Hello, hello! 👋🏻👋🏻
Welcome back to another edition of Tidbits covering all the recent things worth talking about in business, media, and technology.
#1 Proposal Would Allow E.U. to Retaliate Against Economic Pressure
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, put forward what it called an “anti-coercion instrument” relating to what it views as unfair trade pressure, arguing that new tools were necessary because of the “weaponization of trade for other geopolitical purposes.”
The proposed measures would give the commission wide-ranging powers to impose punitive sanctions on individuals, companies and countries. The proposal includes tariffs and quotas; the restriction of intellectual property rights; and limiting access to the bloc’s financial markets, public procurement and E.U.-funded research programs.
The measures would also limit the ability of individual member countries to veto retaliatory sanctions against third countries, something that has often undermined the unity of the bloc. Under the commission’s proposal, sanctions could only be blocked by a majority of member nations, circumventing the current requirement for unanimity.
Mr. Dombrovskis cited a recent case involving a dispute between Lithuania and China as one in which actions by Beijing could “clearly be a reason” to trigger the measures.
He added that “restricting or threatening to restrict gas supplies as a tool to influence E.U. decision making” [as Russia has done before] could also qualify as grounds for activating the measures.
Jonathan Hackenbroich, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that the European Union was also mindful of the pressures it had faced from the United States when it was led by President Donald J. Trump.Source: NYT
Lots of interesting implications from this. The world is changing. Conflict these days is much less likely to be military in nature (because weaker countries can’t defeat stronger countries – though they can asymmetrically stalemate stronger countries – and stronger countries avoid fighting each other directly because of potential nuclear mutually assured destruction).
However, as the world becomes more integrated, this makes it easier to engage in low-heat economic, cultural, and cyber warfare.
Although the EU is one of the world’s largest economic blocks comparable to US and China, its 20+ member nations make it an easy target for a divide-and-frustrate strategy, which China has been employing rather well recently. The EU’s rules have also further complicated the issue because the way it is set up allows small nations (e.g. Greece, Croatia, Lithuania, etc) to punch above their weight when it comes to the block-wide agenda. This allows external actors to pressure weaker nations in the EU to undermine the block-wide agenda even when the stronger nations are more resistant.
For hundreds of years, the world dealt with military conflict through systems of military alliances. As the world shifts towards other forms of conflict, other forms of alliances and tools are necessary. The EU seems to be taking the first steps toward that future.
More importantly, the EU faces pressure not just from China, but also Russia and the US. The EU is finally starting to work towards unifying its own agenda and powers so that it is no longer pushed around by external forces.
#2 U.S. Space Force General Warns Of China’s Growing Military Space Potential
The U.S. Space Force’s vice chief of operations warned on Sunday that China is on a rapid pace in space development, adding to mounting concerns that it could outpace the U.S. in space and gain military advantage.
“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion they will be the leader in space at the end of the decade, but they are on an incredible pace,” Thompson said, adding that the U.S. needs to adapt its approach or risk being outpaced by the competing power.
Thompson’s comments come on the heels of other growing warnings about China’s space advancement. Last month, China launched a missile that circled the globe and struck a target. And Russia launched a hypersonic missile from a warship in the Arctic, raising fears that Moscow and Beijing are closing in on hypersonic missile technology far more quickly than the U.S.Source: Politico
The last time a country scared the US when it came to space capabilities, the US kicked into high gear and eventually sent the first person to the Moon. Space capabilities are important because a lot of it translates into military and tech / industrial capabilities.
This time around, despite very good indications that China is indeed becoming very capable in space, there doesn’t seem to be much widespread attention other than from specific branches of government and some portions of society.
Will be interesting to see how the world evolves from here depending on how this plays out. So much of the US’ advantages in military and information technology over the last 50 years resulted directly from the Space Race against the USSR. The Space Race ultimately gave us satellites, GPS, and so much more.
