Hello, hello! 👋🏻👋🏻
Welcome back to another edition of Tidbits covering all the recent things worth talking about in business, media, and technology.
A Non-Linear World
One of the most important concepts I’ve come to learn about over the years is the non-linearity of the world we live in.
For financial types, you can see this when things compound. If something is growing at a consistent rate, the outcome is non-linear.
But non-linearity governs almost everything that happens in life as well.
If something is working (knowledge, productivity, technology, etc), it compounds…increasing ever and ever faster.
But when things are not working, it also moves the other way.
When things don’t work, things start to slide…gradually…but the slide compounds ever and ever faster all the same.
Until the system suddenly collapses.
One everyday example we can look at it is the non-linearity in businesses like restaurants. During the pandemic, many people seem to not understand how businesses like restaurants and small retailers would have a hard time staying open even if most patrons (e.g. 80-90%) continues to frequent businesses in order to help support their local communities. The truth is many businesses, especially smaller ones, tend to be low margin. Restaurants and retailers generally have single digit margins. Revenue declines of single digits is alone to wipe out all profits and any point of staying open. The cusp between opening and not opening is really determined by just a few single digit % of customers.
One of my favorite (and accessible) articles on this topic is Linear Thinking in a Nonlinear World.
The effects of non-linearity is likely to become more and more apparent in the world we are living in in the coming years. The systems that seem to have worked so well for so long (political, geopolitical, technological, sociological) have been under stress. And that stress has led to gradual shifts…that are now becoming sudden shifts.
#1 Taliban seize more Afghan cities, assault on capital Kabul expected
Taliban insurgents have seized Afghanistan’s second- and third-biggest cities, local officials said on Friday, as resistance from government forces crumbled and fears grew that an assault on the capital Kabul could be just days away.
A government official confirmed that Kandahar, the economic hub of the south, was under Taliban control as U.S.-led international forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.
The explosion in fighting has raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights. Some 400,000 civilians have been forced from their homes since the start of the year, 250,000 of them since May, a U.N. official said.Source: Reuters
Twenty years of effort has resulted in…almost nothing. Gradually…and then suddenly.
While the US got involved in Afghanistan for its own reasons, it’s also likely stayed a lot longer than it should have because of how complex the region is for allies.
As a reminder, here’s where Afghanistan is located. While the Taliban certainly don’t like Americans, it doesn’t like a lot of other people either…It’s going to be an issue for a whole lot of countries including Pakistan, India, China, Central Asia / Russia, and Iran. Everyone around it will feel the after effects.
#2 You Thought This Was Just About Afghanistan? Think Again
The spillover has already begun, before the Taliban have even reached Kabul. City after city is falling as the Islamist insurgents draw closer to the capital. And it will only get worse from here as the conflict expands beyond Afghanistan’s borders.
Jihadist groups based in the country, some with transnational agendas like al-Qaeda, now have a template for defeating governments backed by major powers and have been emboldened by the Taliban’s lightning-fast advance. This is happening as the jihadi ecosystem is experiencing the lowest counter-terrorism pressure in the last two decades, effectively getting free rein. Asfandyar Mir, South Asia security analyst for the U.S. Institute for Peace, says it’s a dangerous combination when threats go up at the same time efforts to combat them go down.
Expect the immediate danger to be regional — in South and Central Asia — as geography and capability limit the initial damage. Chinese interests in Pakistan have already taken a hit. In April, a car bomb exploded at a luxury hotel hosting Beijing’s ambassador in Quetta, not far from Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan. The attack was claimed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Pakistani Taliban, a loosely organized terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda, based along the vast Afghan-Pakistan border.Source: Bloomberg
#3 Afghanistan Meant Nothing
I remember finding propaganda footage cut together from the Soviet invasion and our own Operation Enduring Whatever. I remember laughing about how stupid the Afghans were to not know we aren’t the Russians and then, eventually, realizing that I was the stupid one.
I remember how every year the US would have to decide how to deal with the opium fields. There were a few options. You could leave the fields alone, and then the Taliban would shake the farmers down and use the money to buy weapons. Or, you could carpet bomb the fields, and then the farmers would join the Taliban for reasons that, to me, seem obvious.
The third option, and the one we went for while I was there, was to give the farmers fertilizer as an incentive to grow wheat instead of opium poppy. The farmers then sold the fertilizer to the Taliban, who used it to make explosives for IEDs that could destroy a million dollar MRAP and maim everyone inside.Source: Laura Jedeed
This is an interesting and thought-provoking piece from a vet that served in Afghanistan. This was never a war the US could have won. It’s clear the whole 20 years was spent delaying the inevitable defeat that was always bound to happen.
#4 Poland Defies U.S. and EU by Passing Contentious Media Law
Parliament’s lower chamber voted 228-216 late on Wednesday to approve the legislation, which ostensibly is designed to protect broadcasters from non-European takeovers. Yet it targets Discovery Inc., the American owner of Poland’s largest private television network, and would force it to sell. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Separately, lawmakers approved another contentious bill that would make it more difficult for Holocaust survivors to recover property seized by the Nazis on Polish soil. The move drew condemnation from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. The U.S. urged Poland’s president not to sign the law.Source: Bloomberg
The media realm is another area where non-linearity is setting in. The slow, gradual disillusionment with global media, especially with the power of the internet behind its back is now giving way to fragmentation of media.
