Hello, hello! 👋🏻👋🏻
Welcome back to another edition of Tidbits covering all the recent things worth talking about in business, media, and technology.
Tower of Babel
Sorting through all the things happening around the world recently has become a challenge in coherence.
Although we all live on one world, increasingly it feels like we live on multiple worlds. Sometimes these worlds touch and intersect, and sometimes they do not.
Of course, there’s no insight in what I just said.
Even casual observers of the times already somewhat understand the fragmentation in culture that has been underway as manifested in things like internet subcultures, memes, fandoms, Metaverse(s), crypto (with its own further fragmentation into various coin cults – Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Solana, Dogecoin, etc).
What’s fascinating is that the world we are heading towards increasingly rhymes with the world depicted in the Tower of Babel.
Although I’m not a religious person, I’ve always had a fascination with the tenets and lessons of all religions.
In a way, religions were the first societal “operating systems” before physical infrastructure and governmental processes could be created to govern systematically. Now societies can govern through laws and some sort of centralized authority, but religions are the O.G. of societal operating systems…relying on hacking the primordial mind.
Understanding the stories and lessons of religions often reveals deep secrets of the human mind, even if the stories make no sense at literal / face value.
The Tower of Babel is one of those:
According to the story, a united human race in the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating eastward, comes to the land of Shinar (שִׁנְעָר). There they agree to build a city and a tower tall enough to reach heaven. God, observing their city and tower, confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand each other, and scatters them around the world.
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.Source: Wikipedia
Although this is presented as an origin myth around languages, I think it holds a very important lesson (and warning) about the fragmentation of culture.
The lesson I found interesting is that, God observes that when humanity was united in language, it had the power to do anything, including reaching the towering heights of Heaven. And to undo that power, God simply fragmented the ability of the people to coordinate and understand each other.
This origin myth has likely zero relevance for how languages actually evolved, but I think it has a lot of implications for the fragmenting cultural world we live in.
Celebrating diversity of thought is a cornerstone of, particularly, Western thought.
While that, I agree, remains as important as ever, the fragmentation of language is increasingly building barriers to understanding and communications. The internet is a machine for generating language. The internet hasn’t really been successful as a way of generating understanding. And this is driving people further and further apart.
This is further amplified in the world of crypto. The crypto world is full of lingo that is near impossible to understand as an outsider. It requires a significant amount of time to ramp up to even begin to understand crypto. In a way, it requires sacrifice and devotion before ever communicating its reward (or worthiness).
All of these ideas are beautiful. All ideas are beautiful. But in order to accomplish anything, we need to understand each other.
Yet we all seem to be living out our own biblical curse.
👻 Cryptocurrencies + NFTs
#1 China’s central bank says all cryptocurrency-related activities are illegal, vows harsh crackdown
China’s central bank renewed its tough talk on bitcoin Friday, calling all digital currency activities illegal and vowing to crack down on the market.
In a Q&A posted to its website, the People’s Bank of China said services offering trading, order matching, token issuance and derivatives for virtual currencies are strictly prohibited. Overseas crypto exchanges providing services in mainland China are also illegal, the PBOC said.
“Overseas virtual currency exchanges that use the internet to offer services to domestic residents is also considered illegal financial activity,” the central bank said, according to a CNBC translation of the comments. Workers at foreign crypto exchanges will be investigated, it added.Source: CNBC
China really doesn’t like crypto.
As with most things happening in China today, it’s hard to really know the reasons behind the action. The crackdowns on crypto mining were dressed up as climate change policy.
I suppose making all crypto (not just mining) illegal could be another step down that road…or, perhaps something else?
#2 Remittances to El Salvador are cheaper without using bitcoin
Unfortunately for Salvadorans, there may not be a cost or time savings for remittances using bitcoin versus PayPal (via its Xoom offering) or Western Union, according to Jason Mikula, a fintech consultant.Source: Quartz
Tidbits #56 flagged how some Salvadoreans were burning down crypto ATMs in outrage (likely because they probably would prefer the government to just hand them some money rather than speculate with the poor country’s weak finances).
Seems like Salvadoreans’ outrage isn’t necessarily misplaced at the moment. The primary argument for adopting Bitcoin as a national currency is because El Salvador is highly dependent on remittances, and Bitcoin promises to reduce remittance fees. But real world results don’t (yet) show this benefit.
