Dozen Worthy Reads 📰 (No. 164)
This week : Google FLoC adoption, Clubhouse, Tech & Govt's, Substack's editorial policy, Amazon & Taxes, The Ponzi Career, Handset Industry, Amazon & workers, MSFT's acquisitions and more ....
I hope you all are doing well and welcome (if you aren’t new then again) to Dozen Worthy Reads. A newsletter where I talk about the most interesting things about tech that I read the past couple of weeks or write about tech happenings. You can sign up here or just read on …
Continuing with the usual craziness, Doge Coin which is a crypto based on the “Doge” meme portraying a Shiba Inu dog is now worth $40B. This seems like sheer craziness!
Google’s “privacy preserving” FLoC is getting no support from any popular Chromium browser. What is FLoC. FLoC is designed to help advertisers perform behavioral targeting without third-party cookies. A browser with FLoC enabled would collect information about its user’s browsing habits, then use that information to assign its user to a “cohort” or group. Users with similar browsing habits—for some definition of “similar”—would be grouped into the same cohort. Each user’s browser will share a cohort ID, indicating which group they belong to, with websites and advertisers. According to the proposal, at least a few thousand users should belong to each cohort (though that’s not a guarantee).
There are very good arguments why this is a bad idea. Brave’s recent blog and the EFF’s recent article has the details on why this is a bad idea. This creates a whole new set of privacy problems under the guise of remediating the cookie based approach! Even if no one adopts this given Google’s browser market share does it even matter? The real question for me is will people switch their browser if they knew about this?
Back to my favorite app of the moment. I wrote a take on audio as a feature or as a whole product and more and more I'm slightly less skeptical about the format but more skeptical about having a standalone product. If you read the articles below, the take in some ways mirrors my original article on Clubhouse. Can creators really make enough $ on Clubhouse if payments/tipping works? Or do we have a “me too” product without strong network effects? My money is on the latter
Tech & Censorship
Here is a good example of what happens when Governments interfere. Pranav Dixit has written in this Buzzfeed post :
I love tech. But watching it intersect with a Hindu nationalist government trying to crush dissent, choke a free press, and destroy a nation’s secular ethos doesn’t feel like something I bought a ticket to. Writing about technology from India now feels like having a front-row seat to the country’s rapid slide into authoritarianism. “It’s like watching a train wreck while you’re inside the train,” I Slacked my boss in November.
This seems to be a new playbook for Governments around the world. In fact Facebook planned to remove fake accounts .. until it realized that these were in support of a BJP (Indian Party) politician. This poses a deep problem for tech companies who have to abide by laws in different countries -- and also makes it SO HARD for a competitor to enter into the market, build these relationships with the Government. You cannot, as China has shown mess with the Government and get away with it. Alibaba had a recent masterclass in this and had to pay a $2.8B fine. All around the world politics is driving what tech does -- both for their own party agenda as well as to take their “rightful share” of a pie.
Substack’s Editorial Policy : Why We're Freaking Out About Substack
Substack, as we all know, allows an individual, any individual to create a newsletter. However Substack also “pays” (similar to a traditional media company) certain writers an advance to incentivize them to move to Substack and provide them with legal support and such. They do this based on popularity of course and more popular authors such as Matthew Yglesias (who’s Substack blog is brilliant) gets paid less than he could have made, which in the long run means that, potentially, he only pays 10% (which is too much as well). But the end result of this is that at such large sums Matthew can (and should?) leave and create his own blog and save 10% leaving Substack with the free writers (uh yours truly) and maybe a messy middle where the little money is not worth it.
The former Vox writer Matthew Yglesias calculated that taking the advance wound up costing him nearly $400,000 in subscription revenue paid to Substack. The writer Roxane Gay told me she earned back her advance within two months of starting The Audacity ($60 a year) with an audience of 36,000, about 20 percent of them paying. She also wrestles with what she sees as Substack “trying to have it both ways” as a neutral platform and a publisher that supports writers she finds “odious,” she said, but has concluded that her dislike of someone’s work is “not enough for them to not be allowed on the platform.”
The second problem they face by “advancing” money is they are choosing whom to support, and while I don’t believe they specifically mean this to be editorial should they be on the hook for advancing money to a specific “bad actor” author? I personally think so!
One of the writers who left Substack over transgender issues, Jude Doyle, argued that its system of advances amounted to a kind of editorial policy. But the analogy to a media company isn’t clear. Grace Lavery said she wanted Substack to be more aggressive about stopping harassment, but said she didn’t think threats to boycott the email service over writers she disagrees with made political sense. She has had bitter public disputes with other Substack writers, including the journalist Jesse Singal, over their writing on gender policy. “Boycotting Substack because of Jesse Singal would be like boycotting a paper company” over a writer who has books printed on their paper, she said.
Overall this looks like it spells bad news for several reasons. Firstly large media companies lose their star talent, Secondly Substack helps with igniting the fire with a “hey test the water” approach and for those successful this means that news overall becomes worse in quality. This is why I think its going to get more and more important to choose where you read your news. Good journalism ISN’T free!
The previous article mentioned Charlie Warzel who is an opinion writer who started Galaxy Brain on Substack! Ha! A good example of the previous point.
