Category Archives: Business

Shock Report: “Smart Contracts” Are Subject To Interpretation

To hear enthusiasts for “Smart Contracts”, they are magic. The meaning of the contract is enshrined in code, and executed by computers. Cryptographic signatures and blockchain protocols assure that the contract is executed correctly and honestly. Once written, no human intervention is needed or, indeed, possible.

Entire businesses are created on this basis, so called Distributed Autonomous Organizations. Once created, these DAOs chunk along mechanically, executing business “autonomously”. No one disagrees about the results, mistakes and conflict are not possible.

This is better than magic. It’s the magic of capitalism raised to the power of magic!

What could possibly go wrong?

In the very drafty basement of this castle in the air lies the claim that these executable contracts are not only always and completely correct, but also accurately and unambiguously express the intentions of the humans involved.

The former would be an historic first in the history of software, and the latter would be an historic first in the history of human thought.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

This month, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) issued a whitepaper, “Smart Contracts and Distributed Ledger – A Legal Perspective” [1]

The ISDA is a group that publishes standards for contract language for derivative contracts. These people define what “is” is, and what “means” means.

With all the nitter-natter about doing derivatives trading using executable “contracts” on a blockchain, the ISDA has taken up the question of just hos “contract-y” these so-called contracts may be.

The report is rather long and dry, and generally extremely well thought out.

The key point probably is:

Certain operational clauses within legal contracts lend themselves to being automated. Other non-operational clauses – for instance, the governing law of a contract – are less susceptible to being expressed in machine-readable code. Some legal clauses are subjective or require interpretation, which also creates challenges.” (p. 3)

Basically, some “smart contracts” are simple bits of code that do something. But an actual derivative contract has a lot more in it that “operational” clauses, and you can’t leave them out. Furthermore, it’s those “non-operational” parts that are the subject of interpretation and dispute. Very few law suits are about account numbers or dollar amounts, they are always about whether and how rules apply.

The bottom line is that “smart contracts” will be subject to interpretation and dispute, period. The question is how to make them work well.

It is important to note that the ISDA report is talking about contracts in the legal sense of the word, an agreement recognized by law. While enthusiastic techies may imagine that they can declare their code to be outside any conventional legal system, it is generally the case that judges will decide what they have jurisdiction over. Code that isn’t recognized in a jurisdiction is probably not a contract in that jurisdiction, no matter how cunning it is.

Which means that the ISDA’s opinion is relevant, to say the least.

The “non-operational” language includes common phrases such as “good faith”, and “ordinary practice”. The report points out that these terms are intended to be subject to interpretation, if only because it is never possible to state all possible future conditions. They also point out that these terms may be interpreted differently by different authorities, which is why it is important to specify which authority will rule.

The report suggests hybrid contracts, part of which are machine executable, and part of which are interpreted by humans. This will require standardization of executable contract code, so the contracts will work everywhere. In short, the report concludes that ISDA has a critical role to play.


  1. International Swaps and Derivatives Association, Smart Contracts and Distributed Ledger – A Legal Perspective. 2017. http://www2.isda.org/attachment/OTU3MQ==/Smart%20Contracts%20and%20Distributed%20Ledger%20%20A%20Legal%20Perspective.pdf

 

Cryptocurrency Thursday

A Map of the Gig Economy

Speaking of the Gig Economy….

The iLabour Project (“Investigating the Construction of Labour Markets, Institutions and Movements on the Internet”) [3] has begun to try to track workers and work using online job and task services. This isn’t the whole of the Gig Economy, but it certainly is an important sector. Indeed, their data showed a 26% increase between 2015 and 2016—this is why we’re all interested in it!

What does that headline number mean? The data is amassed by retrieving “vacancies” from the most used online job markets. (This is done via a web crawl, so it is snapshots.) When possible, they record the type of work (‘occupation”) and the country where the worker resides. The gigs are “different market mechanisms and contracting styles, from online piecework to hourly freelancing.” [2].

One wonders if Uber and is included in this index? It’s not an open market, but it sure as heck is at the dark heart of the gig economy.