#3 Robinhood muscles deeper into Coinbase’s territory with new crypto wallet feature
The crypto wallets, which Robinhood says it will begin rolling out next month over time to users on its waitlist, will allow users to trade, send and receive crypto tokens inside the app. The update brings Robinhood an oft-requested feature for crypto users, and brings the app deeper into the crypto ecosystem. Users had previously been able to buy and sell a few cryptocurrencies including Dogecoin and Bitcoin, but had been unable to send those coins to external wallets or receive them from elsewhere.Source: Techcrunch
#4 Twitter accelerates again with Bitcoin tips, NFTs, recorded Spaces, creator fund and more
One of these is a new feature that would allow its app to better serve creators working with NFTs, or non-fungible tokens — a way to certify digital assets, stored on the blockchain. Artists are now creating NFTs of their work which are sold across NFT marketplaces like OpenSea, Rarible, Foundation, SuperRare and others.
Twitter says it’s planning to “soon” explore support for NFT authentication. This would allow NFT creators to connect their crypto wallets to Twitter, in order to track and showcase their NFTs on the platform. This particular plan is still in the early stages as Twitter couldn’t yet articulate how this would work. The company said it was testing different ideas for making creators with authenticated collections stand out more visually somehow — perhaps with something like a profile badge or differently shaped avatar.Source: Techcrunch
Twitter is probably not top of mind when you think of crypto, but Twitter is actually in a pretty interesting place when it comes to NFTs!
You see, NFTs are a special type of crypto. While the point of most crypto is that you just buy it and hold it (or maybe watch the price constantly and trade it), one important use case for NFTs specifically is that you show it off.
You might have various reasons for showing it off – “I’m very cool”, “I’m very IN”, “I’m so rich”, etc – but the best and most important place to show off is (still) Twitter. This means Twitter has interesting angle / potential of being your NFT wallet since the primary intended use case for your cryptopunk NFT is probably as your Twitter avatar anyway.
#5 THE NEW PURITANS
We read that story with a certain self-satisfaction: Such an old-fashioned tale! Even Hawthorne sneered at the Puritans, with their “sad-colored garments and grey steeple-crowned hats,” their strict conformism, their narrow minds and their hypocrisy. And today we are not just hip and modern; we live in a land governed by the rule of law; we have procedures designed to prevent the meting-out of unfair punishment. Scarlet letters are a thing of the past.
Except, of course, they aren’t. Right here in America, right now, it is possible to meet people who have lost everything—jobs, money, friends, colleagues—after violating no laws, and sometimes no workplace rules either. Instead, they have broken (or are accused of having broken) social codes having to do with race, sex, personal behavior, or even acceptable humor, which may not have existed five years ago or maybe five months ago. Some have made egregious errors of judgment. Some have done nothing at all. It is not always easy to tell.
I have been trying to understand these stories for a long time, both because I believe that the principle of due process underpins liberal democracy, and also because they remind me of other times and places. A decade ago, I wrote a book about the Sovietization of Central Europe in the 1940s, and found that much of the political conformism of the early Communist period was the result not of violence or direct state coercion, but rather of intense peer pressure. Even without a clear risk to their life, people felt obliged—not just for the sake of their career but for their children, their friends, their spouse—to repeat slogans that they didn’t believe, or to perform acts of public obeisance to a political party they privately scorned.
But that kind of thought system is not new in America. In the 19th century, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel argued for the replacement of exactly that kind of rigidity with a worldview that valued ambiguity, nuance, tolerance of difference—the liberal worldview—and that would forgive Hester Prynne for her mistakes. The liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill, writing at about the same time as Hawthorne, made a similar argument. Much of his most famous book, On Liberty, is dedicated not to governmental restraints on human liberty but to the threat posed by social conformism, by “the demand that all other people shall resemble ourselves.” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about this problem, too. It was a serious challenge in 19th-century America, and is again in the 21st century.Source: The Atlantic
Also interesting that this was published in left-leaning The Atlantic, while railing against (left-leaning) tendency for cancel culture.
#6 Discord starts testing YouTube integration weeks after Google shuts down music bots
The feature is called Watch Together, and as the name implies, it allows Discord members to watch YouTube videos together. A test of a similar Discord feature started 10 months ago before disappearing and resurfacing as Watch Together today, and we understand the company has re-prioritized this particular feature due to the recent music bot shutdowns.