Poland is also an interesting case since politics has turned dramatically nationalist in recent years.
🤑 Economics + Markets
#5 Bipartisan bill targets Apple and Google’s ability to profit from app stores
The Open App Markets Act, led by Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., would shake up the business model of both company’s app stores and the structure of their mobile operating systems.
The bill targets, in part, the in-app payment systems for companies that own app stores with more than 50 million users in the U.S. Under the bill, companies like Apple and Google would not be allowed to condition distribution of an app on their app stores on whether the developers use their in-app payment system.
They also would be prohibited from keeping developers from communicating with app users about “legitimate business offers,” or from punishing developers for using different pricing terms through another system. Developers have complained of being unable to advertise lower prices that customers could receive off of the apps, which would allow them to circumvent app store fees.
The bill would aim to keep app stores from disadvantaging certain developers and allow for third-party app stores. While third party-app stores are available to Google’s Android users, Apple only allows app downloads through its own store.Source: CNBC
As more and more of commerce and of our economy flows through apps and the mobile ecosystem, Apple and Google are essentially the toll booths.
Probably healthy for the toll fees to come down…
Though forcing open the ecosystems should hopefully be done in a way that minimizes future security threats. Our digital infrastructure is already struggling to manage cyber threats. Hopefully the situations do not have to get worse in order to address these economic issues.
#6 The secret of productivity growth is not technology
Technology fuels productivity growth but tight labour markets provide the spark for this growth because firms typically need to make better use of technology when hiring new employees is not possible.
The tight labour market conditions that can spur productivity growth tend to be localised and so economies benefit in different ways and at different rates.
Policymakers should view tight labour markets as both a risk and an opportunity to see productivity grow.
The idea that technology drives productivity growth is both a commonplace and a common frustration. Economies operating at or near the technological frontier have long seen sagging trend growth rates despite marvellous technology – from artificial intelligence to bioengineering to robotics – proliferating at breakneck speed.
This matters because productivity, or output per input, pays for higher wages and is the foundation of long-run prosperity. In that sense, it matters most in rich economies where higher productivity growth would allow political debates to shift from (re-)distributing a relatively stagnant economic pie to sharing a growing one.
Yet, there is an often-overlooked factor in the debate about technology and growth. Yes, technology undoubtedly plays a critical role, but we should think of it as the fuel of productivity growth. The spark is provided by tight labour markets, i.e. when firms are forced to better utilise technology because they cannot add labour easily.Source: World Economic Forum
Thought this was a fascinating piece into why technology has not necessarily produced the productivity gains economists expected.
#7 JPMorgan Is Boosting Its Active ETFs With a $10 Billion Mutual Fund Switch
The financial giant plans to convert four mutual funds with $10 billion in assets into ETFs in 2022, pending approval from their boards, J.P. Morgan Asset Management said in a statement Wednesday. With $2.6 trillion in total assets, the firm is by far the biggest name yet that’s seeking to make such as move.
Driven in no small part by the success of Cathie Wood’s Ark products over the past year, active ETFs — where a manager or team runs the fund — have soared in popularity, with billions of dollars flowing into the industry almost every week. Ross Gerber, co-founder of wealth management firm Gerber Kawasaki, and tech investor Ryan Jacob have both launched new funds in recent months.
…Although mutual funds have long been a cornerstone of financial investing, ETFs have grown exponentially in the past decade, now holding almost $6.7 trillion assets in the U.S. market. Lower costs, easier access and tax advantages often make them a more favored tool, but they have traditionally been “passive” in nature, with the fund automatically buying and selling based on the benchmark being tracked.Source: Bloomberg
The changes happening in capital markets are also fascinating. This is not only at the retail / individual investor level but also at the professional level.
In the past, professional managers would spend a lot of time doing research in order to hopefully uncover important valuable (legal) insights. And managers would try to take time to establish large positions before having to disclose it to the public. Historically, professional managers stayed away from ETFs for active strategies because ETFs require daily disclosure of holdings. This leaves too little time to establish positions based on valuable insights before others potentially catch on and push prices up. But with Cathie / ARK’s success, it turns out that if you invest in expensive things and don’t really care about what price you pay, disclosing your holdings every day and having people bid your holdings up is a good thing!
As the style of investing shifts towards longer duration, expensive assets, more and more funds may convert to ETFs.
👻 Cryptocurrencies + NFTs
#8 Ethereum just activated a major change called the ‘London hard fork’ — here’s why it’s a big deal
A big part of the enthusiasm has to do with the fact that the software upgrade means a few big — and necessary — changes are coming to the code underpinning the world’s second-biggest cryptocurrency.
It has always been a tough go for ethereum users. The blockchain has a long-standing problem with scaling, and its highly unpredictable and sometimes exorbitant transaction fees can annoy even its biggest fans.
The problem has become worse in recent months thanks to a surge in interest in nonfungible tokens, which are mostly built on ethereum’s blockchain, as well as an explosive growth in the world of decentralized finance, or DeFi, which also largely uses the ethereum blockchain.