🤑 Economics + Markets
#3 ‘Crazier Than Dot-Com Era’: Charlie Munger Lashes Crypto, Wary Of Booming Markets
Investment legend Charlie Munger says the current climate on global markets is crazier than the dot-com bubble two decades ago, as he savaged the boom in cryptocurrencies as insane and backed China’s ban on the digital assets.
“I think the dot com boom was crazier in terms of valuations than even what we have now. But overall, I consider this era even crazier than the dot-com era,” Mr Munger said.
“I just can’t stand participating in these insane booms, one way or the other. It seems to be working; everybody wants to pile in, and I have a different attitude. I want to make my money by selling people things that are good for them, not things that are bad for them,” he said.
“Believe me, the people who are creating cryptocurrencies are not thinking about the customer, they are thinking about themselves.”Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
While no one is always right, Munger has been more right than most people…so it makes sense to at least consider what he has to say.
👻 Cryptocurrencies + NFTs
#4 Ubisoft Becomes First Major Gaming Company to Launch In-Game NFTs
Ubisoft was the first major video game publisher to take an interest in the blockchain space, experimenting with crypto game prototypes and supporting startups over the last few years. But now the gaming giant will actually implement NFTs within one of its major franchises in a new initiative that runs on Tezos.
Today, the publisher behind Assassin’s Creed and Just Dance revealed Ubisoft Quartz, a platform that lets players earn and purchase in-game items that are tokenized as NFTs on the Tezos blockchain. Quartz will launch first in the PC version of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the latest online game in the long-running tactical shooter series.Source: Decrypt
NFTs are coming to a triple A game.
#5 Ubisoft’s NFT announcement gets more than 95% dislikes on YouTube
Ubisoft‘s plans to add non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to its games has been met with overwhelming backlash.
At the time of writing, of the 16,270 engagements viewers have made, 804 were likes while 15,466 were dislikes.
UPDATE: Ubisoft has now delisted the video, while the number of dislikes has now passed 22,000.Source: Videogames Chronicle
It’s actually not that hard to understand why the reaction is so polarizing. If you’re a gamer, you want to play games. You might want items in the game, but whether it is an NFT or not is probably not that important you. You just want the item. If you care more about crypto and NFTs than the story / lore / artistry of a game like Ghost Recon or Assassin’s Creed, then there are already many other crypto game options for you. People that love games don’t want their game to be taken over by crypto people that might not care as much about it.
Game companies might want to consider NFTs, though, because it can ensure authenticity of items (Game companies do make money from items after all…if you can prevent fakes from circulating in your game, it helps with the bottomline. The fact that gamers might think a NFT is super-special is a plus!).
#6 YouTube’s Crypto Influencers Try Shouting Over the Scammers
As a result, while crypto influencers tend to tweet frequently and may occasionally create videos on TikTok, YouTube is where the real fiat money is at. Jung said he now makes at least $40,000 a month from video ads and sponsorships. Viewership really takes off during wild swings in the market and when new investment crazes catch fire. The rise of altcoins, Robinhoodand Reddit investing have all been a godsend. During the summer, when Bitcoin and other coins skyrocketed, Jung’s monthly haul topped $200,000.
“The more volatility, the more eyeballs,” said Ryan Scribner, a finance YouTuber from Miami Beach.
Making endorsements can be even more lucrative. Digital coins thrive on chatter, so YouTubers are inundated with requests to review or simply mention a coin. YouTube has rules requiring sponsorship disclosures, but it doesn’t have a great system for catching scofflaws. It’s often impossible to tell when a YouTuber is providing savvy analysis, or just cashing in. Scribner gets daily requests from altcoins and exchanges offering $25,000 for a single mention, usually paid out in Ethereum. He ignores them all.
One downside of all the money sloshing around is that it has set off a rampage of con artists, which YouTube and other platforms are struggling to contain. Jung has been impersonated on practically every social site by scammers using his likeness to flog one digital investment opportunity or another. He once tallied up at least fifteen accounts stealing his name on Instagram. In his videos, he often warns viewers about lurking, unsavory characters.