Watch Together is very similar to the experience of someone broadcasting their screen in Discord, and the button to launch it even appears alongside the video and screen sharing options. It’s designed specifically with YouTube in mind, allowing Discord server members to create a playlist of YouTube videos by searching or pasting in YouTube links. You can even toggle a remote button that lets other Discord server members share the ability to control playback.Source: The Verge
This is nominally a tech article, but I think this highlights something about the internet that has gone unstated for too long.
While the internet connected everyone and created more connections with more people than ever before, there is a lot of evidence that people feel more isolated and lonely than ever before.
I suspect a lot of that is because the internet is actually mostly designed to be a solitary experience. Even when we are on social media apps with our friends, what we view and enjoy is almost always a solitary experience except for the few moments where we explicitly share it with each other. We can be on the same apps at the same time, yet never interact.
The one area that has bucked this trend is messaging and audio / voice chat rooms. Apps like Discord (and even game environments / worlds) have been one of the few corners of the internet that has broken through the walls to re-create shared experiences.
A long time ago (circa 2009) I was obsessed with this idea of shared viewing experiences (the original idea was to make Netflix streaming social again the same way that watching a movie with a group of friends in a dorm room works). I thought the internet was missing a key ingredient that makes the offline world tick, BUT I’m not a builder (power to all the REAL entrepreneurs out there that can do the hard work). But I do hope the internet starts to evolve in a way where it is less solitary for the good of humankind.
💬 Media + Games
#7 Roblox unveils Listening Parties for music artists
With Roblox Listening Parties, artists premiere a new album in select top experiences on Roblox. This builds on Launch Parties, which offer customizable and immersive experiences to bring fans into an artist’s unique world. Now, with Listening Parties, labels can partner with developers to stream music in existing experiences across the metaverse.
For this first-ever Listening Party, music will be integrated throughout popular experiences allowing fans to rock out to Flux as they decorate their dream home in Overlook Bay, dance to her songs in RoBeats, attend class in Robloxian High School, explore new worlds in Creatures of Sonaria, and raise dragons in Dragon Adventures.
Over the weekend, Poppy will also join fans in each immersive experience, competing and creating alongside them while answering questions about the album. Her play schedule can be found on her Roblox profile as well as on her Roblox group. Two exclusive free “verch” items will also be available in the Roblox catalog for fans to enjoy.Source: Venturebeat
Are we in the early stages of redefining music?
For the longest time, music is the album you buy (or probably stream these days). But maybe, the music is now the 3D immersive experience that launches the album, and the album is merely a convenient souvenir of the experience?
I don’t think it’s a crazy view. For example, if you’ve ever seen a musical (Hamilton, Wicked, Les Miserables, etc), the musical is the THING you experience! The CD you stream / buy of the musical is not the “music”. It’s just a convenient souvenir and reminder of the actual experience.
Somewhere in the future, I think the 3D immersive launch experiences will become the actual THING that represents the album. The music you stream will just become a convenience.
#8 Balenciaga and Fortnite Are a Match Made in the Metaverse
The companies today unveiled a collaboration including virtual clothes and accessories, an immersive destination within Fortnite inspired by Balenciaga’s design, and a physical line of products that will go on sale at Balenciaga’s stores and e-commerce sites. The first partnership between a luxury fashion house and Fortnite, a giant in the gaming world with 400 million registered accounts, its aim is to span online and real-world spaces.
For Balenciaga, a brand known for pushing boundaries under creative director Demna Gvasalia, the collaboration serves multiple purposes. It’s a way to engage with gaming, which has become a key part of modern society, Cédric Charbit, the company’s chief executive, told BoF in an emailed statement.
The worlds of luxury fashion and gaming have been increasingly cozying up to each other as people spend more of their time and money in virtual worlds. Louis Vuitton was a pioneer in establishing ties with gaming, and other companies have shown growing interest. Gucci recently created an immersive space in Roblox, another popular game.
“The whole business of Fortnite is surrounded in this business of cosmetics, which are players’ choice of how they want to express themselves within the community: what they want to dress as, what they want to look like,” he said. “These ideas of agency, fantasy and self-expression are very similar consumer themes around why fashion connects with people around the world.”Source: Business of Fashion
#9 [Translated] Is the big opportunity coming? TikTok launches game access abroad, the first product you can’t imagine
Recently, TikTok platform ushered in the first click-and-play mobile game, called “Sway Stories”, which is a popular female-oriented drama game in overseas markets. However, as a product of ByteDance, the first game on TikTok was not made by domestic game studios, but created by Playco in Tokyo, Japan.
