Lex Fridman Podcast - #160 - Brendan Eich JavaScript, Firefox, Mozilla, and Brave

The following is a conversation with Brendan Eich,

creator of the JavaScript programming language,

cofounder of Mozilla, which created the Firefox browser,

and now cofounder and CEO of Brave Software,

which has created the Brave browser.

Each of these are revolutionary technologies.

JavaScript is one of the most widely used

and impactful programming languages in the world.

Firefox pioneered many browser ideas that we love today

or even take for granted today,

and Brave is looking to revolutionize

not only the browser, but content creation online

and the nature of the internet

to make it fundamentally about respecting

people’s control over their data.

Quick mention of our sponsors.

The Jordan Harbinger Show,

Sun Basket Meal Delivery Service,

Better Help Online Therapy,

and AidSleep Self Cleaning Mattress.

Click the sponsor links to get a discount

and to support this podcast.

As a side note, let me say that there’s a tension

between theory and engineering

that I’ve been thinking a lot about.

I tweeted something like,

“‘Good execution is more important than a good idea,

“‘but one helps the other.’”

I think the wording of that sucks,

but what I mean is a good idea is a must,

but in my experience, good ideas are in abundance.

Good execution, on the other hand, is rare.

I think some mix of good timing, good idea,

and good execution is essential.

Getting that mix right is tough,

and Brendan, somehow, multiple times in his career,

did just that.

I’m starting to believe it’s more art than science,

like most interesting things in life.

If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube,

review an Apple podcast, follow on Spotify,

support on Patreon, or connect with me on Twitter

at Lex Friedman.

And now, here’s my conversation with Brendan Eich.

When did you first fall in love with programming?

I didn’t program a lot when I was in high school,

but I had a friend who had a Commodore PET,

and after we saw Star Wars, he said,

“‘Hey, let’s make a basic program

“’that does the Death Star Trench run.’”

And it was just simple 2D graphics,

and I didn’t know what I was doing,

so I just helped him out on the math and stuff like that.

I was a math and science kid.

I was really into the HP calculators of the early mid-’70s.

These were the RPN.

They were really strongly built,

and as Arik Goldfinger said of gold, divinely heavy.

There’s probably some gold in them, too, gold metalization.

But they were awesome calculators,

and they had all the scientific functions,

so I was really into that.

So I aimed toward physics.

I was a little late for the, I think,

the 20th century golden age,

and I read a lot of science fiction,

so I was like, yeah, it’s on the hyperdrives

and warp drives, and physics was not gonna get there quickly,

and I started hacking on computers

while I was studying physics as an undergraduate

at Santa Clara University,

and I dodged the Fortran bullet

because I was in the science department

instead of the engineering department,

where they still did Fortran card decks.

I think they had an auto collator.

But we were using Pascal,

and I got one of the first portable C Compilers ports

to the DEC minicomputers we were using,

and I fell in love with programming

just based on procedural abstraction, Pascal,

just what now would be considered old school,

like structured programming from the 70s.

Niklaus Wirth, the creator of Pascal,

was a good writer and a good pedagogue, right?

He always at ETH would do these courses

where it’s like build your own computer,

build your own compiler, build your own operating system.

It was scratch. Yeah, kind of.

And I know some people who were grad students under him

and said he would torture the students

with things like this custom email system

that had 25 word limit and things like that.

I unfortunately dodged both the Pascal

and the Fortran bullets.

Could you maybe linger on the Pascal?

What kind of programming language was it?

What is it reminiscent of today?

Because it sounds like it may have had an impact

on your own trajectory.

Yeah, it was in the ALGOL family,

and ALGOL was the big successful language design

and compiler project in the 60s.

It had a successor called ALGOL 68,

which was ambitious but not as successful.

But Pascal was kind of wordy procedures

and functions language.

It distinguished between functions

which return a value and procedures which don’t,

which just compute.

And you could say that whole ALGOL family went into ADA.

Pascal had a second life thanks to Borland

with Turbo Pascal, which was hugely successful.

I think in large part due to Anders Helberg,

who then went to Microsoft and did C Sharp and done that

with his team there and has done really well

doing TypeScript, type JavaScript.

So yeah, there’s a lineage here.

But I was also interested in C and Unix

by the time I was an undergrad

because people were bringing Unix up

on all sorts of hardware.

I had some friends who were doing

their own wirewrapped computers, 6820 maybe.

And I was wirewrapping for my engineering course,

6809 or something simpler, building a computer on a board.

And I wanted to build a more ambitious one

and port Unix to it, but I picked the wrong processor.

I picked the National Semiconductor NS16032,

which was this amazing, you know,

CISC, complex instruction set computer,

and not the reduced instruction set computers

that were just being contemplated into the mid eighties.

And RISC ultimately went out.

RISC won in some ways, it dissolved into,

you have both now, you have these super scalar architectures

where like Intel has kept probably too much

backward compatibility at the instruction level,

but that’s just, there’s a front end that parses that

into these, you know, these wide internal instructions.

So, you know, the very long instruction word research

that was also interesting at the time

kind of became the micro architecture

inside the backward compatible Intel.

But I picked a National Semi chip

and it never got made successfully.

It was full of bugs and I never could have brought it up.

But I went on out of physics after three years

into math, computer science.

And like I said, I did it because I saw,

I was being sort of childlike and naive about physics.

And I thought, meanwhile, the Valley is go go for computers.

The Apple II, right?

The PC, the Intel 8086, 8088 based PC,

the IBM, you know, gave Microsoft the future for,

you know, somewhat fishy deal.

So it was wide open in the computing space,

but in physics, you were as optimistic about physics as?

No, I mean, I was one of three brothers

who were all in the same grade.

I have a twin and a younger brother who skipped second grade

and was with us the whole time after that.

And, you know, he went on,

he actually studied under Kip Thorne at Caltech.

But he also didn’t, he ended up in software.

He didn’t talk about physics stuff.

Does it make you sad that theoretical physics,

even with string theory,

hasn’t really had any foundational breakthroughs

in the latter part of the 20th century?

Yeah, in fact, I’d say the problem is theory

over experiment.

I would say, you know, we need more Aristotle

and less Plato.

You know, mathematics is not all physical.

There are lots of mathematics that cannot be realized

as far as I know in this world.

So to understand the world, you need to do experiments.

You need to not just dream up inductive theories

that could have lots of alternative theories

competing with them, with no way to decide between them,

except aesthetics, which is not a good guide in my opinion.

Yeah, I don’t know if you are friends

or have a relationship with Elon Musk.

Where’s the, in terms of like what you would love to see

our society investing in, building up,

is it closer to Elon or is it closer to Feynman

and Einstein and those?

Well, those gentlemen are no longer with us

and I think that’s noticed.

So like I said, the real glory days of physics,

the famous pictures from Germany before the second war

were just a fantastic assembly of brains,

Schrodinger and Einstein.

And physics, I think, took a wrong turn

that maybe all of, I would say, Western science

took in going for models over reality, right?

You see this in all sorts of fields.

Now, we can build models that are very predictive

and generative and then we build actual devices

or semiconductors, things like that.

That’s good, I’m not dismissing that.

We need good models, we need to experiment

and prove them and test them.

But the problem I’ve seen in physics,

which you see certainly in economics, the dismal science,

and you see surprisingly in other so called hard sciences

is models that don’t really have to be

tested against reality.

They can instead become policy tools

or they can become, like I said,

one of a large family of alternate theories

that could be as predictive

but nobody’s doing the winnowing out.

That’s such an interesting tension in society.

You see this in even the software scientists

which have a deep love for psychology.

You see this in epidemiology, not with the virus.


There’s this tension of how much of the world

can we understand through just a beautifully fit model?

And then at the same time, my main work

is in machine learning where it’s like

there is no provable thing usually.

It’s all about just getting the right data set

and getting tricks and so on.

And there’s this tension even in my own soul

of I grew up on theoretical computer science.

I loved approximation algorithms,

all of that different complexity classes,

just those little puzzles.

I mean, I don’t know, to you as somebody

who was in math and computer science

and then ended up going into places

where you engineer some of the most impactful things

in this world, do you see the P versus NP,

all that whole space is interesting at all?

Yeah, it’s not that useful in practice.

People are using it with sort of crypto analysis

or asymptotic arguments about can we have

a quantum resistant crypto algorithm, things like that,

which may not be practical, right?

If you follow Mikhail Diakonov or Gil Kalai,

there are big questions about how quantum computing

will scale up, how practical it will be.

Is that something that you think about quantum computing?

Not except for spare time.

Like you said, I’m not using this kind of computer science

in practice because almost everything now is engineering

and finding ways to get computers

to be more useful for people,

which goes from design problems,

which are really kind of an art.

Like you said, anything you can’t automate is an art.

Well, we can have machine learning compose music

and it can imitate, you can train it,

and it can sound kind of decent,

but maybe lacking that je ne sais quoi.

But user interface still, I think, requires human art.

So speaking of things that didn’t follow

a perfect theory and model, JavaScript,

so there’s two things.

One, it had an impact on the world at a huge scale,

obviously, and it also still is one of probably

the most popular programming language in the world.

So can we go back to the origin story?

Can you tell the story of how JavaScript was created?

Yeah, I was at Silicon Graphics

after graduate school for seven years,

and it got to be big and successful

and divisionalized and political,

and I thought kind of boring.

And a friend who’d been there went to one of the last

of the super companies, the super startups

in the early 90s.

There were several.

I suppose General Magic was a little after that

around the same time.

But Micro Unity was that company that I went to,

and it was because my friend Jeff Weinstein

had gone there from Silicon Graphics.

He recruited me, and Micro Unity was doing everything.

So this was like the ultimate sort of pretend grad school.

It was doing a new fab, new semiconductor process.

It was doing new analog and digital circuits

on the same very large but not wafer scale chip.

Originally, it was five centimeters on a side.

It was really hot too, so I needed a water cooler.

It was a Craykiller, and then they shrunk it,

and they tried to do a home sort of media processor

that was essentially a barrel processor.

But you could think of trying to do all the things

that we now see in modern architectures

with short vector instructions

and sort of wide instructions or multiple issue,

and doing a lot of the stuff in software

because the second iteration, the set top box,

was really for avoiding the cost to the cable company

of rolling the trucks out

to replace your garbage General Atlantic set top box

with a totally newer, less garbagey one.

So if you could have software gradable set top boxes,

the cable companies thought they could save a lot of money

and add features.

Is this assembly, or which level of the software?

It was like, we were writing in, we were using GCC.

We were writing C++ and C.

Somebody I worked with there, really very smart guy,

hired from a sort of Wall Street

hotshot programming consultancy,

did his own hardware design as well as software.

And we were working on how to make

not only a short vector units,

but general bit shufflers and permuters.

So you could do things like crypto algorithms efficiently,

and you could do demodulation of the cable,

complex quadrature amplitude modulated signal.

So you’re basically taking A to D converters,

dumping things in buffers,

and then doing the rest in software.

All the framing and the Reed Solomon and Viterbi

and all that error correction.

So that was really great learning experience,

but it was not gonna work.

It was doing too many risky things at once, right?

If you, as Jim Clark said to me,

when I hopped to Netscape after three years at MicroUnity,

he said, oh yeah, you do 10 things each,

one in 10 odds, it’s gonna be one in 10 billion, right?

The multiplication principle.

So, Netscape was already a rocket,

and I passed the chance to go there in 1994.

I knew the founders because I worked at SGI,

Clark’s company.

Could you pause for a second in Netscape?

When was the launch of this rocket?


94 was the launch of Netscape?

And I went there in early 95 in April.

Okay, so you said you missed the launch.

Well, I missed the first floor employment opportunity,

but the IPO was August 1995, so I was there for that.

How obvious was it that Netscape was like world changing?

What was the layout?

Was Netscape one of the first big browsers?

Yes, so when I was at MicroUnity still in 93,

we saw a browser called Mosaic.

And up till then, we’d used email and we’d used Usenet,

the NNTP protocol, we’d use news readers, we used FTP,

we used all these old internet protocols,

all relying on the DNS and TCP IP and UDP for that matter.

When I was at Silicon Graphics,

we brought up the whole stack, right?

We had to discover how to find the ethernet addresses

on your network and then find IP addresses for them,

ARP protocol, all that stuff.

And it was great because nobody knew in the 80s

what was gonna win, all the proprietary stacks

like IBM, SNA and DeckNet and all these other protocols

were saying, we’re gonna do it

or it’s gonna be heterogeneous future.

And instead it was Berkeley Unix and the TCP IP stack

that dated back to the ARPANET that won.

And I think we knew it, we all knew it at SGI,

but the salespeople didn’t.

And so they kept trying to get multiple network stacks

interoperating, but in the end it won.

And so that was the internet and it was email and texty

and it was used and very texty.

And then Tim Berners Lee did his thing,

but I don’t think I was paying attention.

And I think the date when he first did it

or when he wrote the famous emails and pushed back to 89,

but I noticed a mosaic in 93 because one of the things

that Mark Andreessen and Eric Bina did at NCSA

was they innovated on the early HTML standard.

They in particular Mark sent this email saying,

hey everybody, we think you should be able

to put an image in a page.

And you know when he sent that Eric Bina had already

written the code.

And I talked to Tim Berners Lee more recently

just a few years ago and he was like,

oh, we had another way of doing it and it didn’t work out

because Mark shipped his in mosaic.

And this convinced me of several things.

One, the internet meant there was a huge first mover

advantage and being fast, getting on first mattered a lot.

And so Richard Gabriel of scheme and poetry fame

has written about this, the famous.

What’s poetry? Well, he’s a poet.

Oh, actual poetry.

Is he talking about some kind of something?

No, no.

I mean, he’s the founder of Lucid,

which is where Jamie Zawinski worked before Netscape.

And Lucid was doing compilers and Lucid Emacs,

which was a fork of Emacs,

famously Jamie fighting against Richard Stallman, Stalmax.

And so Richard Gabriel, very, very brainy computer guy,

but also a poet, but he wrote a nice essay

that gets abused all the time.

In fact, Jamie’s put a kind of warning in front

of his version of it on his site,

JWC.org called Worse is Better.

And this is about survival advantage of software

in the network world, in my opinion.

It’s about Unix.

It started out being framed as Unix and Lisp,

good news, bad news, because all the Lisp people,

the MIT people were like, oh, you know,

the crown jewel scheme, this Faberge egg or Common Lisp,

this giant cathedral, of course we’re going to win.

This is civilization.

And those, you know, those farmers in New Jersey

to borrow from the Sopranos, those picks down at Bell Labs,

they’re just, you know, there’s nothing sound there.

It’s all hacking.

Well, guess what won?

Wow, so you’re saying this is a fundamental,

like principle of the internet is moving fast wins.

You could say in almost any network system,

like in biological evolution,

you see successful alleles sweep populations

and they don’t always have, you know,

they aren’t free of flaws.

They’re heterozygous advantage, right?

You can get both parents give you the gene variant

and you get sickle cell anemia, right?

But if one of them does, you’re more resistant to malaria.

And so this isn’t a beautiful process,

except at large scale.

And then you realize that because it moves fast

and can adapt, it can win.

And people still struggle with this.

I used to struggle with this

because JavaScript was done in such a hurry

and the force of web compatibility meant

early mistakes couldn’t be fixed.

And even the standards process injected new mistakes,

as it will.

But often standards bodies go back

and making compatible changes.

You can’t do that with the web.

It’s more like, again, like biology,

you preserve what still works.

You don’t want to break ATP metabolism or whatever.

So you have to kind of resign yourself to the reality

of worse is better being enshrined

in actual design points you might not like.

And that happened with JavaScript and I’m way over it,

but it also, I think was a huge advantage.

That’s why JavaScript has kind of swept

a lot of programming domains.

People will say, oh, it’s not because of merit.

Well, you’re right.

But we also improved it over time in the standards body.

I spent 20 years doing that.

And you don’t get that choice.

It’s like, I’m not saying that that was the best language.

I’m just saying that was the right time to do it.

And I like to say the alternative was not to do it.

I could have told Netscape, I can’t do this.

It’s too rushed.

And it would have been visual basic script.

And it would have been bad.

So that’s a good way to present the alternative.

But so it was a Netscape and you have written it

in how many days and why was it only that many days?

And what was the goal and the underlying principles

in your mind at the time?

So the whole, I’m sort of describing worse is better

in a frenetic way because it fit the model of Netscape.

When it was known that Jim Clark

and Marc Inves were founding Netscape

and they did the first release in 1994,

that browser took over from Mosaic.

In fact, that’s why Mozilla is called that.

It’s the Mosaic killer.

It’s like the giant monster that kills Mosaic.

That’s awesome.

And they knew they could, it wasn’t that, again,

it’s not like you’re doing advanced scientific research

that is changing the world.

You’re more like taking down the last iteration

on the browser, Marc did, which had images

and other importances before he stopped working on it.

And you’re making Netscape the new thing that has images,

plugins, which was the way to do video back in the day.

It had something that’s kind of died now for tiled windows

called frames and frame sets.

HTML tables, that was new.

Eric Bina did tables in Netscape 1.1.

So when I got there, they were heading toward IPO.

Clark wanted the IPO early, I think his instinct was right.

And that kicked off the whole dot com era, right?

There was a recession in the US in 91.

You can see old law and order reruns

where they talk about the recession

and how hard it’s hitting New Yorkers.

And after that, Greenspan really goosed things

at the Federal Reserve and technology had been sort of

fermenting in a way that came together with the internet.

And Netscape made it possible to do pets.com,

to do eBay, to get people to recognize a URL on a billboard

and then type it in when they get home.

And that was huge.

That was so fast moving a rocket that Marc

and the engineering team there thought,

we need to make this a programmable browser,

not just a document viewer, not just a video.

It was all HTML with images and tables and also,

like you said, frames.

There was no dynamic element at all.

Yeah, the most dynamism we get was from a plugin,

which there are a few of them then.

Flash didn’t exist at that point.

It was, I think.

Java Applets yet or no?

Well, that’s the thing we did to deal with Sun.

In fact, I was recruited to go do Scheme in the browser.

Remember Guy Steele and Gerald Sussman’s

beautiful Lisp variant?

I was gonna do it in the browser

because my friends from SG, I thought,

hey, we like Scheme, you like Scheme.

And I’m like, I hardly ever use Scheme.

It’s not really used in industry,

except in sort of silos, but I like it.

Okay, I’ll come do Scheme in the browser.

I have a slide from my 2017 talk

where I have Bruce Willis crawling through the duct

in Die Hard.

He’s like, come out to the coast, have a lot of fun.

Come on, do Scheme in the browser.

But when I got there, there was no Scheme in the browser

because they’d started a deal with Sun Microsystems.

And my best contact there was Bill Joy,

who I admired as a Berkeley Unix founder.

And, you know, Sun founder.

And Bill got the idea of making the browser programmable too.

And so the main idea was to put the Java VM,

which at that point was not really easy to embed,

into Netscape, including the Netscape version on Windows

that was still most popular,

which was the 16 bit Windows 3.1, which was going away.

Microsoft was coming out with Windows 95

and everyone was afraid they were gonna do

Internet Explorer, I guess, two at that point,

three the next year.

They already bought or invested in somehow Spyglass,

this other company that shot out from NCSA

at University of Illinois.