Thursday’s changes to the code, which has little to do with the city of London, are designed to fix many of these issues by destroying or “burning” ether coins and changing the way transaction fees work so that they are more predictable.
Though it’s not getting the same attention as EIP-1559, another one of the EIPs included in the London fork is EIP-3554 and its significance cannot be understated. This change in the code paves the way for ethereum 2.0, an upgrade and total overhaul of the system, which has been in the works for years.
Ethereum 2.0 would have the network switch from the energy-intensive “proof-of-work” mining system, where miners solve difficult math equations to create new coins, to “proof-of-stake,” which just requires users to leverage their existing cache of ether as a means to verify transactions and mint new tokens. This change will be huge not just for ethereum, but for the wider cryptocurrency community at large.
As Bunsen describes it, the proof-of-stake transition would essentially make ethereum unmineable once activated. In other words, a few years from now, once the protocol has fully migrated to a proof-of-stake model, the entire industry around ethereum mining as it exists today will no longer be relevant.Source: CNBC
Crypto has recovered in recent weeks likely partially due to excitement about the London fork, which promises to resolve some of the issues that have plagued the Ethereum blockchain. Though, from my perspective, watching crypto continues to feel like watching a promising baby bumble along. Potential to become 30 Under 30 one day but…still a work in progress.
The big one will be the transition to proof-of-stake, which could dramatically change the cost of running the network, but will also dramatically alter the need for miners. Miners currently are key stakeholders in proof-of-work systems like Bitcoin and Ethereum. While moving to proof-of-stake would improve the efficiency of these systems, it would also centralize power in the hands of people that already have the most tokens / money.
#9 Hackers Steal $600 Million in Likely Largest DeFi Crypto Theft
Hackers perpetrated what is likely the biggest theft ever in the world of decentralized finance, stealing about $600 million in cryptocurrency from a protocol known as PolyNetwork that lets users swap tokens across multiple blockchains.
Tens of thousands of people are affected by the hack, PolyNetwork said in a letter posted on Twitter. About $33 million of the stablecoin Tether that was a part of the theft has been frozen by Tether’s issuer, making it unavailable to the attacker.
“The hacker has begun to use decentralized exchanges to convert the stolen assets into other assets, including stablecoins,” Tom Robinson, co-founder of Elliptic, said in an email. “Tokens such as stablecoins can in theory be seized by their issuers, which could lead to them being returned to their rightful owners. However this isn’t possible for the stolen Ether, although it may be possible to seize these funds if they are sent to a centralized exchange to be cashed-out.”
With DeFi apps attracting billions in investor funds, they’ve also become frequent targets of attacks. This year, DeFi-related hacks made up more than 60% of the total hack and theft volume of crypto attacks, up from 20% in 2020, according to crypto security company CipherTrace. At $156 million, the amount netted from DeFi-related hacks in the first five months of 2021 already surpasses the $129 million stolen in DeFi-related hacks throughout all of 2020, CipherTrace said.Source: Bloomberg
Okay, this story kind of writes itself.
So…maybe crypto is somewhat safe? But if you put your coins in a DeFi network because you want higher yields than Treasuries (1-3%) in order to get…I don’t know…20%, you might potentially just lose all of it because DeFi networks aren’t that safe (in addition to potentially being highly risky because of the leveraged lending involved without any deposit insurance)?
Well good thing is that the hacker seems to have returned most of the money but not all. And Poly Network had to offer them a reward in return.
I guess I don’t see how this doesn’t inspire a lot of copycats? Doesn’t seem like there was any downside at all for the hacker. In the real world, this would be called a protection racket…pay some money for “protection” (mostly from the person receiving the money).
#10 Messi joins crypto craze as gets part of PSG fee in fan tokens
Soccer star Lionel Messi’s signing on fee at Paris St Germain includes some of the French club’s cryptocurrency fan tokens, in the latest big name endorsement of new digital assets.
The Argentine, 34, left Spanish side Barcelona and signed a two-year contract with Qatari-owned Paris St Germain (PSG), with an option for a third year, on Tuesday.
Confirming an exclusive Reuters report, PSG said on Thursday the tokens were included in his “welcome package,” which media reports have estimated at 25-30 million euros ($29-35 million). The club did not disclose the proportion of tokens in the package, but said the amount was “significant”.
Fan tokens are a type of cryptocurrency that allow holders to vote on mostly minor decisions related to their clubs. Among clubs to launch tokens this year are English Premier League champions Manchester City and Italy’s AC Milan. Messi’s former club Barcelona launched one last year.
Like bitcoin and other digital currencies, fan tokens can be traded on exchanges. They also share in common with other cryptocurrencies a tendency for wild price swings, leading some regulators to issue warnings to investors about digital assets.Source: Yahoo! Sport
Here’s a token that I kind of get. It’s kind of like a stock with voting rights. And you can bid whatever you want for it.
#11 Match Beta Test Targets Dating App Complaints Like Frustration with Swiping, Ghosting
Match today is introducing new features that aim to address some of users’ complaints with modern-day dating apps — like how much time it takes to find a relevant match and how frustrating it is when users ghost one another after the initial conversation fades. As part of a new strategy to better position Match for more “emotionally mature” singles (read: adults), the company says it will begin beta testing a recommendation system called “Matched by Us,” which may pave the way for a broader matchmaking service in the future. It’s also testing an anti-ghosting feature that pushes users to either continue a conversation or unmatch the recipient instead of leaving them hanging.
