Here’s some of the things I found interesting recently. Some of the articles can be a bit dated but still worth considering in the grand scheme of things.
🎮 Games + Virtual Worlds
#1 Next Installment of Call of Duty Black Ops About to Launch
While this isn’t my type of game, Call of Duty is one of the world’s largest franchises. And gamers and investors alike appear to be stoked. Should continue to push Activision closer to its medium term goal of reaching an audience of 1 billion users. Personally, I’m more excited about Diablo Immortal, which should be launching soon, too.
#2 Video Games May Be Educational
Parents have long debated the impact of video games on children’s minds. Now, a new survey suggests that playing may actually improve their literacy, communication skills and overall mental well-being.
More than a third (35.3%) of the children who play said they believe video games make them better readers — with the vast majority (79.4%) saying they read materials related to gaming once a month. The materials included in-game communications, reviews and books.
All that reading may also be helping players improve their writing. About 3 in 5 (62.5%) young people who play video games also write something related to gaming once a month, the survey found. Many write blogs and fan fiction.Source: CNN
Yes, it’s a survey…so kids probably want to say it’s helping. But I believe it because video games helped me learn while going through grade school. Years ago, during the first week of 6th Grade, my history teacher asked every student to write an essay about everything they know about human history. Most kids wrote a paragraph or two. I wrote 10 pages covering everything from the Stone Age to Joan of Arc to the Age of Exploration and the discovery of the Americas. She was baffled and pulled me aside after class and asked how I knew so much.
“I played all of the campaigns of Age of Empires I and II”.
Perhaps worthy of a future discussion, education has been a deeply personal area of interest for years. Many studies increasingly show that the prevailing education system of the US is failing boys (but girls are doing very well, and women are now a majority of college graduates!). There are many arguments for why, but one of the most popular arguments is that the current education system is not prioritizing visual/spatial learning that boys tend to excel at. I have strong conviction that video games will become a dominant form of education for boys in the future.
#3 Twitch Brings Custom Esport Competitions Via “Versus”
Twitch and esports go together like a dusting of salt on top of a chocolate chip cookie: the sweetness of victory etc., tempered by the saltiness of defeat. Today, Twitch launches Versus — a suite of competitive tools that will let creators on the site organize and manage their own tournaments — which promises to bring those agonies and ecstasies to any streamer who feels like pubstomping their community.Source: The Verge
Twitch was starting to look really stale compared to what esports players are doing in Asia…maybe Twitch will finally pick up the pace.
#4 Walmart Tests Drone Delivery
The world’s largest retailer said it has started piloting drone delivery of grocery and household items from its stores in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The automated drones are from Israeli startup Flytrex Aviation Ltd., and can fly about 6.2 miles carrying packages up to 6.6 pounds, according to the company’s website. They take off from a landing pad near the store.Source: Bloomberg
Amazon may have a lead on warehouses and logistics, but the traditional retailers like Walmart have stores much closer to consumers. What they don’t have is last mile logistics. Drones do seem to be cheaper than Amazon’s truck-driven strategy. Amazon is also doing drones, though.
#5 Mall Owner Acquires JC Penney to Keep Tenant in Place
Mall owners Simon Property Group Inc. and Brookfield Property Partners LP are poised to acquire J.C. Penney Co. out of bankruptcy in a deal valued at roughly $800 million that will keep the beleaguered department-store chain alive amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to people familiar with the situation.
The landlords will own about 490 of the retailer’s remaining 650 stores, one of the people said. A group of lenders will own 160 locations plus the company’s distribution centers in return for forgiving some of Penney’s $5 billion in debt. The landlords will pay the lenders rent on those 160 stores and distribution centers, the person said.Source: Dow Jones via Morningstar
For many years I’ve assumed that JC Penney (or Macy’s) would eventually be bought by Amazon in bankruptcy. Not for the value of the brand but for the value of the supply chain and prime locations.
But, mall operators like Simon seem to think doubling down on a failing strategy may lead to different results. Not sure what Simon Property thinks they can do to change the outcome at JC Penney other than incinerate their own cash in the process. The mall as envisioned in the 60s is no longer viable…we need transformation, not musical chairs with different owners but unchanged strategies.
#6 TikTok + Shopify
TikTok might be shut down on Tuesday…but TikTok + Shopify seems like a sufficiently dangerous combo if it survives Tuesday.
Tik Tok has been testing in-video shopping starting with Shopify and Teespring. The feature is still in beta, but should eventually help Tik Tok compete with other social apps like Instagram and You Tube that already offer in-video e-commerce tools. Users have been testing the feature in recent months, linking to storefronts for All Birds and Steve Madden shoes, jewelry, a neck massager, a wok, and of course, their own merchandise.Source: Business Insider via Videocide
#7 Instagram Testing Visible Placement of Instagram Shopping and Reels
Mosseri also chatted me up about what promise to be some major changes to Instagram’s design: namely the insertion of two new tabs, which the company is now testing globally. One tab is for Reels, the company’s effort to occupy the short-form video space that TikTok carved out in the world; the other is for shopping, which Instagram created a dedicated space for in July.Source: The Verge
Pretty interesting interview with Mosseri, the current head of Instagram.