And in fact, Microsoft had tried to buy Netscape

in late 94, before I got there.

And I heard about this later.

I heard they offered way too little money.

And so, you know, Jim Barksdale and Jim Clark said,

get out of here, you know, pound sand.

But then they realized, oh, this is going to hurt us

because now they’re gonna copy us.

Didn’t happen right away.

I’m not sure when Gates internet title wave memo

was written.

That’s the famous memo he wrote when Bill Gates realized

that Microsoft was going down this old copy AOL path

or copy CompuServe path, a project called Blackbird,

presumably after the SR71, I don’t know.

But they were gonna make a, you know,

dial up service with a custom content language stack

and custom rendering.

It wasn’t the web.

You know, they could have content partners.

They have a lot of money,

but it still wasn’t to scale the web.

It wasn’t gonna be compelling.

And Gates realized this,

and he turned the company on a dime

and they couldn’t buy Netscape.

Again, I’m not sure the timing,

so they decided to copy it.

And once we realized that everybody inside Netscape

felt even more urgency and more of a frenetic mood.

And so my chance to do scheme disappeared

when the Java deal started brewing.

But there was still a chance to do a companion language

to Java because Java was a compiled,

is a compiled language.

It’s evolved and improved quite a lot since then too,

but it was for sort of serious advanced programmers

that cost a certain salary or hourly rate.

And people observed, Bill Joy observed,

and Mark Andreessen and I observed

that in a mature stack like Microsoft,

you really benefit from having a scripting language

like Visual Basic,

which became Visual Basic script in IE3,

but didn’t take over and kill JavaScript,

that you need two languages.

One is for the component writers

who are higher price and more expert.

And the other is for scripters,

certified public accountants, designers,

graphic designers with some programming inclination,

anybody, amateurs, doesn’t matter.

There’s a much more demotic approach there

for programming the components together,

gluing them together.

Some people say duct tape language, which I don’t really like.

But we saw, Bill Joy and Mark Andreessen and I,

we saw the need for a companion language.

And the gleam in our eye was to call it JavaScript.

I didn’t like it, that was marketing’s plan.

Mark called it Mocha, which I liked.

And Netscape Marketing, I think, didn’t like that.

So they said, oh, there’s some trademark

and some software somewhere that uses Mocha,

so we can’t use that.

And they tried LiveScript in August and that didn’t last.

And then finally we got the trademark license

in December 1995.

But the work I did to prove that it could be done

was important because I came in in April

and even then Netscape was growing so fast

that they couldn’t find an open hiring requisition

in the client team for me.

So they hired me into the server team.

And I worked for a month on server team

on what became HTTP 1.1.

So I was actually, I had done protocol work

at Silicon Graphics with Greg Chesson,

former Bell Labs intern, grad student intern

who knew all the Unix founders.

And Greg was very interested in taking protocols

to the next level with VLSI,

because he thought that CPUs wouldn’t scale up.

He was mistaken in that, unfortunately.

Moore’s law more than kept up.

And you have gigabit ethernet running

with conventional processors.

But I worked on protocols at SGI

as well as Unix kernel hacking and NFS and things like that.

So I came into Netscape to work on the server side

for a month, but I was thinking the whole time,

what should this language be like?

Should it be easy to use?

Might its syntax even be more like natural language

like HyperTalk, which is Bill Atkinson’s language

in HyperCard, if you ever used HyperCard on an early Mac.

And I thought, well, I’d like to do that,

but my management is saying, make it look like Java,

which looks like C from a distance.

What does that mean?

Is it braces?

We’re talking about visually?

Does that mean like, management,

do they understand what they think about?

Marketing didn’t know, but management did.

Like Rick Schell, the VP of engineering, knew.

And we had a plan even that was,

if you have this companion language,

you’re going to glue things together

between Java and JavaScript.

So you’re going to have commerce in memory, in the heap

with data types.

So you’re going to want some of the data types

in Java to reflect in the JavaScript.

You’re going to want the primitive types

that Java unfortunately separated from objects.

So at least some of them, double, let’s call it

in Java’s terms from the C term

for double precision floating point,

or strings or Booleans and objects.

And so right away there was this constraint

that looking like Java meant kind of a C curly brace syntax

but also some of the data types and objects.

Like objects and so on, all that kind of stuff.

Comparison operator.

Garbage collection, all that stuff.

Even the bitwise operators and the shift operators

including the unsigned right shift,

which Java had because it didn’t have

unsigned integer types.

It said, if you want to do unsigned operations,

use an operator.

And that turned out to be important much later.

I’ll tell that story five time.

But JavaScript inherited a set of operators,

the expression grammar, the statement grammar

up to a point from Java.

But I wanted a functional language.

I wanted scheme, a little bit of scheme,

even though it wasn’t as clean as scheme.

I wanted.

So you had a love, sorry to interrupt.

You had a love for scheme and list

but that functional language landscape.

Yes, I wanted first class functions

because I saw the need for callbacks in the browser

where it’s a single threaded program.

All the early browsers were single threaded

and it’s the right model for users.

Most users weren’t ready for mutual exclusion

and threading.

So in a single threaded world,

you cannot block the user interface.

So you have to use a callback and run later.

And without getting too fancy

and trying to capture the continuation

like call CC does in scheme,

I thought I’ll just make it easy to have fun arcs.

First class functions you pass downward

and it can call back, it’d be called back.

And Java didn’t have that at the time.

It took forever to get proper first class functions

or lambdas now into Java, Java seven or eight, I think.

It did have concurrency, right?


From the very beginning.

But you were thinking that the JavaScript

in the browser would not have the luxury

of being concurrent.

That’s right.

And the reason was Java was gonna run in the plugins.

So it could fork threads and go to town.

But the main action in the browser

was in the single threaded program,

the single Unix process on Unix or Windows.

And it was where you had to service the event loop

and then go do things.

Respond to the network layout, some HTML, render it,

turn widths into heights by filling containers, boxes,

the early, what became the CSS box model.

And run scripts to make the thing livelier,

respond to user input.

And all that event driven programming

was in part like HyperCard

because HyperCard had this on event name syntax.

And so that’s why you have in JavaScript on click

run together as the name of the event handler.

And there’s some funny ones on mouse over

and on mouse out, people still complain about those.

But there were many more events now over the years

standardized, but it was a mix of event driven

single threaded programming because it had to run

in the main thread of the browser where the action is

and Java never got there.

Which meant Java could not interact easily

or quickly or in a nested way with the document,

with the objects reflected from the HTML document,

with the tables and forms and so on.

And that is one of the reasons I think JavaScript

survived and Java kind of died.

Java was in this plugin prison.

It essentially was confined to a rectangle,

the applet rectangle.

And while we even built next year,

Nick Thompson, a friend from SGI

who was an intern grad student at CMU at the time,

built the first version of Live Connect

to glue Java and JavaScript together

to deliver on that vision where you do have commerce

between the data types in the heap.

Did it work?

It worked, but Java was in charge.

JavaScript was in charge and Java was just these components,

these helper objects.

You might as well do everything in JavaScript.

What happened over time, it’s like an evolutionary filter.

It just kind of, who needs the plugin?

And in fact, Sun mismanaged Java as a plugin.

They thought, oh, Netscape is giving us

the distribution vehicle and we don’t care about the browser.

It’s just about getting Java out there.

And that was a big miscalculation.

They then tried, because Microsoft’s killing Netscape

after years, they tried getting into Microsoft.

And you may remember there was a Sun Microsoft deal

which famously blew up.

And Microsoft kicked Java out of Windows.

And that’s when they really pulled the trigger.

I think they’d already evaluated it and liked it

on Anders Helzberg’s.NET and C Sharp

and decided we’re gonna just not have Java.

We don’t want any of that Sun stuff.

We don’t want the patent risk.

We don’t want, I’m not sure what all fights were about.

There was some patent angle to it, I think.

And up till then, Microsoft had been using Java components

like in Outlook Web Access,

which had a lot of JavaScript to be a webmail

like Hotmail, like user interface.

They had to call the mail server through HTTP

and they used a Java object to do this.

And when they gave the boot to Sun,

suddenly the left hand gave the boot

and the right hand said, we better do something else

in Outlook Web Access.

What are we gonna do?

And they said, let’s just add an ActiveX component,

which is their own native way of embedding things

in languages and it’ll be what became XML HTTP request,

which is now a web standard for calling asynchronously.

And it’s been replaced by the fetch API

in HTML5 or HTML living document.

But this whole lineage goes back to Java

being successfully the loser and getting kicked out.

And after Microsoft kicked it out, it was a plugin

and you would find it required for like smart card banking

in the Nordic countries where that was mandated by law,

but really didn’t get used much.

Or there were pilots who used it for flight information,

but Flash, which Netscape could have bought,

but fortunately didn’t.

The early days.

Yeah, we would have screwed it up.

What year are we talking about with Flash?

I think after the IPO, so it was probably late 95.

Oh, Flash was around.

Was it Adobe?

No, it wasn’t.

No, it was called Future Splash

and it was these brothers, Jonathan Gay,

I think his name was, and he came knocking

and the marketing guy at Netscape,

who was screening the technology partners

or wannabe acquisitions was brutal

and just everybody wanted to get in on the Netscape,

stock gravy train and he sent them packing

and they ended up selling to Macromedia

and Macromedia was where Flash was created.

And the good thing about Macromedia was

it was a tool company.

So it invested in the best ideas, I think,

which are still somewhat lost to us of Flash,

the timeline, animation has sort of been a mutable function

over time.

They had the tooling around that too,

like they had Dreamweaver, there’s a Flash.

Flash Director, there were a bunch of them.

Yeah, I mean, yeah, that was a great.

Flash Builder was one of the last ones.

These tools were used by real artists

and special effects people and designers.

All the restaurant websites around 2005

were done in Flash, which was,

we were trying to do HTML5 at the same time.

That was the Firefox era.

We were trying to make the web capable enough

you didn’t need Flash, but if you recall,

you go to a restaurant and it’s like,

this is kind of like a game or something.

It’s like a Flash, all the font looks small.

So you didn’t like Flash from the beginning.

You’re like, this doesn’t feel right.

Not really.

I actually admire Flash’s technology

and I’m pretty pragmatic about these things.

And I realized that it doesn’t matter

if your Delta bad hand like JavaScript was a rush job,

or if you have Flash as a plugin

and you can invest in the tools and make it pretty good.

You should make it better for your users

and grow it as best you can.

And what happened with the browser

due to Microsoft’s monopoly abuse

for which they were convicted.

And even after that, until I think Firefox and then Chrome

was people kept saying, oh, the web can’t do X, can’t do Y.

We’ll have to have a plugin.

We’ll have to have a new approach.

We’ll clean the slate and have a new web.

And everyone who said that failed.

And the reason they failed is because

there’s too much value in the web, this huge network.

And the worse is better principle means

that you can not only start bad, which they all sneer at,

but get on first and get wide distribution,

get sort of evolutionary advantage in priority of place,

but you can also improve it over time.

And so if you’re gonna improve Flash,

and for some reason Flash is now out of favor.

Steve Jobs said you can’t have Flash on the iPhone.

That was probably the death knell.

Put your energy into JavaScript.

And that happened, right?

So we did things at Mozilla with Adobe to improve,

which bought my Macromedia, to improve Flash

and to improve the version of JavaScript that was in Flash.

We tried to standardize that.

Oh, that’s right.

I’m getting ahead of myself with it.

It was ES4.


That’s right, that’s right.

Can we just rewind to the magical, like, you know.

It’s a special moment in the history of all of computing.

We’ll talk about it later, but it’s arguable.

It’s possible that the entirety of the world

will run in JavaScript at some point.

So like, it’s like those days,

it would be interesting if you could just describe,

actually zooming in on how the cake was baked

from the several days that you were working on it.

What was on your mind?

How much coffee were you drinking?

Were you nervous?

Why, freaking out?

I’ll try to remember it.

I mean, you’re right.

There are these pregnant moments you see in hindsight,

maybe they’re overrated,

but like Hegel sees Napoleon on horseback at Jena

and says, there’s the world spirit on horse.

And I knew that there was a chance to do it.

Mark knew, and he was my executive sponsor

and he was the one sort of brainstorming

how the JavaScript should be right there in the page.

That was important for him to say that.

Cause I thought so too, but a lot of people were like,

well, you can’t write programming language

in the middle of the markup.

And indeed there are problems.

If you did it naively, you’d see the code laid out

as like random gibberish.

So I had to figure out how to hide that.

That was a challenge.

Is that a breakthrough idea?

I mean, so you and Mark thinking about this idea

that you just inject code in the middle of the markup.

Of the webpage.

I consider kind of heretical.

There was an SGML guru, I forget his name,

but he corresponded with me and at first he was angry.

He’s like, you should have used a marked section.

Why didn’t you use a marked section?

And I said, well, SGML marked sections are not part of HTML

by the way, and they’re not supported in the browser.

And so I did some hack that was equivalent

and over time you could do the proper SGML thing.

But eventually he came around and it was again,

sort of evolutionary necessity.

It was almost like introgression, like the idea

which Lynn Margulies, I think helped get across

that we have to consider mutualism biology

that maybe mitochondria were ancient prokaryotes

that got into the cell and became beneficial.

Somehow the same sort of thinking applies.

You have to embed JavaScript in HTML.

It’s gonna be a good virus.

It won’t hurt you.

The code becomes data in the sense

it just gets carried along.

But is there the side of the, so you were focusing

on Netscape at that time.

Doesn’t the browser have to support interpret correctly

this mix of HTML and whatever code?

I had to hide it from old browsers,

including Netscape 1.1, which was predominant then.

So I used an HTML comment, but the inside the container

that comment lived in the script tag,

which is a new element, I could make different semantics

in Netscape 2 where those HTML comment delimiters

instead of being multi line brackets became one line

or essentially one line.

So you wrote, so JavaScript was written,

the programming language was written as a comment.

A comment for old browsers and a set of brackets

that were ignored with real code for new.

And it was this two way comment hiding hack, as I called it,

that was absolutely necessary for us to get off the ground.

We couldn’t have bootstrapped JavaScript without it.

We didn’t have scripts that were loaded from a separate file.

The only scripts in Netscape 2 were inline in the document.

What were the challenges here?

What, like what, you know, typing,

what were the choices you were thinking about?

What was the design for this garbage collection?

I didn’t have time to write a garbage collector.

So I just, I didn’t at first.

The thing was using essentially arenas

or what GNU calls object pools

and just would run out of memory eventually.

And I added reference counting in a hurry

after the 10 days in which I hacked.

So after I was in the server team doing HTTP 1.1

and thinking about the language,

I finally got transferred to the client team in early May.

And that’s when I, you know, I got the go sign from Mark

and it was like, we can’t wait

because people inside Netscape are doubting.

Even people inside Sun are definitely doubting.

Bill Joy was the champion, but he was like alone in that

in seeing that there was a role for JavaScript

as the, as I call it, the sidekick language,

robbing the boy hostage.

Frank Miller put it in the Dark Knight Returns

that there was this silly little language

that would be the glue language

and it could become important over time.

And you were better off having that complementarity,

that pairing of languages,

just like Microsoft stacked it with visual C plus plus

and visual pacing.

So what was the big moment of I’m done?

So I had to do a demo.

I forget the dates.

I think I, for a history of programming languages paper

that Alan Wiersbrock did with my help,

he did a lot of the writing.

I think it was the 10 days from like Thursday evening

through to the following weeks, you know,

the whole of that week and then into the Monday.

You get sleep?

Not enough.

And I was really going fast

because I had already used a lot of C compiler

and front end compiler knowledge

that I’d gained from undergraduate school.

When I started getting into computing

as a renegade physics major,

people were formalizing more efficient bottom up grammars,

parsers for bottom up languages,

really LALR one was the big thing.

And I studied all this and learned how to parse them.

And in the end, if you’re doing C languages,

you often do what Dennis Ritchie did anyway,

which is the recursive descent parser.

You can hand code it.

And I did that for JavaScript in a blazing hurry,

mostly got it right.

I didn’t have precedence inversion problems or other bugs,

but I copied a lot from Java and C.

And I tried to keep things simple,

like the equality operator in those 10 days sprint

between two objects of different dynamic type said,

no, they’re not equal, their types are different.

And then after that, I had internal early adopters

and they were using JavaScript to match a number

against a database field that had been stringized.

And they said, oh, can we just have implicit conversion?

Like an idiot, I agreed.

I gave them what they wanted.

I was trying to please them and get adoption.

And that broke what equivalence relation

nature there was to the double equal.

There’s some edge cases with not a number

that break that too, but it really broke it.

Having an implicit conversions in the operator

is something that people still roast me over.

So let’s talk about two things.

One, it sounds like the comparison operator,

the equality operator is the thing that you regret.

So maybe you can.

Making it sloppy.

So what is the biggest thing you regret in those 10 days?

And what is the biggest thing you’re proud of?

So that making it sloppy came after the 10 days.

And my lesson there, which I’ve tweeted is

when people come to you saying,

can you please make it sloppy or add this cute feature?

The answer should be no.

And I should have known that

because I think Nicholas Viert, one of my heroes said,

the essence of design is leaving things out.

But during the 10 days, I also, like I said,

I was in such a hurry, I left out garbage collection,

came back to haunt me, but I got reference counting in

in time that people weren’t running out of memory

right away on long lived JavaScript.

What happens when you don’t have garbage collection

and you have objects?

Well, you just run out of memory.

And you know, at first you write a short script

and the page doesn’t last long or it doesn’t do a lot.

It’s okay.

Oh, I see, yeah, yeah.

But if you’re writing a game or something

and you’re doing event based allocation,

you run out of memory.

And this was noticed in the summer of 1985

and people were like, what’s going on?

Oh yeah, I better go back and do reference counting.

And then the problem with reference counting is

you’re writing the language in the runtime in C,

an unsafe language, and if you’re reference counting

and you overflow the counter, you mismanage it

so it goes high, it gets stuck high,

you leak memory again and you run out.

If you underflow it, you pre memory that’s still in use.

And even then we knew what all the security hackers

came to know that you therefore have potentially

a remote code execution vulnerability.

Cause this was before things like non executable

heap memory and staff defenses against taking over memory.

So if you can, from the remote side,

write some HTML and JavaScript that just happens

to exploit a bug in memory safety,

like it causes JavaScript to underflow reference counter.

And the script still has its hands on that object

and it’s trying to call a method on it

and there’s some kind of lookup function table

in the object, but you’ve managed to stuff the heap

with strings that forwards their own lookalike

for the function table.

You can call some other code.

And this was a problem right away.

So security, JavaScript upped the ante.

Java had this problem too, but in its own VM.

And it just was a separate headache for Sun to worry about.

We had this problem in Netscape right away.

So Netscape 2 came out after my 10 days

and after these follow on work to embed JavaScript

better in the browser and to add garbage

or collection through reference counting,

really I call it reference counting and get it shipped.

We had a bunch of dot releases where we fixed

security bugs like maniacs.

But what is the thing you’re, you know,

when you sit back on a porch and just look out

into the sunset, what are you most proud of

from those 10 days?

I think the first class functions shines.

I think especially since Java didn’t have it

and it was somewhat unusual.

Scheme made it in somehow at the end of the day.

In spirit, I mean, people complain because Scheme has,

you know, minimalism.