This index is an “indicator”, not an absolute measure. The year to year growth is a growth in…this index. Mainly, this means more “vacancies”, and presumably, more vacancies filled. Given the nature of these platfoms, that could mean more workers, or more work per worker, or both.

The iLabor project produced a supplement that describes the geographic location of the gig workers sampled, and the type of work.

Online Labour Index top occupation by country, 1-6 July 2017

The data confirms our expectations that India and Bangladesh are large sources of labor in these services, though US and UK also supply labor in certain specializations.

This index seems very limited to me. It has nothing to say about many vital aspects of this job market.

There is very little about the employers. There is nothing about outcome: productivity, satisfaction, value added.

As noted, there is little information about the number of workers, the hours per workers, and the income of workers. We are all concerned about the widespread trend toward very low wage piece work, that cannot support the workers.


The Oxford group makes their data available for others to use, which enabled Andrew Karpie to add his own analysis [1].  His analysis shows that “the U.S. and Canada account for over 50% of the global total projects requested”, with the overall finding that “it is clear that online work exchange activity today is largely between the U.S. and certain less-developed Asian countries.

Well duh!

He concludes that “this is likely true for three main reasons: (1) wage arbitrage (frequently), (2) lower transaction costs and (3) supply of skilled labor/talent (with shortages in the U.S.).”

No kidding?

This is not a pretty picture, and I’m always surprised by people who think this “innovation” is even remotely a good idea.

But it’s very good to see some actual data about the gig economy, even if it is limited in so many ways.


  1. Andrew Karpie, Where Are Online Workers Located? — Oxford Internet Institute Tool Breaks it Down, in Spend Matters Network. 2017. https://spendmatters.com/2017/07/13/online-workers-located-oxford-internet-institute-tool-breaks/
  2. Otto Kassi, How the Online Labour Index is constructed, Oxford International Institute, 2016. http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/how-the-online-labour-index-is-constructed/
  3. Oxford International Institute, Introducing the iLabour Project. 2016. http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/
  4. Kevin Stark, Oxford Internet Institute Launches Interactive Map of the Global Gig Economy. Sharable.July 27 2017, http://www.shareable.net/blog/oxford-internet-institute-launches-interactive-map-of-the-global-gig-economy

 

 

What is Coworking? GCUC On “Back To Our Roots”?

From its origins in the small, informal coworking movement, the Global Coworking Unconference (GCUC) has evolved into an industrial association, cheerleading coworking as a sector of the “Social Office Industry”. For many, this is quite a divergence from the roots of the coworking movement, e.g. as per the Coworking Manifesto [2, 3].

Michael Benson (of CSBC & ClearEdge Offices) blogs this month about “Coworking A Return To Our Roots” [1]  Appearing in GCUC’s blog, I was interested to see what he has to say about roots.

In this post, he summarizes recent trends from the point of view of the Office Center Industry,

“Coworking is being touted as a brand new Social and Workplace movement, which is sweeping worldwide across the Real Estate and Services Industries.”

This is as clear of a statement of the gospel according to GCUC as I’ve seen. The capitalized words even tell us the salient audiences and viewpoints. (Hint: Coworking does not seem to be about “Workers” or “Working” at all.)

He goes on to give reasons for this worldwide sweeping”.

  • “Growth in part time employment.

  • Growth in the consultant industry.

  • A connected community able to engage with each other in the space.

  • Interesting accessible, relevant events.

  • Comfortable edgy fit outs [sic], which allow people more access to common and casual spaces.

  • Interesting, functional and accessible meeting rooms, function rooms and training rooms.

  • Access to reasonably priced, well located, well designed workspaces.

  • Access to an immediate and open business network.

  • Large Businesses are also trying to connect and take advantage of small business entrepreneurial skill and growth and connect with their market.”

This is a pretty good list of how the “Service Office Industry” views it’s offerings. At the head of the list is “the gig economy”, which is surely a driver for small scale office rentals, social or not.

(I’m not sure “Comfortable edgy fit outs” means, but it’s a great name for a band, no?)

From the point of view of the Office Center Industry, the important trend is that

“The gap between Coworking organisations and Business centres/ Serviced offices/ Executive Suites also seems to be starting to narrow”

Benson favors this trend, which offers two important benefits to companies and workers: the value of “inter-business and inter-personal interaction” and nice surroundings in which to do so.