For platform companies with a large number of users, games with strong interaction and high liquidity efficiency obviously have irresistible attraction. It is no exaggeration to say that games are the “must-have place” for platform giants. For example, Tencent’s WeChat mini-game has been launched for many years, Snapchat has also tested many batches of mini-games, while Facebook not only launched the Instant Game platform, but also uses VR games as a springboard to prepare to create Metaverse.
As the mobile game market enters the stock stage, many people in the industry are talking about the era of “post-app store”. Because there is no need to download and the operation requirements are low, ready-to-play mini-games are easily accepted by pan-users, turning everyone into potential users and is expected to become an ideal carrier accepted by billions of players.Source: GameLook
Bytedance / Douyin / TikTok continue to move ahead with games (as games continue to eat the world).
The “post-app store” observation is also an important one. In China, the proliferation of mini programs (basically lightweight apps within other apps like Wechat or Alipay) has already rewritten the rules of app and services distribution, but the West is only starting to go down this path.
Will be very interesting to see where this goes.
In other news, Bytedance is launching a perfume brand? Sounds like their product development strategy works just like their AI algorithms – throw a bunch of stuff at you and see what you like.
#10 Free Fire will hold an in-game Venom: Let There Be Carnage crossover event beginning October 10th
Free Fire is giving players another awesome reason to get into the exhilarating battle royale with its Venom: Let There Be Carnage movie crossover. Hailed as the most downloaded mobile game in the world according to App Annie in 2019 and 2020, Garena Free Fire will reward players with cool in-game goodies and new playable content throughout the limited-time collab event.Source: Pocketgamer
One reason Free Fire has done really well is by localizing the content (like characters) for local tastes. Free Fire is starting to localize for US / western markets, where it seems to be gaining a lot of traction.
#11 PayPal launches its ‘super app’ combining payments, savings, bill pay, crypto, shopping and more
PayPal has been talking about its “super app” plans for some time, having recently told investors its upcoming digital wallet and payments app had been given a go for launch. Today, the first version of that app is officially being introduced, offering a combination of financial tools including direct deposit, bill pay, a digital wallet, peer-to-peer payments, shopping tools, crypto capabilities and more. The company is also announcing its partnership with Synchrony Bank for its new high-yield savings account, PayPal Savings.
These changes shift PayPal from being largely a payments utility that’s tacked on other offerings here and there, to being a more fully fleshed out finance app. Though PayPal itself doesn’t aim to be a “bank,” the new app offers a range of competitive features for those considering shifting their finances to neobanks, like Chime or Varo, as it will now also include support for paycheck Direct Deposits through PayPal’s bank partners with two-day early access, bill pay and more.
The enhanced bill pay feature lets customers track, view and pay bills from thousands of companies, including utilities, TV and internet, insurance, credit cards, phone and more, PayPal says. When bill pay first arrived earlier this year, it offered access to (single-digit) thousands of billers. Now, it will support around 17,000 billers. Customers can also discover billers through an improved, intelligent search feature, set reminders to be notified of upcoming bills and schedule automatic payments for bills they have to pay on a regular basis. The bills don’t have to only be paid from funds currently in the PayPal account, but can be paid through any eligible funding source that’s already linked to their PayPal account.
Also new in the updated mobile app is the addition of PayPal’s crowdsourced fundraising platform, the Generosity Network, first launched late last year. The network is PayPal’s answer to GoFundMe or Facebook Fundraisers, by offering tools that allow individuals to raise money for themselves, others in need, or organizations like small businesses or charities. The network is also now expanding to international markets with Germany and the U.K. to start, with more countries to come.Source: Techcrunch
Despite being from Web 1.0 cohort and fairly bumbling over its 20+ year history, Paypal continues to somehow execute and come back better.
I like this new super app positioning. Very coherent value proposition as well.
#12 Apple Adds IDs to Wallet, Could “Apple KYC” Be Next?
Apple announced that residents of several states will be able to store and display a digital version of their driver’s license or ID card via Apple Wallet. Arizona and Georgia will be the first to go live, with Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah planning to follow suit.