In recent months, scammers have started a new ploy: running splashy banner ads with the faces of popular crypto influencers directly beneath their videos — without their permission. Over the summer, YouTuber Max Maher saw it happening on his channel. There was an ad with his name and cartoon avatar reading, “My Arbitrage Deal!” Viewers who clicked on it were taken to a channel on Telegram, an instant messaging system, and instructed to swap currencies on a crypto exchange that eventually depleted their accounts.Source: Bloomberg
Crypto space is so fascinating because it brings out every playbook and every angle of human nature.
So much to discuss here –
1/ It’s important to know what the business model and incentives are whenever you talk to literally anyone where money is involved! Crypto influencers might not have your best interests at heart when their business model is video views and click bait! It literally doesn’t matter if you make or lose money…the influencer makes bank when you watch.
2/ Influencers are influencers…they may be paid to push / endorse whatever they are talking about…and they might not tell you that! Again, it’s important to ask what the business model and incentives are whenever money is involved. For example, celebrities like Matt Damon have been pushing crypto. Do they really believe in it? Or did they simply agree to do it because they are paid just like any other commercial?
3/ Scamming is a tried-and-true indestructible business model no matter the industry. No matter what you think about the influencers peddling random coins, they (and their audience) are also being scammed by scammers. Scamming is a business model that never seems to go away, and not even crypto can solve that (crypto might have made it worse because it’s so complicated and almost no one knows enough about crypto to see through every scam out there).
#7 Billionaire Ken Griffin’s Son Told Him ‘You Have to Buy the Constitution’
“I was sitting at home in New York and my son calls me to say, ‘Dad, you have to buy the Constitution,’” Griffin said in an interview after a luncheon hosted by the Palm Beach Civic Association at the Florida city’s Four Seasons hotel. Griffin didn’t give his son’s specific reason for wanting his father to make the purchase.
When he was bidding on the Constitution, Griffin became overcome with the concept of winning, he said Thursday.
“I told myself, ‘I am going to own this,’” he said. “I don’t do that very often.”
Griffin was in contact with the crypto group the night of the auction, he said. After the sale was complete, Griffin reached out again and asked if they wanted to arrange a joint governance for the document, including making a decision on where it would be displayed.
The hedge fund founder also proposed allowing each of the roughly 17,000 participants in the ConstitutionDAO group the right to generate a non-fungible token tied to the copy, according to Citadel spokesman Zia Ahmed.
“Ultimately we couldn’t come to an agreement,” Griffin said.Source: Bloomberg
A few weeks ago back in Tidbits #63, we discussed the fascinating saga of ConstitutionDAO. ConstitutionDAO is a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO; basically an online school club with a bank account) that was set up to try to acquire a copy of the US Constitution that was up for auction. The goal was to acquire the constitution and then allow stakeholders in ConstitutionDAO to vote on where to display the constitution so that it remains “in the hands of the people”. ConstitutionDAO ultimately lost to Billionaire Ken Griffin.
Ken Griffin finally spoke out, and the story gets even more fascinating.
Turns out Ken Griffin didn’t really want it…his son asked him to buy it (but seemingly didn’t care what he did with it after he buys it). Why??
Also turns out Ken Griffin offered to work with ConstitutionDAO after winning the auction so that ConstitutionDAO stakeholders can get a say on where to display it. This is fascinating because ConstitutionDAO would have gotten basically what it wanted even though it lost…yet they couldn’t come to an agreement. Why??
Even more interestingly, Ken Griffin says he (seemingly quite generously) offered to allow every stakeholder in ConstitutionDAO to mint an NFT of his constitution! Again, they couldn’t come to an agreement. Why???
It seems as if Ken Griffin basically offered almost everything ConstitutionDAO wanted and even paid the bill. Yet somehow they couldn’t come to an agreement. Griffin did not mention if he asked for anything in return, but that would be a serious omission if so. Reading between the lines, it seemed like a free offer to ConstitutionDAO.