We are social and our ability to connect collaborate, enjoy our surroundings as well as the interactions with our co-workers is critical to create a balanced and efficient work experience.

This is the essence of the “social” aspect of Social Offices: a nice place to interact with other workers.

Adopting the social aspects of coworking is revitalizing “the Business centre model”.


Benson gives a clear and concise statement of the trends in the “Social Office Industry” that is GCUC’s focus these days.

But I’m having difficulty figuring out what the title of the item means. What “roots” are being returned to?

This post doesn’t seem to be about returning to the roots of the coworking movement. Those roots are definitely not about integrating Coworking into Office Centers. If this is about the “roots” of the Office Center Industry, it’s not clear to me.

Frankly, I think this is a misleading headline that was attached when the item was reposted to this blog. (Benson will be speaking at GCUC AU, so it is possible that he has more to say about “roots” that simply aren’t in this teaser.)

But, my own view is that this article actually is about current trends away from the roots of coworking. Benson thinks these developments are a good idea, and gives a clear statement of why he thinks so, but he’s not really interested in returning to the roots of coworking or GCUC.


  1. Michael Benson, Coworking A Return To Our Roots, in GCUC Blog + Press. 2017. http://au.gcuc.co/coworking-return-roots/
  2. coworking.org. Coworking Manifesto: The Future of Work. 2012, http://coworkingmanifesto.com/.
  3. The Coworking Wiki, Coworking Manifesto (global – for the world) in The Coworking Wiki. 2015. http://wiki.coworking.org/w/page/35382594/Coworking Manifesto %28global – for the world%29

PS.  A couple of great names for bands:

Service Office Industry
Comfortable edgy fit outs

 

What is Coworking?

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017.

Freelancer’s Toolkits?

The members who are “managed” by cool coworking software are mainly freelancers and independent contractors. These workers rent their workplace, and bring their own tools. So what is in their tool box?


Michael Katz has some suggestions for what you should have [1] .

Actually, his list are pretty simple, and mostly about being organized, getting “more efficient we can get managing repeatable, often mundane aspects of our work”.

  • Directions to my office
  • Standardized cards (e.g., “Thank you for the referral”)
  • Service descriptions (i.e., what you do)
  • New client questionnaire
  • Newsletter sign-up form

I note that all of these things are non-digital though all of them can be implemented in digital forms. In fact, every one of these ideas predate the ubiquitous internet.  They are about good business practices and relationships, not about technology.


Jeriann Ireland offers another take on this question, suggesting “The essential toolkit for minimalist (or broke) freelancers[2].

  • A Ready-to-Go Resume Template (and use LinkedIn to get it out there
  • A Decent Phone Plan (with call waiting)
  • A Dedicated Work Space (and separate computers and accounts)

This is a good list, and definitely a sound foundation.

His discussion of the “dedicated” workspace captures the essential psychology “Whether it’s a home office, a shared office space, or even a corner in your home, have a place where you only store work-related paperwork and itemsNaturally, “a dedicated workspace” might be membership in a local coworking space.

(I did raise an eyebrow at the comment that this is “the same concept as not spending non-sleeping time in your bed.”  Hmm.  I should never do anything in bed except sleep?)


Anyway, together these articles make clear that much of the challenge of freelancing is to be well organized, and to have a clear understanding of your own work processes.

“Templates” seem to be an important thing.  Basically, a template represents your understanding of how you work, and, as Katz puts it, the mundane and repeatable aspects.

I think this is a good point. Furthermore, the templates these guys mention most prominently are the “scripts” used for finding gigs and making contracts. There are other repeatable processes, such as billing, but connecting with new clients needs to be personal—so you need customized conversations.  

All this sounds like work!

Worse, it sounds exactly like “looking for a job”—which it is.  Gig workers have to really, really good at job hunting because they have to do it all the time. 

(Yet another reason I’ll never be a good Freelancer:  I absolutely hate, hate, hate job hunting.)