That said, it’s not a huge leap to imagine Apple offering identity verification-as-a-service. Verifying users’ identity is a key requirement not just for financial services but also age-restricted products, “sharing economy” platforms like Uber and Airbnb, healthcare services, and some ecommerce sites. Many digital services also require users to verify they can receive communication at the email address and phone number they provide as part of the onboarding process — data points Apple could also verify.
Financial services companies typically seek to validate identity by comparing supplied identity information to known information available via credit bureaus. For accounts or applications requiring heightened scrutiny, they may use a service to capture an identity credential like a driver’s license, assess the document’s authenticity, that the document was captured ‘live’ (not a stored photo), and capture and compare a live photo of the user vs. the identity document. Such services are fairly effective, but introduce friction into onboarding processes and cost approximately $0.50 – $2.00 per verification.
If Apple can leverage a driver’s license stored in Apple Wallet, it could substantially streamline identity verification processes while providing a deterministic rather than probabilistic result.Source: Fintech Business Weekly
Very smart take.
I continue to think identity is the next battleground. There’s only a handful of players positioned to fight here.
#13 Pinterest Announces New Partnership with Albertsons to Facilitate Grocery Shopping In-App
Pinterest has announced a new partnership with grocery giant Albertsons, which will see the platform work with Albertsons on new technology integrations, primarily to provide in-app grocery shopping options, direct from Pin listings.
“A new multi-year agreement will bring innovative AI and API technology to help grocery shoppers plan inspired, fresh meals. The collaboration also taps into Pinterest’s growing creator ecosystem, forward looking trends and new formats like Idea Pins, Pinterest’s multi-page video format.”
The main focus of the deal will see Pinterest facilitate new shopping options from Pins, including the capacity to directly order recipe ingredients in a few taps. In addition, Pinterest will also develop new ‘interactive shoppable tablescapes’, which will show Pinners how ingredients can be leveraged for multiple recipes.Source: Social Media Today
Pinterest stock hasn’t performed as well as I expectedly lately, but I continue to think their long-term potential is being underestimated.
The last 10 years of tech revealed the power of being close to consumers. The internet companies that can aggregate and control and influence consumer behavior like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc have become immensely powerful.
But I think the next 10 years of tech will reveal that the real power is being close to the decision moment. Those that can aggregate and control and influence consumers at the moment of decision making will carry far more power than just an app that has a lot of users but is far downstream from the moment of decision making.
Pinterest is a planning app. It doesn’t have the most users, but it’s got a pretty strong lock around planning and decision making.
For this example specifically, Instacart can sell you groceries. But Pinterest could influence and control your decision making by operating upstream via planning and recipes. Being close to the decision is a very powerful position to be in.
#14 Bigo fuels the global creator economy with livestreaming e-commerce, gaming, and entertainment content
As livestreaming continues to rise as one of the most popular forms of e-commerce in Southeast Asia, tech companies are increasingly integrating live selling features into their apps. The latest example is Bigo Live—a livestreaming platform owned by Nasdaq-listed Chinese firm Joyy—which recently launched a digital marketplace in Malaysia.
Livestream shopping, or livestream e-commerce, is one of the new motors of growth for Bigo Technology, the company that operates Bigo Live. The firm also targets gaming, and pan-entertainment (multi-level products developed from intellectual property, such as games, anime, drama, films, and fiction) as the other two key verticals going forward.
Bigo Live follows the playbook of TikTok, which tapped into e-commerce with its TikTok Shop feature introduced in April in Indonesia. Major e-commerce platforms like Shopee, Lazada, and Tokopedia have also recently added livestreaming functions to their platforms.
“With the rise of e-commerce, consumers are overwhelmed by the available options, and there is a noticeable shift towards brands that showcase authenticity. Livestreaming can help brands build loyalty within communities, increase their fan base, highlight new products and services, and shorten conversion time between browsing and buying,” Ong said.Source: KrAsia
Live-streaming e-commerce is heating up in Southeast Asia.
#15 Inside Amazon’s Department Store Plans: High-Tech Dressing Rooms, Its Own Apparel Brands
Amazon.com Inc.’s AMZN 0.28% planned department stores will aim to boost its apparel sales by offering shoppers a chance to try on clothes from its own private-label brands in technology-fueled dressing rooms, according to people familiar with the matter.