It has, you know, six or seven special forms.

It has hygienic macros.

It has call CC.

It has sort of a beautiful complete set of forms

to make the land of calculus pleasant to use in practice.

And JavaScript is, you know, kind of a multi paradigm

or shambolic.

Just in a small tangent, you mentioned Mark Andreessen.

It sounds like, and Bill Joy, but staying on Mark,

it sounds like he had an impact on you

in that he sort of believed in what you were doing there.

Can you talk about like what role Mark had in your life?

Yeah, we would meet at the Peninsula Creamery

in downtown Palo Alto.

And Mark was just fresh out of, you know, grad school

or whatever he was doing and he was big dude

and he got fitter later.

He had hair, he would order giant milkshakes and burgers

and we would meet there and brainstorm about what to do.

And it was very direct because we didn’t have much time.

The sort of, we didn’t talk about it.

The implication was Microsoft was coming after us.

Mark was saying things boldly pre IPO

like Netscape plus Java kills Windows, right?

This is, make a browser programmable.

It becomes the new runtime for programs.

It’s the meta OS or it’s the replacement OS.

But he still saw value in JavaScript.

Yes, even though he was saying that

and Java was the big name, hence the trademark license,

he saw JavaScript as important.

And he even thought, what if we got,

I told this in other interviews, I can say it.

He thought, what if we had my friend Kip Hickman

who’d been at Netscape from the beginning

and who was a kernel hacker at SGI when I joined,

he’d started writing his own JVM

before we consummated the Sun deal

and got our hands on their code.

And the Java compiler, Java C,

which Arthur Van Hoff had written very nice code,

was all written in Java.

It was self hosted or so called bootstrap.

And so we could use that as soon as Kip’s Java VM

could run the bytecode from the Sun JVM

running the self hosted compiler to emit the bytecode.

So once we could bootstrap into Kip’s VM,

we wouldn’t need Sun.

And Mark was like, well, maybe we can just ditch Sun.

Well, if Kip’s Java VM, or if you’re a JavaScript VM,

now we need graphics.

So Mark was thinking far ahead

because he knew you could do things with HTML and images,

but at some point you really want.

Like dynamic graphics or three dimensional?

Even SGI had already started its downfall

because the first floor VLSI team there

had gone off to do 3D effects

and all these other companies

that made the graphics card on your PC, right?

Doom was big and Quake.

And so you were, we were all playing Quake.

I was old, so I was terrible.

But why not put that graphics capability on the web?

And in fact, it finally happened at Mozilla

with Firefox era with Vlad Vukicovic

taking OpenGL ES and reflecting it as WebGL.

But OpenGL ES is the mobile version of OpenGL,

which is a standard based on SGI GL.

So this whole lineage of graphics libraries

or really graphics languages for what became the GPU.

And Mark was thinking ahead.

He’s like, we need graphics too.

And I thought, okay, I can try to get somebody I knew at SGI,

but he’s a grad student at MIT.

He was studying under Barbara Liskov.

He laughed when he heard about this later, Andrew Myers.

He’s at Cornell, long time, I think he’s a full professor.

And Mark said, great, we’ll get him.

I’m not sure he’s gonna come.

We’ll throw money, we’ll stock options.

We never did it.

And they did the Sun deal.

So Kip Nobly put aside his own JVM

and we used the Sun JVM.

So that was an ambitious period.

And Mark was very generative because he was pushing hard.

He was ambitious and he wanted to have Netscape

possibly be in control of the ball.

Maybe you can speak to this dance

of Netscape versus Internet Explorer.

You’ve thrown some loving words towards Microsoft

throughout this conversation,

but that’s a theme with, I mean, Steve Jobs

has a similar sort of commentary.

From a big sort of philosophical principle perspective,

can you comment on like the approach

that Microsoft has taken with Internet Explorer

from IE1 to Edge today?

Is there something that you see as valuable

that they’re doing in the occasional copying

and that kind of stuff?

Or is it, is the world worse off

because Internet Explorer exists?

So I’m gonna segment this into historical areas

because I think Microsoft today with Satya

is quite a different company

and what they’re doing with Edge is different.

But back then, Gates, aggressive character,

not really original in my view, not an originator.

Steve Jobs famously said once,

he doesn’t have any taste

and I don’t mean this in a small way, he has no taste.

You can see this, Apple at the time had beautiful typography

and ligatures and kerning and the fonts looked great.

And Windows had this sort of ugly system font

that was carefully aligned with Pixel

so it didn’t get anything.

What is it?

I’m sorry to keep interrupting,

but why was Internet Explorer winning

throughout the history of these competitions?


Distribution matters more than anything.

And this is why even now we’re seeing

in the browser wars Edge doing better

because it’s being foisted on people of Windows.

We have Windows 10 boxes at home.

We have some Windows 7 boxes or laptops we keep running to

because we don’t connect them to the internet generally.

But once you have that operating system to hold,

you can force Edge.

And Apple did it with Safari too.

It’s not unique to Microsoft.

That’s sad.

But distribution matters.

And that’s why I think IE was going to win.

That’s why everybody at Netscape felt we’re doomed.

This was something Michael Toy and Jamie Woodson were doomed.

But for a while there we had a chance

and we innovated in Netscape too.

We did a big platform push, Java and JavaScript

and plugins, more plugins and more HTML table features.

And really started making a programmable stack

out of what were pretty static web languages.

And even in the beta releases of Netscape,

two people were using JavaScript

to build what you would call single page applications

like Gmail.

And they were using JavaScript locally to compute things

and to call the server on a hidden frame in the background.

So it was prefiguring a lot of what came later as AJAX

or dynamic JavaScript, dynamic HTML.

So people saw that, I mean.

Even then they saw it, yeah.

That’s kind of, I don’t know.

But from my perspective, that seems quite brilliant.

It seems like really innovative

that you would have code run in the browser.

It did impress me with something

which I learned later about from Eric Von Hippel of MIT,

which is user innovation networks, lead user effects.

That throwing out JavaScript,

even though we weren’t doing open source,

we were doing beta releases early

and permissively with Netscape.

Getting early developer feedback, absolutely critical.

I loved it.

I did some of that with SGI

with some of the products I worked on,

but it really came to the fore in Netscape.

And that culminated in Mozilla

where you’re dealing with developers all the time

and early adopters, lead users.

But the lead users helped improve JavaScript,

even in those last few betas

where I could hardly change things.

I was under pretty rigid change control.

So we’re talking about just a small collection

of individuals that are just like upfront.

A guy named Bill Dorch.

You can find his work in the web archives,

still from 1996.

It’s a single page application.

It’s an artist gallery of mountain art.

He used JavaScript?

It doesn’t quite work.

He uses JavaScript locally.

He uses a local database.

What you would think of now is JSON,

but it’s all pure JavaScript code,

a bunch of objects being constructed.

That’s so cool.

So how is, if you can do sort of a big sweeping progress

of JavaScript, how has JavaScript changed over the years?

Any of you from those early 10 days

with a quick addition of garbage collection

and fixes around security,

how has this evolution that now it’s taken over the world?

In this, it’s been a bumpy ride

because the standards body got shut down after Microsoft,

I think, took over the web and then felt punished

by the USB Microsoft antitrust case.

Can you speak to the standard body?

That was a fun ride too

because Netscape had taken the lead

with the web and HTML innovations

like frames and framesets tables.

And the W3C was sort of off even then,

sort of in SGML land heading toward XML, la la land.

I’m gonna be a little harsh on it.

What’s SGML?

I’m sorry.

SGML was the precursor markup language to HTML.

It was sort of the more extensible standards,

generalized markup language.

It was a…

XML like…

Pointy brackets, but it had all sorts of elaborate syntax

for doing different semantics.

And this is why I think TBL and others

who wanted to do the semantic web then took XML forward,

but they had this, or some of them anyway,

had this strange idea they could replace the web with XML

or that they would upgrade the web to be XML.

And it couldn’t be done.

Worse is better had concrete meaning.

The web was very forgiving of HTML,

including sort of minor syntax errors

that could be error corrected.

Like error correction isn’t generally done

in programming languages because…

That’s another amazing thing about HTML is like,

it’s more like biology than programming.


And so XML was in its standard form super strict

and could never have admitted the kind of users

who were committing these errors.

And the funniest part was Microsoft said,

hey, we’re doing XML,

but the way they put it in Internet Explorer

under the default media type,

put it through the HTML error corrector.

Oh, wow.

So they kind of bastardized it to make it popular

and usable and accessible.

And so XML as a pure thing was never gonna take over.

And what W3C was kind of not fully functional

because Netscape wasn’t cooperating with them.

We thought about where to take JavaScript

and we realized our standards,

Guru Kargal realized there was a European standards body

that had already given Microsoft fits

by standardizing parts of the Windows 3.1 API,

which European governments insisted on.

They said, Microsoft, we can’t use your operating system

without some standards.

And Microsoft said, here’s our docs.

And the government said, no, we need a European standard.

So this body called

the European Computer Manufacturers Association, ECMA,

which eventually became global

and became a proper noun instead of an acronym.

Right, it’s just one capital E now with a lowercase CMA.

Right, and as one of the early Microsoft guys I met

when we first convened a working group

to talk about JavaScript said,

it sounds like a skin disease.

But it gave, I mean, maybe you’ll speak to that,

but it gave the name to JavaScript of ECMA script.

That was the standard name

because Java was a trademark of Suns.

They were so aggressive,

they were sending cease and desist letters

to people whose middle European heritage

meant their surname was Javanko

and they called their website javanko.com

and Sunwood sent them a letter saying,

you’re using J A V A at the start of your domain name,

you must cease and desist.

I love marketing more than anything else in this world.

So ECMA script and now is popularly named as ES plus version.

I would say people use JS more than anything.

People still say JavaScript.

JavaScript is in all the books.

So I mean, when you’re referring to it,

it’s usually JavaScript.

And when you wanna refer to a version of JavaScript,

you’ll say ES6, ES5.

Yes, or now they’ve gone to years,

which is kind of confusing

because it’s an offset of 2009, ES6, ES 2016.

Yeah, it doesn’t match the years perfectly.

Yeah, so what were the choices made

and how did JavaScript evolve here?

So we took this new standards body,

which we thought sort of a proven record

of standing up to Microsoft,

but Microsoft sent a lot of people.

They sent some people who were pretty good.

And then when they realized that I was there

and Netscape was not gonna just bend over

and do whatever they wanted,

they sent somebody really good.

And he was a smart guy.

He did a lot of the work on the first draft of the spec.

Sean Katzenberger, he’s left Microsoft.

He even did what I sort of did.

He told his bosses, stop bugging me to do other things.

I’m focused on this.

Cause it took a lot of focused work

to create the first draft of the spec.

And I was still holding,

I was spending almost all the plates.

I had like part time help in certain areas.

And on the front end integrations,

I had the front end guys.

But I couldn’t take as much time as Sean was

to write the draft spec,

but I had to participate

because I was essentially helping write down

what the language did

and in areas where we didn’t like what it did

and Microsoft didn’t agree,

we sometimes got away with slight changes.

And that’s the story of standards.

You have different implementations

and depending on their market power,

they interoperate where you have agreement

and where they don’t,

the dominant one usually sets the de facto standard.

And then you should probably reflect that

into the de jure standard.

And this happened with JavaScript.

Over time, as Netscape went down and Microsoft went up,

we did the first edition of the standard codified in 1997

in France, we had a trip to Nice, which was very memorable.

For any interesting reason or just because it’s Nice?

And ECMA’s European and IBM and others were there.

Mike Kalashaw, an IBM fellow was a British.

And the guy who ran ECMA at the time, Jan van der Bell,

was quite a raconteur and a very fun guy.

And he had us out for, you know, the great,

you know, Fui de mer, the bouillabaisse and the…

Was the standardization process beautiful or painful

that those early days, you as a designer of the language?

It was painful because it was rushed.

Now, Guy Steele was contributed by Sun.

So even more than Sean,

you had this giant brain Guy Steele helping,

bringing some of that scheme magic.

And he even brought Richard Gabriel for funding.

Richard wrote the fourth clause of the ECMA standard,

which was kind of an intro to what JavaScript’s all about.

So we had some really good people

and we didn’t fight too much.

There was some tension where I was fixing bugs

and I was late to a meeting and Sean Katzenberger,

Microsoft, was actually mad.

Like, where is he?

We need him.

And when I got there,

I saw that only he saw this sort of off by one bug

in somewhere in the spec.

And then I saw it too.

And I said, there’s a fence post bug there.

And then we kind of locked eyes

and we realized we were on the same page.

And we kind of, he wasn’t mad anymore.

What were the features that are being struggled over

and debated and thought about?

It was mainly writing down what worked

and what we thought should work in the edge cases

that didn’t interoperate or that seemed wrong.

But we were already laying the groundwork

for the future additions that I was already implementing.

I was still trying to lead the standard

by using the dominant market power

to write the code that actually shipped.

So the de facto standard would lead the de jure standard.

And I was putting in the missing function forms

that I didn’t have time for in the 10 days.

So this is the engineering mindset versus the theoretician.

So you didn’t want to create the perfect language,

but one that was the popular and shipped

and all that kind of stuff.

And you could say there was,

I was standing on the shoulders of giants.

So there was a staged process

where I had to hold back things

that were well designed by others in other languages

and I could imitate,

but I couldn’t do them all in the 10 days.

So they came in 1996 and 97,

and they came into the third edition of the standard,

which was final finalized in 1999.

But at that point,

Netscape had been sold to AOL

which was a decent exit considering

and had previously been mercilessly crushed.

Netscape was selling the browser along with server software

that it had acquired after its IPO

and Microsoft was just underpricing it.

So there was no way to compete with that.

Microsoft was also making Internet Explorer

the default browser in Windows,

which is called tying and antitrust law.

And they were doing even more brutal things.

There was a famous investor.

He did very well on Google.

So he’s a billionaire, Ramshree Ram,

and he was sales guy or head of sales at Netscape.

And he got off the phone looking ashen faced

after a compact called and said,

Microsoft just told us they’re gonna pull

our Windows license if we ship Netscape

as the default browser.


So there is some bullying going on.

It was totally immaterial in the antitrust case.

But JavaScript escaped into the standard setting

where there was fairly good cooperation.

Microsoft had a really good guy on it

and Guy Steele was there for a time

and there was some good work.

But after the antitrust case

and Netscape kind of dissolving into AOL

and not really going anywhere quickly,

Mozilla took years to really bring up,

the standard froze.

And by 2003, even though they’d been sort of noodling around

with advanced versions, JavaScript 2,

I’d given the keys to the kingdom

to another MIT grad, Baltimore Horwatt.

Very big brain and still at Google, I think.

He won the Putnam in 86

and he’s very mathematical.


He designed this successor language, JavaScript 2,

but it only showed up in mutated form

in Microsoft’s ASP.NET server side

and it didn’t last there.

And it showed up in Flash

and that’s what became ActionScript 3.

Ah, ActionScript, interesting.

And then Flash of course declined.

And so how did we arrive at ES6

where it’s like there’s so many,

where everyone, okay, there’s this history of JavaScript

that people were, it was just like cool

when you’re like having beers to talk crap about JavaScript.

Everyone loves to hate,

like people who are married say, ah, marriage sucks,

is they just wanna get, let off some steam

even though everyone uses the language.

But ES6, it’s become this like reputable,

like it fixed major pain points, I think.

It added things to the language

and added something that was already ES5 strict mode,

but made it implicit in class bodies and module bodies.

It was a big jump,

but it accumulated some of the ES4 designs

that we’d done with Adobe

for what we hoped would be the fourth edition of ECMAScript

that were supposed to fold in some of these old JavaScript 2

ideas that had come into ActionScript 3.

So you look at the family tree and you see these forks

and the main ones are the ones that go into Adobe Flash

acquired from Macromedia

and the one that went into the service side

of Microsoft’s stack, which kind of died.

And then trying to bring them back into the standard

and not quite succeeding, ES4 was mothballed,

but all the good parts that everyone liked made it into ES6.

And so that was a success.

And I said earlier, I had the wrong year,

I think it’s 2015, so it’s off by.

Four, ES6.

Yeah, it was finalized in 2015.

It took a little longer than we hoped,

but because ES5 was 2009

and that was a smaller increment from ES3.

We skipped four again, we mothballed it.

And we had a split in the committee where some people said,

ES4 is too big, we’re gonna work on incremental improvements,

no new syntax in particular, they promised.

Not quite true, but they added a bunch of interesting APIs,

Alan Wiersbrock, my coauthor of the Hobble paper.

And he was at Microsoft at the time.

I ended up hiring with Mozilla.

He wanted to get to Mozilla and keep doing

his sort of editor job of the JavaScript standard,


And when we got ES6 done, it was a little late, 2015,

and we switched to year numbers.

So people still call it ES6, I call it ES6.

But if you remember, off by nine plus 2000.

Yeah, I mean, ES6 is such a big job.

I mean, like you said, there’s a third that connects all of it,

but ES6 is when it became this language

that almost feels ready to take over the world completely.

More programming and the large features,

more features you need for larger teams.

Software engineering.

Microsoft did something smart, too.

Anders and company, Luke Hoban, who’s left Microsoft,

also did TypeScript.

And they realized something, I think,

that Gilad Barak has also popularized,

and he was involved in Dart at Google.

If you, don’t worry about soundness in the type system.

You don’t try to enforce the type checks

at runtime in particular.

Just use it as sort of a warning system,

a tool time type system.

You can still have a lot of value for developers,

especially in large projects.

So TypeScript’s been a roaring success for Microsoft.

What do you think about TypeScript?

Is it adding confusion, or is it ultimately beneficial?

I think it’s beneficial.

Now, it’s technically a superset of JavaScript,

so of course I love it, right?

The shortest JavaScript program

is still a TypeScript program.

Any JavaScript program is a TypeScript program,

which is brilliant,

because then you can start incrementally adding

type annotations, getting warnings,

learning how to use them.

Microsoft’s had to kind of look around corners

at the standards body and guess how their version of modules

or decorators should work.

And the standards body then may change things a bit.

So I think they’re obligated with TypeScript

either to carry their own version

or to bring it back with incompatible changes

towards the standard over time.

And I think they’ve played generally fair there.

There’s some sentiment that,

why don’t they standardize TypeScript?

Well, they’ve been clear they don’t want to.

They have a proprietary investment, it’s valuable.

They have control of the ball.

And in some ways, you can say the same thing

to any of the other big companies in the standards body.

Why doesn’t Google standardize its stuff?

So you think it’ll continue being

like a kind of dance partner to JavaScript,

to the base JavaScript?

There’s a hope that at some point,

if they keep reconverging it and the standard

doesn’t break them and goes in a good direction,

we will get at least the annotation syntax

and some semantics around them.

Because when you’re talking about type annotations,

they’re generally on parameters and return values

and variable declarations.

They’re cast operators.

You want that syntax to be reserved

and you want it to work the same in all engines.

And this is where ideas like Gilad’s

pluggable type systems might be good,

though then you could create the same problem

you have with Lisp and Scheme,

where there’s a bunch of macro libraries

and they don’t agree and you have conflicts between them.

But pluggable type systems could be one way to standardize.

What do you think about the giant ecosystem

of frameworks in JavaScript?

