The Browser (with Brendan Eich, Chief Architect of Netscape + Mozilla and CEO of Brave)

Summary Notes


In this episode of Acquired, hosts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal, alongside guest Brendan Eich, delve into the intersection of traditional internet technology and the emerging Web3 space. Brendan Eich, CEO of Brave Browser and inventor of JavaScript, shares his journey from being Netscape's chief architect to pioneering the privacy-centric Brave Browser, which now boasts over 50 million monthly users and stands as a significant blockchain-based application. The conversation explores Brave's evolution, its focus on user privacy, the role of the Basic Attention Token (BAT) in rewarding users, and the challenges and opportunities in balancing privacy with user experience in the rapidly evolving Web3 ecosystem. With Brave's growth and its venture into offering an in-browser wallet, the discussion also touches on the potential for decentralized systems to empower users economically and the ongoing battle for market share in the browser wars.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Acquired Podcast Episode

  • The podcast episode features a conversation with Brendan Eich, CEO of the Brave Browser.
  • Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal discuss the history of web browsers and the emergence of Web 3.
  • Brendan Eich's notable achievements include inventing JavaScript and being the chief architect of Netscape and CEO of Mozilla.
  • The episode explores the transition from old internet technologies to the new, with a focus on blockchain and privacy.

"Our guest today is Brendan Eich, CEO of the Brave Browser, an application right at the heart of the rapidly emerging web three world."

The quote introduces Brendan Eich and positions Brave Browser as a central player in the development of Web 3.

Brave Browser and Its Growth

  • Brave Browser aims to improve user privacy by blocking trackers.
  • It is based on Chromium, making it easy for users to switch from Google Chrome.
  • Brave has over 50 million monthly users and is growing rapidly.
  • The browser features a unique economic model through the Basic Attention Token (BAT), rewarding users for viewing private ads.

"Brave is a faster browser because it blocks all the trackers, many of which Google or its publishers or ad buyers depend on."

This quote summarizes the core functionality of Brave Browser, emphasizing its focus on speed and privacy.

Advertising and Tracking Online

  • Brendan Eich discusses the history of online advertising and tracking.
  • The conversation covers the development of cookies and third-party tracking.
  • Eich reflects on the unintended consequences of these technologies and the rise of ad tech.
  • He also touches on the legal battles surrounding browser competition and Microsoft's practices.

"The problem that Brave solves is the tracking ads, the privacy invasion, because it has all sorts of bad effects I can get into and users feel it right away they feel the clutter, they feel the annoyance, they feel the page load delay."

The quote highlights the issues Brave Browser addresses, particularly the negative impact of tracking ads on user experience.

Silicon Graphics and Netscape

  • Ben Gilbert asks Brendan Eich about his time at Silicon Graphics (SGI) and Netscape.
  • Eich shares insights into the talent pool at SGI and the company's influence on the tech industry.
  • He discusses his transition from SGI to Netscape and the early days of the internet browser wars.

"I almost right away said, I'm going to work for Jim. I interviewed at son, I was interested in programming language, so I interviewed on the compiler team."

The quote reflects Eich's decision to join SGI and his interest in programming languages, which would later influence his work at Netscape. and Firefox

  • The episode delves into the creation of and the development of Firefox.
  • Eich talks about the challenges of open-source development and community building.
  • He discusses the importance of releasing binaries to attract users and testers.
  • The conversation also touches on the competition with Internet Explorer and the growth of Firefox.

"We had this idea, and Eric Han and Marco had this idea that there would be an escape pod containing the browser code and it would somehow land on Tatooine and the message would get through and things would come back later, but no one knew how."

This metaphorical quote captures the spirit of hope and resilience behind the founding of and the eventual success of Firefox.

Pilot Sponsorship

  • Pilot is a sponsor of the Acquired podcast and offers accounting, tax, and bookkeeping services for startups and growth companies.
  • The company is the largest startup-focused accounting firm in the US.
  • Pilot's services include setting up and operating a company's entire financial stack.

"Pilot both sets up and operates your company's entire financial stack. So finance, accounting, tax, even CFO services like investor reporting from your general ledger all the way up to budgeting and financial sections of board decks."

The quote describes the comprehensive financial services provided by Pilot, emphasizing their role in supporting startups.

Brave's Mission and JavaScript's Role

  • Brendan Eich reflects on the mission of Brave and the role of JavaScript in web applications.
  • The discussion covers the evolution of web apps and the impact of JavaScript on the digital advertising ecosystem.
  • Eich's career arc is highlighted, showing his influence on the web from the creation of JavaScript to the privacy-focused Brave Browser.

"I think it was an important realization that you had when starting brave, that all or virtually all activity stems from interacting between a user and a browser."