One idea that has been tested is for customers to scan QR codes of items they want to try on by using a smartphone app and for associates in the store to gather the items and place them in fitting rooms, the people said.
Once there, customers could ask for more items using a touch screen, which might be capable of recommending additional clothing based on the pieces shoppers liked. The rooms could use sliding doors for associates to bring more clothes without seeing shoppers, the people said. Robots or other forms of automation could eventually be deployed in the stores, one of the people said.Source: WSJ
Amazon’s department store is opening next year.
I’m pretty excited about it just because I’d like to see what they come up with, but my hopes are not high. Amazon is an efficiency machine. Not really sure they are good at the soft things like creating a shopping experience you would actually enjoy.
#16 Amazon is piling ads into search results and top consumer brands are paying up for prominent placement
“There’s fewer organic search results on the page, so that increasingly means the only way to get on the page is to buy your way on there,” said Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at advertising firm Publicis.
For consumers looking for toothpaste on Amazon, getting to unpaid results requires two full swipes up on the mobile app.
Until recently, Amazon put two or three sponsored products at the top of search results. Now, there may be as many as six sponsored products that appear ahead of any organic results, with more promotions elsewhere on the page, said Juozas Kaziukenas, who runs e-commerce research firm Marketplace Pulse.
While Amazon doesn’t break out advertising revenue, ads account for the majority of the company’s “other” sales. That category was the fastest-growing part of Amazon’s overall business in the second quarter, with revenue soaring 87% from a year earlier to more than $7.9 billion.
In 2018, Amazon leapfrogged Microsoft to become the third-largest ad platform in the U.S., trailing only Google and Facebook. Amazon is capitalizing on its market control, knowing that its website or app is where many consumers begin their online shopping journey.Source: CNBC
I already think the discovery and browsing experience on Amazon is pretty poor. The explosion in ads don’t help.
Good thing their value proposition around logistics is so strong.
In contrast, AWS delivered revenues of $14.8 billion in 2nd quarter 2021, growing just under 40%. Keep this up another 2 years and ads will be bigger than AWS.
#17 An Interview with Dan Wang About China’s Tech Crackdown
So one of the things that we’ve gone back and forth on, you’ve talked about this distinction between hard tech and consumer tech. And I think the first time we met was four or five years ago, I think we had this discussion even that at the time where you’ve been fairly skeptical of “Is consumer tech really on the cutting edge, as opposed to something like semiconductor manufacturing, or design, or whatever it might be?”
And I’m curious, because this obviously comes to bear in the combination of this crackdown, which by-and-large, or large parts of it, are on this end-user side of things. And obviously China, very famously, and in part in response to US sanctions is a heavy, heavy push towards, quote unquote, “Hard tech.” I’m curious to what extent is China getting it right because it’s the right thing to do, versus, is there a sense of like, “Yes, this is the way it ought to have been all along”? I’m just curious what your personal response has been. Is it gratifying, like, “This is the way they should have figured it out all along,” I’m just curious your personal response to that.
DW: Delight. I think that they are now focusing-
See, I knew it! I knew it!
DW: I think they’re focusing on the important technologies, and I’ve always been skeptical that consumer internet represents the very best of what our technologically accelerating civilization can do. I think one can make a better case for that in the US context, in which you have Google and Facebook leading TensorFlow and PyTorch, which are really doing the most in machine learning right now. You have Apple, which has become a major semiconductor company in its own right. You have Amazon, which has measurably improved the productivity of US retail, as well as having a cloud, which has enabled productivity improvements in a lot of other sectors.
I think there’s a weaker case to be made that Chinese consumer tech firms are actually doing a lot of technology. First of all, I would say that, if you take a look at just their annual reports, the Chinese firms, mostly Alibaba and Tencent, are spending quite a bit less on R&D as a percentage of revenue relative to Facebook and Google. So they’re just not spending quite as much. In its announcement that Alibaba would give away about $16 billion US dollars to contribute to government initiatives, the first of its five priorities is technology innovation, and I see that as a sign of acknowledgement that it has not done everything that it’s needed to do to actually do real technology. In my view, the case is weakest for firms like Tencent and Pinduoduo; having group buying of fruits and making a lot of video games, these are not to me, the peak of technological improvement. In my view, technology is still the hardest science-based endeavors like semiconductors, like going to space, in terms of aviation and chemicals. I love heavy industry, the heavier, the better.