“When we talk to our members, we hear a lot of frustration around [there being] a lot of swiping, a lot of messaging back and forth — that’s happening in the dating world more broadly,” explains Dushyant Saraph, Match’s chief product officer. “When we think about folks on our product, who don’t have a ton of time, that’s where ‘Matched by Us’ came from. Our singles don’t want to swipe through hundreds of profiles,” he says.
Currently, the system will recommend a match based on a holistic view of users’ preferences, as determined by an algorithm, but the company has been internally testing adding a layer of human curation to its suggestions, as well.Source: TechCrunch
I continue to be fascinated by how important dating assets are becoming in terms of how society propagates. In the past, people would probably end up dating friend of friends. These are vetted people, in a way.
Now online dating helps people find others that they would have never found before. This took more vetting (since the matches no longer come from a trusted network) but it was a very manual swiping and scrolling and reading process.
Now Match wants to use data to suggest matches. Algorithms from Google Youtube and Facebook and TikTok are sort of wrecking havoc on our world when it messed with politics. Does an algorithm that suggests who you should date improve or detract from where we should be going with society? This could move dating preferences away from pure location-based selection or physical attractiveness selection towards more soft qualities, though.
#12 ‘My flat is now a commodity’: Berlin to vote on seizing rental properties
Lorena Jonas has spent the past eight years fighting landlord rent rises in her trendy Berlin district. Her latest battle, though, could affect not just her neighbours but hundreds of thousands of tenants across the city.
Jonas is involved in a radical campaign urging Berlin’s city government to expropriate 240,000 properties from Germany’s biggest publicly listed residential landlords, accusing them of squeezing out lower income, long-term residents through shoddy maintenance and jacked-up rents.
After collecting more than 350,000 petition signatures, their proposal — which targets corporate landlords with more than 3,000 apartments each — will be voted on in a local referendum in September. Polling suggests nearly half of Berliners support expropriation, which would force the companies to sell their properties to the city government at a “fair” price.Source: FT
Should people be allowed to own houses? I think more people are asking this question than people realize.
💬 Media + Games
#13 Ariana Grande’s Fortnite tour was a moment years in the making
It’s hard to overstate just how weird Fortnite is. At one point, while I was waiting for the game’s virtual Ariana Grande concert this weekend, three identical versions of Rick from Rick and Morty surrounded me and started dancing. Later, I walked by a pair of Marshmellos lounging in identical yellow beanbag chairs. The first show I went to I dressed as Travis Scott; later, I wore a Toronto Raptors jersey and had a dancing baby Groot strapped to my back.
Fortnite’s crash commercialism, where seemingly every fictional world collides with real-world celebrities in a battle royale game, can definitely be off-putting at times. But it also leads to some extremely cool moments, particularly when it comes to live events. And the Ariana Grande concert wasn’t just another exciting live music experience — it also built on Fortnite’s history in fascinating ways.
The Ariana Grande tour felt like the culmination of this kind of integrated storytelling. Whereas previous concerts, like Marshmello and Travis Scott, were one-off experiences, the Grande event tied into multiple aspects of Fortnite. Right now, the game is in the midst of an alien invasion. There are new sci-fi weapons to play with, flying saucers that suck up players, and an imposing mothership that floats above the island. Before players even knew a concert was happening, one of those saucers parked right above the center of the map and projected a holographic countdown clock teasing something big on August 6th.
Earlier this year, Epic’s chief creative officer Donald Mustard described Fortnite as “an opportunity to almost create a new medium.” He meant that the game and its scale offered a chance to tell stories in a novel way; Fortnite doesn’t have a traditional plot or characters, but instead uses live events and its ever-changing world as tools to create a long-running narrative. Steadily, nearly every aspect of the game has been pulled into this focus on storytelling, even the copious licensed tie-ins. In Fortnite, there’s little difference between Galactus attacking the island and Ariana Grande showing up to perform. In this game, a concert is no longer just a concert: it’s lore.Source: The Verge
That looks fun!
#14 Roblox will host music launch party for hip-hop artist KSI
Since concerts can’t be held during the pandemic, the virtual event is the next best thing, and entertainers such as John Legend and Travis Scott have been taking advantage of it to expand their brands in the digital realm.
It’s part of Roblox‘s plan to expand into education and music as ways to get more people on its platform and spending more time daily inside Roblox’s metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
Epic Games and Wave have led the way in virtual concerts. The difference between Epic’s Fortnite and Roblox, however, is that Roblox is a platform, while Fortnite is a game (though Epic is certainly attempting to position it as a stepping stone to a metaverse). Roblox has created the foundations of putting on virtual concerts and handed them over to companies such as Warner Bros.
The Launch Party takes place under the London Eye on a dance floor with a boxing-ring theme. Before the Launch Party premieres, Roblox users will be able to hop into cars and race each other through London as well as purchase exclusive virtual merchandise, including three limited edition items. After the show, KSI will keep the virtual party going with VIP rooftop after-party where he will hang out and live chat with fans.Source: Venturebeat
Not to be outdone by Epic / Fortnite, Roblox also continues to execute on its vision of the Metaverse.