This quote underscores the central role of the browser in user interactions and the significance of Brave's mission to protect user privacy.

The Mozilla Project and Early Firefox Development

  • Mozilla began as a small internal project within Netscape, aiming to create a better browser.
  • Mitchell Baker wanted to run Mozilla as a nonprofit, avoiding venture capital and commercialization.
  • Firefox, originally known as Phoenix, started in 2001 and was known by its current name by 2002.
  • The development was based on the 'zool' work, creating a programmable front-end stack using XML, JavaScript, and CSS.
  • The vision was to simplify the user experience while retaining functionality for advanced users.
  • Firefox was built with a focus on extensions (add-ons), predating Chrome's extension ecosystem.
  • The roadmap for Mozilla, written by Dave Hyatt and the speaker, aimed to create applications that do one thing well, using a common front-end toolkit.
  • Joe Hewitt and Blake Ross were instrumental in Firefox's early development, with Hewitt creating the autocomplete feature and Firebug.

"Mitch himself, I didn't want to do vc funding and didn't want to do a commercial thing. I just went along to try to keep the code alive."

This quote explains the speaker's intention to focus on the development and preservation of the code rather than commercializing the project.

"Dave Hyatt and I wrote the roadmap update for Mozilla in 2003. That said, let's make one app do one thing well."

The speaker highlights the strategic direction they took for the Mozilla project, focusing on creating specialized applications.

Firefox as a Challenger Browser

  • Firefox emerged as a challenger to Internet Explorer, capitalizing on the need for competition in the browser market.
  • The speaker describes the Firefox team as a "pirate ship," innovating and challenging Netscape's management.
  • Firefox's early adopters were passionate about its features, contributing to its rapid growth.
  • The speaker recalls engaging with Sergey Brin from Google, leading to a search deal that further propelled Firefox's success.
  • The speaker mentions various attempts to fork or create new browsers, like Flock and RockMelt, which ultimately failed to gain significant market share.
  • The speaker acknowledges that these attempts were not strategically positioned to compete with Firefox's growing success.

"It seemed like Firefox was right place, right time, with the right group of people who were actually passionate about this."

This quote captures the essence of why Firefox succeeded—it had the right conditions, timing, and a passionate team.

"The whole lead user cohort of the web was just charged up."

The speaker emphasizes the excitement and support from early adopters and lead users that contributed to Firefox's momentum.

The Evolution of Web Browsers

  • The speaker draws parallels between the importance of browsers and semiconductors, noting that both are often underestimated despite their critical roles.
  • Browsers are referred to as "immortal apps," essential for accessing web content and functioning as a universal application.
  • The speaker comments on the stickiness and accumulative nature of web content, which contributes to the longevity and relevance of browsers.
  • The speaker reflects on the decline of Firefox's market share following the launch of Google Chrome, which has gradually eroded Firefox's user base.

"It's an immortal app. It's the universal app."

This quote highlights the enduring significance of web browsers as a fundamental tool for accessing the internet.

Privacy Concerns and Tracking in Browsers

  • The speaker discusses the importance of privacy and the negative implications of tracking users across the web.
  • The speaker mentions Google's change in privacy policy in 2016, which unified their data collection systems, raising concerns about user privacy.
  • The speaker criticizes browsers that claim to focus on privacy without making substantial changes to protect user data.
  • The speaker recalls the success of UCWeb in Asia, in part due to its ad-blocking features, and contrasts Mozilla's cautious approach to privacy with Apple's proactive measures in Safari.
  • The speaker questions Mozilla's reliance on Google's search deal for revenue and its potential influence on Mozilla's privacy decisions.

"Mozilla did not lead on privacy as well as Steve Jobs did at Apple."

This quote acknowledges that Mozilla was not at the forefront of privacy features compared to Apple's Safari browser.

"Google's privacy policy changed. This was after I started brave. But I'll tell the full story of brave by starting there, because at that point, Propublica noticed the Guardian republished their piece."

The speaker introduces the context for the development of the Brave browser, emphasizing the significance of privacy and the role of media in highlighting Google's policy changes.

The Inception of Brave Browser

  • The speaker founded Brave to address the privacy shortcomings of existing browsers and to provide users with more control over their data.
  • Brave was designed to block trackers and ads, improving privacy and performance.
  • The speaker highlights the economic aspect of privacy, suggesting that users should have the ability to negotiate the use of their data.
  • The Brave browser uses the Basic Attention Token (BAT) as part of its private ad business, which rewards users for their attention while respecting their privacy.
  • The speaker expresses a desire for software that defends user privacy and provides economic bargaining power.

"I didn't want brave to be trapped, and I certainly didn't want myself or my children to be trapped because these monopolies can last a lot longer than they should."