I would love to know the back story to all of this.
#8 Half A Billion In Bitcoin, Lost In The Dump
If things had gone just a bit differently, James Howells might today be as rich as the Queen of England. The decisive moment, he now thinks, occurred one evening in August, 2013, when he was twenty-eight and at home with his family in Newport, a small city on the Welsh coast. Howells and his partner, Hafina, were raising three children, and family trips—like the one that they had taken to Disneyland Paris—were fun but exhausting. So he had made plans to treat himself to what he called a “lads’ vacation”: a trip with friends to a resort in Cyprus. Howells, an engineer who helped maintain emergency-response systems for various communities in Wales, often worked from home, and that night he decided to neaten up his office. As he recently recalled to me, “The thought process was: I’m going to be drinking every day. I don’t want to be on a hangover and cleaning this mess up when I get back.”
In a cluttered desk drawer, he found two small hard drives. One, he knew, was blank. The other held files from an old Dell gaming laptop, including e-mails, music that he’d downloaded, and duplicates of family photographs. He’d removed the drive a few years earlier, after he’d spilled lemonade on the computer’s keyboard. Howells grabbed the unwanted hard drive and threw it into a black garbage bag.
The first time he mined, Howells’s computer was one of only five on the network. He told me, “I know this because when you’re in a Bitcoin network it tells you, on the bottom right, ‘You are connected to x amount of nodes,’ or machines.”
Moments after we sat down in a coffee shop, he pulled out his phone and showed me an app that he uses to track his holdings. Under the rubric “Unspent Coins” was the current value of his bitcoin: $533,963,174.Source: The New Yorker
That’s a burden that’s very hard to live with:
Howells took me up to the second floor, to see where the hard drive had been. The dog patrolled the stairs. “Ruby was basically the kids’ dog,” he explained. “And when we split up, and they left, she didn’t want to take the dog.” It turned out that Hafina had left several years ago with their children. I asked him if the bitcoin loss had played a role in their breakup. “The truth?” he said. “I tried publicly, and within my normal life, not to blame her, but I think subconsciously I did.”
Looking around, you could see that time had stood still in the house since then. There was dust on everything. The Minecraft-inspired wallpaper he’d installed to please the children was peeling. The blue-and-white paint was chipping. The sheets on the bunk beds were crumpled and stale, as if the kids had left in a hurry and never come back.
He told me that his children were into other things now, and didn’t visit anymore. He did not wish to discuss any romantic relationships that he’d had since Hafina left. “I try to keep to myself,” he told me. “Women are costly.”
If there is any lesson to be learned from people who missed out on a bitcoin payoff, it’s that it’s more emotionally healthy to try to let it go.
That last line is sort of my mantra. Although, I didn’t lose half a billion in the dump like this guy, I do occasionally wonder how different my life would have been if I had bought $100 of Bitcoin when I first heard about it back in ~2010. I knew some friends that owned a few thousand dollars worth back then (though very likely did not hold it through to today). That $100 would be worth more than $50 million today by my rough estimate (I don’t want to do the exact math). But back then, stocks were just coming out of the 2009 trough, and I figured I had a very good chance making some decent money in stocks (like Apple, Google, Netflix, Bank of America, AMD, T-Mobile, Baidu) compared to an interesting but uncertain thing like Bitcoin.
#9 Coinbase Suffers Issues Due to AWS Outage
“We are currently experiencing elevated error rates on some backend systems due to an AWS service outage. Trading is not impacted at this time, but you may experience some intermittent delays or errors when submitting a support case or accessing other parts of our applications,” the exchange initially said.
Coinbase users reported all manner of issues today, including being locked out of their accounts and not getting replies from the exchange’s support service.“You may encounter intermittent delays or errors while transacting, as well as accessing other parts of our applications. Customer support inquiries are also delayed,” Coinbase later added.Source: Decrypt
Turning to more structural discussions about the crypto industry, despite all this talk about decentralization, the recent AWS outage continues to reveal how dependent crypto is on the centralized world.