It feels like, because, I mean,

this is a side effect of how many people use JavaScript,

a lot of entrepreneurial spirit

create their own JavaScript frameworks

and they’re actually awesome in all different ways.

And this is an interesting question

about almost like philosophically

about biological system and evolution,

all that kind of stuff.

Do you see that as good or should it like,

should some of them die out quicker?

I think maybe they should, now jQuery was a very clever

thing, John Resig made this library

that was sort of query and do

and blended sort of CSS selector syntax

with JavaScript sort of object graph or DOM querying

and made it very easy for people to do things

almost like they were learning jQuery as its own language,

domain specific language.

And that I think reflected in part the difficulty

of using the document object model,

these APIs that were originally designed in the 90s

for Java as well as JavaScript.

They’re very object oriented or even procedural.

They’re very kind of verbose.

And it took like a constructor call

and three different, you know, hokey pokey dances

to do something where as in jQuery, it’s just one line.

Right, so that fed back finally into the standards.

It didn’t mean we standardized jQuery.

It wasn’t quite that concise,

but you find now with the modern standards

that we were working on in the HTML5 sort of effort

that things became simpler, the fetch API

and the query selector API, document.querySelector.

A lot of things can be done now in raw JavaScript

that you would make more concise and terse in jQuery,

but it’s not bad.

It’s pretty good.

Whereas in the old DOM of 15 years ago,

it was just too verbose.

So maybe the frameworks were born kind of

because JavaScript lacks some of the features of jQuery.

And so like now that JavaScript is swallowing

what jQuery was, then the frameworks will,

only the ones that truly add value will stick around

and the other ones will die out.

And that highlights this also this division

between the core language JavaScript,

which can show up in other places

like Node.js on the server side

and the browser specific APIs

or the document object model APIs,

which are even managed by the W3C,

the standards body that was off in XML La La Land

when we were doing real JavaScript standards in ECMA.

And you have this division of labor,

division of responsibility and division of style

and sort of aesthetics and also speed.

So the document object model really stagnated

after Microsoft kind of deinvested in the web.

And Microsoft did something in their haste

in the spirit of Netscape,

doing things quickly and getting on first called DHTML.

And some of their innovations

that were like an alternative document object model

didn’t really get standardized until HTML5

when we pragmatists at Opera at the time,

Ian Hickson who went to Google,

Apple and Mozilla said let’s,

XML is not gonna replace HTML, HTML4 is too old.

Let’s standardize HTML5 based on all this good stuff

including that DHTML variant dynamic HTML5.

HTML5, it feels like to me, maybe you can correct me,

like a beautiful piece of design work.

It was, it’s not often with web stuff,

you have this breath of just like,

oh, whoever did this is, it just feels good.

Is that, what are your thoughts about HTML?

Is the, am I being too romantic?

A little bit, a little bit.

Are there flaws, fundamental flaws to it

that I’m just not aware of?

My old friend Hixie did a great job.

He was another renegade physics student.

And he was basically a QA guy at Opera

but he obviously trained physics student

and someone who could write British

or he developed test suites

and he started thinking about them more axiomatically.

Now this is, this can be good

because you can sort of systematize

in a way that makes a better HTML

or you can get caught in the pragmatism of saying,

well, we have to handle all of these edge cases

so we’re just gonna have sort of a test matrix.

And if the matrix is large,

it will not be beautiful by many people’s lights.

Everyone likes to minimize along their preferred dimensions,

the seven special forms and scheme or whatever.

But reality is HTML needs to be big.

It’s kind of shambolic, it’s a creative multi paradigm.

And Hixie did a good job, I would say, with a bunch of it.

Other people came in in the spirit of Ian Hickson

to do HTML5 work and they’ve carried on that effort.

And so it’s a mix of pragmatism,

de facto standards from the past being sort of combined

or written down for the first time

and then rethought in a way that has a simpler syntax,

like the fetch API instead of XML HTTP request.

This video too as well, it ultimately,

it feels like maybe you can correct me,

it feels like it was the nail in the coffin of Flash.

Steve Jobs saying no Flash on the iPhone,

in my opinion, was the actual sting through the heart.

But, well, I’m not sure what trope you wanna use.

Flash was a zombie until just this year, right?

Or last year, I think last year

was the end of Flash in main browsers.

But Jobs really did the death blow.

And yeah, you’re right, we had to make HTML5 competitive.

I still don’t think we got

that beautiful timeline animation.

The timeline thing, so you like the time.

I mean, me from, I used to animate

all kinds of stuff inside Flash,

plus there’s a programming element.

It was a little bit, I don’t know if you can comment on that,

but to me, it was a little bit like go to statement,

like in a sense that it was a little bit too chaotic.

Like it didn’t, that OCD part of me as a programmer

wasn’t satisfied by Flash.

It feels like there was bugs that were introduced

through the animation process that I couldn’t debug easily.

Yes, I heard that too.

I didn’t use it,

so I’m doing the grass is greener thing here.

The thing I liked about the animation model

was that it was this immutable function of time.

So you could time warp and you could,

if you dodged these bugs or worked carefully,

you could really make it sing in ways

that I think still a little challenging

with the web animation standards.

But, or just using raw canvas and WebGL.

But there’s so many tools now that maybe it doesn’t matter.

And yet we had to do video,

we had to do WebGL and then evolve it.

We had to do web audio.

But once we did all these things that helped Flash die,

thanks to Steve Gubbs,

we had something that people didn’t realize.

We had that vision that Market Vision had,

this graphics capable to the metal portable runtime.

And we at Mozilla realized this

and we saw JavaScript was something

that you could compile to.

Adobe had somebody in the Adobe Labs doing this too.

He had a project called Alchemy.

We had somebody who’s now Google,

Alon Zakai, who did his own LLVM based compiler

that would take C or C++ and it would emit JavaScript.

And you would think this is crazy.

You’re going from this sort of machine types,

low level, controlled memory allocation language

to this garbage collected, dynamically typed,

high level, higher level language.

But Alon sort of just phenomenologically carved nature

of the joint and found the forms

that were fast in JavaScript.

And then with Dave Herman,

who I’d recruited from Northeastern University,

who was a type theorist,

and Luke Wagner, who’s still at Mozilla,

who was the compiler guy and the JIT guy,

they figured out how to codify what Alon had done

into a typed subset of JavaScript called Asm.js.

And this is a strange thing to think about

because it doesn’t have new syntax.

The types are casts that occur in dominator positions

in the control flow graph.

So it’s like a hack on JavaScript and it’s a subset

and it uses those bitwise operators

that I talked about copying from Java

to basically cast numeric types,

which are double position flowing point, into integers.

And so inside JavaScript, in the kernel semantics,

are integers.

And if you use these operators,

if a compiler emits them in the right places,

you can then treat them as typed values,

typed memory locations, and you can type check your program.

You can not only type check it, you can compile it.

And this is all in sort of linear time, Alon.

You can compile it to have deterministic performance.

It doesn’t touch the garbage collector.

It calls a bunch of functions that come from the C functions

or C++ code that you’re compiling.

And you can make the Epic Unreal Engine

go in 30 frames a second.

And when we did this in 2013 in the fall,

Tim Sweeney and I didn’t think it could be done quickly.

Thought it would take years.

And the team went to Raleigh, to Epic,

and in four days they had Unreal Engine ported

by pressing a compile button.

But they had to have WebGL,

which came from OpenGL.

Yes, it came to OpenGL, which came from Silicon Graphics GL.

They had to have Web Audio so they could map OpenAL,

which was another audio library standard to Web Audio,

which was kind of a Chrome idiosyncratic thing.

But they could make it work.

And they had to have Asm.js for fast C++ to JavaScript.

And if you didn’t have that fast compiler step,

the JavaScript you’d write by hand

trying to do an Unreal game would be too big and too slow.

It would touch the garbage collector.

It would not keep up with 30 frames a second

on the hardware, 2013 hardware.

So we demoed that at,

this must have been fall 2012 now that I think about it.

Because we demoed it at GDC,

Game Developer Conference 2013.

And people were stunned.

That’s like Unreal Engine, Unreal Tournament

running in my browser window.

No plugin, no Flash, no Java, no.

So were those the early days of,

because JavaScript now is able to run basically on par

with a lot of the C++.

And even before then,

you had the fast JavaScript VMs in 2008

when Chrome came out.

Just before it came out, Mozilla,

my friend Andreas Gal and I and others

hacked out Trace Monkey, our Trace based JIT.

The Squirrel Fish Extreme team at Apple did their JIT.

And we were all competing

on these crazy performance benchmarks.

It was a little bit too much tuning to the benchmark.

But JavaScript started getting fast

and developers started noticing it.

But it was still kind of its own high level language

with garbage collection.

The Asm.js step helped us go further

because until we really proved the concept,

people were still saying, well, JavaScript’s okay.

It’s getting faster, thanks to V8.

Everybody gave Google credit, especially Google.

But we need something to kill Flash.

Let’s use the portable native client code

that Google had acquired, native client.

Which is a separate lineage for taking basically C code,

compiling it into a software fault isolated container

of some sort using some kind of virtualization technique.

And maybe it can even be in process

and still be memory safe, that would be awesome.

But they ended up using process isolation too.

And that kind of weakened it.

And in the end, it was like portable native client,

okay, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

This is the Google Flash, right?

But when we did Asm.js and we showed Unreal Engine working,

I think it was only a matter of time

before Google threw in the towel.

And in fact, everybody agreed in spring of 2015,

we’re gonna take what was proven by Asm.js

and make a new syntax, a binary syntax, it’s efficient,

that loads into the same JavaScript VM

that JavaScript loads into.

So there’ll be two source languages, one VM,

very important, one garbage collector,

one memory manager, one set of compiler stages.

And that’s called WebAssembly.

And that’s the successor to Asm.js.

And it’s important that it have binary syntax

because at the end of the day, especially on mobile,

if you’re downloading JavaScript,

even if you’re using LZ compression on the wire,

that’s cool, but you’ve got to blow it out into memory

and then parse the silly eight character function keyword

that I picked, when I should have used something shorter,

I picked it because of awk, the Unix tool.

So anyways.

I want to, but I’m not following the awk thread.

Yeah, don’t worry about it.

Is it surprising to you that,

how damn fast JavaScript is these days?

I mean, like, you’ve been through the whole journey.

I know every step of the way, but is it like,

I mean, it feels incredible.

It does, but I knew, so the funny thing is,

computer science is this big karmic wheel, right?

Wheel of Fortuna.

And in the, it’s about the 97,

I was loaned by Netscape to do due diligence for Sun

in their acquisition of Anamorphic,

which was David Unger and friends, people,

Craig, I’m forgetting his name, he went to Microsoft.

These Stanford language buffs who’d taken Smalltalk

and then David create itself

as a simpler sort of Smalltalk language

and made really fast, just in time compiling VMs for them.

And they, you know, well ahead of Java hotspot

or JavaScript V8 or any of these modern VMs,

figured out how to make dynamic code fast

because Smalltalk is dynamic language, right?

It has classes, it has, I think more lockdown declarative

syntax than JavaScript, but it’s fundamentally dynamic.

You don’t declare the types.

But you could infer the types as the program runs

and you start to form these ideas

about what types are actually flowing through key operations

and you form little so called polymorphic inline caches

that are optimized machine code.

The cache is the machine code that assumes,

does a quick check to make sure the type is right

and if it’s not right, it bails to the interpreter.

And if it is right, you go pretty fast.

And that short test is a predicted branch,

so things are pretty quick.

All that amazing stuff I knew about in the 90s

and I didn’t have time to do it

and Anamorphic got bought by Sun and they did hotspot.

And you needed that even in Java because at scale,

Java has some dynamic aspects due to invoke interface.

You can have basically collections of Java code

where you don’t know at the time each module

or package is compiled exactly what’s being called,

what subclass or what implementation

of an interface is being called.

And so you want to optimize using this sort of dynamic

polymorphic caching there too.

And they did that and hotspot, it’s amazing beast.

I’ve met like 13 people who all claim they created it.

I think one of them may deserve credit more than others.

But I didn’t get to do that in JavaScript.

And when we knew that Google was going to do their own

browser, which we knew at Mozilla around 2006,

I also met the team that did V8.

And it turns out it was Lars Bach,

who was one of the young engineers from Anamorphic

that got acquired by Sun.

And so Lars is like one of the world’s expert

on these kinds of virtual machines.

And he picked my brains about JavaScript.

I could tell he didn’t like it at the time,

but he had to do it.


Oh, really interesting.

Yeah, in 2006 lunch at Google’s campus.

And then I had another friend who was DevRel at Chrome

and he said, yeah, we don’t know what they’re doing.

This is getting 2007 to fall, getting toward 2008.

We’re trying to get Chrome out

and we don’t know what’s going with the V8 team.

They’re off in Aarhus, Denmark,

rewriting their engine four times, which is good.

That’s the right way to do this kind of development.

They were learning JavaScript, including all its quirks,

which they came to hate the fire of a thousand suns,

which is one of the reasons that Lars and company did Dart,

their own language.

But they also made the language fast.

And meanwhile, we knew this was happening.

So we got our act together with Trace Monkey,

our tracing JIT at Mozilla and Apple I think was also aware.

And so they were doing their own JIT.

So the era of JITed fast JavaScript in 2008

had this prehistory going back to Smalltalk itself

and Anamorphic.

And again, the lineage is interesting

because you had Lars and Anamorphic

and then he ends up at Google.

Yeah, and today we have an incredibly fast language

that like you said, still,

without hate, you can’t have love.

So I think there’s both love and hate for this dance,

this rich complex dance of JavaScript

throughout its history.

There’s a dialectic for sure.

Today, JavaScript is the most popular language in the world.

Why by many measures?

Why do you think that is?

Is there some fundamental ideas

that you’ve already spoke to a little bit

but sort of broader

that you think is the most popular language in the world?

So I think I did, by doing first class functions

and taking the good parts of the C operator hierarchy

and just keeping things simple enough,

maybe it could have been simpler

but I had to make it look like Java

and interoperate with Java

that there was inherent goodness,

Aristotelian quality there.

And people perceive that

even through all the quirks and warts.

And then over time working on it with the standards body,

working on it not only as a core language

but in the context of HTML5 and making the browser better,

listening to developers, thinking about,

this is something that Nick Thompson wrote nicely

about on Hacker News, I was very flattered.

He said, Java was this thing

where the experts were writing the code

and it was compiled and you had to declare all your types

and Sun didn’t really give a damn about

the average programmer who wanted to build real web apps,

dynamic things.

And I was in there meanwhile doing a bunch of people’s jobs

making JavaScript survive those early years

when it was kind of touch and go.

JavaScript was considered a Mickey Mouse language.

It was for annoyances like the scrolling text

at the bottom of the browser in the status bar.

But I kept listening to developers working with them

and trying to make it run in that single threaded event loop

in a useful way.

And I think that forged something

that people have come to love.

Now you don’t always love the best thing, right?

I talked about Shakespeare sonnet about

I’m Mr. Sizer, nothing like the sun.

Or the scene from Josh Whedon’s film Serenity at the end

where the actual piece in the score by David Newman

is called Love where Captain Mal is teaching River Tam

about how to pilot the ship.

And she’s a super genius, super soldier.

She knows how to do it already.

And he’s basically talking about how you have to love

the ship because if you don’t, it’s going to kill you.

And then the piece falls off the ship.

It’s kind of like JavaScript.

You have to love it.

You have to love it because now people say we’re stuck

with it because it got this priority of place.

But there’s love underpinning that.

And actually the listening to developers,

that’s kind of beautiful.

There’s most successful products in this world

with all the messes, with all the flaws.

Perhaps the flaws themselves are actual features,

but that’s a whole nother, that’s a discussion about love.

But underneath it, there’s something

that just connects with people.

And it has to keep connecting.

If JavaScript kind of went off in this,

people sometimes complain about ES6.

Oh, you put classes in JavaScript.

I hate classes.

You’ve ruined it.

But it’s not true.

It’s a dynamic language.

Smalltalk had classes.

Python has classes.

There are lots of Lisp variants that have classy systems.

So people who don’t reject it based on some sort

of fashion judgment do use it and do interact

with the standards body.

The standards body is competing browser vendors mainly,

but also now big companies that use JavaScript heavily,

the Paypal’s and other such companies, Salesforce.

And they have to cater to web developers.

They have to hire developers who know JavaScript.

They have to keep their engines up to the latest standard.

And this creates all this sort of social structure

around JavaScript that is unusual.

I mean, you get C++ buffs that follow the inner workings

of C++, what is it now?

21 something, I don’t know.

I’ve lost track.

But it’s a more rarefied group.

It’s more like the old language, gray hairs.

Whereas JavaScript is a younger

and more vibrant and large crowd.

There’s a community feel to it.

There’s echoes, perhaps I don’t wanna draw too many

similarities, maybe you can comment on it.

There’s C++ is like Wall Street,

and the JavaScript is like Wall Street bets

from the recent events.

It’s like there’s a chaotic community of all,

and there’s some power from that distributed crowd

of people that ultimately.

It’s more thematic, it’s more of the people.

It lets people in without requiring these credentials.

I remember in the late 90s into the 90s,

people were all getting Java credentials.

And I knew people, and friends knew people

who became Java programmers, and you knew

they really should have been like nature guides or pilots.

They hated programming, but they thought,

I gotta make money, I’m gonna become a Java programmer.

Do you have some, because it’s such a monumental moment

in our current history, as a quick aside,

do you have thoughts about this huge distributed crowdsourced

financial happenings with Wall Street bets?

That’s like nobody could have, well,

you could have predicted, but the scale and the impact

of this kind of emergent behavior

from independent parties that could happen.

Like I said, my own experience with the dismal science,

as with physics, led me to reject a lot of bad models.

Economics was always compromised by politics,

political economy.

You could also argue that it was,

it used to be a branch of moral philosophy,

so it was concerned with the good,

and it became divorced and became sort of

in this quasi Newtonian way, just about,

everything’s just running by itself, don’t worry about it.

This monopoly’s crushing your Netscape company,

but that’s just nature.

And economics couldn’t, or doesn’t really have good models

for the Wall Street bets subreddit.

You know, they know how to squeeze a short, right?

So the amazing thing is you have Robinhood app,

which was, again, supposedly for the demos, for the people,

and eliminated the fee through various kinds of straddles

or some kind of spread operation

that helped them eliminate the fee or eat the fee.

And in fact, as a broker in these days,

because it takes two days to settle,

there’s counterparty risk, as they found out.

And so the Wall Street bets people,

you know, the memes are like the Terminator robot

with the $600 STEMI check and the hedge funds

that make little girl hiding under the desk.

There is a problem, which I talked about

in a recent podcast, which I’m conscious of

from the history of the web, and that is,

you could say it’s monopoly,

which antitrust wasn’t enforced

after USB Microsoft for a long time.

And a lot of this was due to the money interests

buying control of politicians.

And, you know, in Plato’s five regimes, that’s oligarchy.

That’s where we are.

And now we’re seeing a fight against the oligarchs.

I don’t know if it’ll work,

but you’re definitely seeing it.

And it’s also kind of hackerish, right?

It’s got a hacker ethos.

You know, hey, Robinhood, no fees.

Oh, interesting.