1. Jeriann Ireland, The essential toolkit for minimalist (or broke) freelancers, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/07/07/are-you-a-freelancer-or-entrepreneur-2/

2. Michael Katz,, What’s in your tool chest?, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/07/13/whats-in-your-tool-chest-2/

What is Coworking? It’s Partly About Office Management

Coworking spaces have emerged as one of the places where independent workers and small startups choose to work

Coworking is enabled by ubiquitous digital technology, which makes it possible for workers to “bring your own device”, and to work from pretty much anywhere.

The same technology has enabled office managers to operate not only anywhere, but at very small scales. From the point of view of the operator, the challenge of coworking is to be able to slice up workspace into one worker pieces, and very short time periods. Some coworking spaces are willing to rent a single desk for an hour at at time.

This granularity, and a desire to offer an array of packages, means that the office management must be extremely efficient and inexpensive. These processes have been automated for decades, of course, But now there are an increasing number of packages designed for the lowest budget operations, including coworking spaces.

Not only can workers work anywhere, it’s pretty easy to set up almost any space to be a rental workspace.

For example, Andy Alsop of “The Receptionist.com” (maker of office management products) wrote about the “5 Best Coworking Office Space Management Software Solutions [1] .His list gives us an idea of the tasks that are commonly needed.

The five products listed may be a bit out of date, there will surely be many more entries in the intervening years.

But the important thing is, what do coworking space operators need?

The basic core is managing memberships and payments. The latter is a straightforward billing/invoicing task. The former combines elements of property leasing with customer relations, and different tools offer different features for this.

Nexudus (one of the biggest players) manages stuff like events, newsletters, and also printers and so on. Optix also has member-to-member messaging (redundant with Facebook etc.?) and a market for desk space. Coworkify has sales and marketing features (i.e., for recruiting members to fill the desks). Happy Desk has wifi network management and door access features.

All of the systems are designed to be sold or leased at low cost to even the smallest operator.

I note that this article is in the blog of The Receptionist, a company that makes “The Receptionist for iPad”, a versatile, effective and easy-to-use visitor management system available”. This suite of features includes annoying stuff like logging visitors to your office, integrated with deeper annoying features that connect these logs with security or sales data bases. All on an iPad connected to cloud services.

Overall, it is clear that complex business office processes are available to pretty much anyone.

In the case of the products that are specialized for coworking, the business features are combined with social features (e.g., mail and chat groups), PR stuff (event management, “customer relationship” stuff), and technical managements (wifi, doors, printers).

Phew!

This job is harder than I realized.

But the best thing about these products, to my mind, is that they enable a good community leader to provide professional quality business services with relatively little effort. This frees time and energy for the most important part, schmoozing, connecting, teaching, and listening.


  1. Andy Alsop, 5 Best Coworking Office Space Management Software Solutions, in The Receptionist – Blog. 2015. https://thereceptionist.com/5-best-coworking-space-management-software-solutions/

 

What is Coworking?

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017.

Just How Complicated is Freelancing, anyway?

The new way of work is a gig economy of growing legions of freelancers and independent contractors. Far from having no job, these self-employed workers actually have to perform many jobs, implementing everything necessary to operate a small business.

As I have said, this stuff is not really my thing, and I will probably never be a successful gig worker.

If there was even the smallest shred of doubt about that conclusion, it was dispelled by Josh Hoffman’s two-part article, “82 rules for all freelancers to live by”.

Eighty two!

Anything with that many rules is w-a-a-y too complicated for my puny mind to handle!

Actually, his collection is more of a play list than an original essay. Most of these points appear elsewhere, which is clear because he links to the sources.


It’s a lifestyle

His list includes a variety of topics. Item 1 is probably the most important:

Freelancing isn’t a job or career. It’s a lifestyle choice.”

Heck, it’s a lifestyle just to learn his 82 rules. : – )

It’s not only a lifestyle, it’s a personal lifestyle. He offers a lot of new age-y advice.

Do it your way.

Keep trying,

If it makes you happy, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.”

Channel your inner epic.”

Embrace your weirdness ”


It’s a business

As he says, “Speaking of business, you are one”.

Most of his rules apply to any small business, not just freelancing.

