin, holiday timeframe, maybe around the new year, and they did a skit on it… To me it was hilarious, but that’s what the mainstream people think, and when you try to get past a hurdle of like, okay, here, technological people like Jerod and I and our listeners have accepted Brave to some degree, or are willing to try Brave to some degree… We’re the ones you get easier and earlier, whereas the mainstreamers will be like “I still don’t get it, I’m not trying it.” The awareness needs to be around that stigma of like “You’re stuck” to “Hey, it’s just a conduit, so that we can have a digital currency on the internet that transfers easy and you can easily do it.” So your explanation, Jerod, should be written down and put on loop, so to speak.
Thankfully we have the technology, we can loop such things.
That’s right, that’s right.
And I’m sure the Brave team has marketing folks and people who are interested in helping educate the general public of these things. It’s nice that it’s a – it comes along for the ride. The primary sale for Brave as end user is your privacy, your security and your speed; a good browser where you’re not the product is their pitch on the homepage… It’s not BAT and the attention economy; that’s kind of the inside baseball that you find yourself into. And it’s somewhat a nice, viral marketing scheme from a publisher’s perspective, because now you have people giving publishers money, all of a sudden “Hey, here’s a publisher that’s aware of it.” Well, what do publishers do? They publish stuff, so they’re gonna write about it if they’re getting some sort of payments from people browsing their websites using this browser.
Let me ask this question… Let’s say I’m The New Yorker or someone who has a subscription; is my choice – tell me if this is the level it’s at… Do I choose to have my own subscription model, or do I choose to say “Use–” because BAT is gonna be so influential, maybe not today, but sometime in the future, do I subscribe for a buck to get a week free of The New Yorker and go direct, or do I just choose a different, better (however you wanna air-quote it) browser like Brave because of BAT and attention tokens with BAT? Will The New Yorker or someone like them, just to use an example of like a publisher who has their own subscription model - will they trade theirs in for the idea and future of Brave and BAT? Or let’s just say BAT in general, since this is the implementation, it’s at the Brave level at this point, for attention.
Yeah, so a good comparison of that would be we partnered with the Dow Jones Media Group, and they have a paid subscription and paid newsletter, and as part of this deal, they would advertise Brave on their site, and they would get BAT in return. But if you downloaded it from their site, you would then get a free subscription to their premium content, as well. So yeah, we’re definitely open to things like that, where it kind of gives you an end to this premium content.
So you mentioned bringing BAT to other products beyond Brave… What are some ideas? Are you thinking about podcasting? That’s where I’m trying to get with this.
Bring it home, Jerod.
Yeah, now – podcasts is a great alternate product, but I think it’s gonna probably be exposed via an SDK. The SDK is already in progress, it’s just we’re the first user of the SDK. So yeah, we can’t even imagine–
And how are we gonna enlist for the payment? [laughter]
Well, I’d say we’ve had lots of – or, “lots” might be a stretch; we’ve had a few emails from people who are saying “Do you know how Brave is great for browsing and reading publishers? What if there was a podcast app that could do what Brave is doing with BAT?” and most of my response is “Podcast apps are really hard to make, so make sure you actually wanna build a good podcast app first, and then think about the economy around it.” It’s similar to what you do in Brave - building a good browser is really hard, I’m sure, Brian, as you know… So that’s usually what I tell people - maybe partner with an existing podcast app that already has a user base…
The point is that people are thinking about these things. It’s interesting that you’re saying, “Okay, here’s an SDK for Brave payments in BAT where you can build it into your own things.”
Yeah, and there’s a lot of companies that we’re already in talks with and that wanna adopt it, so… It’s more just waiting to get everything deployed first, and working and improving, and then bringing those other platforms as well.
I think what’s interesting here is we started off the conversation talking about Brave, and the mountain it needs to climb, and those it needs to fight to get to the mountain and become a winner, or just a large enough market share to survive and thrive, if given the options, to a world where there’s a brand new product called BAT that may have been previously already known at the inception of Brave, to some degree, but maybe I missed it, or Brian you could shed light… But you know, sometimes you do one thing to get to the next thing that actually is your home run, and it seems like Brave is just a browser - not to say it’s just a browser on BAT, but like–
…but it doesn’t have the same kind of legs that BAT does by being in multiple other products, offering license opportunities, partnership opportunities… It’s a transient where it can go anywhere product for Brave Inc. Was BAT always an idea, or was it always Brave and then you just stumbled on BAT?
No, originally it was Brave, and we used Bitcoin as the back-end… So before BAT even was a thing, everything was already built out on Bitcoin; that was part of the value prop, that we already have the system that is proven with Bitcoin, and we can just use BAT instead. Now, we did BAT back when the transaction fees for Bitcoin were insanely high, like you’d have to – yeah, it just wasn’t working very well [unintelligible 01:23:11.27]
It didn’t make sense for micropayments when the transaction fees are huge, right?
Exactly, yeah. And also, we couldn’t find anyone to give us several hundred million dollars in Bitcoin to give out to users for free to grow our user base. [laughter] So that was part of it as well.
So you’ve got the big 1.0 coming up with the new Chromium front-end… If you go to Brave.com right now, you can download a version that is the new Brave browser. It’s not 1.0 yet, but it has the Chromium front-end… I’ve checked it, the emoji picker works beautifully; you’re gonna get your Chrome extensions in there, you’re gonna get your Chrome DevTools in there, you also have the ad platform upcoming… I know people like to pin down, especially cryptocurrency-based projects with ship dates and these kinds of things, but just a general idea of when is 1.0 coming, when is Brave – not Brave payments, Brave advertising coming…? What is just the general timeframe for these things that people can expect to see them and try them out?
So 1.0 - we’re probably looking around February; ads before the end of the year…
Oh, ads first?
What’s holding back 1.0, since you’ve got the big rewrite in there? Are there additional features, or getting ads integrated?
Well, there’s multiple platforms… We wanna basically have the whole system running; we wanna have it not only running on desktop, but also on mobile for example as well. But really, a 1.0 event is kind of like a big marketing deal, it’ll be compared head-to-head against everything, and you wanna make sure that – you only get one chance to do one of those 1.0’s, so we wanna make sure we have everything in place for that.
Brian, we’re at this point where it’s time to let you go, but is there anything that’s been on your mind during this conversation that you’re like “Man, I wish you’d asked me this question”, or just one final piece of advice…
I was thinking earlier, you were talking about the stability of cryptocurrencies, and I think in the past month Bitcoin has actually been more stable than the S&P 500… And also, another thought that I was having was that mass adoption in crypto is not just gonna come from people going to buy the cryptocurrency; I think it was the CEO from Coinbase, Brian, that said “People won’t buy their first crypto, they’ll earn it”, so I really think that BAT is the perfect platform for that.
I’m with you on the earning part of it. Buying is a weird play; earn it somehow, and go from there.
Brian, thanks for your time, man. We appreciate you being a man on this mission, and a team on this mission to help a better web be safer, more secure, and then potentially publishers like us finding new ways to generate sustainable revenue from the attention our users and/or listeners desire to give us in ways that just make sense for the future and the way that web will work, so… Thanks so much for your hard work and for sharing your time with us today.
Awesome. Thanks so much for having me on.
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