This quote reflects the speaker's motivation for creating Brave as a means to resist monopolistic practices and protect user privacy.

"If users can guard their data, they can demand a higher price, they can demand better terms."

The speaker emphasizes the economic benefits of privacy for users, advocating for a model where users have more control over their data.

Brave's Unique Selling Propositions

  • Brave pitched itself as a private, fast browser with low battery usage.
  • Confirmed by a UK company, Spectre, at Mobile World Congress 2019, Brave was the least power-hungry browser on Android.
  • The focus was on everyday user experiences, like page load times, battery drain, and data plan concerns.

"Our pitch was private, fast, low battery use. And we actually, at Mobile World Congress 2019, this green Spectre company from the UK came by and said, yeah, we've measured. You're the least power hungry browser on Android."

This quote explains that Brave's initial marketing strategy was focused on privacy, speed, and efficiency, which was validated by external research.

Brave's Economic Model for Users

  • Brave has a tiered ad rate card worldwide, with ad buyers paying the most in the US, followed by the UK and Europe.
  • Users receive 70% of the ad revenue, which is significant in the global digital advertising market.
  • The Brave ad network allows users to earn Basic Attention Tokens (BAT) for viewing ads.

"If we just get 1% of that and we share 70% of that with our users, is that 2.1 billion? Right."

The quote highlights Brave's business model, where users are financially rewarded for their attention in a massive digital advertising market.

Brave's Ad Matching and Privacy

  • Brave's system avoids tracking by using a catalog of ads updated several times a day.
  • Machine learning within the browser matches ads to users without compromising privacy.
  • The system is opt-in and does not track users by default.

"We do the decisioning in the browser based on this catalog. So all the machine learning on the mother of all data feeds I mentioned earlier is in browser."

This quote explains that Brave's ad matching is done within the browser, using a non-tracking method to protect user privacy.

Advertiser Targeting in Brave

  • Brave allows coarse segmentation for advertisers while maintaining user anonymity.
  • Machine learning in the browser helps categorize users into segments without revealing personal information.
  • The system uses simple algorithms that do not drain battery life.

"We can do some very course segmentation which does not let people be reidentified."

The quote emphasizes that Brave's advertising system allows for broad user segmentation without risking individual user identification.

Online Advertising Fraud

  • JavaScript's mutability on publisher pages leads to security vulnerabilities and ad fraud.
  • Fraudsters can mimic legitimate environments and siphon off ad revenue.
  • Google's complicity in ad fraud due to fee collection from fraudulent activities.

"There's a ton of fraud in online digital advertising because JavaScript is used on these publisher pages."

The quote points out the inherent security issues in the current digital advertising ecosystem, particularly due to JavaScript's mutability.

Statsig's Role in Product Development

  • Statsig is a product management and experimentation platform.
  • It helps companies like Notion, Brex, and OpenAI to ship features faster and measure their impact.
  • Statsig is used for continuous experimentation and feature rollouts.

"Statsig is a feature management and experimentation platform that helps product teams ship faster, automate A B testing, and see the impact every feature is having on the core business metrics."

This quote describes Statsig's function as a tool for product teams to enhance their development process and make data-driven decisions.

Brave's Growth and Evolution

  • Early decisions, like using the Electron framework, were mistakes that Brave corrected over time.
  • Brave's switch to a Chromium fork improved compatibility with Chrome extensions and user experience.
  • The growth of Brave was accelerated by focusing on user needs and maintaining compatibility with popular standards.

"We've doubled for five years in a row, or more than doubled some years."

The quote indicates Brave's significant user growth over the years, suggesting the effectiveness of their strategic decisions.

Brave's Position in the Browser Market

  • Brave has reached 50 million monthly active users.
  • The browser is seen as a significant player in the crypto wallet space.
  • Brave's market share in the browser industry is still small compared to giants like Chrome.

"So 50 million users, that seems like the largest self custody crypto wallet application in the world."

The quote positions Brave as a major player in the crypto wallet space, despite being a smaller browser in terms of overall market share.

Cryptocurrency and Regulatory Compliance

  • Brave's system requires KYC for anti-money laundering and compliance with regulations.
  • The future of Brave's ad system, Themis, aims to use zero-knowledge proofs for privacy and on-chain verification.
  • Brave is working towards a decentralized future while navigating regulatory challenges.

"We're trying to move on chain with that very soon with Solana, which is exciting. But we're still burdened by the regulations that require not only the anti money laundering, but also the Office of Foreign Asset Controls in the US."

This quote explains Brave's efforts to integrate more deeply with blockchain technology while acknowledging the regulatory hurdles they must overcome.