Crypto itself may be decentralized, but all the roads leading to it come from centralized ecosystems. Whether it’s fiat money on the funding size, or tech walled gardens on the app / infrastructure side, it’s all centralized.
The right analogy for crypto’s state of affairs should be more like a foreign embassy (like China’s embassy in the US). In every country, foreign embassies are considered sovereign (the US cannot enter China’s embassy in the US without requesting permission because the land of the embassy is considered China’s). The hosting nation cannot enter the foreign embassy without approval from the foreign embassy’s nation. But just because the embassy itself is considered sovereign, it’s literally sitting in another country’s land where the laws and power are in full force. The US could easily block access in and out of any foreign embassy, for example, without having to step foot into the embassy itself (by having police surround it). Crypto is like a small embassy in the land of the US (or whatever sovereign nation you would like to think about). Whether anyone can get in or out of that “embassy” is under the control of the centralized powers of the US. So yes…anything inside the embassy is technically resistant to the powers of the state, but it’s a pretty small world in there if the roads in and out are not usable.
#10 Getting Married in the Metaverse
One couple’s recent nuptials in the virtual world known as the metaverse showcase the possibilities of having a wedding unfettered by the bounds of reality.
Traci and Dave Gagnon met in the cloud, so it only made sense that their wedding took place in it. On Labor Day weekend, the couple — or rather, their digital avatars — held a ceremony staged by Virbela, a company that builds virtual environments for work, learning and events.
Like a ceremony within a video game, though, it is important to note that any weddings that occur solely in the metaverse are currently not legal. (Even virtual weddings by videoconference, which many states allowed during the height of the pandemic shutdowns, have since been outlawed in New York State and elsewhere.) Still, the metaverse will take these virtual celebrations much, much further, experts say, and offer almost boundless possibilities to couples.
“There’s no limitations,” said Sandy Hammer, a founder of Allseated, which creates digital planning tools for weddings. The company is investing in the metaverse by creating virtual versions of real-world event spaces like the Plaza Hotel in New York. “If you really want to do something different, in the metaverse you might as well let your creativity go wild.”
Think guest lists that number in the thousands. Gift registries that feature NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Maybe even destination weddings in space.
“They’re going to take their friends on a space rocket,” Ms. Hammer said, adding that she envisions wedding parties globe-trotting virtually. “A bride can transport her guests into the metaverse: ‘I want my morning session to be in Italy, my evening session to be in Paris.’”Source: NYT
Is this good or is this bad?
How people react to this type of stuff is fascinating to me because it forces people to choose between idealism and practicality.
A marriage is a very important moment in life. The importance suggests that the only way to do it justice is to do it in real life to your desired perfection (and the law currently does not honor digital marriages, anyway). Its importance is also why people spend so much money and effort into making it a memorable and beautiful experience.
But the real world costs money. Everyone would love to have a fairy tale wedding, but not everyone can afford it.
For the bottom half (or bottom 75%) of society, is it better to have a real-life but more realistic (and affordable) wedding? Or is it better to have the fairy tale wedding that you’ve always wanted in digital space?
The digital world is polarizing – It’s polarizing because for those that can have most things they want in real life, the digital world seems inconsequential and silly!
But the comparison shouldn’t be digital vs real life as if you can have the same thing in both…for most people, the real life option literally means having nothing or far less. A real-life wedding for some people is nothing more than a signature at City Hall because anything bigger would be financially onerous. In such a situation, wouldn’t a digital wedding be nice?
The magic of the Metaverse isn’t escapism or to replace the real world…the magic of the Metaverse is to have things you can’t afford in real life. This applies to more than just weddings. It applies to everything.