#15 Reddit is Quietly Rolling Out a TikTok-like Video Feed Button on iOS
According to Reddit, most iOS users should have a button on their app directly to the right of the search bar — when tapped, it will show a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, (which shows the poster who uploaded it and the subreddit it’s from), users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award or share it. Like TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. For instance, if you’re subscribed to r/printmaking, you might see content from r/pottery or r/bookbinding.
The user interface of the videos isn’t new — Reddit has been experimenting with this format over the last year. But before, this manner of watching Reddit videos was only accessible by tapping on a video while scrolling through your feed — rather than promoting discovery of other communities, the first several videos recommended would be from the same subreddit.
Reddit declined to comment on whether or not its new video player is using an algorithm to promote discovery of new subreddits based on user activity. However, a Reddit spokesperson confirmed that the company will use Dubsmash’s technology to develop other features down the road, though not for this particular product, they said.Source: Reddit
Okay, everyone became Snapchat by adopting stories. Then everyone, including Snapchat, is becoming TikTok.
#16 Top Grossing Mobile Games Worldwide for July 2021
#17 Top Apps Worldwide for July 2021 by Downloads
TikTok overtook Facebook. Impressive! Also note CapCut…that’s another Bytedance app as well.
#18 Garena Free Fire sponsors Brazilian Football Confederation
Mobile game Garena Free Fire has announced a partnership with the Brazilian Football Confederation(CBF).
The two-year deal will see Garena Free Fire become an official sponsor of Brazil’s national football teams.
According to the release, the partnership will provide Free Fire players in Brazil – and around the world – with the opportunity to gain exclusive collaborative skins and other game items.
In addition, Free Fire activations will also occur in football matches featuring the Brazilian national team.
Esports Insider says: Free Fire is more than just a game in Brazil at the moment. It’s becoming a cultural phenomenon, so it’s natural that CBF would engage with the brand as it appeals to the younger audience. Some of most of notorious Free Fire stars, like Bruno ‘Nobru’ Góes, are huge fans of the Seleção. Having Free Fire added to the confederation’s commercial portfolio, just make sense for the audience.Source: Esports Insider
SE is so good at this marketing game. Free Fire activations at football matches in a country where football is a religion.
#19 Amazon strikes back at Visa fees with surcharge
Retail giant Amazon is taking on card behemoth Visa with plans to impose a half percent surcharge on all Visa credit card transactions in Singapore starting next month in its first ever such surcharge.
“Due to Visa’s high cost of payments, beginning 15 September 2021, Amazon will apply 0.5% surcharge to purchases made using Visa credit cards on Amazon.sg,” the company said in a notice today to its Singapore site customers. “To avoid this surcharge, we encourage you to use a debit or non-Visa credit card as the default payment method in your account,” said the notice, which was provided by Amazon.
Asked if the surcharge could be extended to other parts of the world, a spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment but suggested the Seattle-based company might consider adding the surcharge elsewhere. “Singapore is the first country we’ve decided to make changes in, but this is a global issue and is not isolated to Singapore,” the spokesperson said by email.Source: Retail Dive
I recently wrote about how Square and Afterpay could potentially create a closed loop. Amazon has some of the pieces as well, but for whatever reason Amazon seems to have very little interest or understanding of the power of fintech / payments. Amazon seems mostly just interested in reducing the cost of using the networks.
#20 Venmo to Allow Credi Card Holders to Automatically Buy Cryptocurrency with their Cash Back
PayPal-owned Venmo is expanding its support for cryptocurrency with today’s launch of a new feature that will allow users to automatically buy cryptocurrency using the cash back they earned from their Venmo credit card purchases. Unlike when buying cryptocurrency directly, these automated purchases will have no transaction fees associated with them — a feature Venmo says is not a promotion, but how the system will work long term. Instead, a cryptocurrency conversion spread is built into each monthly transaction.
The feature will not include any transaction fees, as a cryptocurrency conversion spread is built into each monthly transaction. This is similar to how PayPal is handling Checkout with Crypto, which allows online shoppers to make purchases using their cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency is converted to fiat, but there are no transaction fees.
The company views Cash Back to Crypto as a way for newcomers to cryptocurrency to enter the market without having to worry about the process of making crypto purchases. It’s more of a set-it-and-forget-it type of feature. However, unless users make regular and frequent transactions with their Venmo Credit Card, these cash back-enabled crypto purchases will likely be fairly small.Source: Techcrunch
The linkages between crypto and the fiat financial world continues to build. Still not clear to me whether this increases the long-term viability of crypto or whether it completely removes crypto’s ability to dislodge the existing financial system.
I am also amazed at how crypto wallets / brokers continue to masterfully convince crypto buyers that no fees (but embedded spread) is good for them. In the old world of banking, this would be called a “hidden fee”.
#21 [Translated] Shopee launches affiliate program in Brazil with commissions that can exceed R$15,000 per month
Shopee has just launched its Affiliate Program, a rewards channel with commissions of up to 14% on sales made from recommendations on the internet. The strategy, consolidated in other countries where the marketplace operates, already has partners — who can be individuals (CPF) or legal entities (PJ) — who reach an average income equivalent to R$15,000 per month.