Amazon and corporate taxes
I think everyone knows that Amazon’s corporate tax rate is literally non-existent
There’s no guarantee, then, that changing the top rate from 21 percent to 28 percent will affect Amazon in any real way. As Matthew Gardner of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy put it, “It should be obvious that 21 percent of nothing is pretty much the same as 28 percent of nothing."
Evidence based product
The importance of metrics maturity for evidence-driven teams talks about four quadrants which articulate very well why companies think that they actually are evidence driven. I’ve always been a huge advocate of Company Strategy tying to Product Strategy from which the goals/OKR’s get set for a product team. Just iterating a metric for the sake of that metric will lead to haphazard product delivery, ultimately leading to little to no business or customer value. Metrics should work for both the business and the customer. No exceptions!
John Egan has written a great article on the top 10 mistakes running a growth team. I’ve seen several of these happen (either firsthand or anecdotally) and while I agree with them one of the things I’ve struggled with is : Not Looking At User Segments Critical To Future Growth. If you don’t have enough traffic segmenting becomes much harder and yields less benefit.
A great read on why technical debt happens and what to do about it!
Casey’s Guide to Finding Product/Market Fit : Casey Winters’ thoughts on Product Market Fit
If you’ve read the news recently, you read about Tiger Global and the amount of money they are “throwing” at companies; way more than any of their competition. Everett Randle has a great thesis on why this is and why Tiger Global is playing a different game; dis-intermediating the VC model on its head
FirstRound reviews has collected 30 gems on startups. Unlike joining an established company a person has to wear many hats and act like they own and they got all those hats down!
Dror Poleg has an interesting take on ISA’s. I do think that the government should, instead of student loans/FAFSA, consider an ISA for their citizens. Kinda like taxes on earnings but your education is paid for with a future share of your income guaranteed to the government as a kind of tax. Should this not be the job of the government?
If you’ve ever visited a recipe website and seen the experience you will know what I am talking about. Always wondered why these stupid websites don’t “fix” their experience. Its by design!
The handset/smartphone industry has gone full circle; starting with the now has-been’s of the mobile industry (Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson) expanding the number of handset makers and coming full circle to the kings of the smartphone era:
Today, there are six phone makers left at scale: Apple, Samsung, Huawei, BBK, Xiaomi and Transsion. Apple remains unassailable with the best customers and the majority of industry profits. Samsung survives through scale and integration with other parts of the Samsung chaebol. Xiaomi has built a loyal following through some very solid marketing. Huawei had pulled far ahead, but its future now is not bright. Transsion is mostly a feature phone business, with solid inroads in Africa and now India. And then there’s BBK Group. As the LG news broke, we were struck by how many people think the handset market is still fragmented among a dozen vendors, most people who say that do not realize that a third of the top brands on the market today are owned by a single company, namely BBK. They own Vivo, Oppo, RealMe and OnePlus as well as a few other brands. Depending on who’s counting BBK is now the second or third largest handset vendor on the market. There are a couple of other brands still out there – notably the legacy business of the one-time leaders – HMD (the brand owner of Nokia), Sony (Ericsson) and Lenovo (Motorola), but their collective share is small.
The unionization drive in Alabama failed. However if you read Jeff Bezos’s last shareholder letter he speaks a lot about his vision to become the Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work. Altruistic? Probably not. I guess Amazon figures that if we don’t fix this problem, this wont be the last time there will be unionization efforts. The cost of fixing at this time is probably lower than fighting all those unionization efforts. How Amazon plans to fix this.. remains to be seen.
Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success. We have always wanted to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company. We won’t change that. It’s what got us here. But I am committing us to an addition. We are going to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.
While the article alludes to MSFT’s game of “While the cats are away, the mice play”. Its a little bit more than that. Microsoft is truly diversifying with their acquisitions. Nadella alluded to this. They are not aggregating data; they are building useful platforms across many vertical industries. They’ve been through this whole game before and are going to be super careful not to acquire any company that could trigger antitrust concerns. Discord I can see as not being an antitrust concern but Zenimax and Nuance? MSFT has X Box and X Box Game Pass! As for Nuance? They make Dragon Speech Recognition software mostly for businesses. They of course have Cortana for Business, which is at the core layer a speech recognition software. Expect some integration and and all new release/name sometime in future
“Our job is to provide technology so that [doctors and providers] can keep all of the data secure,” Nadella said, speaking specifically about Nuance.
“This is not about some aggregation play. This is about pure platform providers. That makes Microsoft very distinct in how we approach most of what we do.”
Teardown of the fabled amazon 6 pager. So crisp, so concise, and so well articulated. Makes reading a pleasure!
If you read my article on Labor Markets you will understand why I am bullish about this concept. We’ve had outsourcing/offshoring (or both) for years now but with everyone working remote this seems to be a great opportunity to invest in, and create a robust platform for remote hiring. The real question is will companies go back to normal and want key hires in their headquarters? Or will remote hiring become the norm. I think for smaller companies they will start off as remote. Why? Well it sounds cool and there is less gunk in the engine. As companies grow larger and the gunk increases companies will have “remote” hubs (like they do today). We will go full circle on this one I think. However there is a lot of opportunity for a 1) Remote jobs product and 2) New hubs to form (Like Miami is trying to do right now). Never waste a good crisis and use it to your advantage!
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