Hey, you know, I could buy a fraction of a share

in this thing, or I can keep buying with my stimulus check.

So I mentioned Hegel seeing Napoleon on the horse, right?

Hegel also talked about the cunning of reason

that you have this sort of, you know,

God sees history in full, and if you believe in God,

or, you know, we don’t know the future,

but there’s always this sort of fly in the ointment,

this unintended consequence that confounds

the best plans of the powers that be.

And we’re living through it.

I’m glad it’s not, you know, street warfare

or mechanized warfare, because it has been in the past.

It’s more like soft power, and people are fighting back.

Do you think it’s possible?

So JavaScript used to be for the front end of the web.

It’s now increasingly so being used for back end,

like running stuff that’s like behind the scenes.

And it’s also starting to be used quite a bit

for things like TensorFlow.js.

So starting to actually use like these heavy duty

applications that are using neural networks,

machine learning, and so on in the browser.

Is it possible in 10, 20, 30 years

that basically most of the world runs on JavaScript?

This is a dystopia and a nightmare to some people.

When we did Asm.js and WebAssembly,

I would joke and mean people with scenes like

Neo waking up in his pod in the matrix,

and he’s all skinny and weak and hairless.

And, you know, you realize in the future

that you’re living in some simulation

that it’s all running on JavaScript,

and you just scream forever.

It’s possible.

Gary Bernhardt does these funny talks.

He did watch.js, and then he did this

life and death of JavaScript, I think it’s called,

where he took some clever ideas that actually have

a thread of credibility to them.

But I mentioned software fault isolation.

In the old days, when we were using computers,

we said we’re gonna use the Unix monolithic monitor,

and it’s the privileged program.

This is before you even had hardware rings of protection.

Those, some of the early 60s operating systems

used hardware protection zones.

But Unix is privileged, and the program

that runs user code in a process is hosted.

It’s the guest, in the host, and you get to suspend it.

You get to kill it.

If it crashes, it doesn’t take down the whole OS.

It’s a wonderful idea, but the call into the kernel

is expensive, the system call, so called.

And this has even been optimized now

for things like getting the time of day,

so it doesn’t actually enter the kernel.

And meanwhile, hardware architectures

and virtualization techniques have gone

in a different direction, even to the point

where you can do software fault isolation very cheaply

without entering the operating system kernel,

and so you get unikernels and exokernels

and very lightweight VMs.

And so Gary took this idea and said, JavaScript

will take over computing, because the system call

boundary’s too expensive, so everything ends up

in JavaScript with these lighter weight

isolation enforcement mechanisms.

It’s not totally beyond belief.

It’d be WebAssembly too.

It’s nice to ask you sort of for advice to,

there’s so many people that are interested

in starting to learning about programming,

getting into this world.

Is there some number of languages,

three to five programming languages

that you would recommend people learn,

or maybe a broader advice on how

to get started in programming?

Well, so you asked about machine learning,

and JavaScript is a general purpose language,

and it’s a language that’s not that great

for doing matrix operations or doing parallel programming,

I would say, without using some extensions

or some libraries that have some magic in them.

So if someone wanted to learn,

there are amazing languages in sort of the APL family

that are very useful for, I would say, linear algebra,

which gets to a lot of the kernels in machine learning.

And so APL had like J and then K and their K variants

because the guy that did K is still going,

and they’re proprietary, but he’s still innovating there.

There are, you know, Python is used.

So people talk about TensorFlow.js.

Well, it’s not that surprising

because Python was heavily used for machine learning,

and Python was always, you know,

they didn’t have this fast just in time compiler tradition.

There were some projects that tried this,

and some of them were interesting.

PyPy was interesting,

but the philosophy with Python was,

oh, you need to go fast, write a C plugin,

and drop into C code.

So I think people should look at multiple languages

because there are different tools in the belt.

If you’re trying to do supervision or rapid prototyping,

you want a dynamic language.

You want to throw things together and see what works.

If you are trying to go down to the metal very fast,

well, I’m an old C hacker,

but I was also the executive sponsor of Rust at Mozilla,

and Rust has now escaped, you know,

from that sort of nest where it was born

to be adopted by a bunch of companies

that have a foundation in the works.

Some of the key core team members

are working now at Amazon and other places.

So it looks like Rust has reached escape velocity,

and Rust is an interesting language

because one of our goals there,

one of the reasons I sponsored it was we were all tired

of seeing those remote code execution vulnerabilities

due to C and C++, and we thought,

can we have a sort of safety property

through a type and effect system or an ownership system,

and Rust has that.

And that ownership system is interesting

because it doesn’t just give you memory safety.

There’s a sort of theorem for free,

a dual that falls out for protection against data races.

So Rust is better for low level programming.

You delimit your unsafe code

where you do have to be unsafe,

and you can prove certain facts about memory safety

and race condition avoidance.

And so I think people should learn these new languages.

I think Go is a great language.

I admire, you know, the Unix people who did that.

Ken Stoll was involved, Rob Pike, of course, David,

what’s his name, and other people.

Go is a huge success, really on the server side,

anywhere you have a lot of networking to do,

and it’s garbage collected, but it’s also very pragmatic.

It has that sort of C flavor.

As an old C hacker, I can’t get used to the fact

that they swapped the type and declarator

in the declaration order.

I haven’t used Rust, but this is one of the most respected

and loved languages currently, so it’s interesting.

Yeah, and it’s still young.

You look at these things, JavaScript is now considered old.

It’s gone through so many versions

that you can fall in love with it all over again.

25 plus years, you know, it’s an adult.

It should be out of the house.

But it could be around another 25 years.

Cannot rule it out.

So Rust will be around for a long time.

The longer you’re around, the more likely you’re Lindy,

and you’re around your wife.

A lot of people ask me, like,

I’m often torn between recommending either Python

or JavaScript as the first language to play with,

because, I mean, it’s difficult,

because it’s so easy to do JavaScript incorrectly.

It’s much easier to do it correctly these days,

or like, well, learn about programming.

But the cool thing about JavaScript

is that you can create stuff

that will put a smile on your face.

Like, as a developer, you can create stuff,

and it’ll visually look like something,

and it’ll do stuff, and it makes you feel good.

It makes you fall in love with programming.

With Python, you could do the same.

It’s a little slower.

And with C++, it takes five to 10 years

to write a program that actually does something.

So, like, there’s that tension between

is JavaScript the right first step, or is it Python?

And I’ve been going back and forth on those two.

My Python, right, it came from a lineage of ABC,

which was a pedagogical language in the Netherlands.

And it, you know,

it was a good teaching language, too.

I think it is a good teaching language,

and it’s a little more restrictive

in that if you misspell something

in a way that JavaScript might let run,

let reach runtime, it’ll get stopped

at syntax check in Python.

That’s good for beginners.

I think the sloppiness that some people object to,

like, people were just tweeting at me,

having just learned JavaScript.

They said, I can take a number, and I can index into it,

and get undefined out of it as a property.

Why is that?

A number’s not an object.

And I explained why it is,

because like in Java, the primitive types,

which unfortunately are not objects,

can be automatically boxed or wrapped by an object.

And I made that implicit.

In Java, it’s typed, and you have to declare things,

and you’ll get type errors.

But there are cases in Java where you get auto boxing

or auto wrapping, because you’ve declared that you want it.

In JavaScript, it just happens.

And so once I explained it, like, oh, wow, I get it.

But it also means that you can commit a blunder that just.

You don’t get punished for it, you don’t detect.

You get an undefined value,

and you don’t know where it came from.


I’ve been reading a lot about military history recently.

And one way to paint the picture of browsers,

internet browsers, is through the various wars

throughout its history.

I don’t know if that’s a useful way to look at it,

but we’ve already talked a little bit about Netscape

and Internet Explorer in the early days.

Can you tell the story of the different wars,

if that’s at all an interesting way to look at it,

of the 90s and to today?


So I mentioned that Microsoft, you know,

which was convicted for it, did abuse its monopoly,

but they had a pretty good team by the time they did IE4.

And Netscape, unfortunately, I was like second floor,

and I was friends with all the first floor people,

the front end guys who did the JavaScript event hookup

and things like that,

that that team was fairly burnt out.

And I think having gone public,

the upper management wanted to buy a bunch of companies

to try to go head to head with Microsoft.

Didn’t work, but buying a bunch of companies

usually doesn’t work.

I think the modern sort of approach roughly

is like Mark Zuckerberg took,

which is to keep them at arm’s length

and let them do their thing.

And now that he’s pulling WhatsApp in

and people are fleeing it

because it’s tied into the ad surveillance.

But, you know, for a while,

they’re keeping it separate really does work

because you bought it for its value,

it’s complimentary, and you’re not messing with it.

With Netscape, when they bought a bunch of companies,

they had some of the first floor people

or the founders burned out.

They had newcomers who wanted their turn to do the browser,

and they hadn’t really done browsers or understood them.

And so Netscape 4 was originally supposed to be 3,

and it was so late, they renumbered it.

We did a 3 release.

Jamie and a few others put some extra effort into.

SecureMine was supported in the built in mail program.

And Netscape 4 was late,

and it was only on Windows at first,

and Microsoft had really started doing better,

like they do.

They copy, and the first version’s trash,

and the second one, you’re starting to feel threatened.

The third one, you can tell what’s gonna happen,

and the fourth one’s good.

And plus there’s the benefit, like you said,

that it comes as a default browser.

Yes, and yet Netscape’s screwing it up,

and Microsoft really putting some quality people on it.

IE4 was good.

On Windows, it was good.

And they did the dynamic HTML innovations.

Scott Isaac’s my old buddy,

a former accountant who programmed in BASIC

and became what Microsoft calls a program manager,

which is kind of an elevated position.

You can be a programmer or an engineer and track,

but you switch to it,

and you sort of lead a lot of design and standards efforts.

And so Scott Isaac put in a lot of those funky DHTML APIs

that didn’t quite have the same flavor

as the stuff that I did, and neither of them

was like the later sort of verbose Java,

like DOM W3C standardized.

But IE4 was pretty darn good.

I remember a friend, Scott Furman and I,

got invited by Scott Isaac to Gordon Beers in San Jose.

They were doing a preview of IE4.

This must have been 1997.

And Scott said, yeah, here’s the new graphics stuff

we’re doing.

We’ve got something like your Netscape layers.

We’ve got VML, a vector markup language.

We can do virtual reality.

And Scott and I looked at each other and said,

we’re doomed, right?

Microsoft was starting to fire on all cylinders.

So I have to give them credit for that,

even though they abused their market power.

And maybe I shouldn’t give them credit

for having the resources to hire talented people,

but they did a credible job on IE4.

What really was bad was that phase of the browser wars

ended with monopoly and perhaps due to the antitrust case,

perhaps due to regulation in Europe,

perhaps just due to Microsoft not liking

dealing with standardization, they let it rot.

They just abandoned it, IE5, 5.5, IE6 later,

but these were not well maintained.

They had a lot of security bugs.

It felt really closed and outdated too,

even though it’s getting updated, it’s just weird.

Browsers like Mozilla and then Firefox were adding tabs.

Opera had a version of tabs and they didn’t add tabs.

And they pop up blocking,

something I should have done from the start.

People realized that you can tell

when the user clicks something

and it goes in JavaScript to open a little window,

that you can sort of inspect the stack

and see that the click originated that,

and it’s probably okay.

Whereas if you’re just loading a script

and it opens a new window, that’s a spam technique

and you should block it.

Tabs were a brilliant innovation.

Like you said, Opera had it,

but I remember I fully switched to Firefox the moment.

I remember the moments of first using tabs in Firefox

and not liking it for the first few minutes,

and then like, wait a minute.

You get the groove, yeah.

You get the groove and you understand.

So that timing, what year was this?

Because also as a aspiring web designer,

I use Table, so we didn’t mention Layout or CSS much.

There’s also a change in the way

the frames were going away.

So there’s a change in the way websites looked

and behaved and all that kind of stuff.

CSS finally, which Microsoft embraced with IA4

and Netscape never really did right.

CSS became a better standard over time

for doing Table Layout that relieved you

of the need to use what are called spacer GIFs,

spacer GIFs, right?

Images, you would throw into space at tables.

The typographic power of the web has gotten better,

but it’s still not on the level of PDF

and you can’t do advanced typography,

but it’s gotten really better.

And even then, tables were getting better.

If you were using Firefox, that would have been 2004

because it was called Firebird until earlier that year.

No, yeah, I think it wasn’t.


I don’t remember, it was a Firebird, which had tabs?

We had tabs the whole way.

So it started out as Mozilla slash browser in 2002,

became Phoenix.

There’s a BIOS that has an embedded version of IE

and they said, we’re called Phoenix Technologies,

you can’t use Phoenix.

And so we said, okay, we’ll call it Firebird.

And then this Australian centered

open source database project started really like

in the true Mad Max style, just screaming at us saying,

you can’t use Firebird.

And I had to sort of be the ambassador and say,

okay, we’re gonna rename.

And they’re like, we don’t believe you,

you shouldn’t have used it, we hate you.

And then we renamed it to Firefox.

And they’re like, ah, we love you.

And then I haven’t heard of them ever since.

But Firefox was a clever name.

We had to think of something distinctive.

We wanted to keep the fire going.

And it turns out there’s a red panda, right?

That’s the nickname for it.

So that’s the second set of browser wars.

So how was Firefox born, how was Mozilla born?

There’s a long story there too.

So Netscape got acquired by AOL,

which as I say was a reasonable happy ending

for a lot of people,

because Netscape otherwise was gonna go out of business

because Microsoft was just killing its market.

There was no way to charge for a browser.

Windows came with IE, IE4 was pretty good

and Netscape 4 wasn’t that good.

It took a while to get better.

But the Netscape executive said,

let’s do an open source escape pod.

And like in Star Wars, A New Hope,

the gunner won’t shoot it

because there’s no life forms on board, right?

It’s not a threat.

And so we did Mozilla in 1998

and it looked like it was going to initially

just give the world an open source browser.

But it’s really hard to get people to work

on this sort of hairball that had been hacked up

over by that point four years.

And it also couldn’t have the crypto module

for secure sockets, so called,

or now transport layer security.

That was an electronic munition.

We were not allowed to release that

in the full 1024 bit key strength.

And yet people, one of whom I happened to meet previously

at SGI when I went on a sales support engineering trip,

Tim Hudson in Brisbane, Australia,

and Eric A. Young did what became open SSL.

It was called SSL EAY after Eric’s initials.

And Tim and Eric took their open SSL

outside of the purview of the NSA

and the Department of Commerce,

and they stuck it into Mozilla’s code.

And that was perhaps the best hack that was done

in the first few months after we open sourced the browser.

We had other problems.

The politics inside Netscape were riven

by these acquisitions.

So the one acquisition that kind of messed up Netscape

for also wanted to keep doing a proprietary mail

and groupware program, not Jamie Zawinski’s mail program

that was in Netscape two and three.

And they held it back from open source.

We didn’t have a mail program, it was just a browser.

We didn’t know what AOL will do to us.

Turns out they didn’t interfere with us for a long time.

But Netscape wasn’t the best steward of Mozilla.

We were operating Mozilla as a pirate ship

without a legal entity.

So most of us worked for Netscape

under a separate organization.

And initially the first engineering manager,

Tom Paquin of Netscape was the Mozilla founding manager.

But he left pretty quickly

and he left me as the acting manager,

which is more like method acting in my case.

And that was my first management stint.

But then someone who’d written the licenses,

Mitchell Baker, she was a lawyer at Netscape.

She was involved in the open source license decision making

and the actual writing and construction of those licenses.

That was Mitchell’s job, Netscape public license

and the truly open Mozilla public license.

And there were two because Netscape needed,

because of some encumbered code, needed some special rights

but that went away over time.

Mitchell was always interested in Mozilla

and she came back from maternity leave

and she said, I’ll be the manager if you want.

And Jamie and I said, sure.

And then Jamie quit, he quit after a year.

He said, this didn’t work, I’m sorry.

He acted like it was a total failure

because Mozilla didn’t restart the browser market.

But there’s no way it could have, right?

Netscape was still shipping variants of Netscape 4,

which was based on the old code.

Mozilla was trying to react to the code

to make greenfield for developers.

So it was one of my big goals.

It wasn’t a technical goal so much as again, a social goal.

People wanted a more standard spaced browser.

They wanted less of a hairball that had been hacked on

by ex grad students starting four years prior.

So we said, we’re gonna make a modular code base.

We’re gonna use a variant or an open source version

of Microsoft’s component object model,

has reference counting and standardized V tables,

virtual calls and C++.

And we’re gonna use JavaScript.

We’re gonna have a bridge between those two

so you can script those components

just like Java components.

We’re going to make a portable front end

with a markup language for the user interface.

Not tables, not HTML, but custom menus

and dropdowns and toolbars.

And that was called Zool, XML user interface language.

And some real talent on the Netscape side delivered that.

Dave Hyatt, who was instrumental in Zool,

Chris Watterson, Joe Hewitt, Blake Ross.

And Blake was an intern.

He was like a high school aged intern at Netscape.

And at some point we were innovating rapidly

in the Mozilla world and Netscape was still caught up

in this management mess from these acquisitions

and it wasn’t delivering.

And every year they were wondering if ALO was gonna come

and start beheading the executives

because it didn’t do anything useful.

And there was this thought

you should take the Netscape browser engine

and put it in the Windows ALO client,

which was the dial up client

that all the increasingly aging users of ALO were using.

Never happened.

It would have been too big a change.

So it wasn’t clear why ALO bought Netscape,

but as I said, they left it alone.

But Netscape didn’t leave Mozilla alone.

And so in 2001, Mitchell called me up and said,

I’m no longer employed.

And I was like, what?

You quit?

No, no, this wasn’t my choice.

And there was a layoff which maybe accidentally

or on purpose got rid of Mitchell.

But the funny thing was we had an open source project.

We had a lot of the engineers on staff on our side

and we had people we’d hired through the Mozilla community

who were top notch.

They’d risen, they came in high quality, they knew the code

and they actually were better than the average

or median hire of Netscape.

And so the funny thing was the executive

who thought they’d gotten rid of Mitchell in the layoff

on the next week’s community call around Mozilla

and what to do, there’s Mitchell.

And so this showed you can kind of transcend

your boundaries of corporate open source

if you get a project that has enough loyalty,

even among the paid staff.

Because we had outside people contributing.

We had people at Red Hat and a few other places,

but the majority of the hackers were employed by Netscape.

But a lot of them at that point had come from the community

and others got the community and wanted to work with it.

And it was really the weakest engineers at Netscape

who didn’t like Mozilla and didn’t like the crucible

of competing with the better programmers.

So if the project is good enough, it will rise,

the Phoenix will rise out of the…

That’s exactly right.

And so we had this Mozilla code base

that was getting better.

In fact, I think at some point in 2002

when we declared Mozilla 1.0, I engineered a roadmap

that successively through similar sort of six week,

five week releases, like we all do with browser releases

nowadays, Chrome does and Firefox braved us three weeks.

We got to a point where we said, you know what?

It doesn’t suck.

This is like the 1.0 that you want to release

because if you hold it back any longer to polish it,

you’re denying others the ability to use it.

It’s like pro engineer, the mechanical CAD tool

embedded the code, they embedded the layout engine.

And Mozilla 1.0 was like a Netscape communication suite.