“The program is a way for people to guarantee extra income or even financial independence without leaving home. Just share with friends the experiences they live when shopping online and recommend the products to their contacts through a personalized link,” commented Felipe Piringer, head of Shopee’s marketing in Brazil.Source: Newtrade
Shopee roping in influencers and bloggers via an affiliate programs is also spot on.
#22 From Our Kitchen to Yours: NVIDIA Omniverse Changes the Way Industries Collaborate
Talk about a magic trick. One moment, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang was holding forth from behind his sturdy kitchen counter.
The next, the kitchen and everything in it slid away, leaving Huang alone with the audience and NVIDIA’s DGX Station A100, a glimpse at an alternate digital reality.
For most, the metaverse is something seen in sci-fi movies. For entrepreneurs, it’s an opportunity. For gamers, a dream.
For NVIDIA artists, researchers and engineers on an extraordinarily tight deadline last spring, it was where they went to work — a shared virtual world they used to tell their story and a milestone for the entire company.
The surprise highlight of GTC21 was a perfect virtual replica of Huang’s kitchen — the setting of the past three pandemic-era “kitchen keynotes” — complete with a digital clone of the CEO himself.
To create a virtual Jensen, teams did a full face and body scan to create a 3D model, then trained an AI to mimic his gestures and expressions and applied some AI magic to make his clone realistic.
Digital Jensen was then brought into a replica of his kitchen that was deconstructed to reveal the holodeck within Omniverse, surprising the audience and making them question how much of the keynote was real, or rendered.
“We built Omniverse first and foremost for ourselves here at NVIDIA,” Lebaredian said. “We started Omniverse with the idea of connecting existing tools that do 3D together for what we are now calling the metaverse.”
More and more of us will be able to do the same, accelerating more of what we do together. “If we do this right, we’ll be working in Omniverse 20 years from now,” Lebaredian said.Source: Nvidia
Talk about magic! The nature of work is changing. Not only are people increasingly likely to collaborate online, they are also increasingly likely to collaborate in 3D digital environments. As this happens, it also means each one of us can become digitized in the process.
Jensen pulled a fast one during his keynote where apparently “he” wasn’t even real at all.
#23 Watch: Making Masterpieces in the Cloud With Virtual Reality
The clip shows an artist with an untethered VR headset creating a fully rigged character with Masterpiece Studio Pro, which is running remotely in Google Cloud and interactively streamed to the artist using CloudXR.
“We’re excited to show how complex creative workflows and high-quality graphics come together in the ultimate immersive experience — all running in the cloud,” said Daniel O’Brien, general manager at HTC Americas. “NVIDIA CloudXR and the VIVE Focus 3 provide a high quality experience to immerse artists in a seamless streaming experience.”Source: Nvidia
Here’s another example of how people increasingly are working in 3D digital environments. The person in this video is not a “techie”. He’s an artist / designer. The proliferation of these technologies will be wider than many assume. And it will creep up and surprise many people.
#24 Game engine, meet game streaming: Unity acquires Parsec for $320M
The parent company of Unity, one of the most popular game development engines in the world, has made arguably its biggest acquisition of another gaming company yet. The deal, announced on Tuesday, sees Unity taking control of Parsec, a peer-to-peer game-streaming protocol. The acquisition is valued at $320 million.
Part of Unity Technologies’ decision is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced game studios from around the world to adapt to an increasingly remote workplace. Parsec fits into that picture by allowing game-makers to efficiently and securely stream their PC and console environments as needed. Sources familiar with the matter have repeatedly pointed to Parsec as an increasingly relied-upon service for game-makers, QA testing departments, and other parts of the game industry, because it allows exact PC and console testing situations to be emulated with minimal button-tap latency issues.Source: ArsTechnica
Recently, Unity not only announced fantastic earnings, they also announced an acquisition of Parsec. Parsec allows game developers to collaborate and work together via shared digital environment. This same technology can also allow people to play games together for games that were not originally designed for online collaborative gameplay.
Another instance of changing workflows and the nature of work (and play).
#25 Intel Poaches Anton Kaplanyan, Former NVIDIA Research Scientist That Pioneered RTX/DLSS Techniques
We have just received word that Intel has poached the Lead Research Scientist of Facebook Reality Labs, Anton Kaplanyan. He will be joining as Vice President of Graphics Research of Intel AXG Group and will be a key player in furthering gaming technology (including machine learning-based supersampling which Intel currently calls XeSS). Anton has quite the pedigree and was formerly a research scientist at NVIDIA and has even done a stint at CryTek.
NVIDIA’s DLSS is one of the killer apps present in Turing/Ampere GPUs and Anton was part of the team that pioneered those approaches. His LinkedIn states “worked on RTX ray-tracing hardware design and simulation, invented the direction of 1 sample/pixel real-time denoising, applied machine learning to real-time graphics for the first time”. I am sure his work will turn out to be extremely valuable for Intel’s GPU ambitions and considering he has done a 4-year stint at Facebook between this, there is no non-compete threat here either and no confidential information requirement.Source: WCCFTech
DLSS is like magic. It’s one of the key innovations that make Nvidia GPUs currently much more attractive than alternatives when it comes to gaming. It basically uses AI algorithms to render game environments in order to reduce the calculations that are necessary. The GPUs no longer have to render the actual images produced in a game because it can use AI to guesstimate what it should look like. In many cases, DLSS actually produces images that look better than what the game would output without it.