💬 Media + Games
#11 Introducing Ralph Lauren On Roblox
Welcome to Ralph Lauren’s Winter Escape, the ultimate holiday experience where you can enjoy winter activities and discover exclusive Ralph Lauren styles! Ice skate with friends, browse The Polo Shops, customize hot chocolate at Ralph’s Coffee, and decorate the Holiday Tree.Source: Roblox
People hate ads, but it turns out people kind of enjoy being in them. Every brand is going to create their own digital experiences. Even if it is not the best tool to reach a lot of new customers, at the very least it can do wonders engaging your existing best fans.
#12 At ‘Lens Fest,’ Snap Debuts Creations Tools For More Sophisticated Augmented Reality Experiences
At the company’s annual Lens Fest event, Snap debuted a number of changes coming to their lens creation suite. Changes range from efforts to integrate outside media and data to more AR-centric features designed with a glasses-future in mind.
On the media side, Snap will be debuting a news sounds library that will allow creators to add audio clips and millions of songs from Snapchat’s library of licensed music directly into their lenses. Snap is also making efforts to bring real-time data into Lenses via an API library that showcase evolving trends like weather information from AccuWeather or cryptocurrency prices from FTX. One of the bigger feature updates will allow users to embed links inside lenses and send them to different web pages.
Snap is also rolling out tools to make digital objects react more realistically in reference to each other, debuting an in-lens physics engine that will allow for more dynamic lenses that can not only interact more deeply with the real world but can adjust to simultaneous user input as well.Source: TechCrunch
#13 Affirm Launches Cash Back Rewards with New Pay Now Feature in the Affirm App
Affirm, the payment network that empowers consumers and helps merchants drive growth, today announced a set of updates to the Affirm App that bring consumers increased flexibility and purchasing power. Previously, consumers could use the Affirm App to shop online or in-store at virtually any retailer and pay over time — biweekly or monthly. With these updates to the Affirm App, consumers now also have the option to pay in full upfront at hundreds of merchants while earning rewards in the process, thanks to Affirm’s new Cash Back Rewards program.
Affirm’s Cash Back Rewards program allows consumers to automatically earn back a percentage of every eligible purchase in rewards, which can later be redeemed for cash and deposited directly into their Affirm Savings account.Source: Affirm
BNPL vs cards is a hot debate even though it shouldn’t be. And Affirm is showing us exactly why.
Cards are static and non-programmable. BNPL is a very specific product, but every fintech like Affirm is dynamic and programmable.
Affirm is basically launching a “card”. You can now pay upfront and get rewards just like a credit card. That means you can have both the flexibility of a card or BNPL, depending on whatever suits your situation.
The hidden play here, of course, is that you need to set up an Affirm savings account to earn the reward. Right now, most BNPL payments are still paid with money held at banks. But if you start keeping money in your Affirm savings account, then there is potential to create a closed loop.
#14 Whatsapp Launches Cryptocurrency Payments Pilot In The Us
WhatsApp has launched a new pilot that lets a “limited number” of people in the US send and receive money from within a chat using cryptocurrency. The feature is powered by Novi, Meta’s digital wallet that launched as a pilot six weeks ago, with payments made using Pax Dollars (USDP), a stablecoin pegged to the US dollar issued by Paxos. The news was announced by Novi’s incoming head Stephane Kasriel and WhatsApp’s Will Cathcart.
According to Novi’s website, sending a payment works much like sending any other attachment in WhatsApp. You access the feature via the paper clip icon on Android or the + icon on iOS, and then select “Payment” from the menu that appears. Novi’s site notes there are no fees for sending or receiving money, no limits on how often payments can be sent, and no fees to keep a balance in your Novi account or to withdraw it to your bank account. Payments are transferred instantly.Source: The Verge
Novi is struggling, but Facebook is going to make payments happen come hell or high water.
