Benedict's Newsletter: No. 332

Benedict's
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This is a weekly newsletter of what I've seen in tech and thought was interesting.

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COVID is bigger than anything I write about here, but there are still interesting things happening. Stay at home and catch up on your reading.

 

✏️ My posts

COVID and forced experiments. In January, everyone was online, and probably willing to try anything online. Now we don’t have a choice - we’re shut indoors for weeks or months. What does that means for work? Ecommerce? Health and education? And the people left behind? Link

 

🗞 News

Parliament by Zoom: the UK Parliament has agreed to conduct some business in the chamber via video. As I wrote in the essay above, we're trying everything remotely, and some things will stick (though I suspect that this one will not). Link

Amazon commissions: Amazon is apparently planning pretty dramatic cuts to affiliate commissions. This has become a significant source of revenue for all sorts of companies (most obviously Wirecutter but there are lots of others). If you live in someone else's store you're dependent on how they choose to run it (reminder - Amazon has either ~15% or ~35% of US ecommerce, depending on how you count it). Link

Food delivery and forward-looking regulation. The UK competition authority, the CMA, had been blocking Amazon's investment in Deliveroo, the UK's leading restaurant delivery platform, on the theory that if the deal was blocked then Amazon might then decide to enter the market itself and that might create more competition. But now, Deliveroo's business has been badly hit by the lockdown and it told the CMA that if the deal didn't go through it would run out of cash and shut down. And, in the lockdown Deliveroo is important infrastructure. So, the deal is on after all. The backstory is that the CMA (and other regulators) has pivoted from the conventional model of assessing the market as it is now (hence making the mistake of thinking it was OK for FB to buy Instagram 'because Instagram has no ads today'), to trying to work out how the market might evolve in future, given how dynamic and fast-changing tech sectors tend to be. That led it to create hypotheticals of what might happen in future and regulating on that basis - this time that's been unwound, but it will happen again. Link

A link tax in Australia: Australia has another proposal to tax Google and Facebook to subsidise newspapers, calling this a 'code of conduct' based on 'negotiation'. Given that the newspapers have nothing to offer in a negotiation and G&FB would have no choice, that sounds like a tax and a subsidy to me. These proposals have floated around all over the world for a decade or more, and tended to fail on general nervousness at the idea of making news media dependant on political patronage, as well as the question of why it should be internet companies in particular that pay (as opposed to general taxation, if you think this is a general public good). Link

And another link tax. Meanwhile, Google is in a slightly different fight in France. The French said that if you use snippets from other sites when you link to them then you have to pay, so Google removed the snippets from Google News. Now the competition authority says that since Google has market dominance this is anti-competitive, and wants to force Google to put the snippets back and to pay for them. I don't like anti-competitive behaviour, but I also don't think it's sensible to invent a business model that you wish existed and then force someone to follow it. Too many people in the news business still don't want to accept that Google does't actually make any money from Google News or news search results - no-one wants to buy ads on those pages. Again - if you want Google (or Facebook) to subsidise newspapers, better to be honest and make an actual tax, and accept all of the questions you need to resolve about how it works, rather than inventing fake revenue lines. Link

 

🔮 Reading

Every conference on earth is pivoting to streaming t stay alive. I have a lot of sympathy, but I'm skeptical of a lot of what I've seen. Conferences are a bundle: the content (which works as video, mostly), but also the chance meetings & networking, and the meetings you book because everyone's in town, and sometimes also a trade fair, and none of those work as video, far less a random text chat room. And if you do switch the in-person meeting in a hotel room in that particular city to a video call from across the world, why do you need to do it on that particular date? There's a second wave of products to be created here, I suspect. Link

There is a whole wave of nifty, gadgety little social chat/video/friending apps bubbling up now that all the engineers and tinkerers in tech are locked up at home. One of these might be the next Snap. Link

Forced experiments: when the London Tube was closed, people found new, more efficient routes, and often stuck to them once the Tube reopened. Lessons for our current lockdown, perhaps. Link (PDF)

Vogue is experimenting with a series of public, live Zoom group calls between their editors and senior industry figures. Interesting, not least to see who's got their hair and back-drop in place. Link

Medium's curation challenge. Link

Nice roundup of a wave of digital (virtual) fashion apps. Link

Interesting (very technical) piece from Ericsson on how the equipment on 5G base stations is moving from high-end custom chips to off-the-shelf general-purpose chips, especially GPUs. Rakuten has just launched an entirely software-based network in Japan, and there will be more of this (it's pretty much what happened to data centres a while ago). Link

 

😮 Interesting things

Damien Hirst on the problems of vast wealth: "I love painting. You start by thinking you’ll get one assistant and before you know it you’ve got biographers, fire eaters, jugglers, minstrels and lyre players all wandering around, and they all need an Uber account." Link

 

📊 Stats

Google updated its mobility dashboard (based on devices signed in with location) to include a downloadable CSV, so now you can make your own charts. Link

Apple is now also publishing a mobility dashboard, based on maps searches rather than actual movement. Link

The ITU has a useful dashboard of global tech regulation plans. Link

  
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