Many of the  rules are about how to run a small business (which I’m pretty sure is a lifestyle choice no matter what business you choose). This includes a bunch of stuff about:

customer/client relations,

marketing,

branding.

Network, network, network.


The problem with having so many rules

…is that they start contradicting each other.

For instance, he is very confusing about selfishness.

He’s advises other-oriented attitudes, if not actual altruism.

You can’t do anything great alone.”

Always lead with an unconditional willingness and readiness to help.

Gratitude is instant medicine.

But then, it’s about you.

Be selfish. That’s what freelancing is all about. It’s about you,

If it makes you happy, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Channel your inner epic.

Embrace your weirdness ”

These attitudes seem contradictory to me.


And there are some real stinkers in here

Some of his items are weirdly obnoxious and assert values I simply can’t agree with.

He endorses a really racist analogy about, “are you a Cowboy or an Indian”. I wont’ dignify this with an explanation of his point. It’s just icky.

He has a very specific idea about what kind of business you are in.

Clients care about two things: how to make more money, and how to save more money. Everything else is noise. Eliminate the noise from your sales pitch.

Huh. That’s not the only things my clients worry about.

He endorses the notion that freelancers are rootless.

The world is your office. If you’re unhappy with where you are, move. You’re not a tree.”

Um. Don’t workers have a home, a family, to a community?


Overall, this list seems way, way to long for me, and not especially well organized.

However, it does really make the point that a freelancer has to run a business, and also has to self-motivate.

I think this is why there is the striking incongruity of his bloodthirsty “it’s about the money” and the touchy-feely “channel your own epic.”  A freelancer has to figure out how to do both–and get both work and life done, too.

I note in passing that one of the reasons why many freelancers like coworking is that the coworking community is people who face the same challenges, and they can face it together.

As I have said, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do it myself.


  1. Josh Hoffman , 82 rules for all freelancers to live by, Part 1, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/06/26/82-rules-for-all-freelancers-to-live-by-part-1/
  2. Josh Hoffman, 82 rules for all freelancers to live by, Part 2, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/06/27/82-rules-for-all-freelancers-to-live-by-part-2/

 

Jinks On the “Freelancing Mindset”

Bryan Jinks blogs this month that it is important for Freelancers to think like a freelancer, i.e., not like an ‘employee’.

Freelancing is not just like being an employee with more freedom. They are two completely different things, and need to be looked at from different perspectives.

For Freelancers who are used to being employees, or people who take up Freelancing, it is crucial to understand the difference, or else face a terrible economic disaster (by dramatically undercharging).

He highlights two basic things to keep in mind. First, your charges (e.g., your hourly rate) must include all the overheads that are not mentioned in the salary or scale of an employee: taxes, benefits, business expenses, etc. A Freelance worker must pay these him or herself out of their billed rate, so the rate must be a lot higher than an employee’s rate for the same job.

The second issue is the importance of accounting for what may be sporadic gigs, and the overhead of finding gigs. A Freelancer must factor the work needed to set up the gig into the hourly charges for the work time.

The bottom line is that Freelance work is a business, and needs to be run like a business.

If you can forget the employee mindset and view your income like a business owner, you’ll have a more realistic view of your finances.

I note that part of the value of the Freelancers Union  is that it provides not only advice on this topic, but also resources to help Freelancers tackle all this business goop. This now includes resources such as a tool for creating contracts and an app to find legal help.

Enspiral is also creating open tools for project management and other business support, as is Loomio, These tools and services make it possible for a worker to get all the stuff you get from  being part of a large company, except everything is peer-to-peer.

(There are zillions of commercial services that do the same things as well.)

I have to say that this biz stuff is a big reason why I probably never will be a successful freelancer. I just don’t think like a business owner, and frankly, I don’t want to think that way.

I suspect that the only way I would make it at all would be with the kind of help that the FU and the others are creating.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks like this, and in any case, no one is expert at everything. So these efforts are surely the right idea. As I said in an earlier post, this is putting “tools in the hands of the workers” in the 21st century.


  1. Bryan Jinks, Why freelancers can’t approach money with an “employee” mindset, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/05/31/why-freelancers-cant-approach-money-with-an-employee-mindset/