Brave Wallet and Cryptocurrency Adoption

  • Brave has evolved from forking MetaMask to creating its own native wallet.
  • The wallet aims to be multi-chain and user-friendly.
  • Brave's strategy includes making crypto more accessible and useful for users.

"So we're going to make the wallet sort of blend with the brave reward system as much as we can. We're going to make it multi chain."

The quote outlines Brave's plan to integrate its wallet with its rewards system and support multiple blockchains, enhancing user experience and adoption.

Bad Actor Companies in the Crypto Ecosystem

  • Bad actors are present in the cryptocurrency ecosystem, exploiting security inexperience.
  • These companies trick users into revealing their secret phrases, compromising wallet security.
  • The public lacks training on the importance and security of secret phrases, akin to the early days of passwords and credit card security awareness.

"There are bad actor companies in the ecosystem right now that are trying to tell you, hey, for a nice experience to have all of your wallets aggregated here, type in your secret phrase from your local self custody wallet into our thing."

This quote emphasizes the deceptive tactics used by fraudulent companies to gain access to users' cryptocurrency wallets by asking for their secret phrases under the guise of convenience.

QR Codes and User Experience (UX) Confusion

  • QR codes are used both as convenient links and representations of private keys in crypto, leading to security risks.
  • Misuse of QR codes by sketchy actors can lead to the collection of sensitive information.
  • The problem lies in the dual nature of QR codes and public/private keys being forced through the same user experience metaphors.
  • There's an ongoing effort to improve the UX of hardware wallets to reduce anxiety and enhance the sense of security and benefit in daily digital life.

"QR codes have become shorthands for links... But QR codes are also used, especially in crypto, for spelling a private key."

This quote highlights the dual use of QR codes in everyday situations and in the sensitive context of cryptocurrency, which can lead to security vulnerabilities.

Security vs. User Experience in Crypto

  • The trade-off between security and user experience is a constant challenge in computing, especially in crypto.
  • Traditional banking offers a user-friendly experience at the cost of user liberty and economic opportunity.
  • Crypto advocates for ownership, privacy, and security, but this comes with the burden of managing complex security measures.

"You bring up this just ever present trade off in computing, which is security versus user experience."

Ben Gilbert points out the ongoing struggle between maintaining high security and providing a user-friendly experience, which is particularly pronounced in the cryptocurrency domain.

Evolution of Cryptocurrency User Experience

  • The year ahead will see the addition of more chains and efforts to simplify the user experience in crypto.
  • UX design remains an art, with a need for collaboration with lead users to develop a wallet that integrates seamlessly into daily life.
  • The goal is to create a wallet that provides convenience, security, and positive opportunities like yield farming without provoking anxiety.

"This calendar year is going to be big because not only adding more chains... we'll have safeties on it."

This quote from an unnamed speaker discusses the anticipated improvements and expansions in the cryptocurrency user experience, focusing on safety and convenience.

Centralization vs. Decentralization in Web Technologies

  • The discussion centers on the inevitable consolidation around platforms for usability, despite the decentralized ethos of new web technologies.
  • Centralized services like Infura and Etherscan are necessary for certain functionalities, such as indexing blockchain history.
  • The future will likely include a blend of blockchain networks, peer-to-peer networks, and enduring centralized servers.

"To make these technologies usable, the space is consolidating around platforms again."

David Rosenthal cites Moxie Marlinspike's observation that user and developer needs are leading to a re-consolidation around centralized platforms, even in the decentralized web space.

Crusoe: A Clean Compute Cloud Provider

  • Crusoe provides AI workload services using clean, stranded, or wasted energy, partnering with Nvidia.
  • They offer better performance per dollar than traditional cloud providers due to their unique energy sourcing.
  • Crusoe's environmental angle includes using energy that would otherwise be wasted, offering cost benefits to customers.

"So Crusoe, as listeners know by now, is a clean compute cloud provider specifically built for AI workloads."

David Rosenthal introduces Crusoe as a company that specializes in AI workloads while utilizing clean energy, offering both environmental and cost advantages.

Brave's Future: A Plus and Failure Scenarios

  • Brave aims for massive user growth, potentially reaching 400 million users, leading to greater distribution opportunities.
  • Success includes influencing web standards, improving tokenomics for creators, and enhancing user sovereignty over their machines.
  • Failure risks involve macro or crypto events, misbehavior from big tech, or internal execution challenges.
  • Competition within the privacy-focused product market is acknowledged, with a focus on competing for thought leadership and user migration from other browsers.

"Company if we keep doubling or better? Three years is eight times 50, so it's 400 million users."

Brendan Gilbert outlines Brave's ambitious growth targets and the potential impact on distribution, standards, and user empowerment that would constitute a successful future for the company.

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