We had at that point gotten male people

to reintegrate mail and news and we had an editor for HTML.

And it felt like a 90s suite, suiteware.

And it felt kind of bloated.

And the people who were taking that Mozilla open source

and then adding Netscape flavor to it

were not calling the shots right.

And they were also under AOL’s thumb a little bit

and that they said, well, we should probably put

the AOL instant messenger chicklet on the toolbar.

We should put the ICQ, the other messaging system

that AOL had acquired.

We should put the ICQ button on the toolbar.

And pretty soon Netscape looked like a bit of a NASCAR

badged version of Mozilla.

And that also made Mozilla more popular.

And yet they had contrived to fire or lay off the leader

and we carried on with an open source structure

where Mozilla was still, you know, Mitchell was calling

sort of management or project level shots

and I was calling technical shots.

And we had a popular suite, but we thought,

why not make it just a browser?

Because it’ll be simpler, it’ll do one job well.

And even then we can strip it down by having extensions.

So Dave Hyatt and Blake Ross, the high school aged intern

did the first version, which was called Mozilla slash browser.

It was very, the small group of us, Ian Hicks

and Asa Dotzler, me and Joe Hewitt and Hyatt and Blake.

And Hyatt was really the senior hacker.

He’d done all these things like amazing cross platform menus

through the user interface, markup language.

And he knew how to do tab browsing.

He’d implemented it natively on Mac OS at the time

in Camino originally called Chimera.

He’d written multiple implementations,

which was a thing programmers should do.

It’s like the V8 team did for those missing years

when the rest of the Chrome team’s like, where’s V8?

In fact, Dave’s wife, Rebecca told me a story

about when they were at UIUC,

they were also University of Illinois grad students.

There was an assignment, it was a programming assignment

it was supposed to do at the end of the semester.

And Dave’s friend was this, I’m gonna go think

and I’m gonna design and I’m gonna make this

platonic perfect form of the program.

And then I’m gonna write it at the end when it’s due.

And Hyatt just went there and started hacking.

He wrote one version, he wrote a second version,

a third version, end of the semester comes around.

The friend’s not doing too well.

It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t written.

I’m not sure how that story ended for him,

but Dave’s version was a fifth iteration, it was great.

And so he’d done that with everything you need

in a tabbed browser.

And this really showed well in Phoenix,

what we called Phoenix and I had to rename two more times.

And Blake went to Stanford, he became a Stanford student

and couldn’t work on it.

Dave Hyatt went to Apple in 2001.

He was one of the founding Safari team members.

Interesting, wow.

But he was still blogging about tabbed browsing.

I think Apple at some point said you should.

Safari have tabbed browsing?

Yeah, but it was because of Hyatt.

Hyatt was quite a feather in their cap.

Don Melton, who had been the engineering manager

for Safari from the beginning, had been in Netscape also.

And so there’s this diaspora of talent

and yet Hyatt was still kind of writing blog posts

about how to do tabs right.

And at some point Apple said, don’t blog about that.

That’s our proprietary tab technology.

And I was like, no, it’s not.

It was an opera and I’ve refined it.

So we had to replace people and we had Ben Goodger,

a New Zealander we hired at Netscape.

And he stepped in to be the Firefox lead.

And we also had this weird circumstance

where AOL finally did notice that Netscape

was kind of an albatross,

that they bought it for no particular benefit.

And even then the AOL politics were also heinous,

sort of East Coast politics.

I remember taking two trips there

because I was a principal engineer.

And so us principal engineers got trotted out

to do dog and pony shows in Dallas, Virginia.

And the AOL opera management was very East Coast in flavor.

And they were at that time merging with Time Warner,

which did not go well.

So one of these years we went out there

and we were all doing dog and pony shows

and there were these characters

that were sort of like marketing guys.

One of them was wearing a cravat

and one was named Reggie.

And they were very you rather than non you.

Or they were like what’s what’s Stoneman’s

metropolitan film, UHB, urban haute bourgeoisie.

They were haute bourgeoisie.

They were funny and they were kind of useless

and kind of preppy.

And then the next year we went back

and I said, where’s Reggie?

And it’s like, oh, Reggie’s not here anymore

because Time Warner realized that the merger

wasn’t in their interest either.

And then the sort of knives came out.

And these mergers rarely work, right?

This is very difficult.

You get these giant companies

and they think there’s gonna be synergy.

That was the 90s, late 90s watch word.

And there wasn’t synergy with AOL buying Netscape

and there wasn’t synergy with Time Warner and AOL.

But did AOL ever really work?

Was it ever really cool?

Like the same kind of fire and excitement

that Firefox eventually created,

was that ever there in AOL?

AOL was the right time to do a dial up service

that got distribution by basically

leaflet bombing compact discs on the country.

And they beat out CompuServe and the other ones,

Prodigy, and then the web happened.

And so you had almost like this isolated continent,

like some of the evolutionary biologists I follow

make fun of the funny large marsupial mammals of Australia,

how silly they are.

And so AOL is like Australia.


And you saw it over time because they kept aging

and they were using AOL to get online

and they couldn’t really use a web browser.

And it became sort of a valued cohort

because they still have relatively high

socioeconomic status and they have grandchildren,

but it’s going away, it’s dying at some point.

Towards the end of the aughts, that decade,

and then to the decade 2010 plus,

that Firefox became this incredible,

I forget when Chrome came out, but.

2008, September.

2008, but Firefox was the sexy cool thing

that represented a lot of the cutting edge technologies

and all that kind of stuff.

Web 2, it was amazing.

Kim O’reilly and John Battelle did the first Web 2 conference

which eventually became huge and they split it.

But that was in 2004, it was right when Firefox was out.

Craigslist was huge, it was killing classified revenue

for newspapers, but there was just this ferment.

People starting.

Wikipedia along there somewhere.

Gmail was already done and it was an impressive web mail.

There were others before it like Hotmail,

but Gmail was really impressive from Google.

And Google Maps, people started seeing what could be done.

They thought how can you drag the map around

and how does that work?

And it was all JavaScript and images and.

So Gmail was 2003, four?

Yeah, it actually started quite early.

It might’ve been 2002 or three,

but by the time we started dealing with Google and Firefox

to get the search deal,

which was the main revenue source for Mozilla,

and still is, 2004, early, Sergey Brinz,

one of his trusted engineer guys, Fritz Schneider,

made contact with me at Mozilla and we started talking

and we realized search and browser need each other.

And this is deeply true, right?

This is still true.

This is why a lot of the search engines

have their own browsers.

Yeah, so in case people don’t know,

the main revenue source for the browser

is the default search engine,

which is kind of incredible to think about

that that is a revenue source.

It’s a little bit sad.

Yeah, it leads to this capture or kill effect

where you have the search engine own its own browser

and other browsers may struggle to get the distribution

we talked about earlier.

So where, and you said you’ve figured out

that Google is working on its own browser

at some point there.

2006, yeah.

2006, so would you say Firefox versus,

was Internet Explorer part of the war here

or was the Firefox versus Chrome?

So Firefox didn’t quite cause Microsoft to reconvene IE.

They did do IE7 and I remember being on a plane

back from the standards meeting,

JavaScript standards meeting from Seattle, from Redmond,

and there was some Microsoft guy in front of me.

Turns out my wife knew him from her past life

before we married and he was just this bearded big guy

and he was like,

we should have just killed Firefox in the cradle.

All we needed to do was add pop up blocking in tabs

and we could have made Internet Explorer kill Firefox.

And it’s like, shoulda, coulda, woulda, pal.

And I was right behind him during this.

But they didn’t, they were slow

and IE7 wasn’t that great.

And what really got them started I think was Chrome.

And I talked to Larry Page in 2005,

I think I said, we’re talking about the Firefox relationship

but he was also saying, what about WebKit?

This was Apple’s version of the old KHTML engine from Linux,

the KDE side of Linux that was used in the Conqueror browser

also with Ks that Apple had forked.

And in 2005 was when Apple’s principals

including Dave Hyatt, Maciej Stokowiak,

some of my friends who are still there said,

we must stop patch bombing this poor KHTML project.

We should make a proper Mozilla like organization,


Now it wasn’t a separate nonprofit or anything.

It was still Apple, it was Apple controlled

but they made their fork first class

and they made it be something that they all worked in

and lived in.

And that was before Chrome.

And then Chrome, Larry Page said, what about WebKit?

I said, yeah, it’s nice.

I have friends who work on it.

You might use that if you do your own browser.

Why don’t you do your own browser?

Don’t worry about Firefox.

You should do your own browser.

You can have your own opinion of how it should work.

And sure enough they did.

So by 2006, we knew they’d been working on it.

Some of my friends who’d been at Netscape

did the original demo.

And the demo wasn’t what you thought.

It didn’t have the fast JavaScript yet.

That was still off in Denmark on a farm.

Did it have tabs?

It had tabs because all browsers had tabs at this point.

And it had this software fault isolation I mentioned.

It was through process isolation.

So in theory, each tab has some operating system process.

And so what’s gonna take your tab down?

Well, WebKit has bugs that can crash it

but Flash was still big then.

All the restaurant sites remember.

And Flash crashed a lot.

So the demo that I heard about,

my friends at Netscape as a lot of people did,

inside Google was the sad tab.

They showed an early version of Chrome

which is just this bare bones tab browser.

They loaded a site with a known Flash volume

and then suddenly Flash crashes.

And everyone expected the whole browser to go down.

But instead you got this little sad face in the tab

and you could reload it and there it is again.

So this was an improvement.

It was a real move for security.

It was based on a company they acquired

called Green Border.

They had some really big brains like Olfar Erlingsson

I think was involved.

And they had done some exotic security stuff

but they ended up simplifying it to this process isolation.

And it was good.

And Firefox didn’t have it at the time.

So we were still struggling with security bugs.

So we knew Chrome was coming

but it took two more years to come out.

And we were still getting the Google search revenue

and we were still making Google the default engine

and Firefox was still growing.

Firefox grew I think until 2011.

That was when it peaked.

And as it started falling, it was because of Chrome.

Chrome came out in 2008 and it had a comic book

that leaked accidentally that showed some of the people

who worked on it.

Lars Bock was in there and so on.

It was kind of soft launch

because they didn’t market it heavily.

They didn’t push distribution.

But Google had reason to worry about distribution

because Microsoft was doing a search engine, Bing,

since 2007.

In fact, when they came out with Bing,

Google was worried that Microsoft would just brute force

switch the default browser in everyone’s Internet Explorer

or even Firefox on Windows to Bing from Google.

And Microsoft wasn’t I think ready

to dare the antitrust cops that way

even though they’d gone to sleep.

And I don’t think Bing was ready either.

But just in case it happened, Sundar Pichai,

who rose very well based on this work,

was sort of in charge of getting distribution deals.

And he got Google toolbar

and Google desktop search distribution.

And if you remember those pieces of software,

those were like desktop extensions,

toolbars or operating system extensions

for doing desktop search, searching your local files.

Kind of like Mac OS Spotlight, right?

Sadly, it died.

It all died.

And there were some features that we still missed

that didn’t make it into Chrome.

But Sundar got OEMs to bundle those.

And then he got enough of those deals

that by 2007 or eight, Google felt,

well, if Bing, Microsoft does the worst

and tries to force Bing,

we can reach in and reset it with that point of presence.

So that was good for Sundar’s career

and it was good for Google,

but it never came to pass that they had to defend.

Microsoft was still slow.

And by the time they saw Chrome come out,

then they did what would have been IE9.

And then they said,

we’re gonna have a fast JavaScript engine

to Chakra, Chakra core.

And they did okay.

They were another process isolated,

fast JavaScript browser, tab browser.

So it sounds like there’s a deep fundamental coupling

of search engine and browser

that’s mixing this whole thing up.

And obviously Firefox doesn’t have a search engine.

That’s like, I mean, you’re partnering with somebody

with a search engine.

With Yahoo or with Google or so on.

They tried Yahoo, that was unfortunate

because I think even though Marissa Mayer talked about it,

she never pulled it off.

They never restored the search team

that had been laid off.

I believe Carol Bartz was running Yahoo

when Carol said, I’ve got to get rid

of one of the three expensive things.

I’m gonna get rid of search.

And those researchers went to Google and Microsoft

and there was no way to put Yahoo search back together.

So when Firefox tried switching all their users

who’d stuck with a default from Google to Yahoo,

it was like mid December, 2014,

a bunch of users said, what just happened to my Firefox?

And others didn’t notice right away,

but over time they did.

And so over the next year,

the traffic just went away for Yahoo.

And yet they were obliged, I understand it.

I don’t have inside knowledge, but this has leaked out

and Danny Sullivan’s written about it,

search engine land.

I think the deal was like fixed payments to Mozilla.

So Mozilla was getting a bunch of money for traffic

that wasn’t staying because users

were resetting their default.

And this shows how defaults are important,

but they have to be good enough

that the user doesn’t override them.

And a lot of the commercial value in popular apps

is what are the default settings?

What is the default search?

But oftentimes there’s something just like you said,

I mean, if there’s something compelling

that’s also can beat out the default,

like tab browsing and so on.

And that’s where, I mean, we’ll talk about brave browser.

It feels like now we’re in this third stage

where there’s a Chrome, Firefox, Edge,

I guess it’s called and brave.

And these are all seem like really exciting,

I don’t know, innovative browsers.

They’re all kind of copying off of each other,

picking up the good stuff.

There’s evolution again, especially on tracking protection.

So privacy is this sort of global wave that’s rising.

I like to call it a wave because it’s a large,

somewhat chaotic structure.

It’s not a unitary good.

You can’t say I’m buying privacy for $3,

I’m paying $3 privacy.

Some people think a VPN does this

and are disappointed when it fails them.

But often people use VPNs for region unlocking video

or getting the US Netflix catalog.

But privacy is not a unitary good, it’s complex

and people are understanding it only over time

and as they get burned, but there’s a genie

that’s not going back in the bottle there.

People are fed up.

Apple has responded to this.

Apple was always making Safari, I think,

more of a privacy branded browser from the very beginning.

I think this was probably Steve Jobs.

Safari had private windows, private tabs

before Firefox did.

And these are only private in the sense

that they don’t leave local traces,

if you don’t want them to.

Turns out Safari does keep them around between shutdown.

But the canonical model is no local traces

after you close the private window.

No leftover traces that you went to some site

that you were embarrassed by

or bought a gift for somebody you wanted to keep secret.

But there’s still some level of tracking.

There’s network tracking.

Network privacy is not guaranteed at all

because you’re using the same internet and ISP

as a public window, a non private window.

But, Safari had that early on.

They also had a cookie blocking policy

that might take a little explaining.

When you, if you know what a cookie is,

it’s a little bit of storage in the browser

indexed by the name of the site.

And it’s really only the main name of the site,

like bofa.com or, you know, something like npr.org.

Every site can store some information in a cookie.

Every time it’s contacted by the browser,

the previous version is sent back.

And in the response from the server, the cookie’s updated.

So it’s this little bit of storage in the browser

that the site can keep updating

and it can store an encrypted version

of your login credentials with a timestamp

so you can stay logged in

without having to retype your password

every time you navigate,

which is how it would be if you didn’t have cookies.

The web protocols, especially in the 90s,

are so called stateless protocols.

So you go to your bank, you log in,

you go from your login confirmed page

to your account view.

If you didn’t have a cookie, you’d be logging in again.

Every time you type in the source.

So that was the great thing about cookies.

Luhmann truly did it in a hurry in 1994

before I joined Escape

and he did it for really holding that kind of credential.

But even then there was the image element

embedded in the page

and the image gets fetched possibly from a different server

and that request carries the last cookie,

which could be empty at first,

and the response carries the updated cookie.

So just by having images and cookies,

you got tracking because that image server

can be serving a little one by one pixel

and they still use the word pixel in ad tech.

And that pixel can be served from the same server,

embedded differently with different URL spellings

in the New York Times and ESPN.

And as you go from one to the other,

the image server can say,

I haven’t got a cookie for you.

It’s empty initially.

I’m gonna assign you user number 1234.

I’m gonna put a database entry in.

And I see, by the way,

I always fetch the name of the path part of the URL

that I was in the New York Times.

So you’re a New York Times reader.

And then you hit ESPN, same thing.

And the database gets updated

and the number user 1234 indexes in the database

to a profile of you, you’ve been tracked.

This was not intended.

And it was too late to undo by the time I got the Netscape.

I think Lou wanted to do Twinkies, he called them.

And he was trying to solve several problems.

He wanted them to be bigger

because initially cookies had a short size limit.

I think he wanted to solve the third party problem,

but Tom Paquin, the engineering manager said,

nope, no Twinkies, just cookies.

We’re done.

You’re done, son.

And that’s how a lot of that stuff was.

That’s how JavaScript got frozen

like a flying Amber in some ways

with that sloppy equality operator that I made

because of the early adopters.

And the cookie got stuck with this tracking hazard.

And then because JavaScripts can be like images,

they’re embedded in the page.

By the time Netscape 3, I made that work.

You can get a request with the last cookie value

and the response updates it.

That’s a tracking mechanism.

And that’s why you don’t even need images to track.

Now you just use scripts.

So this whole tracking economy evolved

and it depended on these accidents of the 90s,

these unintended consequences.

Well, it created some of the richest companies

in the world, right?

I mean, it’s the social media.

All I got was T shirts.

All I got is this crappy T shirt.


I mean, so that’s the fundamental problem

the world is facing now.

They’re looking at what social media has created

and they’re looking at,

and like a world is looking at itself in the mirror

and seeing that privacy is actually something

as opposed to like a nice thing to have.

It’s something that is actually should be fundamental

to the way we interact with the world

as part of our tooling.

And that’s where the Brave browser comes in.

And I suppose others as well are playing with this idea,

but Brave is at the forefront of that.

So maybe can you like describe what Brave is

and what are its key principles and what’s broken

and what is it Brave trying to fix?

So when I realized that these accidents

like the third party cookie,

the image or script that’s tracking you

or the JavaScripts that can do an invisibly now,

that all this stuff wasn’t intended

and that Firefox had supported extensions

that block some of these things,

I thought probably we should have browsers

just block some of these things by default.

These were not intended and they’re now unsafe.

They’re tracking you.

There could be data breaches, malware distribution,

bullying and psyops and other attacks on people.

Block that stuff, block that JavaScript.

I’m Dr. Frankenstein, I’ve got to deal with a monster here.

But obviously you go to Gmail,

there’s a bunch of script there

to make that amazing web client.

That’s okay, that’s first party JavaScript.

So how do you tell the first from the third party?

And it’s not easy.

It’s not a matter of just what’s embedded

from a different server because a lot of publishers

use benign scripts from unrelated domains

or apparently unrelated domains.

So you end up having to develop a sort of human

and machine learning practice around blocking.

And at Brave, we did that from the start

and built a research team to help drive it and automate it.

We realized that protecting people needed machine learning

and around 2017 spring,

I talked to my friends at Apple about this too

and they were also doing

what they call intelligent tracking prevention,

which uses local machine learning in the browser.

And the funny thing is, great minds think alike,

they were taking their third party cookie blocker

that was in Safari from the old days

and making it not have a big loophole.

Because what they did was in 2003, when Safari came out,

they said, we’re gonna block cookies

that are from those third party embedded elements

where you’ve never visited that site before.

