March 20, 2020
Good morning! We have a new rule here at Source Code: no doom and gloom on Fridays. Instead, we're diving deep into video — looking at how Hollywood is changing, the next next thing in video chat, and how even watching Netflix alone is becoming a social experience.
People Are Talking
The tech isn't ready to make driverless trucks possible, Stefan Seltz-Axmacher said as he shut down his company, Starsky Robotics:
- "Our approach, I still believe, was the right one but the space was too overwhelmed with the unmet promise of AI to focus on a practical solution. As those breakthroughs failed to appear, the downpour of investor interest became a drizzle."
From Protocol: AI moderation is here and has endless complicated cases ahead of it, said St. John's professor Kate Klonick:
- "One of the things that's really, really hard — and has always been hard — is when people post bad content that's removable, but they post it in protest or to raise awareness. Generally, the biggest threat is going to be over-censorship rather than under-censorship."
Life is tough at Uber right now, but Dara Khosrowshahi promised the company can handle it:
- "We have ample liquidity. We have a highly variable cost structure, a global footprint, multiple business lines that give us some diversity and case studies for how quickly our business is likely to rebound after a shock like this. All of this gives us confidence … As soon as businesses start moving, Uber will, too."
The FCC wants to get telemedicine going in a big way, Ajit Pai told Protocol's Andrea Peterson:
- "Getting a telemedicine pilot program quickly deployed and significantly expanded along the lines of our connected care pilot program, that would be very helpful as well. Same thing in terms of a remote-learning pilot program."
The U.S. Navy has some very matter-of-fact tips on working from home:
- "Reboot your machine prior to establishing a VPN connection."
- "Don't email large files or videos."
- "Ensure your personal devices are updated with the latest operating system and security patches."
- And most important: Don't reply all unless absolutely necessary.
The Big Story
Welcome to the new streaming normal
Weren't we all supposed to spend the next few weeks sitting at home watching Netflix? Instead, coronavirus has thrown a series of wrenches into the whole streaming works, forcing companies across the industry to re-think how they operate.
The simplest example: streaming video requires a lot of bandwidth — upwards of 60% of the internet's total traffic when things are normal — and bandwidth is a precious commodity right now.
- Netflix agreed to reduce its traffic usage by 25% in the EU, and YouTube said it would default to standard-def, as the European Commission asked platforms to "ensure the smooth functioning of the internet."
Then there's the question of what we stream. Movie theaters are closed, so some studios are releasing films online much sooner — resulting in a complicated game of figuring out new release dates for upcoming flicks. And new stuff to watch is popping up everywhere:
- Musicians who can't play live shows are playing them instead on Instagram Live and Twitch. (Here's a list of ones happening today.)
- My favorite trend has been late-night hosts filming in their home, amidst the same chaos the rest of us are experiencing. It's the great convergence of YouTube, TV, and streaming services — no matter what you're watching or where, you're seeing a bunch of people talking into webcams from their dirty living rooms.
- ESPN and other sports networks are bending over backwards to find new things to show — including my new favorite spectator sport, cornhole matches. Riveting!
It's easy to chalk this up to a temporary response to forced isolation, but I don't think so. Just as there will be new startups borne of people frustrated with their remote-work tools, so too will there be new shows, new formats, and whole new creative businesses after this.
- Even Disney thinks the entertainment world may be changed forever: In an SEC filing on Thursday, it cited "changes in consumer behavior" as a factor that could change its fortunes going forward.
The alone, together viewing experience
Not only are people watching more stuff, they want to watch it together. One example: Netflix Party, a Chrome extension that lets users sync their Netflix streams and chat while they watch.
- A Netflix Party spokesperson told Protocol's Sofie Kodner the service is "experiencing a huge surge in traffic." (They were too busy to tell us much more.) For years, it was mostly used by people in long-distance relationships. Now, practically all of our relationships are long-distance.
- There's actually an ecosystem of apps like Netflix Party. And all of them, from Rave to Scener to YouTube Party, are jumping in popularity.
Meanwhile, gaming services are struggling to keep up with demand, as people flock to platforms such as Xbox Live and Nintendo Online as a way to pass the time and be together.
- Twitch's traffic was up more than 10% just last week. "We've received inquiries from a number of organizations about streaming on Twitch as large-scale events and experiences continue to be canceled in light of concerns around COVID-19," Twitch COO Sara Clemens said.
- There's been a noticeable uptick in relatively unstructured, chill-hang types of broadcasts, too. The content itself is almost beside the point — it's about the chat, the sense of doing the same thing at the same time. That's what makes people feel connected.
- That's also why everyone on Twitter is desperate for turntable.fm to come back. Which, come on. It should.