#15 Facebook Messenger Is Testing A New ‘Split Payments’ Feature In The Us
Facebook Messenger announced today that it’s starting to test out a new “Split Payments” feature that introduces a way for users to share the cost of bills and expenses through the app. The company says the new feature is a “free and fast” way to handle finances through Messenger. The new feature is rolling out next week for U.S. users.
The launch of Split Payments comes as Messenger added Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments a few months ago. The codes launched in the U.S. and allow anyone to send or request money through Facebook Pay — even if they’re not Facebook friends. The feature can be accessed under the “Facebook Pay” section in Messenger’s settings.Source: TechCrunch
#16 Apple and Hyatt begin rolling out hotel keys in Apple Wallet
Apple is partnering with Hyatt to give some hotel guests the ability to store their room keys in their Apple Wallets, as announced in a post on Hyatt’s newsroom. Instead of checking your pockets for your room key, you’ll now be able to use your iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock your room, as well as any other areas around the hotel that require a key for entry.
Apple previewed this feature at WWDC 2021 alongside its digital ID feature. Once launched, this will allow users in participating states to digitally store their identification cards in their Apple Wallets. Although Arizona and Georgia were supposed to be the first states to let residents store their IDs on their iPhones, its rollout has been delayed until 2022.Source: The Verge
Apple Pay remains one of the more fascinating players in the digital wallet space today because its scope is so much more expansive than any other digital wallet out there. All other digital wallets are very narrowly focused on payments. But Apple wants to bring payments, IDs / identity (like drivers license, vaccine cards), access (keys to cars, homes, hotels, etc), loyalty programs, etc all under roof. The more they bring under one roof, the harder it is for others to eventually compete.
#17 Snapchat Eyes Trade Marketing Dollars As AR-Driven Commerce Grows And The Holidays Approach
The investments all served to make commerce on Snapchat more experiential, which is the real draw for marketers and retail bosses alike — in particular, how social commerce on the app is becoming reliant on AR. Walmart, Hollister, JD Sports, Under Armor and Coca-Cola are among a raft of businesses either running or preparing to use the app’s AR features, from shopping lenses to stores, over the key festive shopping period. Not only do they see AR on the app as a way to goose sales given that shoppers can virtually try on the merchandise before they buy, doing so potentially reduces the need to return items they don’t actually want. It’s the latter point that stands to really pique the interest of retail businesses — many of which have had to grapple with the inevitable side effect of the online sales boom: more products are getting returned.
“We’re trying to prove out a hypothesis that if you have a virtual try-on experience are you then less likely to return that item,” said Ed Couchman, the general manager for Snapchat in the U.K. So far, the business has anecdotal evidence to back this theory up. “Conversations have shifted a bit from talking about the app as a marketing and media play to how it can be used to solve wider business challenges,” said Couchman.
Agency execs can vouch for this:
“More so than at any other point, our conversations with Snapchat are moving beyond the ad platform and more about the broader e-commerce system it’s building,” said Jessica Chapplow, head of e-commerce, Havas’ retail division Havas Market. “It’s no longer enough to just understand the exposure of the ad. Increasingly, our clients want to see the tangible sales impact.”Source: Digiday
#18 Tiktok Owner Bytedance Ramps Up E-Commerce Expansion With Launch Of Fanno Shopping App In Europe
TikTok owner ByteDance has ramped up its expansion into e-commerce with the recent launch of shopping app “Fanno” in selected markets across Europe, as the world’s most valuable technology start-up sharpens its focus on strategic industries to diversify its business.
The app operates “separately and independent from TikTok and TikTok Shopping”, said the ByteDance representative, referring to the hit short video app’s own e-commerce initiatives.Source: South China Morning Post
This might compete more directly with Shopee’s emerging efforts in Europe. Bears watching.
#19 Meta Sets Priority On Facebook, Instagram Shopping, Competing With Shopify
Facebook parent company Meta is prioritizing investments in on-site commerce and shopping in 2022, with a company-wide push to sell products more directly on Meta’s family of apps, including Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, according to leaked documents obtained by Insider.