Poaching Anton is potentially a big deal and suggests Intel is pretty serious about becoming relevant again under the new CEO.
#26 Student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch expand to Canada and more US universities
This school year, tens of thousands of students will be able to use mobile student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch to get around campus and make purchases. For the first time, mobile student IDs can be added to the Wallet app in Canada, starting with the University of New Brunswick and Sheridan College this year. In the US, new schools to adopt mobile student IDs include Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University, and many more colleges across the country.
In April 2021, for the first time since launching mobile student IDs in Wallet, students used their mobile IDs to make purchases and access campus buildings more than they used plastic ID cards. This fall, the University of Alabama will be the first school to exclusively issue mobile student IDs to their 38,000 students with eligible devices.
Mobile student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch offer students and schools an extra level of security and privacy, as students do not need to worry about misplacing their plastic card. Also, transaction history is never shared with Apple or stored on Apple servers. If a student misplaces their iPhone or Apple Watch, they can use the Find My app to immediately lock their device and help locate it.Source: Apple
A truism that seems to hold in tech is that the more you can do, the more likely you are to win. The world is converging. More and more things are being consumed into the smartphone. And more and more things are being consumed into super apps. While there are a lot of digital wallets out there, I continue to think the asymmetric warfare being conducted by Apple via the Apple Wallet is under discussed. It’s a digital wallet, but it’s also consuming identity as well as digital passes of all kinds.
For the students, though, I guess the era of fake IDs for getting some booze is going to be a thing of the past pretty soon.
#27 New ‘Google Identity Services’ consolidate sign-in for 3rd-party apps, includes ‘One Tap’
Where supported, “Sign in with Google” is a convenient way to log in to third-party services without having to keep track of different passwords. Google is now consolidating its sign-in offerings, which includes the new “One Tap,” under “Google Identity Services.”
First detailed last year, the big addition today is the One Tap “authentication module.” It works directly on the current site so users aren’t redirected to a separate sign-in page, thus letting them browse uninterrupted. On click, developers receive a secure token to authenticate the user.
The One Tap prompt slides up from the bottom of the screen on mobile (Android), while it appears from the top right on desktop (web). It works for both signing up new users and automatically logging in old ones.Source: 9to5Google
Google also executing on their own efforts as well, in their own way. Mostly digital identity, though. Google doesn’t seem to be making much effort to control offline identity.
#28 Felt Raised $4.5 Million to Get You to “Think in Maps”
From vaccine distribution plans to fire trackers to bar crawls for your best friend’s birthday, maps help people visualize space and express impact. And Felt, a new Oakland-based startup co-founded by Sam Hashemi and Can Duruk, is on a mission to make the medium more mainstream.
Felt is a collaborative software company that wants to make it easier for people to build maps on the internet. It announced today that it has raised $4.5 million led by Bain Capital Ventures, with participation from Designer Fund, Allison Pickens, Akshay Kothari (COO of Notion), Dylan Field (CEO of Figma) John Lily (former CEO of Firefox), Julia and Kevin Hartz, and Keval Desai.
Felt allows users to build a map with data sets integrated into it. A user can open a map of California, for example, and then turn to Felt’s data library to add information about bits like wildfires and smoke patterns. The map’s power grows as more integrations are used to build out its background; using the prior anecdote, for example, the wildfire map integrated with census data could allow decision makers to see how many businesses could be impacted by incoming smoke.Source: TechCrunch
Now here’s something I like! Maps is increasingly core technology. Most of the focus on maps in the past decade has been about gathering real world data.
Felt instead is focused on maps as a concept. Maps aren’t just about navigation, but can be about anything.
🚘🌽 Mobility + Delivery
#29 Meituan tests WeChat-like social feature for food deliveries
Why it matters: The social feature is part of Meituan’s effort to find new growth areas. The move comes as the food delivery sector becomes more crowded—social media giant ByteDance has been reportedly testing a food delivery feature through its short-video app Douyin since last month.
Details: Named “Fanxiaoquan,” the new feature allows users to share orders with their contacts on the Meituan app, in a format that is similar to WeChat’s Moments or Facebook’s News Feed.
Users can comment and like posts, access merchants’ shops through posts, and place similar orders.
Users can add friends either through WeChat contacts or phone contacts. The platform also recommends new contacts based on users’ past behavior on the Meituan app, such as the mobile games they have played.
Meituan is seeking new growth areas in recent months by introducing social and content features, including a Pinduoduo-like group buying feature in its Meituan-Dianping unit and a short video feature in its flagship app.Source: Technode
Instagram took high frequency photo posting and turned it into a social network. The vast majority of photos on Instagram is probably just food, experiences (travel), and fashion. Meituan has a high frequency app focused on food and services. Can they build their own social network on top in a more robust manner than what they have in the form of Dianping (a super-better version of Yelp in China)?