So I’m gonna pick an ad company that got sold to AT&T,

so I’m not picking on anybody unfairly, appnexus.com.

Have you ever been to appnexus.com?


I’ve never been there, but I guarantee you 10 years ago,

you probably had, if you were using Firefox,

you had a cookie, third party cookie,

because you were being tracked by them

and they were using that cookie

to build up a profile of you.

In Safari, as long as the user never went to appnexus,

that cookie would not be set.

And that was a real move for privacy early on

when jobs were still around in Safari.

But it had this loophole that if you do go to appnexus,

then why it’s okay to be a third party cookie.

And so appnexus did something very naughty.

They took their ad partners

to put the actual ad you click on.

And they said, hey, add a little script

so that when somebody clicks on the ad,

before it goes to your landing page,

redirect to appnexus and we’ll redirect

to the landing page.

And by doing that, they set a first party cookie

and they got whitelisted.

So it was a loophole they exploited.

Intelligent tracking prevention in Safari

was sophisticated enough to counteract this

and it did other things and it’s evolved since they did it.

And we’ve evolved brave too.

And so when I say machine and human learning,

there’s a real set of techniques here.

They have to fight.

This is a fascinating problem.

Fingerprinting, right?

Anytime you have a little bit of storage in the browser

associated with a website,

if the bad guy can get 32 websites,

each one has a bit of storage, that’s 32 bits.

You can turn the bit on or off,

you can make 4 billion numbers,

you can make an identifier.

It’s called a super cookie sometimes.

There are weaker ways that are statistical.

They’re called fingerprinting.

You have to block all of them

and you have to not only automate,

you want to work in the web standards body

to put privacy in by default, by design,

from the get go, not add it as an afterthought

or go hogwile with new web APIs

to add a bunch more local storage or fingerprint surface area.

And that’s been a struggle too,

because guess who’s the new Microsoft

in the standards body?

It’s Google.

And they’re not in favor of privacy first.

They want to do privacy their way,

only under, I would say, market pressure.

But with Apple and with Brave leading the way,

we block third party cookies almost without exception.

So we’ve just blocked them.

And that gives us a very strong privacy benefit,

but it also means some sites just don’t work right.

Embedded YouTube videos might not work right.

So we’re adapting in a similar way to Apple’s done with ITP

to make third party cookies blocked,

but to sort of simulate what looks like

a working third party cookie for the site.

It essentially tries to partition each site

and its third parties into its own sort of cookie jar.

Got it.

And so, like you said,

is this both like a human fine tuning issue

and a machine learning problem?

And as the humans learn,

then they train the machine learning.

But, you know, maybe Google aside or including Google,

there’s millions of dollars, if not B,

billions of dollars to be made

from fighting the ways of Brave.

That’s right.

And it’s been an interesting change

from when we started in 2015.

When we started, you know, ad blocking extensions,

ad block plus was one of the big ones

that started on Firefox in 2006, I believe,

had gotten to a certain level of use around the world.

And browsers like UC Web, UC Browser in Asia

had some amount of ad blocking built in and on by default.

So, a page fair was a startup

and they measured ad blocking adoption.

And they tried to say,

hey publishers, you’re, you know,

30% of the visitors to Pitchfork or Wire

to Conda NAS properties are using ad blockers.

If we can somehow convince them

to lower their ad blocking for your site,

that could be like a 43% lift, right?

And, you know, three sevenths.

Well, that’s easier said than done.

And PageFair and others, SourcePoint,

and many others tried to either smuggle ads through

or cajole the user into letting, you know, ads appear.

And it didn’t really work.

And meanwhile, the ad blocking adoption

has just continued intelligent tracking prevention

in Safari in 2017, Brave from 2016 on

with very strong cookie blocking and other protections.

And this is not going away.

The publishers used to rage against it.

Like we would try to say, we can help you.

You’re dealing with users

who are already blocking all your ads.

We can try to put back some economics

that help the user and you

that led to the basic attention token

that we started with Bitcoin.

We can be your friend.

Don’t just fingerprint us as an ad blocker

and treat us as an enemy.

But in 2015 or 16, it was like,

nah, you’re an ad blocker.

Get out of here.

I hate you.

And by 2017 or 18, it’s like something’s happening.

The ad blocking is not stopping

and we’re all getting sort of pulled

on the Google’s plantation through AMP, AMP.

Or we’re getting killed by the Google ad system we use

because it’s taking all the revenue

or it’s permitting or some other vendors we use

are permitting ad fraud.

And so a fake New York Times is getting paid

by the marketer running an ad that a bot clicks on.

And the real New York Times

that’s supposed to get the ad doesn’t get it.

And there’s something really broken

about that kind of system.

And that fraud is mediated through Google’s ad exchange,

which is the biggest of them all.

And Google takes a fee.

There’s a flip side of that,

which is malware distribution, malvertising,

where fake advertisers put malware payloads

in or exploit hit loaders in JavaScript

and they smuggle them in ads onto real publisher pages,

the ad exchange takes the fee.

Now, I’m not a lawyer.

I’m not gonna say this is a RICO predicate,

but why is the ad exchange facilitating fraud

and malware distribution and taking a fee?

It’s not right.

As opposed to just fighting,

this is the really interesting thing about Brave

is as opposed to just fighting

and then being treated like an ad blocker,

you’re providing an alternate.

There’s a philosophical idea here

that might change the nature of the internet

with the basic attention token.


Well, maybe what is basic attention token BAT

and how does it work?

Okay, I’ll tell the story first by saying how I came to it.

I realized for a long time at Firefox,

we were dependent on this Google search deal.

And I thought, now that Chrome’s out,

maybe that’s gonna go away.

And they just, at some point, Google will say,

Firefox, like old yeller, you saved me from the rabid beast,

now I have to shoot you in the head.

Done your job, sad but true, goodbye.

And what could we do?

And I think Mozilla doesn’t know what to do.

This is something that I couldn’t solve there

and I don’t think they can solve.

But I thought, why is the browser

the sort of passive servant of these big tech companies?

Why is it a blind runtime for ad tech JavaScripts,

including from Google?

Why doesn’t it block some?

And if it blocks some, why can’t it reconnect users,

readers, fans with publishers, creators, websites?

Why can’t it help people make direct payments

or even possibly get an ad revenue share for private ads

that are placed in the browser?

The ads are all placed in the browser.

Some people have this sort of model

that the server’s painting the ad into some,

flash combined package or into some giant image

and then it all gets sent down, that’s not how it works.

All the ads you see on the web are placed in your browser

by it calling out to various ad tech partners

and Google’s among them.

And so if you block those scripts,

you break the advertising flow of money

from the brands and their agencies to the publishers.

And if you want to reconnect it directly with the user,

you have limited choices.

The user generally isn’t gonna sign up

with a ACH bank connection or a credit card.

The publisher isn’t gonna sign up the user

except as a subscriber and then they’re gonna overcharge you

because they want you to cross subsidize all the content

and buy more than you read and all that stuff.

And how many, people are doing great who are big names

like New York Times and The Washington Post,

but how many subscriptions are you as a user gonna pay for?

This is why startups like Tony Hale Scroll

are trying to do a portable subscription system.

By the way, just a small tangent there,

even the New York Times is really annoying

how difficult it is to subscribe.

There’s way too many clicks.

They don’t make it easy.

And I had friends a few years ago,

I think they fixed this, who would pay for the paper

and then they’d go online and they get upcharged

for the digital and there was no break.

There was no connection between them.

But publishers are not that technical

and they can’t all get you to subscribe.

You can’t have a thousand subscriptions.

So for a long time, people talked about micropayments.

There was Blendle and other ones which came to the US,

but it didn’t grow.

And I thought, if you have just a browser

and it’s protecting you by blocking

all this ad tech tracking junk,

it can provide you an option that uses cryptocurrency

to let you support your favorite sites

and even YouTube channels.

And that we prototyped with Bitcoin.

And that meant the user had to be of means to contribute

and willing to contribute,

but it could be done on the Bitcoin blockchain

and it could be fairly efficient

even though Bitcoin went through a period

when we had this prototype running in 2016 into 2017

where Bitcoin was very congested and very slow to confirm

and the fees got very high.

And a lot of users who were not Bitcoin maximalists

or even experienced,

we helped them out by embedding a Coinbase buy widget

and they had the income to buy, but it was hard.

It was like, do I buy $5 a month?

But the fee is like 450.

I better buy in larger batches, right?

And they’re like, I don’t wanna own that much Bitcoin.

So it became this painful thing.

And the real idea that I had of private ads

that pay the user a rev share

couldn’t be realized alone in that kind of system.

In these cryptocurrency systems,

especially with the blockchain we switched to Ethereum,

you can have smart contracts.

The Bitcoin system is not turned complete.

So what you can do with the scripts is more limited,

but you can still do sort of clever things

even with Bitcoin script.

What we wanted to do was sort of a three sided ecosystem.

We wanted users, creators or publishers and advertisers.

And we wanted the advertisers to put money in

just like they do today,

but without going through the Googles and the app nexuses

and all these other ad tech companies,

because those companies take out a huge cut.

The Guardian in the UK once did an experiment for a month.

They bought out their own ad space.

They put in a pound and they were paid 30 pence.

70% was coming out to the intermediary vendors

they were using.

And that’s like the opposite of what the app store does.

The app store takes 30% and gives the publisher 70%.

So pretty broken, in the old days of the superstation TBS,

the media owner would get 85%.

So these splits have become really unbalanced

and the middle players, the ad tech vendors

are taking out way too much money.

And they’re doing something worse, which has been noticed.

They’re letting not just the malware vendors,

but also the ad fraud side, which fakes the publishers

and clickbait merchants come in and steal traffic

from good sites.

Because once you have a certain audience identified

at one site, Jason Calconas told me this

about his experience with, I guess it was in Gadget,

I forget which site he was running.

But once he started using an ad partner

that was sharing his audience information

across multiple sites, he saw his competitors

stealing all his traffic.

And then what’s worse is the clickbait sites

that just have much cheaper rates steal all that traffic.

And that facilitates fraud, facilitates fake news,

all sorts of problems.

So Gray blocks it and then we give users the ability

to give back and because we invented

the basic attention token on Ethereum,

we can do this three way split.

And we can give users a share of the revenue.

And if they want to take it out, they can.

Now, unfortunately for us and for all blockchain,

the regulators are saying,

we’re gonna have to know who you are.

There’s the Treasury Department’s FinCEN agency.

There’s the Office of Foreign Asset Controls, OFAC.

There’s the other regulators in the federal government

that take a very dark look at things like money laundering

and sending money to someone named Osama bin Laden.

So compliance starts to come in.

And even now they’re threatening for pure Bitcoin

sending to some address.

If you’re a Coinbase, you’re gonna have to know

who’s at that address.

You’re gonna have to start.

Like the actual identities of people involved.

Yeah, now with Coinbase members,

you sign up and they know you

and they comply with the regulations.

They’re a regulated money services business.

And, but if somebody’s using their own self custody,

so called self custodial wallet

where they have the hardware private key

and they’re not named and they want to send to that address,

our friends in the federal government are talking about

requiring at some threshold and knowing who that is.


Some threshold that’s unreasonable.

It’s not that big.


Yeah, I don’t know how this will play out.

I think crypto is here to stay.

I think the beauty of being able to send peer to peer

without any bank in the middle,

without any huge wire charge and two day delay

and all that nonsense.

It’s beautiful and I’ve used it and I love it.

But we’re pragmatists are brave about crypto.

And we realized that anything like a revenue split,

we can’t facilitate without being licensed in a certain way

and it requires knowing who the user is.

So our default mode doesn’t know who the user is.

It instead imputes to the user’s browser,

some of the revenue and allows that browser

to steer it back to the creators.

And we do have to identify the creators.

But as things improve and who knows how it’ll play out,

there should become a day when this full vision

can be done more fully on a blockchain.

But regulations and the practicalities of today’s blockchains,

which are not that fast and not anonymous over time,

you fingerprint yourself over time.

We do some of this with the browser.

So one of the ideas of the basic attention token

is to make a hybrid system

that’s stronger than blockchain alone.

It’s the browser and the blockchain.

And the browser is this trusted endpoint software.

It’s this universal app.

Everyone uses browsers.

The bigger the screen, the more you’re in the browser

and the less you install fat clients for things.

I use Slack on Mac OS and it’s like a browser.

It’s based on an electron framework we used to use.

And it’s just, it’s not that great.

Some of the people at Brave use Slack in Brave as a…

In the browser, yeah.

I use that often, yeah.

And I noticed on the iPad, I use apps less.

The smaller the screen, the browser got handicapped

by Apple and Android both.

And it also can be slower or not have the right affordances,

the interface with the security limited APIs.

But in principle, with the right permissioning,

you can make the web browser just as good as any app.

You make it be a super app.

And that’s part of our mission at Brave.

So we want to have the economics that got captured

by these big tech companies through tracking

and through social networks.

We want to block that for your own safety

and then let you opt into a cleaner world

where you keep your data defended in your browser

and you can actually realize value from it.

So the way our ad system works,

I mentioned it being private, but how does that work?

We don’t see your data at all.

All browsers are sort of the mother of all data feeds,

your history, all your searches at all engines.

Each engine sees the queries you send to it,

but it doesn’t see the others,

but the browser sees them all.

Machine learning in the browser that you can opt into

can study all that in a very complete way

and do a better job than Google does.

Google has cookie and scripts across the web

from acquiring DoubleClick, they have YouTube,

they have Android, they have search,

which is still their big revenue lane,

but they don’t see everything.

The browser sees everything.

And if it can do a good job locally,

and this is not advanced machine learning,

this is not TensorFlow, this is like SVMs now,

naive Bayes, then you can match intense signals,

intense signals from those data feeds,

searches, the queries, the history, how much you’re

scrolling down a page, how much you redid a search.

It’s all blind browser algorithm, we don’t see that data.

And then pick the best ad from a fixed catalog per day.

And the catalog is fixed across a large population per day,

and it only updates once a day,

because new offers come in and old ones expire,

sometimes every week or every month.

And that catalog, and there can be many such catalogs,

is sold by our direct sales team.

And so we’re making an anonymous audience available

to advertisers without the advertisers tracking them.

Instead, each browser is a little machine learning system

that’s picking the best catalog entry.

Now, the catalog is not the ads, those are big, right?

It’s a video or a webpage, it’s just the link

to an edge cache, and there are many such edge caches.

We’re not trying to protect them from seeing

your IP address, it’s not really feasible.

We could use Tor, but we don’t yet.

And then some keywords about the ad.

So it’s basically like metadata and a link.

And that’s what the catalog consists of,

and that’s what the machine learning picks.

And the machine learning is learning

about the use specifically locally

in order to choose from the catalog of different ads.

Couldn’t this possibly be like a multi billion dollar,

isn’t this taken on the Google ad?

Could be.

So like what, I mean, one question to ask,

there seems to be some really profound ideas here

that are different than what the internet has grown up to be.

If Brave or something like Brave,

the ideas, the fundamental philosophical ideas

underlying Brave went out and runs 95% of the internet,

how does that change the, what are the major things

these changes about the internet?

So social networks and then the creatives,

like YouTube creators and all that kind of stuff.

So let’s talk about that.

First of all, if Brave gets 95%,

I’m gonna demand a recount, because I won’t believe it.

I don’t know, I think we’re trying to put things

into web standards that can be standardized across browsers.

So the main value of Brave will be the trust users have in us

and our ability to give the best deal to users.

So 70% of the gross ad revenue we give to the user.

And if they go through that KYC process I mentioned,

they can take it out.

They can also give it back, they can take some out,

give the rest back.

They can add basic attention tokens to give back.

Some of them turn off the ads,

cause they just don’t like ads,

but they put in $20 a month.

But I believe Zuko of Zcashframe does that.

And that’s very generous,

because the browser is just anonymously

based on his browsing, sort of keeping score

on how much time he spent on this video, on that website.

And if those sites verify in sort of a,

like getting a domain certificate fashion,

they can get paid, they can get part of his $20 a month.

So that vision could go big.

And if it does, I hope it’s across multiple browsers.

I don’t know that they’ll all compete well

on the quality of the ads, the quality of the ad blocking

and tracking protection.

Those are subject to competition.

It’ll take a while to standardize them.

But I think that would be a better world.

It would have less counterparty risk,

fewer fee takers in the middle, really just the browser.

We’re taking 30%, sort of the app store split.

And if we get bigger, maybe we can take even less.

Social networks, creators.

If you look at YouTubers, a lot of them are the indies

that are getting some size are getting sponsorship deals.

They’re using Patreon.

They’re encouraging people to subscribe

and give them regular money through Patreon.

But that’s centralized through Patreon.

So there’s censorship hazards, there’s a 5% fee.

What if that were a web standard?

What if Brave pioneered it first and we took 3%?

And we did it in a way that was through your browser

so we couldn’t censor it.

That’s brilliant.

Do you think it could be standardized across browsers?

Can Internet Explorer come in again and…

Yeah, protocols are easy to copy

in that they’re meant to be interoperable.

So there’s a risk there.

And the loyal users might be tricked into leaving you.

Or they might, because of that distribution power,

you might end up getting stomped.

I don’t know, I can’t predict the future.

I think antitrust is back on the case finally in the US.

And certainly in Europe, G Comp is doing its thing.

So I’m hopeful that we’ll have a period of innovation.

People were talking, like Elizabeth Warren was talking

about breaking up the tech companies very clearly.

Now she didn’t win, and I suspect that won’t happen,

but I also suspect that Google might be smart enough

to see they should do something more

than just put privacy perfume on Chrome.

They should maybe get rid of DoubleClick or something,

divest something.

I don’t know, it might happen.

So Brave might inspire Google to completely change

the way they’re doing things in the browser?

They’re already doing something,

you may have read about called the Privacy Sandbox

or Flock, which they have this bird metaphor going,

Turtle Dove, Fledge.

But these systems have been very Googley,

kind of overengineered, and yet,

depending on differential privacy,

which has weakness over time, if you know how that works,

it’s kind of injecting noise to hide you in a crowd,

but over time an adversary can pull you out of the crowd.

This doesn’t look like it’s gonna become a standard.

Like Apple, Brave, Mozilla, we’re not gonna just say,

oh, Google, you saved us.

You’ve invented the Privacy Sandbox,

so we’ll all just adopt it.

Not gonna be that easy.

It’s gonna be more like pieces of what we do in Brave,

the synonymous ad matching or the blind signature

cryptography we use to confirm the ad impressions.

That’s David Chow’s invention.

That could get standardized.

In fact, some of that is being standardized.

Even Google’s in favor of so called trust tokens,

which are Chowmian blind signature certs.

But they’re not using them for ad confirmations

because they don’t wanna blow up their own business.

And they need to let some of the publishers they serve

have other ad tech scripts on the page.

And so they’re kind of caught.

And this is something I realized doing Brave.

I thought, what’s Google’s innovators dilemma

apart from just being mature and having trouble innovating?

It’s that they have come to depend on this ad tech system

that has all these vendors that publishers rely on

because publishers aren’t technical enough.

And I feel for the publishers,

but I realized the users have to come first.

And if you give the users a better browser that’s faster,

then you’ll get enough users to give back

or support publishers.