I think one other angle to consider on this hard-tech versus consumer-Internet, is that I think when I was graduating from college, this has been true for quite a few years, a lot of the best and brightest from a lot of the most elite schools still want to go into consumer Internet as well as Finance. These are still the two most glamorous sectors. And I think, one of these things I perceive that the Chinese leadership has decided is that these are not where our very best and brightest ought to be going. Finance, which is very significantly zero sum in a lot of ways, consumer internet prompting, better noodle delivery, as well as video games, this is not where the best from Peking and Tsinghua Universities really ought to be going.
And maybe you can consider the cryptocurrency crackdown in China as part of that path as well. Whatever your views about crypto, there are a lot of smart people that have jumped into that field now, and maybe the Chinese leadership has looked with horror as so many smart people are working on a technology that it doesn’t consider to be very useful. It wants them to move into aviation and chemicals and semiconductors instead.Source: Stratechery
Stratechery is one of the few subscriptions that I think is a must-have.
This interview with Dan Wang is fascinating, especially given Dan is based in Shanghai and have had ground-level view on everything that is happening there.
🚘🌽 Mobility + Delivery + FoodTech
#18 GetSwift Partners with Uber
With this partnership, when fully deployed and integrated, both existing and new clients across the United States, and expected later in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Australia, will have access to Uber’s vast pool of drivers and vehicles.
Furthermore, all delivery fees and pricing will be managed on a fixed-fee structure based on distance and not basket size, enabling GetSwift clients of all sizes and industries to scalably expand and grow in highly competitive verticals. Alongside GetSwift’s fleet management, batching, and product suite, the company believes the overall pricing per delivery will be highly competitive and disruptive. The company further believes that by combining the unique capabilities and key offerings of both organizations, that this combination is the start of something truly unique.Source: Businesswire
Uber and Amazon (and UPS and FedEx) are on a collision course.
🚀 Enterprise Software
#19 Mid-sized companies are turning to low-code/no-code platforms, study finds
Nearly half of small and medium businesses (SMBs) say they use low-code/no-code (LCNC), according to new research from Accenture.
41% of the SMBs surveyed are using LCNC platforms to create new user experiences, 37% are using it to develop new customer-facing applications, and 37% are using it to develop new business applications.
This is significant because SMBs have traditionally struggled to attract digitally fluent staff, let alone developers as this talent is easily snapped up by large enterprises. In fact, one in five SMBs said that their search for a LCNC platform was driven by the scarcity of digital fluency in the workplace.Source: Venturebeat
I’ve written before about how low-code / no-code is an imperative for internet platforms in the context of consumers, but I neglected to discuss how important it is for small businesses, too.
As the world becomes more digital, small businesses need more tech capabilities than ever. Small businesses will never be able to attract coding talent. Low-code / no-code is a massive opportunity (and massively important!) to ensure that we continue to have a vibrant world of small businesses.
💉🔬 Health + Science
#20 Apple Is Working on iPhone Features to Help Detect Depression, Cognitive Decline
Apple Inc. is working on technology to help diagnose depression and cognitive decline, aiming for tools that could expand the scope of its burgeoning health portfolio, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Using an array of sensor data that includes mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns, typing behavior and more, researchers hope they can tease out digital signals associated with the target conditions so that algorithms can be created to detect them reliably, the people said. Apple hopes that would become the basis for unique features for its devices, according to the people and documents.
Apple also has a research project with Duke University that aims to create an algorithm to detect childhood autism, including to use the iPhone’s camera to observe how young children focus, according to the documents and people familiar with the work.
The promise of detection tools for people with severe neurological or mood disorders is that you could intervene early and potentially prevent worse outcomes, said Faraz Hussain, the lead developer at BiAffect, an academic research project at the University of Illinois Chicago that uses typing data from smartphones to predict moods. “It’s the ability to peek inside how our mind is functioning instead of relying on self-reports that are often subjective, using digital exhaust from our daily lives that would otherwise be lost.”Source: WSJ
🤔 Hmm… / 😮 Wow
#21 Travel – Hongyun Jinding
Also note the monastery at the very top of that mountain!
Although I’m not religious (as mentioned at the start of this edition!), I am always in awe of the effort that the people of antiquities went to to build religious structures in locations that continue to awe even today despite living in a world with airplanes and skyscrapers.