Longreads + Open Thread

Platforms, Bin Laden, Ransomware, Epic, Germany


  • rousing 2015 interview with Chamath Palihapitiya, which has aged well because many of the trends he spotted early have only gotten bigger. (Via this Stratechery post.)

  • Garrett Graff of Politico has a great long piece on the decision to launch the raid against Bin Laden, and its immediate aftermath. Particularly surreal: it coincided with preparations for Obama's speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and involved some of the same people. So they'd go from workshopping jokes to thinking about how the US would respond to the many ways the raid could have gone wrong.

  • Inside the job interview process for a ransomware gang.

  • profile of Epic's Tim Sweeney ($, WSJ). One thing the piece highlights is that Apple was not the first time Epic launched a feature that would be popular with players but unpopular with platforms. It's a powerful technique, sort of analogous to populism: if one person tries to represent the interests of everyone, instead of aggregating those of narrow interest groups, they can sometimes get enough influence to weaken those interest groups. But it only really works if their policies are genuinely popular.

  • The New Republic asks what the Wirecard scandal says about Germany. But the problem seems more universal: every accounting fraud is, at some level, driven by plausible hope. There’s an efficient frontier between growth rates and certainty, and at some level frauds are all an attempt to imagine the company existing beyond that frontier.


  • Paying With Plastic is an overview of the credit card industry with a focus on applying economic models like those pioneered by Jean Tirole. One theme in the book, quite relevant today: antitrust regulation in the card industry is hard, because anything that promotes fragmentation at one level promotes consolidation at another level. Weaken Visa and MasterCard, and you're implicitly strengthening the banks and financial institutions that issue their cards.

  • Japanese Equities is a quick book on what moves the Japanese stock market. Which turns out to be 1) the rest of the world economy, and 2) policy changes. I read this as part of the research for this post ($), but it turns out to be a higher-level book: better for timing trades in Nikkei futures than for picking individual stocks.

Open Thread

  • As always, drop any recommendations for books and articles you feel Diff readers would enjoy into the comments. (There is no restriction on submitting things you've written!)

  • Some products have obvious network effects, like Facebook's friend graph or the .xls format. But some are non-obvious; Salesforce's core product has slowly gotten complicated and powerful enough to be a discrete skill set, so it's made its way into job requirements. What are some interesting non-obvious network effects?

  • Since next week is payments week for The Diff, I'm happy to hear from readers (replying directly or in the comments) on what trends they find interesting in payments, what's worth reading about the industry, what's misunderstood about it, etc.