“This is our highest priority and largest investment area,” Levy wrote. “We need to make progress against our vision of our apps being a primary destination for commerce.”
It’s unclear exactly which payment methods Meta has or will offer through its digital storefronts, but it’s possible the emphasis on on-site sales could divert some business from Shopify, which one Meta insider referred to as the company’s “frenemy.” Overall, this person said, the goal of growing on-site sales is to get businesses to spend more on advertising.
“Shopify is a frenemy to Meta, but that’s putting it generously because Shopify is way ahead of everybody in commerce,” the insider said.Source: Business Insider
#20 How TikTok Reads Your Mind
The document, headed “TikTok Algo 101,” was produced by TikTok’s engineering team in Beijing.
TikTok has publicly shared the broad outlines of its recommendation system, saying it takes into account factors including likes and comments as well as video information like captions, sounds and hashtags. Outside analysts have also sought to crack its code. A recent Wall Street Journal report demonstratedhow TikTok relies heavily on how much time you spend watching each video to steer you toward more videos that will keep you scrolling, and that process can sometimes lead young viewers down dangerous rabbit holes, in particular toward content that promotes suicide or self-harm — problems that TikTok says it’s working to stop by aggressively deleting content that violates its terms of service.
The new document was shared with The New York Times by a person who was authorized to read it, but not to share it, and who provided it on the condition of anonymity. The person was disturbed by the app’s push toward “sad” content that could induce self-harm.
The document explains frankly that in the pursuit of the company’s “ultimate goal” of adding daily active users, it has chosen to optimize for two closely related metrics in the stream of videos it serves: “retention” — that is, whether a user comes back — and “time spent.” The app wants to keep you there as long as possible.Source: NYT
The real question here is whether the algorithm is “broken” or not. It sounds evil, but the algorithm is just focused on giving you what you want to spend time on (it’s geared to maximize time spend). Ordering tech companies to change their algorithms to not optimize for this is not a solution because you can’t optimize for “not the most time spend”. “Not the most time spend” could also easily result in an algorithm that shows you a lot of offensive content that you don’t want to see. It might not be the result we are looking for.
If sad content is what is maximizing time spend for some people, maybe society should ask why rather than condemning an algorithm that might be revealing deep issues with society that we might not have recognized.
I still believe the fundamental question we are wrestling with is not tech but human nature. Humans have issues. We are imperfect. We like spending time watching angry and violent and envious things. We like things that create a little bit of jealousy. We like things that create emotions and feelings in us. Things that don’t create emotions are boring (by definition). We cannot solve this “algorithm problem” until society has decided it has the authority to determine what social behaviors and feelings we can or can’t have.
🚘🌽 “Nuts and Bolts” Tech
#21 Amazon Is Making Its Own Containers And Bypassing Supply Chain Chaos With Chartered Ships And Long-Haul Planes
For years, Amazon has been quietly chartering private cargo ships, making its own containers, and leasing planes to better control the complicated shipping journey of an online order. Now, as many retailers panic over supply chain chaos, Amazon’s costly early moves are helping it avoid the long wait times for available dock space and workers at the country’s busiest ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
“Los Angeles, there’s 79 vessels sitting out there up to 45 days waiting to come into the harbor,” ocean freight analyst Steve Ferreira told CNBC in November. “Amazon’s latest venture that I’ve been tracking in the last two days, it waited two days in the harbor.”
By chartering private cargo vessels to carry its goods, Amazon can control where its goods go, avoiding the most congested ports.
It’s even taking control at the first step of the shipping journey by making its own 53-foot cargo containers in China. Containers are in short supply, with long wait times and prices surging from less than $2,000 before the pandemic to $20,000 today.
For some of the highest-margin goods, Amazon is avoiding ports altogether by reportedly leasing at least ten long-haul planes that can get smaller amounts of cargo directly from China to the U.S. much faster.Source: CNBC
Another reminder that e-commerce companies are really logistics companies these days.