🚀 Enterprise Software
#30 Wix Launches a No-Code App Builder for $200 Per Month
This morning, Wix announced a new product for business owners called Branded App by Wix, which allows users to develop native apps without writing code. The publicly traded company provides tools for people and businesses to manage their online presence, but it’s most well-known for its drag-and-drop website builder. Now, the platform is expanding its user-friendly approach by making it possible for anyone to build an app without learning how to code.
“Users came to us with the need to create a native app that is branded with their name and logo,” said Ronny Elkayam, SVP of Mobile, App Market & Strategic Products at Wix. “Many of our users are businesses, and businesses have a desire to portray a situation that they are bigger than they are. They want to follow the big businesses that have native apps.”Source: TechCrunch
The world is rapidly going from “everyone needs to learn coding” to “software can write code”. Most businesses should have a website, but I’m not sure every business needs a consumer-facing app, though. But no-code enterprise / B2B apps continue to be a fascinating area to me.
#31 CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz Takes Big Swings At Microsoft, SentinelOne
CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz has never been afraid of calling things as he sees them, especially when it comes to two of his top foes: Microsoft and SentinelOne.
CrowdStrike and Microsoft are recognized by research firm Gartner as having the best endpoint protection platforms, but Kurtz said Microsoft suffers from a lack of focus on security and architectural issues with how it goes about authenticating credentials.
SentinelOne, meanwhile, just completed the biggest cybersecurity IPO of all time, but Kurtz said the endpoint security upstart is “buying growth” and struggles to have its technology perform at scale. SentinelOne responded to Kurtz’s allegations in detail while Microsoft declined to directly engage with Kurtz’s claims.Source: CRN
Interesting and unfiltered interview for you if you’re into security.
#32 Microsoft is ready to rent Windows 365 cloud PCs for as little as $20 per month
Today Microsoft opened availability for Windows 365, the cloud PC setup that lets businesses stream Windows 10 or Windows 11 via a web browser. As described earlier this spring, it’s one way for businesses to support hybrid and remote work, with an instant-on PC experience that can work across different devices.
After it was announced, Microsoft revealed one pricing option of $31 per month, per user to access a cloud PC instance with the equivalent of two CPUs, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. Now that it’s available, the complete Windows 365 pricing pagereveals more packages, ready for business (300 seats or less), or enterprise-level subscriptions.Source: The Verge
One of the business I have underestimated is Microsoft. They have a lot going for them in cloud, enterprise, and gaming. The Windows business is probably the weakest leg of the stool, but now they are turning it into a SaaS subscription. And better, yet, customers won’t mind because Windows PC hardware has never been a major selling point anyway. Now you can use the crappiest PC you want or perhaps even use a Mac.
#33 Government of Canada negotiates additional agreement with Moderna for vaccine supply beyond 2021
Today, the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, announced that Canada has entered into an agreement with Moderna for additional supply of its COVID-19 vaccine for 2022 and 2023, with an option to extend into 2024.
The agreement guarantees access to 40 million doses, with access to up to 65 million more if all options are exercised. The agreement will allow access to new COVID-19 vaccine adaptations based on the evolution of the epidemiological situation in Canada.Source: Canada
The fight for vaccines into 2024 is already underway.
#34 AI pharma startup XtalPi nets USD 400 million in Series D round to accelerate drug discovery
AI pharmaceutical company XtalPi secured USD 400 million in a Series D financing round led by OrbiMed and RRJ, with investors including Sequoia Capital, Sino Biopharmecutical, and 5Y Capital participating in the deal. The new funds come less than a year after the company raised USD 300 million in a Series C round and brings XtalPi’s valuation to over RMB 13 billion (USD 2 billion).
XtalPi is an AI drug R&D company that uses computational physics, quantum chemistry, and cloud computing to provide intelligent drug development for pharmaceutical companies. The company’s ID4 (Intelligent Digital Drug Discovery and Development) platform can accurately predict the important characteristics for new drugs by measuring various chemical indicators, enhancing drug R&D efficiency. ID4 has enabled hundreds of pharmaceutical companies to accelerate their research pipelines, leading to dozens of new discoveries.
XtalPi has partnered with a number of major pharmaceutical companies in China. Its AI technology encompasses machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing to improve drug development outcomes and drive clinical research. Advances in computing power have enabled AI algorithms to discover new drugs more effectively than human researchers and reduce risk.Source: KrAsia
I don’t know much about Xtalpi, but could be a company to monitor as a competitor to Schrodinger.
#35 How Israel’s Iron Dome Works
Scary but also incredible. The more and more AI and military tech converges, the weirder the world is going to get.
#36 Investigation: How TikTok’s Algorithm Figures Out Your Deepest Desires
Yikes. I’m not convinced TikTok’s algorithms are as dangerous as Facebook’s or Youtube’s. Youtube has probably radicalized more people than any platform out there since long-form video combined with personalized algorithms can lead people down really dark holes. While TikTok’s algorithms are really tailored, there’s only so much information you can communicate in a 10-15 sec video. BUT if you’re already radicalized from other platforms, TikTok’s algorithms probably can infer that and put more oil on the fire.