It has been so long since I wrote a formal piece for a magazine, that I forgot how much energy it takes to bounce back from such an effort. I am usually good for about 1,000 to 1,200 words a day — but this week, my mind has been dragging its proverbial feet. So instead of writing, I spent a lot of time reading about a whole variety of topics. Here are a few that really stuck with me:
For starters, I read about the Palio di Siena, which is a truly wild horse race. I love Siena for two reasons: one of my favorite shoemakers lives there, and the food is just incredible. It is Tuscany, after all. I have walked the streets and the Piazza del Campo, where the Palio happens, and it would be quite amazing to see a race here. It is one of the events on my bucket list, but up until then, I might have to just watch the documentary, Palio.
As the article about the race mentions, the event is known for “flagrant and occasionally mind-boggling forms of corruption.” But the craziest behavior I read about all week was in a great essay by Alex Danco that explains the WeWork debacle and its aftermath — a topic that a lot of digital ink has been devoted to lately. Over on Zero Hedge, Tyler Durden asks, “Is WeWork a fraud?” And The Wall Street Journal has been particularly harsh about the company and its founder, Adam Neumann.
“This is not the way everybody behaves,” said Dick Costolo, the former CEO of Twitter, told the Journal. Dick’s comments lends credence to Alex’s observation about “how the rest of the tech community is spinning its wheels overtime in order to make sure that WeWork’s failure to IPO does not inflict any collateral damage on the rest of the ecosystem.”
Alex takes us back to the 1999 dotcom bubble and points out that the collective insanity and the ensuing crash led to everyone acting in a more sober and stable manner for the decade and a half that followed. However, as the dot-bomb becomes a distant memory, irrational behavior is becoming more commonplace. (Speaking of the dotcom bubble, Joe Weisenthal explains why we love to call everything a bubble.)
Alex lays the blame at the feet of Softbank, adding, “If the community is able to spin the collapse of WeWork, and beyond that the failure of Softbank’s Vision Fund strategy to work, as a good thing, that’s more like beating boss mode.“ Alex’s piece is interesting — but by the time I got to the end of it, I felt that a few punches were pulled.
Another Internet darling coming under some stress is Netflix, which is going to face some serious competition from the likes of HBO and Disney+ — in addition to the usual suspects: Amazon, Apple and YouTube. “It’s a whole new world starting in November…between Apple launching and Disney launching, and of course Amazon’s ramping up,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told Variety. “It’ll be tough competition. Direct-to-consumer [customers] will have a lot of choice.” It is interesting to see how quickly he has gone from a peacetime CEO to a wartime CEO mode. The company has started a hiring binge of sorts for growth engineers, focusing on optimizing for easy of signing and driving engagement.
While I have no doubt the LA-based players will be able to come up with interesting fare for us to watch, I don’t think they will be able to match the pure-software and infrastructure advantages of Netflix. My money is on Reed’s company. Matthew Ball has been writing an awful lot about streaming wars, and I think the more recent one, “Ride or Die,” is a good piece to start.
What else did I find interesting?
- IEEE Spectrum wrote about Farmwise, which is using AI and robotics for farming. This is an area of obvious interest, as evidenced by True’s investment in Bear Flag Robotics.
- Instagram’s history in four acts. A brilliant piece about IG by Tavi Gevinson.
- In related news, here is a look inside the Wall Street Instagram.
- What’s the difference between AI, ML, Deep Learning and Active Learning.
- MIT Media Lab researchers have been part of other illegal acts.
- Amazon’s outsized influence with the Department of Homeland Security is worth noticing.
And some other non-tech reads:
- Why do some people love reading? [The Atlantic]
- Did you know that 46 million tons of fish are wasted every year. Why? [Hakai]
- A real fly Rabbi. [GQ]
- Any old school bloggers still posting? [Metafilter]
- What’s good for Kant and Voltaire, is good for wannabe philosophers. Right? [OpenCulture]