The speed and the battery savings

and the data plan savings are significant.

There’s so much bad JavaScript involved in ad tech

that if you block it, you sort of chop off

what’s called the programmatic waterfall,

which chains a bunch of requests.

Yeah, that’s one of the incredible things about Brave.

I guess you’re saying you should attribute it

to the fact that the messy JavaScript, no offense.

No offense.

Not my solution.

I mean, Brave just feels faster.

Even then, I mean, Chrome was fast.

One of the things that it was like impressive

is it showed that browsers can be really fast

and Brave is even faster than that, which is incredible.

And it saves the network, which means data plan.

It saves battery because the radio consumes your battery

when it’s running more to do those requests.

And it’s just stunning how many there are.

Like some of my Google friends were like,

oh, that’s just that bad site.

They’ll fix it.

And you actually do a survey of web pages

that they’re like mostly like that.

I know Google engineers could make everything

super efficient, but they can’t,

especially in antitrust court, do it.

They cannot take over all the publishers and do that.

They’re trying with accelerated mobile profile, AMP.

They’re trying to pull publishers.

They’re like, oh, you poor publishers

don’t know how to make your pages fast.

Put them on our AMP system.

We’ll give you extra placement in the search carousel.

That’s an antitrust problem for one.

But it’s also publishers we talk to hate it

because it degrades their brand.

Now they look like a gig writer wrote a piece

that’s got Google’s framing an AMP URL on top of it.

And they’re trying to fix that too.

But it just looks like Google’s Borgifying

all these publishers and they don’t want to be plugged

into the Borg cube.

They want to build up their own brand and have loyal readers.

So, you know, I’m in favor of giving the users power

to help all the publishers and the little platoons

and the creators.

And so we talked about Patreon.

What about social networks?

Well, they’re inherently like search, a global algorithm.

You’re trying to find friends of friends.

You’re doing the transitive closure of a graph

induced by this friend of relation.

But you should own your friend relation.

You should own your posts.

They shouldn’t be owned by somebody else

who can take them down or censor them.

And your friend relations, you should be able

to find those friends on other networks.

And that’s why I’ve tweeted about this.

I haven’t built it yet.

What if the browser could keep track of those for you?

What if the browser could maybe combine Facebook and Twitter

and you could find your friends on both

and you could have a sort of multi.

So that relationship is not owned by Facebook or Twitter.

It’s owned by you through the browser.

They’ll have terms of use and they’ll say they own it.

But if they zap you on one and you’re still on the other,

your friends find you and the browser

could preserve a combined view.

You could resurrect almost across networks.

It’s something I wanna maybe quickly ask you about.

On that front, there’s been quite a lot of centralized,

we talked about Wall Street Bets and then Robinhood.

There’s been centralized banning of different accounts

and removing like Parler, for example, from AWS

and this kind of overreach of centralized control.

Is your hope that it’s possible to,

like what are your thoughts about that in general?

And then is it possible to create tools

that give individual people the power

to fight back against overreach of such control?

So we’re talking about oligarchy, I do think.

And if it controls a nation state, that’s formidable.

It’s the tax and the police power, the military power.

It means that you may have the great firewall of China.

You may have people in China who are jailed

because of their tweets, right?

This is a serious threat.

I can’t minimize it or say that we’ll win.

I don’t know how it’s gonna go.

But I do think, like I said earlier

about the kind of reason people find ways around things.

The internet routes around censorship.

And this is not to endorse any particular bad faction.

One of the things that happens

when you try to wave the free speech flag too much,

you say, I’m not gonna censor anything

and you get colonized by terrible, terrible people.

I don’t care if you call them neo Nazis,

some of them could be doing illegal things.

And you don’t want them colonizing

because it’ll ruin your reputation

and destroy your business.

So what you really want is that kind of

user first subsidiarity, that subjectivity.

I want my social networks to be composited

in some multi social user interface

where I don’t lose track of people across networks.

And if they leave one or they get banned from one,

I can find them on another,

I can still sort of thread them together.

That’s brilliant.

And this didn’t happen because browsers

got captured by the central powers.

Why did they get captured?

Mostly because of search.

And search is a central algorithm.

So Larry Page said this too many years ago.

He said, with search, you’re giving up a little privacy

by handing the query over to us.

And we’ll error correct it.

Alan used to be a Google executive.

He said, oh yeah, we used to laugh.

They’d all be doing typos and they’d be typing

the wrong word.

And we’d be like, no dummy, type that query.

And it’s like, okay Google,

might want to dial back that ego a little bit.

But yes, you do see all the queries

and you can improve them and you can find the best results.

And that was Google’s forte.

When we did the Firefox deal in 2004,

Google was really good.

And over time, SEO, which is an adversarial game,

and Google itself buying all these companies

and crowding its own results page

with its own tied in stuff.

The YouTube.

It’s a slippery slope that happens

when you have control over these kinds

of really important mechanisms.

Yeah, monopoly capitalism or cartel.

You get this with the Robin Hoods and the hedge funds.

You get sort of the money interests take over

and kind of abuse their power and wear out their welcome.

So how do you get around that?

You have to have either new land to go to,

which some people’s ancestors, not mine,

did to found the country.

I’m mostly Irish, German.

You have new virtual space people go to

and that requires an ISP or a colo center

or Amazon to host you.

It requires domain name registrar who will not strike you.

And so when Parler was taken down,

I thought that was egregious.

Parler, it was not well designed

and I tried it out because I tried all these things,

but I didn’t use it.

And I also felt they were being unfairly scored

for not moderating because you can find tweets to this day

that are horrendous and threaten all sorts of violence.

Whereas Twitter, why isn’t Twitter being taken down?

But so it was very selective.

It was the insiders who have the power

are gonna take out the newcomer.

And it looked bad, sort of like the hedge funds,

shorting GameStop, looked bad.

You’re seeing a piece in Time Magazine this week

that’s like basically saying,

yeah, we interfere with the election,

but it was great, aren’t we good?

I don’t know if you’ve seen this piece yet.

If you tried to say that as a Trump supporter

in November after the election,

you’d get banned from Twitter.

But now Time in its Twitter account is saying,

we saved the day, it’s AFL, CIO and big business,

the Better Business Bureau got together

and kept Trump from spreading fake news.

So the country’s kind of broken.

I don’t know how to fix that.

The oligarchs have run wild in my opinion.

And big tech is in the antitrust dock.

What’s gonna happen?

I don’t think they get out.

I think some of the DOJ and certainly the state cases,

because they’re separate cases,

are not gonna go away just

because somebody got elected differently.

And these are career prosecutors

and they have a strong case.

And Google’s smart.

And Microsoft almost got split up, right?

The judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, he overreached.

He didn’t hold a hearing about the remedy.

He just said, I’m gonna break you up.

And Microsoft appealed and the higher level court said,

go back and figure this out.

You’re not breaking them up.

You didn’t even hold a hearing.

And when they got back, Microsoft said,

let’s settle, let’s settle, we don’t wanna get broken up.

Because Jackson was gonna make the Opsco,

the operating system company,

and the Appsco office, you know, Word and Excel.

And that would have been a huge blow to Microsoft, so.

But ultimately, I don’t know if you’re optimistic

or cynical about the possibility of breaking up big tech.

To me, I’m optimistic that tools like Brave,

I love the idea of owning your friendships.

Like users more and more owning the stuff

is the only real way.

Unfortunately, it’s like the WallStreetBets subreddit

is the only real way to fight decentralized power.

You can’t break them up with the regulation.

It’s very difficult.

Certainly don’t wanna wait for the law.

Netscape was long dead or acquired by AOL

and effectively dead.

It was only Mozilla that returned Firefox to the market

by the time that the US v. Microsoft case

was finally settled and the penalties were put in place.

And yet, antitrust has a role to play.

Those penalties caused Microsoft

to kind of turn away from the web.

They did Windows Vista and they thought,

the web’s too painful.

We got punished in court and we had to standardize things

with those icky standards people.

So they ran back to proprietary lock in

and Windows Vista flopped.

It was late, it was bloated.

Longhorn, remember?

Now, what I was gonna say, but Google’s smart enough,

they won’t get split up.

They’ll split something out to get off the hook, I think.

This is a complicated subject, but I myself was so,

I decided to journey out from the world

of being a researcher at MIT

and potentially doing a startup myself.

And I’ve been thinking of, you know,

I wanted to come to Silicon Valley to do so.

It’s the land of the entrepreneur.

And there’s a lot of my friends,

a lot of them are successfully,

have been entrepreneurs themselves,

have said, do not come to Silicon Valley.

It’d be, you’ve started, you ran amazing teams of engineers.

You started a lot of successful businesses.

I wondered if you could comment on why a lot of people

are leaving California.

Is there something that could be fixed about California?

If you were starting a business today,

would you consider somewhere else,

like Austin or some other place?

Or is Silicon Valley still, is it just a little lull,

everybody’s being overdramatic during this particular year

of the coronavirus and so on?

I think, you know, even Austin’s getting overheated, I hear.

And I’ve had relatives and friends move to Texas

within the last few months.

So Texas as a whole is a big place.

And, you know, people are moving to Florida.

There’s a big movement toward Miami,

Peter Thielke, these people.

The mayor has been very business friendly about it,

which I think is just good politics.

America is fundamentally a commercial republic.

So you would think this would be what’s happening.

For a long time, California was the golden state.

I came here in late 76 when I was a teenager.

So it’s in crushing debt due to the lockdowns.

It’s got the highest taxes.

That’s got to matter.

People will do high taxes.

It’s got likely fires every year because of the deadfall.

It’s not global warming.

It’s because the forests weren’t managed

like they had been in the first part of the 20th century.

Just, I would say corruption at all levels,

especially up to the governor,

who famously was eating at the French Laundry

and claimed that the outside was inside.

And they wore masks off and it was great.

Do what I say, not what I do.

Rules for thee, but not for me.

When you see that in leadership,

people either run or they get rid of the leadership.

So there’s a recall drive,

which is about to reach the threshold.

Or in the old days, they get their guns, right?

You don’t put up with this junk.

But ultimately, the thing that made Silicon Valley

a special place, it gave freedom to young kids,

entrepreneurs, young minds, brave minds

to think bold, to try different stuff.

I mean, even if the taxes are high,

so outside of financial stuff, outside of all of that.

Housing’s super expensive.

Housing’s super.

So it’s hard.

Okay, everything about startups is hard.

Peninsula was narrow and they didn’t plan the roads, right?


They got rid of public transportation in LA,

like the Who Framed Roger Rabbit cartoon show.

They used to have trolley cars in Portland too.

The oil companies and the DOD conspired to build highways

and make cars dominant.

And the rights of way are long gone.

Like Elon’s gonna go underground.

And I wish him well.

That’s probably the only way to do it now.

But is it still a place,

do you think it’s possible that Silicon Valley

is still a place where magic happens?

Where the next Google’s built?

Where the next, I mean, Brave is built where?

I think all good things come to an end.

I think the problem is Silicon Valley

had strong network effects through Stanford,

through the angel investor networks and the wealth effect.

And originally you have to give the federal government credit

like the ARPANET was a government project.

Let’s not kid ourselves.

This wasn’t wild free market, libertarian capitalism.

This was all Cold War stuff.

You had out of the academia, you had Shockley

and then the Traders Aid and Fairchild and Intel.

But now, when’s the last fab that was built in the Valley?

MicroUnity might’ve been the last, I don’t know.

I haven’t followed.

We built a fab in Sunnyvale and MicroUnity

in starting early 90s.

And now the fabs are overseas.

And the one thing that I would say

that the oligarchs have intentionally done

in both parties is sort of labor

and environmental protection law arbitrage

by going where the labor is cheaper

and the environmental laws aren’t as strict.

And that’s polluted the hell out of parts of China,

but it’s made things, you can make cheaper junk.

And this is not a story that’s over yet.

So what is Silicon Valley for now?

It’s for the network effect, the brain trust

of who you know, the parties, the Stanford sort of network.

That’s fragile too over time, I’m afraid.

Stanford, a lot of good professors are like,

they still filter mainly based on socioeconomic status,

but it’s kind of a skate school.

I had a friend hired out of Harvard 20 years ago at Netscape

and we talked about Harvard and he said,

yeah, there’s still professors who do great on the curve.

And I said, oh yeah, I don’t think they’re any doing that

at Stanford anymore.

And he said, yo, it was shocking.

Some of the students got Cs and Ds and they were crying.

It’s like, yes, that’s right, the precious deers

can’t take that at Stanford, so they get As and Bs.

Now you look at China and people say what you all about China,

they prove Russia too, a lot of math science training,

a lot of engineering, a lot of people who are doing

their coursework to get the As and the Bs.

So I’m an American, I’m born on the 4th of July.

American, yeah.

4th of July, wow.

And America, as I say, fundamentally

is a commercial republic.

You can try to make it something else.

You can say it’s the new Atlantis and mystify it.

You could talk about it in a more, I think, correct way,

which is 13 colonies that grew and then there’s a lot

of local or original design anyway,

the federalist papers talk about this,

there’s a lot of subsidiarity,

but that’s been eroded over time.

And like I say, a lot of the offshoring is hurt.

So what happened with coronavirus?

People working from home, and at first it was funny

because I have friends at Google who used to grumble

that not only did they have to come into the office,

if they joined a different team that was centered

in a different office, they had to move.

Or if the VA team was reconstituted in Munich,

which it was after Lars Bock just got tired of JavaScript,

that they hired in Munich or they hired PhDs

in Germany and moved them to Munich.

With coronavirus, everyone’s working from home

and it’s like, what a relief, I can work for Google

from home.

But then the next shoe dropped and people started asking

Mark Zuckerberg, hey, can I move to my hometown

in the Midwest?

And he said, okay.

And they said, oh, can I keep getting my Silicon Valley pay?


We’re gonna figure out what your cost of living there is

and we’re gonna adjust your pay accordingly.

And these colonies and these little mini experiments

that all combine to the big giant experiment,

I have a, I don’t know, I have this vision of America,

which the country, I was born in Russia, like I said here,

and this is truly a wonderful country.

I wasn’t born on the 4th of July, but I might as well be.

People still flee here.

I still, and I’m a red blooded American at this point.

And I have a sense that we figured it out somehow.

If Silicon Valley burns, another place will come up

in this place that even more innovation and people will move

and the remote work might change fundamentally how we work

or it might not.

It might just give you the freedom to then create

many other small Silicon Valleys throughout the place,

like Austin included, but other places as well.

And we somehow figured it out and…

I think that’s true that there will be more mobility

and maybe new places that come up.

I don’t know if Silicon Valley has passed some sell by date

because it did hurt.

The coronavirus hurt, the lockdowns hurt in the sense

that part of what keeps things going is social.

And so a lot of young people, even before coronavirus,

moved to San Francisco.

It was very strange to watch because in the 80s,

we all lived in the Valley and it was less populated

and San Francisco was grungier.

It was more like Dirty Harry in the 70s.

But by the 90s, and Jamie runs a nightclub there

and he’s talked about this, you had sort of wealthy

tech people moving in south of market,

fancy townhouses being built.

And that’s continued in such a point that it’s almost like,

what’s the movie by the South African director Nils Jody

Foster up in the space colony?

Matt Damon is the guy on the earth who has to go

up and anyway, it’s about the stratification.

It’s about the great inequality that people

in the space station have like amazing medical auto docs

that can extend their life or save them cure cancer.

People on earth are all suffering ground down in poverty.

And that sort of happened while I was here.

You saw a lot of money drive prices up

along the narrow peninsula and the single people

wanted nightlife so they were in the city

and the condos in the city got super expensive.

And I know even Google friends who are socially responsible

say we should have more housing built.

We should have yes in my backyard, not in my backyard.

But that’s not happening as far as I can tell.

And from the government to the incumbent landowners

and renters, it’s just not happening.

And that has to drive people away.

I appreciate that people come here and you should wait

for the prices to moderate, they will.

But a lot of people are gonna go where the prices are lower.

You, and sorry for silly questions here,

but just looking back, you have created things,

have been part of creating things

that have transformed this world, the world of technology,

perhaps more than almost anything else.

But you’re still a human being

and unfortunately this ride ends.

Do you ever think about your own mortality?

Not too much, I mean, I’m a Roman Catholic

so I am not afraid of death.

I think a lot of people who have problems with death

are suffering from some lack of either faith

in their transcending death or maybe they don’t have

children or they feel like they get later in life

and they feel like they’ve missed opportunities

to do something that endures.

And I sympathize with a lot because I’m old,

I got married fairly old, so I understand all that.

Nothing human is alien to me as Terrence said.

But I don’t fear it, no.

What do you hope your legacy is?

Yeah, it’s gonna be JavaScript.

I think, no, I think my legacy has more to do

with my children and their children.

I think it also has to do with web standards,

it has to do with things like Brave,

the things we did with Firefox.

When we did, I’m not gonna oversell Brave

but I think Brave is important and we’ll continue

to prove this in a way that counts

for many decades to come.

But even Firefox, whatever its future fortune,

showed you can restart the browser market.

This thing you said about people opting out

and routing around, you don’t need everybody to do that.

It’s more like Taleb’s stubborn minorities that do that.

It’s the lead users, Erfron Hipple’s lead users.

You can be a few percent, you can tilt the market.

And that can be done in spite of the incumbents,

of moneyed interests not being in favor of what you’re doing.

So I think what we do with Firefox won’t be forgotten

and it needs to be done more and we’re doing it with Brave.

And you could argue that other projects are doing it.

In some ways, blockchain is doing it.

The Robinhood, take down the use of Robinhood

by the Wall Street Bets kids, similar.

So yeah, that kind of spirit endures.

And I think it, in some ways it’s American, right?

It’s not hard revolutionary.

It’s not trying to burn the past and destroy everything.

It’s more like we have these certain, let’s say rights.

We have duties too.

So there’s some debate about which comes first

in American jurisprudence and the founding documents.

But as long as things are working,

we’ll be like pragmatic Americans,

like de Tocqueville described in his writings.

But if things get too out of whack for one reason or another,

too unequal, too oligarchic and abusive,

we’re gonna start our rights.

And even a few of us can do it.

And even in the American Revolution,

it was the minority who fought and put their lives,

treasure and sacred honor at stake.

It was a bunch of people went to upper Canada,

I think it was called, Ontario.

Yeah, that’s the beautiful, I mean,

that is at the core where your work stands for

is that a few people can have the power

to transform society with just a few radical ideas,

with just a little bit of code, change the world.

Gotta do it.

And that’s empowering.

That is the American way.

That’s why this country is, I believe,

the greatest country on Earth.

That’s not over, or Matt says it too much,

but I think some special things

have already happened in this country

and will continue to happen.

And that’s really exciting.

And that spirit can continue no matter who comes here.

They can adopt those folkways and that spirit.

Brandon, I can’t tell you how much,

I was freaking out how much of an honor it is

to talk to you.

You’re an incredible human being.

It’s one of my favorite conversations ever.

Thank you so much for wasting all this time with me.

I really appreciate it.

Oh, it seems like a breeze.

My pleasure.

Thank you for listening to this conversation

with Brandon and Ike.

And thank you to our sponsors,

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And now, let me leave you with some words from Jeff Atwood.

Any app that can be written in JavaScript

will eventually be written in JavaScript.

Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.

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