Protocol Cloud is your weekly guide to the future of enterprise computing, launching March 25. Protocol senior reporter Tom Krazit will give you the latest on how cloud computing is turning the technology world on its head, and how you and your company can capitalize on it.
Video chat beyond the webcam
Everyone's leaning into video chat these last few weeks, and not just for work. Also for happy hours, and remote teaching, and yoga classes; video is the most social thing we have right now.
For Protocol's Emily Dreyfuss, a semi-forgotten gizmo has been a revelation. Here's what Emily sent in:
- The second I found out about San Francisco's shelter in place order, my brain pictured a suitcase in my garage. In that suitcase was a Facebook Portal, which the company had sent me last year as a test unit but hadn't picked back up. On Monday night, I set it up and began calling all my immediate family spread across the U.S.
- The good things: The Portal is super easy to set up and the camera is awesome. It tracks you as you move across the room, locking on whoever is speaking and making it possible for you to cook dinner or, in my case, follow a crawling baby across the floor, while staying in the frame. Perfect for video chatting with grandparents.
- The bad things: No one answers my video chats! In fact, no one video chats on Facebook at all and they are horrified when I suggest it. The successful chats we've had required laborious pleading with loved ones to, yes, actually open up their Facebook app and accept a call from me. Yes, I promise it will be better than FaceTime.
- Also, of course, privacy concerns, because … Facebook. But amid a global pandemic, I have way less time to worry about that. Mostly I just miss my mom and want her to be able to see her grandson eating a banana.
Facebook, don't forget, offered its employees their own Portal when it instituted work-from-home policies. And I suspect it's not the only company looking into how to take video chat beyond people staring into laptop webcams.
Do you have a Portal? What do you think? Either way, what's your favorite video-chat hack? Tell me your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org
Number Of The Day
Remember how I told you yesterday that Microsoft Teams is growing like crazy? How crazy, exactly? Well, it now has 44 million daily users, up from 32 million … nine days ago. As Teams hits its third birthday, Microsoft also announced a number of new features meant to make meetings easier, such as real-time noise suppression and a way to virtually raise your hand. "The goal is really to have the online meeting experience feel as natural and intuitive as the in-person meeting experience," Microsoft's Kady Dundas told me (over Teams, obviously).
In related news: Who does Microsoft see as a looming threat in the conferencing wars? Zoom.
In Other News
- Today in coronavirus: All of California is now supposed to shelter in place. The State Department told Americans to stop traveling abroad. Kickstarter is allowing creators to extend campaigns by up to a week. YouTube's homepage now has a dedicated coronavirus section. Uber says trips are down as much as 70% in some cities. GDC is now in August, and will be shorter, too. Best Buy offered employees two weeks' pay and told them work is optional. Airbnb may be looking for new investment. Instagram won't approve new AR effects, because nobody's around to review them. Bill de Blasio is ready to take Elon Musk up on his offer to build ventilators. Snapchat's Here For You tool (insert obligatory "Succession" reference here) is designed to help people cope with mental health issues. And SoftBank needs another $10 billion for the Vision Fund so it can help troubled companies.
- AI is a powerful new tool in fighting wildfires. CNN has the story of one company that can detect wildfires, long before they get big and out of control, far more reliably than betting on people or airplanes to spot them.
- AR glasses company North is looking for a buyer. The company's been on the block for months, but as supply chains suffer and the market tanks, it's working with more urgency to find an acquisition.
- From Protocol: Hackers are taking advantage of coronavirus chaos, and it could be "the perfect time" for government-sponsored cyberattacks all over the world.
- Former Uber self-driving guru Anthony Levandowski pleaded guilty to stealing sensitive documents from Google. He now faces up to 30 months in prison.
- Crypto mining rigs are now hunting for coronavirus answers. CoreWeave, America's largest miner of Ethereum, is using its resources to participate in a distributed-supercomputer project meant to accelerate research into a cure.
- Facebook rolled out its long-awaited web redesign, meant to make browsing the ever-more-crowded site a little easier. Plus: dark mode.
One More Thing
"Our response to COVID-19," all over your inbox
So far this week I've gotten emails from a wing shop I've never been to, a dentist from three lifetimes ago, and the garage that changes my car's oil, all letting me know they're bummed about coronavirus and are in some way here to help. Protocol's Andie Coller talked to Dave Gerhardt, CMO at Privy, about how this became everyone's plan in the times of COVID-19 — and he makes a surprisingly good case for why it's good to reach out to customers in times like this. Just, please, do it better than the wing shops.
As always, a quick end-of-week thanks to Jamie Condliffe, Source Code's editor, to Sofie Kodner and Shakeel Hashim, its producers, and to the whole Protocol team that makes it happen.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to me, email@example.com, or our tips line, firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your weekend, see you Monday.