Shopping moving to front-and-center placement tells you all you need to know about how committed Facebook (and likely Zuckerberg) is to commerce.
But it’s also a bit disappointing to hear that there’s potentially not enough space and therefore might need to compete with Reels for prime placement. Reels is important because TikTok may be a bit of an existential threat for Facebook, but I haven’t heard or seen anyone suggest that Reels is good compared to TikTok. And I doubt front-and-center placement solves Reels’ problems.
This quote was also interesting:
“We’ve been thinking a lot this year about what Instagram is about, and keep coming back to this idea of emergent culture — of culture on the fringe,” Mosseri said. “I think we always have focused on emerging culture — it’s why we focused on youth, and it’s why we focused on creators. These are groups that set trends in many different industries, in many different countries around the world.”
Focusing on culture seems like a dramatic shift from how Facebook normally operates. Facebook needs a little culture. Not unlike how a little bit of culture saved Apple back in 2001 with the launch of the iPod and music cool. Yes, I remember the days in which Apple was not cool and how Apple chose not to put the Apple logo on the first generation iPod because they thought it would make the product too uncool for people to buy.
Facebook is not cool right now. But Instagram is. And culture is always cool.
📺 Social + Media
#8 Facebook Watch Tops 1.25 Billion Monthly Viewers
Facebook Watch, the social giant’s two-year-old video streaming platform, has become a massive destination — now attracting over 1.25 billion users each month, the company claims.
The growth of Facebook’s aggregate global video audience, which is tuning in to live events, original shows, sports, news, music videos and user-generated content, is an indicator that it’s becoming an increasingly credible rival to YouTube, which says it has north of 2 billion logged-in visitors per month.Source: Variety
I don’t use Facebook Watch. I don’t think I know anyone that does. Is this possible? 1.25 billion MAUs vs Youtube at 2 billion+?
Maybe Facebook is not as dead as I think.
#9 Discord Achieves 100 Million MAUs and Plans to Move Beyond Gaming
Discord on Tuesday announced it’s making a number of changes to expand its service beyond the gaming community. The company says the change is one its users have requested as Discord has become more of a tool for “day-to-day communication.”
Discord’s audience continues to grow, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has increased demand for voice and video chat services. The company, which competes primarily with workplace chat apps like Slack, announced it now has more than 100 million monthly active users who spend 4 billion minutes in conversation each day. Discord has also secured an additional $100 million in funding, which it says will “help accelerate our investment in the community, new features, and the company.”Source: The Verge
If you’re a gamer, you probably know what Discord is. The size of the user base is quite incredible and in some ways also establishes the floor for what gaming audiences are globally (ex-China).
You may not know that Slack also started out in the gaming space.
I am increasingly convinced that gaming can be a fertile breeding ground for new social messaging assets. The dynamism of a social network is directly related to how quickly the relationships can turn over. Facebook, which is based on real-world relationships, is not exposed to constant relationship turnover pressures. As a result, it is a very hard network to attack. Games on the other hand, expose people to random relationships that change over time and change with each game played. This makes it a lot easier to see new social messaging / networks get off the ground in the gaming space.
If you must know, this is one of my side wishes for SE. I hope SE can leverage their gaming position to launch a social network or social messaging app for the emerging markets. They are already doing it for esports live streaming…hope they can take the next logical step.
#10 Interview with Apple’s AI Chief
He was formerly the head of Google Search and Artificial Intelligence. Lots of interesting quotes.
“I knew that there was so much machine learning that Apple should do that it was surprising that not everything was actually being done. And that has changed dramatically in the last two to three years,” he said. “I really honestly think there’s not a corner of iOS or Apple experiences that will not be transformed by machine learning over the coming few years.”
Perhaps Apple and AI is like Apple and maps. Started off really bad. And everyone continues to think is really bad. But a few years later and with a lot of effort, it’s not so bad anymore. Very likely still behind Google, but good enough.
And this is my issue with Google as company, too:
He contrasted this with Google. “Google is an amazing company, and there’s some really great technologists working there,” he said. “But fundamentally, their business model is different and they’re not known for shipping consumer experiences that are used by hundreds of millions of people.”
I am incredibly bullish on Google’s technology in AI, driverless cars, and quantum computing. But…I’m not sure they commercialize it. It’s somewhat of a disappointing state of affairs, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
And…AR is coming:
Machine learning is used a lot in augmented reality. The hard problem there is what’s called SLAM, so Simultaneous Localization And Mapping. So, trying to understand if you have an iPad with a lidar scanner on it and you’re moving around, what does it see? And building up a 3D model of what it’s actually seeing.
#11 And REALLY Hot Off the Press – Nvidia Buying ARM for $40 Billion
Nvidia Corp. said it agreed to buy SoftBank Group Corp.’s chip division Arm Ltd. for $40 billion, taking control of some of the most widely used technology in electronics in the semiconductor industry’s largest-ever deal.Source: Bloomberg